Bill Cassidy’s “Monkey Business”

Last we checked in with Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, he was hard at work adding literally dozens of new federal health care requirements to a Republican “repeal-and-replace” bill. This week comes word that Cassidy continues to “monkey around” in health care — this time quite literally.

STAT reports: “Sen. Bill Cassidy is trying to help hundreds of chimpanzees enjoy an easy retirement in his home state of Louisiana. The Republican is pushing for an amendment to a major appropriations bill winding its way through Congress this week that would force the National Institutes of Health to make good on a 2015 promise to move all its chimps out of research facilities.”

Don’t get me wrong: I oppose animal cruelty as much as the next person. If NIH lacks a compelling scientific justification to conduct research on chimpanzees, or any other animal, then it should cease the research and provide alterative accommodations for the creatures affected.

But on at least three levels, Cassidy’s amendment demonstrates exactly what’s wrong with Washington D.C.

Problem 1: Skewed Priorities

The federal debt is at more than $21 trillion and rising — more than double its $10.6 trillion size not ten years ago, on the day Barack Obama took office. American troops remain stationed in Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the world. Russia still looks to undermine American democracy and to meddle in this year’s midterm elections. The situation with North Korea remains tenuous, as the North Koreans continue to develop intercontinental ballistic missile technologies and their nuclear program.

So why is Cassidy trying to consume Senate floor time with a debate and vote on the chimpanzee amendment, after having already sent a letter to NIH on the subject? On a list of America’s top policy issues and concerns, the fate of 272 chimpanzees wouldn’t register in the top 100, or even in the top 1,000. So why should members of Congress (to say nothing of their staffs) spend so much time on such a comparatively inconsequential issue?

Problem 2: Cassidy Doesn’t Want to Repeal Obamacare

Rather than spending time on a chimpanzee amendment, Cassidy — like his Senate Republican colleagues — should focus on keeping the promise they made to their voters for the past four election cycles that they would repeal Obamacare. But unfortunately, many of the people who made that promise never believed it in the first place.

Based on his record, Cassidy stands as one of those individuals opposed to Obamacare repeal. As I noted in June, Cassidy does not want to repeal the federal system of regulations that lies at the heart of the health care law. In fact, a health care plan released earlier this summer seemed designed primarily to give lawmakers like Cassidy political cover not to repeal Obamacare’s most onerous regulations — even though a study by the Heritage Foundation indicates those regulations are the prime driver of premium increases since the law passed.

Problem 3: Cassidy Just Voted to Entrench Obamacare

Earlier this month, I noted some Republicans in the Senate would likely vote to allow the District of Columbia to tax individuals who do not purchase health insurance, after having voted to repeal that mandate in last year’s tax bill. After I wrote that story, Cassidy became one of five Senate Republicans to do just that, by voting to table (or kill) an amendment defunding Washington’s new individual mandate.

Because Cassidy voted to keep the mandate in place in D.C., he voted to allow District authorities to seize and sell individuals’ property if they do not purchase “government-approved” health coverage. Rather than voting to repeal Obamacare, Cassidy and his colleagues voted to entrench Obamacare in the nation’s capital — for which they have sovereign jurisdiction under the Constitution.

Even apart from Cassidy’s flip-flopping on repeal of Obamacare and its individual mandate, the contrast with the letter to NIH raises its own questions. In that letter, Cassidy emphasized that former research chimpanzees should have “the opportunity to live in mixed-sex groups and … daily access to nesting materials.”

This all sounds well and good, but why does Cassidy seemingly care so much about giving freedom to chimpanzees and so little about giving freedom to District of Columbia residents to buy (or not buy) the health coverage they wish to purchase?

Congress, Stop Monkeying Around

Five years ago, Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone famously called a congressional hearing on the healthcare.gov debacle a “monkey court.” Five years later, the Cassidy amendment on chimpanzee research demonstrates how Congress continues to “monkey around.”

Republicans should stop the primate-related sideshows and focus on things that really matter. Like sticking to the promise they made to voters for eight years to repeal Obamacare.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Democrats Ask HHS: Protect Us from the Law We Passed…

Yesterday a series of senior House and Senate Democrats wrote a letter to Secretary Sebelius asking CMS to “undertake a robust and thorough review” of Medicare Advantage plan bids for 2011.  The letter further noted that “any effort by MA plans to increase beneficiary premiums or reduce benefits next year should be carefully evaluated.”

