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NC DHHS’ New Secretary – Yay or Nay?

Our newly appointed DHHS Secretary comes with a fancy and distinguished curriculum vitae. Dr. Mandy Cohen, DHHS’ newly appointed Secretary by Gov. Roy Cooper, is trained as an internal medicine physician. She is 38 (younger than I am) and has no known ties to North Carolina. She grew up in New York; her mother was a nurse practitioner. She is also a sharp contrast from our former, appointed, DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos. See blog.

cohen

Prior to the appointment as our DHHS Secretary, Dr. Cohen was the Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Prior to acting as the COO of CMS, she was Principal Deputy Director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) at CMS where she oversaw the Health Insurance Marketplace and private insurance market regulation. Prior to her work at CCIIO, she served as a Senior Advisor to the Administrator coordinating Affordable Care Act implementation activities.

Did she ever practice medicine?

Prior to acting as Senior Advisor to the Administrator, Dr. Cohen was the Director of Stakeholder Engagement for the CMS Innovation Center, where she investigated new payment and care delivery models.

Dr. Cohen received her Bachelor’s degree in policy analysis and management from Cornell University, 2000. She obtained her Master’s degree in health administration from Harvard University School of Public Health, 2004, and her Medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine, 2005.

She started as a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital from 2005 through 2008, then was deputy director for comprehensive women’s health services at the Department of Veterans Affairs from July 2008 through July 2009. From 2009 through 2011, she was executive director of the Doctors for America, a group that promoted the idea that any federal health reform proposal ought to include a government-run “public option” health insurance program for the uninsured.

Again, I was perplexed. Did she ever practice medicine? Does she even have a current medical license?

This is what I found:

physicianprofile

It appears that Dr. Cohen was issued a medical license in 2007, but allowed it to expire in 2012 – most likely, because she was no longer providing medical services and was climbing the regulatory and political ladder.

From what I could find, Dr. Cohen practiced medicine (with a fully-certified license) from June 20, 2007, through July 2009 (assuming that she practiced medicine while acting as the deputy director for comprehensive women’s health services at the Department of Veterans Affairs).

Let me be crystal clear: It is not my contention that Dr. Cohen is not qualified to act as our Secretary to DHHS because she seemingly only practiced medicine (fully-licensed) for two years. Her political and policy experience is impressive. I am only saying that, to the extent that Dr. Cohen is being touted as a perfect fit for our new Secretary because of her medical experience, let’s not make much ado of her practicing medicine for two years.

That said, regardless Dr. Cohen’s practical medical experience, anyone who has been the COO of CMS must have intricate knowledge of Medicare and Medicaid and the essential understanding of the relationship between NC DHHS and the federal government. In this regard, Cooper hit a homerun with this appointment.

Herein lies the conundrum with Dr. Cohen’s appointment as DHHS Secretary:

Is there a conflict of interest?

During Cooper’s first week in office, our new Governor sought permission, unilaterally, from the federal government to expand Medicaid as outlined in the Affordable Care Act. This was on January 6, 2017.

To which agency does Gov. Cooper’s request to expand Medicaid go? Answer: CMS. Who was the COO of CMS on January 6, 2017? Answer: Cohen. When did Cohen resign from CMS? January 12, 2017.

On January 14, 2017, a federal judge stayed any action to expand Medicaid pending a determination of Cooper’s legal authority to do so. But Gov. Cooper had already announced his appointment of Dr. Cohen as Secretary of DHHS, who is and has been a strong proponent of the ACA. You can read one of Dr. Cohen’s statements on the ACA here.

In fact, regardless your political stance on Medicaid expansion, Gov. Cooper’s unilateral request to expand Medicaid without the General Assembly is a violation of NC S.L. 2013-5, which states:

SECTION 3. The State will not expand the State’s Medicaid eligibility under the Medicaid expansion provided in the Affordable Care Act, P.L. 111-148, as amended, for which the enforcement was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in National Federation of Independent Business, et al. v. Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al., 132 S. Ct. 2566 (2012). No department, agency, or institution of this State shall attempt to expand the Medicaid eligibility standards provided in S.L. 2011-145, as amended, or elsewhere in State law, unless directed to do so by the General Assembly.

Obviously, if Gov. Cooper’s tactic were to somehow circumvent S.L. 2013-5 and reach CMS before January 20, 2017, when the Trump administration took over, the federal judge blockaded that from happening with its stay on  January 14, 2017.

But is it a bit sticky that Gov. Cooper appointed the COO of CMS, while she was still COO of CMS, to act as our Secretary of DHHS, and requested CMS for Medicaid expansion (in violation of NC law) while Cohen was acting COO?

You tell me.

I did find an uplifting quotation from Dr. Cohen from a 2009 interview with a National Journal reporter:

“There’s a lot of uncompensated work going on, so there has to be a component that goes beyond just fee-for service… But you don’t want a situation where doctors have to be the one to take on all the risk of taking care of a patient. Asking someone to take on financial risk in a small practice is very concerning.” -Dr. Mandy Cohen

Medicaid Forecast: Cloudy with 100% Chance of Trump

Regardless how you voted, regardless whether you “accept” Trump as your president, and regardless with which party you are affiliated, we have a new President. And with a new President comes a new administration. Republicans have been vocal about repealing Obamacare, and, now, with a Republican majority in Congress and President, changes appear inevitable. But what changes?

