EPSDT: The little known acronym that helped millions of children

By Emma Sandoe

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the legislation that created the Early Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) program. The program requires states to provide screening and treatment to Medicaid eligible low-income children under the age of 21. In 2014 an estimated 40 million American children, or nearly one in every two kids, were eligible for this program. The Republican Obamacare repeal bills, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) gives states the option to end this program for certain kids. EPSDT has improved the lives of millions of children and families in the Medicaid program over the last 50 years and has incidentally improved care for many millions more Americans.

As part of the first bill that made changes to Medicaid, this policy would become one of the most significant developments in the history the public health insurance program. Medicare and Medicaid were passed and signed into law in July of 1965 under the Medicare Act of 1965. A year later, the Medicaid program began to be implemented in states that took up the option. By the end of 1967, 38 states had opened their Medicaid programs to enrollment and begun providing services to low-income single-parent families and elderly and disabled individuals. Despite these coverage gains and medical treatment, many low and moderate-income children in two parent households lacked access to medical care. EPSDT was the first of many significant Medicaid coverage expansions to children. What was unforeseen at the time was the way that the benefits of EPSDT have been felt across the health care system and broader population. Continue reading

Zika May Place Burden On Medicaid

Emma Sandoe, 2015-2016 Petrie-Flom Student Fellow

Full post at Health Affairs Blog.

Aedes_Mosquito_300x300Congress is currently debating the level of federal funding that should be made available to fight to reduce the spread of Zika. Administration officials working with local public health agencies on the ground have recently expressed fear that the funding levels are insufficient to prevent the disease from spreading. What is one overlooked concern? State budgets.

Medicaid is jointly funded by states and the federal government and serves as a key financer of health care services if Zika spreads across the country this summer. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently released a bulletin to state Medicaid Directors outlining how Medicaid funds can be used to both prevent the spread of Zika and treat people infected by the disease and infants born with microcephaly. With Medicaid covering roughly half of the births in America today, the program will finance many pregnancies potentially affected by Zika. […]

Read the full post at the Health Affairs Blog!

What we know about how the structure of Marketplaces and Medicaid expansion affect enrollment

By Emma Sandoe

It is fairly obvious that states that expanded Medicaid saw greater enrollment in Medicaid after the opening of the Health Insurance Marketplaces in October 2013 than states that did not expand. CMS has been releasing monthly reports that indicate just that.

This also corresponds to the reductions in uninsurance. States that expanded Medicaid clearly have seen greater reductions in uninsurance than states that elected not to expand. The US Census Bureau recently posted the maps below in their blog “Research Matters.” Here is a map of the uninsurance reductions:

With the exceptions of states like Massachusetts that have already high levels of Medicaid expansion, it’s clear which states have chosen to expand Medicaid and which ones have not, but if you need the context, here is a map of states that have expanded Medicaid:

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Health Care Politics in the US South

by Emma Sandoe

Courtesy of Vanderbilt Center for Medicine, Health, and Society http://www.vanderbilt.edu/mhs/the-politi…

This month I attended the Politics of Health Care in the US South conference held at Vanderbilt. This conference was cosponsored by the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest. Instead of a lengthy conference summary, I’ll attempt to capture some of the key lessons I learned to better understand the politics of the South.

What is the South?

There is no other region of the country with such a strong personal identification and complex emotional reaction as the South. Californians don’t identify as “Westerners;” “New Englander” inspires connotations of sleepy scenes of snow and hot chocolate; and while you may get a rare character that strongly identifies as a “Midwesterner,” there is a clear difference in the passion that a Minnesotan speaks of their homeland compared to a Tennessean. But despite the fact that the words “the South” strikes passion in its residents, historical and modern important moments in our nations conversation on race, and a specific cultural identity, there is really no common definition of the geographic South. Modern politics make the inclusion of Maryland and DC counter to our understanding of the deep red political vote. Texas and Florida have their own unique identities and their vast populations often skew any analysis of the region. Each unique issue in the South first requires a definition of what geographic region you are discussing.

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What is the IMD Exclusion that everyone is talking about?

By Emma Sandoe

A less covered provision of Medicaid law that has been in existence since the establishment of the program in 1965 and has been making some news over the past several months, the IMD exclusion is a provision that restricts Medicaid payments for certain institutions, potentially reducing the access to available services for low-income individuals with mental illnesses. If you haven’t been hearing everyone talking about it… well, I guess you talk with fewer health policy nerds than I do.

What is the IMD exclusion?

According to the good people at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the IMD exclusion can be defined as: Institutions for Mental Disease (IMDs) are inpatient facilities of more than 16 beds whose patient roster is more than 51% people with severe mental illness. Federal Medicaid matching payments are prohibited for IMDs with a population between the ages of 22 and 64. IMDs for persons under age 22 or over age 64 are permitted, at state option, to draw federal Medicaid matching funds.