This letter is curious on several levels.  First, the Administration just spent 18 million taxpayer dollars sending out leaflets talking about the new health law’s “Improvements to Medicare Advantage.”  If Medicare Advantage is so improved, why do Democrats think that plans may need to increase premiums or reduce benefits?

The answer is readily apparent in data from non-partisan actuaries in both the Congressional Budget Office and CMS itself.  First, CBO confirmed that the health law will cut more than $200 billion from the MA program.  Then CMS actuaries estimated that those cuts would slash beneficiary participation in half – from an estimated 14.8 million all the way down to 7.4 million.  The actuaries also found that the law’s “provisions will generally reduce MA rebates to plans and thereby result in less generous benefit packages.”

In other words, Democrats are criticizing reduced MA benefits to seniors, even though they passed a law that non-partisan experts agreed would do just that.  Might they have suddenly changed their position because they had to pass the bill to find out what was in it?

 

June 3, 2010

The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
Secretary
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Sebelius:

As you know, the statutory deadline for Medicare Advantage (MA) plans to submit their bids that outline benefits and premiums for 2011 is June 7th. We are writing to urge you to ensure that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) undertake a robust and thorough review of their bid submissions to justify changes in the premiums or benefits that plans may propose for next year. To promote stability in the program, the health reform legislation protected 2011 plan payment rates and took care to phase in future payment changes to minimize disruption. Any effort by MA plans to increase beneficiary premiums or reduce benefits next year should be carefully evaluated in light of these payment protections.

Substantial errors made by WellPoint in projecting medical cost trends in California for 2011—uncovered and corrected only after a rigorous assessment of the company’s rate filing documents—are an example of the kind of review that would protect Medicare beneficiaries and the program from unjustified premium increases or benefit changes. The Office of the Actuary at CMS already collects detailed actuarial information in the bid submissions and has statutory authority to request additional documents as needed during the bid reviews.
In addition, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report requested by the House Committees on Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce, lower beneficiary premiums for certain MA plans in 2008 attracted healthier enrollees, but if those enrollees became ill they faced considerable and unexpected out-of-pocket expenditures that often exceeded Medicare fee-for-service limits by significant amounts.

The Affordable Care Act provides additional authority to protect beneficiaries from MA plans that offer discriminatory benefit packages. In particular, it limits the ability of these plans to charge higher cost-sharing than fee-for-service Medicare in three specific categories where abuses are well-documented and provides the Secretary with authority to extend this protection to additional services as needed. The Affordable Care Act also removes unwarranted overpayments that have caused Medicare Advantage to cost more than Medicare fee-for-service, shortened the solvency of the Medicare trust fund, and led to higher premiums for the more than three-quarters of beneficiaries in traditional Medicare. In phasing out these overpayments, CMS must ensure that plans work to trim administrative costs and other overhead, rather than merely shifting additional costs onto beneficiaries to preserve their bottom line.

The Affordable Care Act increases the authority vested in the Secretary to hold MA plans accountable for their bid submissions. Using this authority, we expect the Secretary and officials at CMS to ensure that the bid proposals are accurate, merit approval and are not discriminatory in benefit design or relative to plan payments.

We look forward to continuing to work together to ensure appropriate implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Legislative Bulletin: Key Amendments to H.R. 3200

On July 14, 2009, the Chairmen of the three House Committees with jurisdiction over health care legislation—Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-CA), Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY)—introduced H.R. 3200. On July 17, the Ways and Means Committee approved the bill by a 23-18 vote, and the Education and Labor Committee approved the bill by a 26-22 vote. The Energy and Commerce Committee approved its version of the legislation on July 31 by a 31-28 margin.

During consideration of H.R. 3200 in the three Committees, many amendments changed the bill text from the legislation as originally introduced. The Republican Conference has prepared the summaries below of the key substantive amendments offered by Republicans and Democrats that were adopted during the three markups.