What are Trump’s and our legislature’s stance on Medicaid? What could our future health care be? (BTW: if you do not believe that Medicaid funding and costs impact all healthcare, then please read blog – and understand that your hard-working tax dollars are the source of our Medicaid funding).

WHAT IS OUR HEALTHCARE’S FORECAST?

The following are my forecasted amendments for Medicaid:

  1. Medicaid block grants to states

Trump has indicated multiple times that he wants to put a cap on Medicaid expenses flowing from the federal government to the states. I foresee either a block grant (a fixed annual amount per state) or a per capita cap (fixed dollar per beneficiary) being implemented.

What would this mean to Medicaid?

First, remember that Medicaid is an entitlement program, which means that anyone who qualifies for Medicaid has a right to Medicaid. Currently, the federal government pays a percentage of a state’s cost of Medicaid, usually between 60-70%. North Carolina, for example, receives 66.2% of its Medicaid spending from Uncle Sam, which equals $8,922,363,531.

While California receives only 62.5% of its Medicaid spending from the federal government, the amount that it receives far surpasses NC’s share – $53,436,580,402.

The federal funding is open-ended (not a fixed a mount) and can inflate throughout the year, but, in return, the states are required to cover certain health care services for certain demographics; e.g., pregnant women who meet income criteria, children, etc. With a block grant or per capita cap, the states would have authority to decide who qualifies and for what services. In other words, the money would not be entwined with a duty that the state cover certain individuals or services.

Opponents to block grants claim that states may opt to cap Medicaid enrollment, which would cause some eligible Medicaid recipients to not get coverage.

On the other hand, proponents of per capita caps, opine that this could result in more money for a state, depending on the number of Medicaid eligible residents.

2. Medicaid Waivers

The past administration was relatively conservative when it came to Medicaid Waivers through CMS. States that want to contract with private entities to manage Medicaid, such as managed care organizations (MCOs), are required to obtain a Waiver from CMS, which waives the “single state entity” requirement. 42 CFR 431.10. See blog.

This administration has indicated that it is more open to granting Waivers to allow private entities to participate in Medicaid.

There has also been foreshadowing of possible beneficiary work requirements and premiums.Montana has already implemented job training components for Medicaid beneficiaries. However, federal officials from the past administration instructed Montana that the work component could not  be mandatory, so it is voluntary. Montana also expanded its Medicaid in 2015, under a Republican governor. At least for one Medicaid recipient, Ruth McCafferty, 53, the voluntary job training was Godsend. She was unemployed with three children at home. The Medicaid job program paid for her to participate in “a free online training to become a mortgage broker. The State even paid for her 400-mile roundtrip to Helena to take the certification exam. And now they’re paying part of her salary at a local business as part of an apprenticeship to make her easier to hire.” See article.

The current administration may be more apt to allow mandatory work requirements or job training for Medicaid recipients.

3. Disproportionate Share Hospital

When the ACA was implemented, hospitals were at the negotiating table. With promises from the past administration, hospitals agreed to take a cut on DSH payments, which are paid to hospitals to help offset the care of uninsured and Medicaid patients. The ACA’s DSH cut is scheduled to go into effect FY 2018 with a $2 billion reduction. It is scheduled to continue to reduce until FY 2025 with a $8 billion reduction. The reason for this deduction was that the ACA would create health coverage for more people and with Medicaid expansion there would be less uninsured.

If the ACA is repealed, our lawmakers need to remember that DSH payments are scheduled to decrease next year. This could have a dramatic impact on our hospitals. Last year, approximately 1/2 of our hospitals received DSH. In 2014, Medicaid paid approximately $18 billion for DSH payments, so the proposed reductions make up a high percentage of DSH payments.

4. Physician payment predictability

Unlike the hospitals, physicians got the metaphoric shaft when the ACA was implemented. Many doctors were forced to provide services to patients, even when those patients were not covered by a health plan. Many physicians had to  increase the types of insurance they would accept, which increased their administrative costs and the burden.

This go-around, physicians may have the ear of the HHS Secretary-nominee, Tom Price, who is an orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Price has argued for higher reimbursement rates for doctors and more autonomy. Regardless, reimburse rate predictability may stabilize.

Key Medicaid Questions Post-Election

Disclosure: This is the opinion/facts from the Kaiser Family Foundation, not me. But I found this interesting. My opinion will be forthcoming.

Kaiser Family Foundation article:

Medicaid covers about 73 million people nationwide.  Jointly financed by the federal and state governments, states have substantial flexibility to administer the program under existing law.  Medicaid provides health insurance for low-income children and adults, financing for the safety net, and is the largest payer for long-term care services in the community and nursing homes for seniors and people with disabilities.  President-elect Trump supports repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and a Medicaid block grant. The GOP plan would allow states to choose between block grant and a per capita cap financing for Medicaid. The new Administration could also make changes to Medicaid without new legislation.

1. HOW WOULD ACA REPEAL AFFECT MEDICAID?

A repeal of the ACA’s coverage expansion provisions would remove the new eligibility pathway created for adults, increase the number of uninsured and reduce the amount of federal Medicaid funds available to states. The Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling on the ACA effectively made the Medicaid expansion optional for states. As of November 2016, 32 states (including the District of Columbia) are implementing the expansion.  The full implications of repeal will depend on whether the ACA is repealed in whole or in part, whether there is an alternative to the ACA put in place and what other simultaneous changes to Medicaid occur. However, examining the effects of the ACA on Medicaid provide insight into what might be at stake under a repeal.