Why does Medicaid have this provision?

This is because when Medicaid first started, states were responsible for the care of people with severe mental illness. States cared for many people with mental illnesses in a custodial setting; essentially states often were providing people a place to sleep but no mental health services. When drafting the Medicaid bill, the federal government did not want to supplant this existing state program with federal Medicaid funding. Additionally, while President Johnson was notorious for not spending a large amount of time on the cost of Medicare, the addition of these services would add $1.8 billion to the Medicaid budget, nearly doubling the first year price tag.

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Why Asset Tests Need Reform

The penalty for Bostonian jaywalkers can take dollars out of repeat offenders wallets. The $1 fine for jaywalking in the Massachusetts metropolis may be a ridiculous example of statutory dollar figures losing their significance, but the statutory dollar figures associated with Medicaid eligibility are anything but a laughing matter for millions of families.

The eligibility requirements around Medicaid expansion have ended the decades old practice of limiting assets for Medicaid coverage for children and parents. However, in order to qualify for many existing Medicaid programs, the elderly and people with disabilities in many states must still verify that their assets fall below a certain dollar figure. Oftentimes, this dollar figure is statutory and requires state legislatures to act in order to have the figure rise with inflation.

Asset tests were first incorporated into Medicaid law under the original legislation because welfare benefits required strict means and asset tests. These levels were determined at the state level. As eligibility was separated from welfare eligibility, specific dollar figures on assets were added to eligibility criteria and were meant to curb enrollment by “welfare queens” or people that qualify for social assistance fraudulently or with significant assets. President Reagan first campaigned on the concept of “welfare queens” in his failed 1976 bid for the presidency. But these fraudulent cases that the policy is meant to restrict are limited and more often the imposed asset tests prevent working-age adults from reducing dependency on social welfare programs.

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Medicaid and Access to Health Care Services

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Washington Headquarters

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Washington Headquarters, Hubert H. Humphrey Building

Last week Health Affairs released a new article that surveyed low-income individuals in Kentucky and Arkansas, two states that expanded Medicaid coverage to all people under 138 percent of the federal poverty level in 2014. They survey, led by Harvard professors, Robert Blendon and Ben Sommers, found that people in these states reported lower rates of problems paying medical bills and forgoing care or prescriptions due to cost. Additionally, the number of people that reported seeing a physician for a checkup and management of chronic conditions increased in Kentucky and Arkansas. All of these responses are indicators of having access to health care.

The results seen in Kentucky and Arkansas are in stark contrast to the survey results in Texas, which has elected not to expand Medicaid coverage. Texas has seen no change in an individual’s ability to pay for medical services and an increase in people forgoing health care coverage. This comparison indicates that expanded Medicaid coverage improves a person’s access to medical care.

But this isn’t the first time Medicaid has been shown to score well in measures of access to health care services for low-income individuals. Contrary to the rhetoric of politicians and the logic that Medicaid’s low reimbursement rates mean people have fewer choices of physicians, evidence to date has suggested that some of these arguments may be exaggerated.

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Premiums in Medicaid: The (not so) Recent Trend

By Emma Sandoe

Requiring Medicaid beneficiaries to pay premiums and other cost-sharing for medical services is not new to the Medicaid expansion debate. Premiums were introduced as part of the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982. Previously, states were prohibited from imposing enrollment fees, premiums, or deductibles for any categorically eligible individual in the Medicaid program. This law allowed states to implement minimal cost-sharing for waiver demonstrations, but prohibited states from denying medical care due to an inability to pay.

Since this law was passed, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has clarified that certain populations including pregnant women and children were exempt from most cost-sharing. Additionally, certain services are exempt from copayments and coinsurance entirely. The maximum amount that can be charged varies based on wage and type of service and where the beneficiary seeks treatment.

Prior to Indiana’s 1115, approved in 2014, CMS did not allow state waivers to charge premiums to individuals making under 50% of the federal poverty line (FPL). Indiana’s expansion plan is unlike any other state’s waiver plans. It requires individuals to pay a “monthly contribution” of $1 a month or 2% of a family’s income which ever is greater. When a beneficiary that has been paying these monthly contributions uses medical services, they are not required to pay co-payments. Previously, Indiana lowered the income eligibility for premiums during its 2013 waiver when it required premiums for individuals making between 50-100% of FPL. Arkansas and Iowa saw that precedent set by Indiana and lowered their cost sharing levels from 100% of FPL to 50%. Continue reading

How does the Bipartisan Budget Bill change Social Security Disability Benefits?