Amendment Summaries

The list below is by no means exhaustive, and should not be construed as indicating that some or all of the amendments adopted in Committee will be incorporated into any manager’s amendment considered by the Rules Committee. Moreover, at the time the Energy and Commerce Committee completed its markup on July 31, there were as many as 60 additional amendments pending to the bill; at that time, Chairman Waxman indicated that he would hold a second markup in September to allow those amendments to be considered (the precise legislative vehicle for doing so still being unclear) before any synthesis of the respective Committee products is brought to the House floor for consideration.

Education and Labor Amendments

Chairman’s Mark: Prohibits group health plans from “reducing the benefits provided under the plan to a retired participant, or beneficiary of such participant” after the worker retires “unless such restriction is also made with respect to active participants.” Some Members may be concerned that this provision, by restricting employers’ flexibility to adjust retiree health coverage, may encourage firms to drop their health plans entirely—undermining the argument that “If you like your current plan, you can keep it.”

The Chairman’s mark also requires health plans to spend at least 85 percent of their premium revenue on medical claims, or offer rebates to their enrollees. Particularly as the Government Accountability Office noted in a report on this issue that “there is no definitive standard for what a medical loss ratio should be,” some Members may be concerned about this attempt by federal bureaucrats to impose arbitrary price controls on private companies. Some Members may also be concerned that such price controls, by requiring plans to pay out most of their premiums in medical claims, would give carriers a strong (and perverse) disincentive not to improve the health of their enrollees—as doing so would reduce the percentage of spending paid on actual claims below the bureaucrat-acceptable limits.

The Chairman’s mark also prohibits the transfer or use of prescription information, except in very limited circumstances. Some Members may be concerned that these new restrictions would prevent patients from receiving information of benefit to them—for instance, materials regarding less costly generic alternatives.

Courtney: Effective six months after the date of enactment, reduces pre-existing limitation exclusions from one year to three months, and shortens the “look-back” window for determining such exclusions from six months before enrollment to 30 days before enrollment. While supporting efforts such as high-risk pools to allow individuals with pre-existing conditions to obtain coverage, some Members may be concerned that these provisions could raise premiums for employers, potentially prompting some to drop coverage entirely. A similar amendment, offered by Rep. Sutton, was adopted at the Energy and Commerce Committee markup.

Titus: Expands eligibility for small employers seeking to purchase coverage on the Exchange. In 2013, employers with 15 or fewer employees would be eligible to join the Exchange (up from 10 in the base bill), in 2014, employers with 25 or fewer employees would be eligible (up from 20 in the base bill), and in 2015, all employers with 50 or fewer employees could join the Exchange (the base bill permits—but does not require—the Health Choices Commissioner to open the Exchange to employers with more than 20 workers). Adopted by a party-line vote of 29-19.

Scott: Expands the definition of the minimum benefits package to include early and periodic screening, diagnostic, and treatment services (as defined in the Medicaid statute) for all children under 21. Some Members may be concerned that this expansive definition—which includes “such other necessary…measures” to treat physical ailments, regardless of “whether or not such services are covered under the State [Medicaid] plan”—would significantly raise costs for businesses required to offer coverage, and the federal funds needed to subsidize Exchange enrollees receiving such rich benefits. Adopted by a 32-17 vote.

Kucinich: Permits States to seek a waiver of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) for a single-payer system that States may wish to adopt. Such a non-profit system—“under which private insurance duplicating the benefits provided in the single payer program is prohibited”—would operate in lieu of the proposed Exchanges, must provide benefits that meet or exceed federal benefit standards in the bill, and may not result in federal costs “neither substantially greater nor substantially less” than those associated with the underlying bill. While supporting the concept of State flexibility over health care regulations, some Members may be concerned by the provision’s prohibitions on private health insurance, which could cause millions of individuals to lose their current coverage. Adopted by a 27-19 vote.

Energy and Commerce Amendments

Capps: With regard to abortion in the government-run health plan, explicitly permits the Secretary to include abortion in the services offered by government-run plan, and—if the “Hyde amendment” restrictions on federal funding for abortion coverage are not renewed every year in the Labor-HHS appropriations bill—requires that the government-run plan cover abortions.