What happened to coverage? The ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility to nearly all non-elderly adults with income at or below 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL) – about $16,396 per year for an individual in 2016. Since summer of 2013, just before implementation of the ACA expansions, through August 2016 about 16 million people have been added to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.  While not all of this increase is due to those made newly eligible under the ACA, expansion states account for a much greater share of growth. States that expanded Medicaid have had large gains in coverage, although ACA related enrollment has tapered.  From 2013 to 2016 the rate of uninsured non-elderly adults fell by 9.2% in expansion states compared to 6% in non-expansion states.

What happened to financing? The law provided for 100% federal funding of the expansion through 2016, declining gradually to 90% in 2020 and beyond. Expansion states have experienced large increases in federal dollars for Medicaid and have claimed $79 billion in federal dollars for the new expansion group from January 2014 through June 2015.  Studies also show that states expanding Medicaid under the ACA have realized net fiscal gains despite Medicaid enrollment growth initially exceeding projections in many states.

What other Medicaid provisions were in the ACA? The ACA required states to implement major transformations to modernize and streamline eligibility and enrollment processes and systems.  The ACA also included an array of new opportunities related to delivery system reforms for complex populations, those dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid and new options to expand community-based long-term care services.

2. WHAT WOULD CHANGES IN THE FINANCING STRUCTURE MEAN FOR MEDICAID?

A Medicaid block grant or per capita cap policy would fundamentally change the current structure of the program. These policies are typically designed to reduce federal spending and fix rates of growth to make federal spending more predictable, but could eliminate the guarantee of coverage for all who are eligible and the guarantee to states for matching funds.  States would gain additional flexibility to administer their programs but reduced federal funding could shift costs and risk to beneficiaries, states, and providers.

How would it work? Block grants or per capita caps could be structured in multiple ways. Key policy decisions would determine levels of federal financing as well as federal and state requirements around eligibility, benefits, state matching requirements, and beneficiary protections. Previous block grant proposals have determined a base year financing amount for each state and then specified a fixed rate of growth for federal spending. Under a Medicaid per capita cap, the federal government would set a limit on how much to reimburse states per enrollee.  Payments to states would be based on per enrollee spending multiplied by enrollees. Spending under per capita cap proposals fluctuate based on changes in enrollment, but would not account for changes in the costs per enrollee beyond the growth limit.  To achieve federal savings, the per capita growth amounts would be set below the projected rates of growth under current law.

What are the key policy questions? Key questions in designing these proposals include: what new flexibility would be granted to states, what federal requirements would remain in place, what requirements would be in place for state matching funds, what is the base year and growth rates, and how would a potential repeal of the ACA work with a block grant proposal?  Given the lack of recent administrative data, setting a base year could be challenging.  These financing designs could lock in historic spending patterns and variation in Medicaid spending across states, resulting in states deemed “winners” or “losers.”

What are the implications? Capping and reducing federal financing for Medicaid could have implications for beneficiaries, states, and providers including: declines in Medicaid coverage or new financial barriers to care; limited funding for children (the majority of Medicaid enrollees) as well as the elderly and those with disabilities (populations that represent the majority of Medicaid spending); reduced funding for nursing homes and community-based long-term care (Medicaid is the largest payer of these services); reductions in federal revenues to states and Medicaid revenues for safety-net providers.  A block grant would not adjust to increased coverage needs during a recession.  Block grants or per capita caps would not adjust to changes in health care or drug costs or emergencies.  Recently Medicaid costs have increased due to high cost specialty drugs and Medicaid has been used to help combat the growing opioid crisis.

3. HOW COULD MEDICAID BE CHANGED THROUGH ADMINISTRATIVE ACTIONS?

The Administration could make changes to Medicaid without changes in legislation.

How can changes be made through guidance? A new administration can reinterpret existing laws through new regulations and new sub-regulatory guidance. While there are rules that govern how to change regulations, a new administration has more flexibility to issue or amend sub-regulatory guidance, such as state Medicaid director letters. Rules promulgated by the Obama administration could be rolled back or changed.

How can changes be made through waivers? Throughout the history of the Medicaid program, Section 1115 waivers have provided states an avenue to test and implement demonstrations that, in the view of the Health and Human Services Secretary, advance program objectives but do not meet federal program rules. Longstanding federal policy has required waivers to be budget neutral for the federal government.

What kind of waivers may be considered?  Seven states are using waivers to implement the ACA Medicaid expansion, including Indiana.  The Indiana waiver, implemented under then Governor Pence, includes provisions to impose: premiums on most Medicaid beneficiaries; a coverage lock-out period for individuals with incomes above the poverty level who fail to pay premiums; health savings accounts; and healthy behavior incentives.  The Obama administration has not approved waivers that would require work as a condition of Medicaid eligibility.  It also has denied Ohio’s waiver request to impose premiums regardless of income and exclude individuals from coverage until all arrears are paid on the basis that this would restrict or undermine coverage from existing levels.  Many other states are using waivers to implement payment and delivery system reforms.  The incoming administration could decide whether or not to renew existing waivers and can approve a new set of waivers to promote its own program goals.