By Emma Sandoe

On Tuesday, details of the new Bipartisan Budget Bill, a bill negotiated between Congress and the White House, were released. This bill funds the government for two years and extends the debt ceiling, two important budgetary moves Speaker Boehner promised to leave his successor with a clean slate. Less reported is that this bill makes some small but important changes to our nation’s two largest budgetary social programs, Medicare and Social Security. But the changes made to Social Security Disability Insurance eligibility extend beyond that program and will be important for state Medicaid agencies and for low-income people with disabilities.

What is the Social Security Disability Trust Fund?

Not part of the original Social Security Act, the Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefit was added in 1957. As of 2014 there were 10.9 million Americans receiving this benefit totaling $141 billion or 4% of the federal budget. In the last Trustees report for the projected future cost of the SSDI program, the trustees projected the exhaustion of the trust fund in 2016. This would mean that the nearly 11 million beneficiaries would see their benefits cut by 19% next year because incoming tax revenue would only be able to cover about 80% of the benefits.

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The Once and Future Cadillac Tax

cadillacOver the last few weeks, health economists have been defending the often politically friendless “Cadillac Tax.” This policy, as part of the Affordable Care Act, will begin taxing certain generous health insurance plans starting in 2018. Since World War II, the IRS has held that employer-sponsored health insurance should not been taxed, costing the federal government $329 billion in lost federal revenue. But, the most pivotal decision in the tax exemption status of employer-sponsored health insurance took place in 1954, not during World War II.

In 1954, when Congress extended the World War II provisions into permanent tax law, Congress decided to do away with the limits imposed on the tax-free status of health insurance. In essence, Congress has already repealed the Cadillac tax back when you could buy a new Cadillac for $5,000.

The Introduction of the Tax:

As part of the World War II price and wage controls, President Roosevelt’s National War Labor Board first put limits on wage increases and would not allow wages to increase greater than 15 percent of 1941 rates. Enterprising employers began offering health insurance coverage to recruit workers, because enticing workers with higher wages was not permitted. This forced the hand of the Board to address the tax status of health insurance.

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Which state will be the next to expand Medicaid?

The last week has yielded significant progress in several states currently debating Medicaid expansion. Thirty-one states and DC have already expanded the program, made an option for states due to the Supreme Court’s NFIB v Sebelius decision. Many state legislatures are coming back into session from summer recesses bringing into focus discussions on the budget implications of Medicaid. Additionally, as we approach a looming Presidential election with expected high voter turnout, politicians have an opportunity to push for the expansion to gain support from certain stakeholders. While significant action is needed in each of these states before any Medicaid expansion legislation is passed or their governors act to implement their plans, it is worth keeping an eye on all of these states in the coming months.

Utah- It has been over a year and a half since Governor Herbert announced his support for Medicaid expansion. This week, details of the new plan, UtahAccess+, have been released. The plan, formulated by the Governor and Republican legislative leaders, is similar to the Healthy Utah plan that was passed the Utah Senate but was struck down in the House with the exception of the financing model which puts the burden on providers that would benefit from additional funds through expansion.

Louisiana- This is one of the more surprising states to appear on a list of upcoming states to expand Medicaid, however the tides may be shifting in this largely conservative state. Louisiana is in the process of electing a new governor as Presidential candidate Bobby Jindal is ineligible due to term limits. All four candidates have indicated some level of support for expansion (to varying degrees) since April. These candidates’ positions reflect the push by business groups in the state which have called for expansion, as well as the recent legislative change that gave the new governor the necessary state authority to expand in the first months in office.

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Managing Diabetes: Is Silicon Valley the Solution?

By Emma Sandoe

According to a new study in JAMA, half of American adults either have diabetes or are pre-diabetic. The chronic condition costs the nation $245 billion annually in health care costs and lost wages. The diabetes technology industry has grown exponentially over the last several years, as the use of measuring and regulating devices has become the norm for monitoring and treating diabetes.

Last week, NPR examined how Google’s Life Sciences division is investing in the management of diabetes. Google’s Life Sciences division is part of its renamed company, Alphabet, and stems out of Google X — the same side of the company working on technology such as driverless cars and tracking the spread of disease outbreaks.

One of Google’s most anticipated products coming out of the new diabetes campaign is a contact lens that would be able to monitor glucose levels from water in the eye. This joint venture with Novartis was announced in January 2014 and is currently slated for research and developmental reviews.

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Introducing the 2015-2016 Petrie-Flom Student Fellows

The Petrie-Flom Center is pleased to welcome our new 2015-2016 Student Fellows. In the coming year, each fellow will pursue independent scholarly projects related to health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics under the mentorship of Center faculty and fellows. They will also be regular contributors here at Bill of Health on issues related to their research. Continue reading