With regard to the subsidies authorized under the bill, referred to as “affordability credits,” the Capps amendment specifically permits taxpayer subsidies to flow to plans that include abortion, but creates an accounting scheme designed to designate private dollars as abortion dollars and public dollars as non-abortion dollars.  The Capps accounting arrangement is rejected by pro-life organizations, which recognize that it is a clear departure from long-standing federal policy against funding health plans that include abortion (e.g., Federal Employee Health Benefits plan, Medicaid, SCHIP, DOD, etc).

Other provisions in the Capps amendment appear to prevent State laws from being overturned and prohibit the Secretary from mandating that all plans include abortion.  Although in apparent conflict with the anti-mandate language, the Capps amendment also requires that a plan that includes abortion be made available in every region—which could in turn lead to mandates that abortion clinics be established to “protect” access to abortions. Adopted by a party-line 30-28 vote, with six Democrats opposing.

Pallone: Includes language intended to serve as a placeholder for introduction of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act (H.R. 1721), much of which lies within the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee (and was therefore not germane to the sections considered by Energy and Commerce). That bill would create a new entitlement to long-term care services, financed by a new “Independence Fund” generated from beneficiary premiums. The Fund would be excluded from the federal budget for purposes of both the President and Congress, and subject to a “lock-box” that would prohibit any legislation from diverting monies from the Fund without the consent of 3/5 of the Senate.

Under H.R. 1721, the plan would have a level monthly premium of $30, provided individuals enroll in the first year they are eligible to join. (Late enrollees would pay age-adjusted premiums.) All individuals over 18 receiving wage or self-employment income would be automatically enrolled in the program; premiums would be automatically deducted from workers’ wages, and firms would be eligible for a tax credit equal to 25 percent of the administrative cost of withholding. Individuals with incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty level would pay a nominal monthly premium, subject to a self-attestation form verifying their status. Premiums would not increase so long as the individual remained enrolled in the program (or the program had sufficient reserves for a 20-year period of solvency), and under no circumstance could premiums more than double.

Under H.R. 1721, individuals’ eligibility for benefits would vest after five years. The minimum cash benefit would be $50 per day, with amounts scaled for levels of functional ability—and benefits not subject to lifetime or aggregate limits.

Some Members may be concerned by the concept of creating a new, expansive federal entitlement program when Medicare itself is not actuarially sound and the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund is scheduled to be insolvent by 2017. Moreover, Members may note that the Congressional Budget Office, in analyzing similar provisions included in Section 191 of legislation considered by the Senate HELP Committee, found that “if the Secretary did not modify the program to improve its actuarial soundness, the program would add to future federal budget deficits in a large and growing fashion beginning a few years beyond the 10-year budget window.”

Rogers: Prohibits any federally sponsored comparative effectiveness research from being used by the federal government to deny or otherwise ration access to health care. A second, similar amendment offered by Rep. Gingrey prohibiting the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from using cost-effectiveness criteria to make coverage determinations was also adopted. (However, Ways and Means Committee Democrats blocked a similar amendment, offered by Rep. Herger, in their markup on a party-line vote of 26-15. Anti-rationing language was not offered in the Education and Labor Committee markup, as the issue falls outside the Committee’s jurisdiction.)

Stupak: Codifies the Hyde/Weldon annual appropriations provision, first enacted in FY 2005 and included in Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bills since then, providing conscience protection for health care entities by preventing local entities from discriminating against them if they refuse to provide, pay for, or refer for abortion.  The amendment seeks to protect health care entities/workers from discrimination and participating in health care plans.

Eshoo: Establishes a Food and Drug Administration approval process for generic biosimilars, also referred to as follow-on biologics. Grants a period of exclusivity for brand-name products of 12 years, with a six-month extension possible in cases where a manufacturer agrees to an FDA request for pediatric studies. Gives FDA the authority to issue general or specific guidance documents (subject to a notice-and-comment period) regarding product classifications. Adopted by a 47-11 vote.