The Effects of Medicaid Expansion under the ACA: Findings from a Literature Review — The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

Research on the effects of Medicaid expansions under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) can help increase understanding of how the ACA has impacted coverage; access to care, utilization, and health outcomes; and various economic outcomes, including state budgets, the payer mix for hospitals and clinics, and the employment and labor market. These findings also may…

via The Effects of Medicaid Expansion under the ACA: Findings from a Literature Review — The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

As the 31st State Expands Medicaid: Do We Need to Be Concerned About a Physician Shortage?

Recently, Montana became the 31st state, including D.C., to expand Medicaid. Discussion regarding Medicaid expansion is ongoing in one state: Utah. Nineteen (19) states have rejected Medicaid expansion, including NC.

When Medicaid expansion was first introduced, it was a highly polarized, political topic, with Republican governors, generally, rejecting expansion and Democrat governors, generally, accepting expansion.

Now, however, many Republican governors have opted to expand Medicaid. There are currently 31 Republicans, 18 Democrats, and one independent that hold the office of governor in the states. Yet, 31 states have expanded Medicaid. Here is an extremely, difficult-to-read chart outlining the states that have opted to expand, those that have opted to reject expansion, and the one state (Utah) still discussing:

caid expansion1medicaidexpansion2

I know, it’s hard to read. Feel free to go to the actual Kaiser website to see the chart readable by humans. (Microsoft’s “Snipping Tool” leaves much to be desired; Apple’s “Screen Shot” is much better, in my opinion).

An interesting fact is that, in its first week with Medicaid expansion, Montana had over 5,500 people sign up for Medicaid.

Another interesting fact is that, approximately 18,078 physicians graduate from medical school in America per year.  But in Montana?

montana

N/A…as in, none. Not applicable. You see, Montana does not have a medical school. It does participate in the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho collaborative program. However, the collaborative program does not do a stellar job at recruiting physicians to Montana. It tries. But the statistics are stacked against Montana.

“Sixty-eight percent of doctors who complete all their training in one state end up practicing there,” according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Yet Montana has no medical school. And expanded Medicaid. If any of you ever took economics, there is this accepted theory called, “supply and demand.”

supplyanddemand

Supply and demand dictates that, when supply is low and demand is high, the product, whatever it is, can be sold at the highest price. Medicaid expansion, however, is creating an anomaly. Medicaid expansion expects a higher demand to meet the lower supply without increasing the reimbursement rates. This is a fundamental flaw in Medicaid expansion. If, on the other hand, Medicaid expansion was premised on an increase in reimbursement rates, we may see an uptick in supply. When demand is high and supply is low, many people “demanding” get nothing.

Let’s think about how many patients each primary care physician can handle.

“According to a 2013 survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians, the average member of that group has 93.2 “patient encounters” each week — in an office, hospital or nursing home, on a house call or via an e-visit. That’s about 19 patients per day. The family physicians said they spend 34.1 hours in direct patient care each week, or about 22 minutes per encounter, with 2,367 people under each physician’s care.” See article.

physician need

“The baseline projections from BHPr’s physician supply and requirements models suggest that overall requirements are growing faster than the FTE supply of physicians (Exhibits 51 and 52). Between 2005 and 2020, requirements are projected to grow to approximately 976,000 (22 percent), while FTE supply is projected to grow to approximately 926,600 (14 percent). These projections suggest a modest, but growing, shortfall of approximately 49,000 physicians by 2020 if today’s level of health care services is extrapolated to the future population. ” See article.

This is not the first time I have noted the increasing physician shortage with Medicaid expansion. There is a huge difference in giving someone a Medicaid card and providing a person with quality health care. A card is a piece of paper. If you cannot find a physician..or psychiatrist…or pulmonologist….or neurosurgeon who will accept Medicaid, then your Medicaid card is simply a piece of paper, not even worth the paper upon which it is printed. See blog. And blog. And blog.

The same can be said with the shortage of dentists. See blog.

With a shortage of approximately 49,000 physicians in 2o20, I pray that I am not holding a Medicaid card.

If I am, I will be another victim of high demand with low supply.

Lordy, Lordy, Look Who’s Forty: A Review of Our 40-Year-Old Stalemate in Health Care Reform

40-birthday

Well, folks, it is official.  I am “over the hill.”  Yup.  My birthday is today, January 7, 1975, and I was born 40 years ago.

Instead of moping around, I have decided to embrace my 40s. For starters, let’s take a look at where we were 40 years ago. Obviously, personally, I was in utero. But what about the country? What about health care?

Not surprisingly, even 40 years ago, politicians were discussing the same issues with health care as we are now. Some things never change…or do they???

In my “40 years in review” blog, I want to discuss why we, as a nation, are still arguing about the same health care issues that we were arguing about 40 years ago.  And, perhaps, the reason why we have been in a 40-year-old stalemate in health care reform.

Today, we have a diverged nation when it comes to health care. Democrats want to expand public health insurance (i.e., Medicaid) and tend to favor a higher degree of government oversight of health care to ensure that health care is available to all people.  Republicans, on the other hand, believe that the financial burden of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on the federal and state level is unsustainable, and people will receive less than adequate health care. Republicans tend to favor privatization of Medicaid, while liberals oppose such ideas.

Health care reform has been a hot topic for over 40 years…with some interesting differences…

Going back to 1975…

Gerald Ford, a Republican, was our nation’s president, and we were in a nationwide recession.

Under Ford, the American Medical Society (AMA) proposed a new plan for health care, an employer mandate proposal.