Ross: Includes placeholder language amending the small business exemption for the employer mandate, which lies within the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee and technically was not germane to the Energy and Commerce markup. The language would increase the exemption level from $250,000 to $500,000 of overall annual payroll, and provide reduced tax penalties to firms with payroll between $500,000 and $750,000; the full 8 percent payroll tax would apply to firms over the latter threshold. Some Members may still be concerned that this provision would impose costly taxes on businesses in the middle of a recession—taxes which the Congressional Budget Office recently notedcould reduce the hiring of low-wage workers, whose wages could not fall by the full cost of…a substantial pay-or-play fee if they were close to the minimum wage.” Members may also note that the underlying bill includes no annual inflation adjustment for the small business exemption threshold—making the “compromise” agreement increasingly irrelevant over time.

Modifies the sliding-scale affordability subsidy levels, such that individuals with incomes equal to four times the federal poverty level ($88,200 for a family of four) would be expected to pay 12 percent of their income on health coverage, as opposed to 11 percent in the underlying bill. Requires States to pay 10 percent of the cost of the bill’s Medicaid expansion, beginning in 2015; according to the preliminary CBO score of H.R. 3200 as introduced, this provision alone would require States to pay an additional $35.8 billion in matching funds over the next decade. Given that Governors in both parties have already voiced significant concerns about what Tennessee Democrat Gov. Phil Bredesen termed “the mother of all unfunded mandates” being imposed upon States, some Members may be concerned that these provisions would have—as the head of Washington State’s Medicaid program recently suggested—States facing severe financial distress saying, “‘I have to get out of the Medicaid program altogether.’”

Requires the Secretary to negotiate payment rates for the government-run plan, and notes that such payment levels should result “in payment levels that are not lower in the aggregate” than those paid under Medicare. Includes other changes intended to create a “level playing field” with respect to the government-run plan; however, Members may agree with CBO Director Elmendorf, who previously testified that it would be “extremely difficult” to create “a system where a public plan could compete on a level playing field” against private coverage. Clarifies that enrollment in the government-run health plan is voluntary; however, Members may note studies by the Lewin Group have found that up to 114 million Americans could lose their current health coverage due to the creation of a government-run plan.

Establishes a Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan (CO-OP) program to provide grants or loans for the establishment of non-profit insurance cooperatives to be offered through the Exchange, but does not require States to establish such cooperatives. Authorizes $5 billion in appropriations for the Commissioner to make start-up loans or grants to help meet state solvency requirements. Some Members may be concerned that cooperatives funded through federal start-up grants would in time require ongoing federal subsidies, and that a co-op would do for health care what Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have done for the housing sector.

Establishes a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Payment Innovation, intended to develop budget-neutral payment models that “address a defined population for which there are deficits in care leading to poor clinical outcomes.” Requires qualified plans to offer information regarding end-of-life planning, and notes that such entities “shall not promote suicide, assisted suicide, or the active hastening of death.” Contains provisions intended to retain insurance brokers’ role in enrolling individuals in health plans, as well as other provisions related to State-based Exchanges. Adopted by a party-line 33-26 vote, with three Democrats opposing.

Baldwin: Directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a formulary for the government-run plan, and requires qualified health plans to contract with pharmaceutical benefit managers (PBMs), which shall disclose prices paid for drugs to the Commissioner. Some Members may be concerned that these provisions would require the disclosure of proprietary price information and could lead to additional federal price controls placed on pharmaceutical companies and/or a restrictive formulary in the government-run health plan. Permits States to establish accountable care organizations within their Medicaid programs, and permits a temporary enhanced federal match (up to 90 percent) for same. Includes language regarding administrative simplification of health care transactions, as well as an expansion of electronic funds transfer payments within Medicare.

Requires that any savings generated from the amendment’s provisions be directed towards increasing affordability subsidies provided in the Exchange. The first of two progressive “unity” amendments attempting to mitigate what liberals viewed as the harmful effects of the Blue Dog proposal to reduce federal insurance subsidies. Adopted by a party-line 32-26 vote, with three Blue Dog Democrats opposing.

Schakowsky: Prohibits Exchange plans from increasing premiums at more than 150 percent of medical inflation levels, unless the plan adds extra benefits or the restriction would threaten its financial viability. Some Members may be concerned that this provision would impose a federal price control that would unfairly target plans enrolling sicker individuals with above-average cost increases. Requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices covered under the Medicare Part D program. Requires that any savings generated from the price controls be directed towards increasing affordability subsidies provided in the Exchange. The second of two progressive “unity” amendments attempting to mitigate what liberals viewed as the harmful effects of the Blue Dog proposal to reduce federal insurance subsidies. Adopted by a party-line 32-23 vote, with two Blue Dog Democrats opposing.

Ways and Means Amendments

Chairman’s Mark: Prohibits the reimbursement of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals from Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Medical Savings Accounts, Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSAs), and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs), effective in 2010. Because these savings vehicles are tax-preferred, adopting this prohibition would raise taxes by $8.2 billion over ten years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Members may be concerned that this provision would first raise taxes, and second—by imposing additional restrictions on savings vehicles popular with tens of millions of Americans—undermines the promise that “If you like your current coverage, you can keep it.” At least 8 million individuals hold insurance policies eligible for HSAs, and millions more participate in FSAs. All these individuals would be subject to additional coverage restrictions—and tax increases—under this provision.

In addition, the Chairman’s mark extends current tax benefits for health insurance—including the exclusion from income and payroll taxes for participants in employer-sponsored coverage, the above-the-line deduction for health insurance premiums paid by self-employed individuals, and FSAs and HRAs—to “eligible beneficiaries,” defined as “any individual who is eligible to receive benefits or coverage under an accident or health plan.” Under current law, while employer-sponsored coverage provided to spouses and children is generally excluded from income, domestic partners do not qualify for similar treatment, as the Internal Revenue Code does not classify them as dependents, and the Defense of Marriage Act (P.L. 104-199) prohibits their classification as spouses. This section would effectively expand the current-law health insurance tax benefits to domestic partners and their children, beginning in 2010; the provisions would reduce revenue by $4 billion over ten years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Legislative Bulletin: Senate Amendments to H.R. 2, Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act

Order of Business: On February 14, 2009, the Senate amendments to H.R. 2 are expected to be considered on the floor under a closed rule, requiring a majority vote for passage.  The rule is expected to waive all points of order against the bill, except those arising under clauses 10 of rule XXI (PAYGO), and provide for one hour of debate, equally divided between the Majority and the Minority.

This legislation was introduced by Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) on January 13, 2009, and originally passed by the House by a vote of 289-139 on January 14, 2009.  The Senate passed its version of the bill by a vote of 66-32 on January 29, 2009.

Summary of Senate Changes Made: During consideration of H.R. 2 in the Senate, several changes were made to the legislation; those changes will be voted on by the House.  Among the more important changes, the Senate bill:

  • Accelerates the phase-out of childless adults from September 30, 2010 to December 31, 2009;
  • Removes a requirement that parents provide a signature on documents allowing their children to be enrolled by “Express Lane” agencies, as outlined below.  Some Members may be concerned that removing the signature requirement would further increase the risk of fraud associated with the new “Express Lane” procedures;
  • Expands States’ ability to cover legal aliens in Medicaid and SCHIP, permitting coverage for all children under age 21, instead of permitting coverage for all children under age 19 as in the original House bill;
  • Permits States to establish dental-only supplemental “wrap-around” SCHIP coverage for children enrolled in group health insurance coverage;
  • Establishes a new Medicaid Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC), similar to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC).  Some Members may be concerned that this provision first would establish a new federal bureaucracy, and second that both its membership—which will include consumer and advocacy groups—and its stated purpose—which focuses on maintaining access—will result in a primary focus on expanding the scope and reach of federal Medicaid spending, rather than restoring the program’s fiscal integrity and improving its quality of care;
  • Removes restrictions on physician-owned specialty hospitals originally contained in the House legislation; and
  • Raises the amount of the tobacco tax increase from 61 cents to 62 cents per pack (which would increase total federal tobacco taxes from 39 cents to $1.01).  Some Members may be concerned that this further increase would place additional tax burdens on working families during an economic downturn.

Summary: The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), established under the Balanced Budget Act (BBA) of 1997, is a state-federal partnership originally designed to provide low-income children with health insurance—specifically, those children under age 19 from families with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), or $42,400 for a family of four in 2008.  Funds are provided to states on the basis of capped allotments, and states receive an “enhanced” federal match greater than the federal Medicaid matching rate in order to enroll covered children.  SCHIP received nearly $40 billion in funding over ten years as part of BBA, and legislation passed by Congress in December 2007 (P.L. 110-173) extended the program through March 2009, while providing additional SCHIP funds for states.