According to a 1975 Chicago Tribune journalist, the AMA’s new proposal pushed for a broader government role in health care.  See below.

“The new [ ] plan would cover both employees and the unemployed, along with poor people and those considered uninsurable because of medical or mental problems.  It would require employers to subsidize health care for employees and their families and pay at least 65 % of each premium.  It would also require the government to provide partially subsidized health insurance, financed from general revenues, for the poor and the unemployed. It calls for medical insurance benefits covering 365 days of hospital care during any one year, 100 days of nursing home care, and home health, mental, and dental service for children aged 2 and up.  All but the poorest beneficiaries would share premium costs and would pay 20 per cent for the services provided, but no individual would pay more than $1,500 a year and no family more than $2,000 a year for health care.”

Chicago Tribune, “The A.M.A.’s subsidy plan” April 19, 1975 (emphasis added) (no author was cited).

Interestingly, in that same newspaper from April 19, 1975, advertisements show towels for $1.89, pants for teenagers for $4.99, a swivel rocker for $88, and a BBQ grill for $12.88. My how times have changed!

Those prices also indicate how much buying power was involved with the AMA’s proposal, and what it meant to suggest that an individual might have to pay up to $1,500 a year, and a family up to $2,000 a year, for health care – a lot of money back then!

In 1976, Pres. Ford proposed adding catastrophic coverage to Medicare, offset by increased cost sharing.  These are examples of Pres. Ford (a Republican) creating more government involvement in health care and expanding health care to everyone.

After Pres. Ford, came Pres. Jimmy Carter from 1977-1981, a Democrat.

Pres. Carter campaigned on the notion of “universal health care for everyone;” however, once in office he decided instead to rein in costs, and not expand coverage.  In the prior decade (1960), the consumer price index had increased by 79.7%, while hospital costs had risen 237%.  President Carter proposed an across-the-board cap on hospital charges that would limit annual increases to 1.5 times any rise in the consumer price index.

Pres. Carter was also quoted from public speeches saying, “We must clean up the disgraceful Medicaid scandals.”

Pres. Carter’s stance on “universal” health care was: “that such a program would be financed through both the employer and the payroll taxes, as well as general revenue taxes. Patients would still be free to choose their own physician, but the federal government would set doctor’s fees and establish controls to monitor the cost and quality of health care.”

In May 1979, Senator Ted Kennedy, a Democrat, proposed a new universal national health insurance bill—offering a choice of competing federally-regulated private health insurance plans with no cost sharing financed by income-based premiums via an employer mandate and individual mandate, replacement of Medicaid by government payment of premiums to private insurers, and enhancement of Medicare by adding prescription drug coverage and eliminating premiums and cost sharing.

These are examples of Democrats, Pres. Carter, by not expanding health care coverage and reining in costs, and Sen. Kennedy, by proposing privatization of Medicaid, acting in a more conservative nature, or, as a conservative nature would be perceived today.

So when did the parties flip-flop? Why did the parties flip-flop? And the most important question…if we have been struggling with the exact same issues on health care for over 40 years, why has our health care system not been fixed?  There has certainly been enough time, ideas, and proposed bills.

While I do not profess to know the answer, my personal opinion is the severe and debilitating polarizations of the two main political parties have rendered this country into a 40-year-old stalemate when it comes to health care reform and are the reason why the solution has not been adopted and put into practice.

Maybe back in 1979, when Senator Kennedy proposed replacing Medicaid with private insurance, Republicans refused to agree, simply because a Democrat proposed the legislation.

Today when Republican candidates campaign on privatizing Medicaid and the Democrats vehemently oppose such action, maybe the opposition is not to the idea, but to the party making the proposal.

Just a thought…

And here’s to the next 40!!!

AZ Supreme Court Holds AZ Legislators Have Standing to Challenge AZ Law, But Media Mischaracterizing the Lawsuit

You know the old adage, “Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see?” –Benjamin Franklin.

Well the old adage still holds true, especially when it comes to journalists and the media interpreting and reporting on lawsuits that deal with Medicaid laws, and which, perhaps, only an infinitesimal, ancillary aspect may touch the issue of Medicaid expansion.

Even if the lawsuit will not impact Medicaid expansion, journalists and the media hype the lawsuits as “conservatives challenging Obamacare yet again,” which mischaracterizes the actual lawsuit.

It seems that the media have become so accustomed to polarizing the topic of Medicaid expansion that reporters seem incapable of truly assessing the issues objectively and reporting accordingly.  This has happened recently when the AZ Supreme Court rendered a decision December 31, 2014, regarding legal standing, not the constitutionality of Medicaid expansion as many journalists report.  Biggs, et al. v. Hon. Cooper, et al.

The Arizona Supreme Court only decided that 36 legislators have the legal standing to challenge the passage of House Bill 2010, which was signed into law as A.R.S. § 36-2901.08.

What is A.R.S. § 36-2901.08?

For starters, A.R.S. stands for Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS). For those of you who missed “Schoolhouse Rock” as a child, a statute is a law that is enacted by the legislative body and which governs the state. Statutes are considered “black letter law” and should be interpreted on their face value and plain meaning.

The content of 36-2901.08 allows the State of Arizona to expand Medicaid.  In addition to expanding Medicaid, 35-2901.08 assesses a levy on hospitals to aid in funding the expansion of Medicaid.