H.R. 2 would reauthorize and expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), as follows:

Funding and Allotments: The bill would maintain the current capped allotment method of SCHIP financing but would increase the allotments over the four and a half year period of the reauthorization (through September 30, 2013).  Including funding for the first half of the current fiscal year (i.e. through March 30, 2009) already provided under P.L. 110-173, the bill would include total SCHIP funding of nearly $69 billion—an increase of almost $44 billion in SCHIP outlays when compared to the statutory baseline.

The bill increases funding levels for the five fiscal years covered in the program—a total of $10.6 billion in FY09, $12.5 billion in FY10, $13.5 billion in FY11, and nearly $15 billion in FY12.  For Fiscal Year 2013, the bill includes a total of $17.4 billion in funding.  However, this funding would be delivered in two installments—one appropriation of $14.55 billion in October 2012, and a second six-month appropriation of $2.85 billion in March 2013.  Some Members may be concerned that this funding “cliff”—which presumes a 66% reduction in SCHIP expenses, from $17.4 billion in FY13 to $5.7 billion in FY14—is a budgetary gimmick designed primarily to mask the true costs of an SCHIP expansion.

The bill shortens from three years to two years the amount of time states have to utilize their allotment funding and provides that unused state allotments would be redirected to states projected to have allotment shortfalls after that period.  The bill rebases state allotments every two years to reflect actual state expenditures and provides that state allotments will increase annually to reflect increases in health care expenditures and the growth of child populations within each state.  The bill language would permit states to obtain increases in their allotments to reflect planned future expansions of SCHIP coverage and would allow certain states to receive the enhanced SCHIP federal matching rate (if funds are available from the state’s allotment) for Medicaid coverage of children in families with incomes above 133% FPL ($28,196 for a family of four in 2008).

Child Enrollment Contingency Fund: The bill would establish a new contingency fund within the U.S. Treasury for states that exceed their allotments, while also increasing enrollment at a rate that exceeds the states’ child population growth by at least 1%.  The money within the contingency fund would be carved out from the SCHIP allotments described above and could not exceed 20% of overall SCHIP funding.  Some Members may be concerned that the fund—which does not include provisions making additional payments contingent on enrolling the low-income children­ for which the program was designed—will therefore help to subsidize wealthier children in states which have expanded their programs to higher-income populations, diverting SCHIP funds from the program’s original purpose.

Performance Bonus Payments: The bill creates a new performance bonus payment mechanism to offset state costs associated with enrollment outreach and retention activities.  States which increase coverage of eligible low-income children in Medicaid by at least 2% will be eligible for bonuses of up to 15% of each beneficiary’s projected costs, and states which exceed their targets for enrolling eligible children by at least 10% will become eligible for additional bonus payments of up to 62.5%.

Funding for the performance bonus system under the bill totals at least $3.3 billion, which would be increased by any allotments not obligated to the states or any state allotments not expended or redistributed to other states.  State eligibility for the performance bonuses would remain contingent on states’ use of several practices designed to increase ease of enrollment, including continuous eligibility for at least 12 months, eliminating or liberalizing asset tests associated with enrollment applications, automatic administrative renewal, presumptive eligibility for children, and participation in the “Express Lane” process outlined below.

As there are no provisions linking payment of performance bonuses to the enrollment of low-income children, some Members may be concerned that these performance bonuses may provide an inducement to instead enroll children from wealthier families, diverting the program from its original intent.  Some Members may also be concerned that the provision linking performance bonuses to the adoption of at least four so-called best practices for enrollment—including the “Express Lane” process—will provide a strong financial incentive for states not to scrutinize the eligibility of certain applicants.

Coverage of Pregnant Women: The bill adds new language permitting states to utilize SCHIP funding to cover low-income, pregnant women.  The bill imposes several requirements on states seeking to use SCHIP funds to cover pregnant women, including a minimum eligibility threshold of at least 185% FPL (and not below the Medicaid eligibility threshold) for pregnant women only after covering all children under and 200% FPL without a waiting list or other enrollment cap to limit children’s participation in the program.  The provision provides that children born to certain low-income pregnant women participating in SCHIP will automatically be enrolled in the program for the child’s first year.