36 Arizona legislators voted against 36-2901.08. It passed by a simple majority and was signed into law. The 36 legislators, who voted against the bill, brought a lawsuit to enjoin the statute from being applied or enacted. The State of Arizona’s position is that the 36 legislators lack the legal standing to bring the lawsuit.

Here are the issues in the legislators’ case, BIGGS ET AL. v. HON. COOPER ET AL.:

1. Do the 36 legislators have the standing to bring an injunctive action enjoining Arizona from carrying out 36-2901.08?

2. If the answer to #1 is yes, then have the 36 legislators proven that 36-2901.08 was passed in violation of the AZ Constitution?

I’ve read a number of articles from journalists covering this matter who mischaracterize the Biggs lawsuit as a lawsuit brought by the Arizona legislators, predominantly Republicans, asking the Arizona Supreme Court to strike statute 36-2901.08 because the expansion of Medicaid is unconstitutional, or “challenging Governor Jan Brewer’s Medicaid expansion plan,” or “challenging the legality of the state’s Medicaid expansion…”

These journalists are mischaracterizing the Arizona Supreme Court’s opinion.  And I am not talking about journalists for small, local papers are making these mistakes…the above quotations are from “The New York Times” and “The Associated Press.”

So, let’s discuss the true, correct ramifications of the Arizona Supreme Court opinion in Biggs

First, the Biggs opinion does not hold that Medicaid expansion in Arizona or elsewhere is unconstitutional…nor does it decide whether Medicaid expansion in Arizona is invalid on its face.

The opinion, rendered December 31, 2014, only holds that the 36 legislators have the legal standing to bring the lawsuit…there is no holding as to constitutionality of Medicaid expansion, despite so many journalists across America stating it so.

What is standing?

Standing, or locus standi, is the capacity of a party to bring suit in court.  This is not a question of whether a person is physically capable of bringing a lawsuit, but whether the person prove that he or she has sustained or will sustain a direct injury or harm and that the harm is redressable (or can be fixed or set right by the lawsuit).

The issue on the Supreme Court level in Arizona is only the narrow issue of whether the 36 legislators have standing. Period.

The Arizona Supreme Court held that the 36 legislators do possess the requisite legal standing in order to bring the lawsuit.

Now, the case will be remanded (sent to a lower court), in this instance, to the Superior Court, for a new fact-finding trial now that the issue of standing has been resolved.  In other words, at the lower superior court level, the ref (judge) made a call that the football players on the team (36 legislators) were ineligible to play NCAA football (poor grades, were red-shirted last year), and the alleged ineligible players appealed the decision all the way up.  Now the NCAA (AZ Supreme Court) has determined that the players are eligible and the game will resume.

Again, despite the rhetoric put forth by numerous widespread journalists, the 36 legislators are not merely challenging Arizona Medicaid expansion on its face.

Instead, the Arizona Constitution requires that certain Acts that increase state revenues must pass the legislature by a supermajority vote. See Ariz. Const. art. 9, § 22(A).

Remember from the beginning of this blog that 36-2901.08 was passed by a simple majority.

The 36 legislators argue that the assessment of a levy on Arizona hospitals constitute an Act that requires a supermajority vote, which, obviously would require more than a straight 50% approval.

So the 36 legislators’ lawsuit in AZ is about whether 36-2901.08 needs a supermajority or simple majority to vote it into law.

Not whether Medicaid expansion is constitutional.

Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see…especially when it comes to journalists and media reporting on lawsuits regarding Medicaid rules and regulations.

Supreme Court Will Decide Whether Citizens in NC and 26 Other States Can Receive Tax Credits for Health Care Premiums!!

With a decision that, I can only imagine, ricocheted against the White House walls, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to hear King v. Burwell this past Friday, November 7, 2014, despite Obama’s administration’s request for the Supreme Court to postpone granting certiorari in order to wait for a D.C. circuit to re-visit an opinion, the Halbig ruling.

The Supreme Court’s decision in King could, potentially, have devastating consequences on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, I write that last sentence with an asterisk. Journalists across the country are entitling articles, “Obamacare Is Doomed! Everybody Panic!”, “The Supreme Court Might Gut Obamacare. Your State Could Save It,” and “Obamacare vs. Supreme Court.” These titles to articles are misleading, at best, and factually incorrect, at worst. King v. Burwell is actually not an attack on the ACA. But I will explain later…

First of all, what the heck is certiorari…or “cert”, as many attorneys call it?

A writ of certiorari is actually an order from a higher court to a lower court demanding a record in a case so that the higher court may review the lower court’s decision. A writ of certiorari is the instrument most used by the Supreme Court to review cases. The Supreme Court hears such a small, minute fraction of lawsuits that when the Supreme Court “grants cert,” it is a big deal.

I have written in the past about these same two appellate court cases, which were both published July 22, 2014, within hours of one another, regarding the Health Care Premium Subsidies Section of the Affordable Care Act. These two cases yield polar opposite holdings. In Halbig v. Burwell, the D.C. Circuit Court found that the clear language of the ACA only allows the health care premium subsidies in states that created their own state-run health care exchanges, i.e, residents in NC along with 35 other states would not be eligible for the subsidies. See my blog: Halbig: Court Holds Clear Language of the ACA Prohibits Health Care Subsidies in Federally-Run Exchanges.

Juxtapose the 4th Circuit Court’s decision in King v. Burwell, which held that “For reasons explained below, we find that the applicable statutory language is ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations. Applying deference to the IRS’s determination, however, we uphold the rule as a permissible exercise of the agency’s discretion.”

So the two cases came to two entirely different conclusions. Halbig: ACA is clear; King: ACA is ambiguous.

Well, for everyone else, that is as clear….as mud.

When the D.C. court decided Halbig, it was not an en banc decision. In English, this means that the entire bench of judges in the D. C. Circuit did not hear the case, only a panel of three (which is the usual way for a case to be heard on appeal to a federal circuit). The Obama administration, along with other proponents of the ACA, hoped that the U.S. Supreme Court would deny cert to King until the D.C. court could re-visit its decision, this time en banc.

Yet, this past Friday, the Supreme Court opted to consider King v. Burwell.

The sole issue to be decided is: Whether the Internal Revenue Service may permissibly promulgate regulations to extend tax-credit subsidies to coverage purchased through exchanges established by the federal government under Section 1321 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

How is King v. Burwell NOT an attack on the ACA?

The plaintiffs in King are not asking the Supreme Court to strike down the ACA, even, in part. They are asking the Court to uphold the plain language of the ACA by holding that the IRS’s interpretation of the ACA is erroneous. Let me explain…

Section 1311 directs states to establish exchanges, and Section 1321 directs the federal government to establish exchanges “within” any state that opts to not set up its own state-run exchange, e.g., NC.

Section 1401 authorizes subsidies for people whose household income falls between 100 and 400% of the federal poverty level, who are not eligible for qualified employer coverage or other government programs, and who enroll in coverage “through an Exchange established by the State.” (emphasis added). These 3 criteria are crystal clear based on the plain language of the statute.

The statute makes no provision for subsidies in states that opt not to create their own exchange but, instead, allow the federal government to create an exchange within its state.

The ACA was intended to create penalties if the states do not establish their own exchanges. For example, the subsidies are not allowed to citizens of states without state-created exchanges.

In August 2011, the IRS issued a proposed rule [add link] announcing it would provide tax credits (and implement the resulting penalties) in states with federal exchanges, too. IRS officials later admitted to Congress that they knew the statute did not authorize them to issue tax credits through federal exchanges…Oops…

The proposed rule received much negative feedback based on the fact that the IRS appeared to have no statutory basis for the rule. Nonetheless, the proposed rule was finalized in May 2012, and lawsuits ensued…

Oklahoma began the litigation with Pruitt v. Burwell in September 2012. In September 2014, a federal district court held that the plain language of the ACA does not allow subsidies in states with federally-run exchanges. In May 2013, Halbig v. Burwell was filed, and in September 2013, King v. Burwell was filed.

So, much to the contrary of popular belief, these lawsuits are not “against the ACA” or “proving the unconstitutionality of the ACA.” Instead, these lawsuits are “against” the IRS interpreting the ACA to allow tax credits for all states, even if the state has a federally-run exchange.

Will it negatively impact the ACA if the plaintiffs win? That would be a resounding yes.

Oral argument could be as soon as March 2015.

DHHS reviews options for Medicaid expansion

From the News & Observer:

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s health secretary said Wednesday her agency is collecting information for Gov. Pat McCrory to offer him possible ways to expand Medicaid coverage to more people under the federal health care overhaul.

The Republican-led General Assembly and McCrory declined to accept expansion last year because they said the state Medicaid office consistently faced shortfalls in the hundreds of millions of dollars. A state audit and other troubled operations led McCrory to call the $13 billion program “broken.”

But Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos told a legislative committee the agency’s financial and structural improvements make offering credible options doable.

“We are at a point …. where we have an ability to evaluate options for the state and will be presenting those options to the governor,” Wos told the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee. Last week, Wos trumpeted to another General Assembly panel how the Division of Medical Assistance held a $64 million cash balance at the end of the last fiscal year.

Wos stressed it would be up to others to decide on expansion, most of which would be paid by the federal government for the near future. Expansion is designed for hundreds of thousands of uninsured North Carolina residents who make too much for traditional Medicaid but not enough for subsidized insurance exchange plans. Medicaid currently enrolls more than 1.8 million state residents — mostly poor children, older adults and the disabled.

Wos gave no timetable for offering McCrory those options but said it would be more than just determining whether it would make financial sense. For example, she said, there needs to be enough health care providers to oversee any wave of new enrollees.

McCrory said in July he would be willing to revisit Medicaid expansion if cost overruns were repaired and provided the federal government in part gave the state flexibility to target any coverage increase based on North Carolina’s needs.

Earlier Wednesday, DHHS also announced plans for a retooled organizational structure for the division, the first of its kind in 36 years. It shifts from two division sections to what the agency calls five clearly defined functions. An outside consultant has been helping with organizational, finance and budget forecasting within Medicaid.

Again Wednesday, Wos rejected arguments from the legislature, particularly the Senate, to remove Medicaid from DHHS, saying it would undo recent progress.

Haven’t Fixed Medicaid Yet…But I Haven’t Gotten Bucked Off Yet

There are a number of federal regulations that, if I were in charge, would be immediately amended. Obviously, I am not in charge, so despite my best blogging efforts, my blogs do not change federal law. Today, however, I had the honor and privilege to speak to someone who may have the clout and political pull to fix some of the calamities found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFRs) that are so detrimental to health care providers who accept Medicare and Medicaid across the country.

My husband, daughter, and I ride horses nearly every weekend. We ride Western and on trails all over North Carolina and Virginia, mostly on charity rides. And over the past few years, I have, sadly, gone through over 5 horses. Not because the horses have passed. But because each horse had an oddity or behavior issue that either (a) I didn’t want to deal with; or (2) terrified me.

For example, Twist of Luck (Twist) is a gorgeous pure, white horse with a yellow tail and mane and brilliant, blue eyes. But he was what you call, “proud cut.” Meaning that because he sired so many foals, even after he became a gelding he thought like a stallion. One weekend we were at Uwharrie National Park and when I saddled up Twist and mounted him, he decided that he did not want me on his back. My husband said Twist looked like a “poster horse” for a rodeo with his back completely rounded like an angry cat and all four of his hooves in the air. Needless to say, I found myself quite quickly on the ground with a sore tooshie, and Twist found himself sold.

Since I do not have the time to actually train my horse, I need a trained horse.

With my hobby of horseback riding, a well-trained horse is imperative…not only for safety, but for my enjoyment as well.

In the area of Medicare and Medicaid, it is imperative for enough physicians, dentists, and other health care providers to accept Medicare and Medicaid. You see, health care providers choose to accept Medicare and Medicaid. And not all health care providers agree to accept Medicare or Medicaid. But it is important for enough health care providers to accept Medicare and Medicaid patients otherwise the Medicare or Medicaid card in a person’s hand is worthless. Same as Twist was worthless to me that day in Uwharrie. If you can’t ride a horse, what is the point of owning it? If you can’t find a health care provider, what is the use of having coverage?

Here in North Carolina, we decided to not expand Medicaid. This blog is not going to address the ever-growing discontent in the media as to the decision, although you can see my blog: “Medicaid Expansion: Bad for the Poor.”

Instead, this blog will address my idea that I pitched to Congresswoman Renee Ellmers over lunch last week and discussed today with her legislative counsel today as to how it can be implemented.

Here’s my idea:

According to most data, not expanding Medicaid in North Carolina is affecting approximately 1.6 million uninsured North Carolinians. But to my point of the shortage of health care providers accepting Medicaid, what is the point of having an insurance card that no health care provider accepts? Therefore, I propose a pilot program here in NC…a pilot program to help the approximate 1.6 million uninsured in NC. Besides the moral issue that everyone deserves quality health care, fiscally, it is sound to provide the uninsured with quality health care (notice that I did not say to provide the uninsured with Medicaid). When the uninsured go to emergency rooms it costs the taxpayers more than if the uninsured had an insurance policy that would allow primary care and specialty doctor appointments. But with Medicaid…you can count out most specialty care, even some basic necessary care like dental care.

Most of the uninsured in NC are non-disabled men. I say this because it is usually easier to get a child on Medicaid with the Early, Periodic, Screening, Diagnostic, Testing (EPSDT) laws. See my blog: “How EPSDT Allows Medicaid Recipients Under the Age of 21 To Receive More Services Than Covered by the State Plan” for an explanation of EPSDT. Many women receive Medicaid based on having dependent children. “In most states, adults without dependent children are ineligible for Medicaid, regardless of their income, and income limits for parents were very low—often below half the poverty level.” See Kaiser Foundation. Which means, generally, many of our uninsured are men without dependents. However, that does not mean they are not fathers. Many of the uninsured are fathers.

Two-thirds of the uninsured live in families where there is at least one full-time worker. However, the percentage of uninsured who live in families with no workers, part-time workers and only one full-time worker has increased 12 percentage points over 5 years. See Demographics.

So how do we help the uninsured without merely handing all uninsured a Medicaid card that will not give them quality health care because not enough trained health care providers accept Medicaid patients?

By giving the uninsured health care insurance, of course! But not Medicaid coverage…oh, no! By giving the uninsured private insurance that will be accepted by all health care providers, all specialists, all durable medical equipment companies, all dentists…

We could partner up with a larger insurer like Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) and create a premium health care insurance on which the insured would pay no premiums or co-pays. Instead, federal grant money would cover the premiums. All that money that NC did not receive based on our decision to not expand Medicaid…can go toward this pilot program to purchase the private insurance for the uninsured.

In order to qualify for this premium, free, private insurance the person must:

1. Be a legal resident;
2. NOT qualify for Medicaid; and
3. Maintain a part time job.

The reasoning behind the criterion of maintaining a part-time job is simple.

It is indisputable that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has motivated employers across America to decrease the number of full-time jobs due to the mandatory expense of employers providing health care to full-time employees.

Obviously, part-time work does not pay well. It is difficult to even maintain a living on part-time work’s low hourly wages. Many people are forced to hold down two-part time jobs in order to survive. If you can not work and receive more government hand outs, what is the incentive to work?

If my idea comes to fruition and many of our uninsured carry a private insurance card and receive quality health care from the providers of their choice, we could create a whole new group of North Carolinians not only contributing to the community by working, but also contributing to their own homes, and improving themselves and those around them.

I don’t want to provide anyone a useless piece of paper that does not provide quality health care. We may as well give everyone a “proud cut” horse that no one could ride.

Thank you, Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, for being willing to listen to me regarding the uninsured and actually follow-up with the intent to implement.

Quality health care is imperative. Necessary. Needed. We need to fix this system.