Coverage of Childless Adults: The bill prohibits the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) from approving further waivers to cover childless adults under the SCHIP program and phases out SCHIP coverage of childless adults effective December 31, 2009.  The bill also allows states to apply for a Medicaid waiver to continue to cover childless adults but at the lower Medicaid matching rate instead of the enhanced SCHIP rate.  Some Members may be concerned that the bill would permit the continued coverage of childless adults within SCHIP for nearly a year—and for indefinite periods beyond that using the lower Medicaid match rate—diverting its focus from the targeted low-income children for whom it was created.

Coverage of Low-Income Parents: The bill also prohibits the issuance of new SCHIP waivers permitting the coverage of low-income parents and phases out parent coverage.  States may request an automatic two-year extension to cover low-income parents, and may continue coverage of low-income parents through the length of the authorization legislation (i.e. until October 2013), provided the state does not increase its income eligibility thresholds for parent coverage.  Some Members may be concerned that the bill would permit the continued coverage of low-income adults within SCHIP for at least five years, diverting its focus from the targeted low-income children for whom it was created.

Coverage of Higher-Income Children: The bill places certain restrictions on states’ matching rate for coverage of children in families with “effective family income” higher than 300% FPL—$63,600 for a family of four in 2008—to the lower Medicaid match rate, rather than the enhanced SCHIP federal match.  Specifically, the bill would prohibit states from using a “general exclusion of a block of income that is not determined by type of expense or type of income.”  This provision is designed to address an issue related by New Jersey’s SCHIP program, which disregards all income between 200-350% FPL for purposes of eligibility—thus making children in families with incomes up to $74,200 eligible for federal health benefits.

However, the bill expressly retains states’ ability to disregard unlimited amounts of income by type of income (i.e. salary, capital gains) or type of expense (i.e. disregard all housing-related expenses)—thus permitting states to continue to use “income disregards” effectively to ignore some or all of a family’s income for purposes of determining whether the family income falls below the 300% FPL threshold.  And the bill grandfathers in states (i.e. New Jersey) that already have programs in place using blanket income disregards.

Some Members may be concerned first that this provision does not prohibit states from expanding their Medicaid programs to families with incomes above $64,000, and second that the provisions allowing continued use of “income disregards” will only encourage states to use such mechanisms to expand their SCHIP programs to wealthier families—rather than covering poor children first.

Crowd-Out Provisions: The bill does not contain provisions to reduce “crowd-out”—that is, individuals leaving private coverage in order to join a government program—included in both versions of SCHIP legislation (H.R. 976, H.R. 3963) in 2007.  Those provisions included several studies about the extent to which crowd-out occurs within SCHIP, best practices on how to reduce crowd-out, and authority for the Secretary to reduce payments to states enrolling too many children above 300% FPL.  Some Members may be concerned that removal of these provisions will remove the last disincentive for states to enroll large numbers of children in families with incomes above $64,000—and possibly well above that threshold.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would result in 2.4 million individuals dropping private health insurance coverage to enroll in government programs—a higher level of crowd-out in both number and percentage terms than the first SCHIP bill (H.R. 976) presented to President Bush in 2007.

Outreach and Enrollment Provisions: The bill includes $100 million in new mandatory funding for grants to various entities—including states, localities, elementary and secondary schools, and other non-profit or faith-based organizations—to conduct outreach and enrollment activities, including 10% for a national enrollment campaign and an additional 10% set-aside for the Indian Health Service.  The bill also provides a minimum 75% Medicaid and SCHIP match for translation or interpretation services under the two programs.

“Express Lane” Enrollment Option: The bill permits states to use eligibility determinations from “Express Lane” agencies as a means to facilitate enrollment in Medicaid and SCHIP, including renewals and re-determinations of coverage.  Agencies—including but not limited to those which determine eligibility for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, federal school lunch programs, Head Start, and federal housing assistance—may not deem children ineligible for coverage based solely on an initial adverse determination with respect to income eligibility.

Under the program, states may establish an income threshold 30 percentage points above the Medicaid or SCHIP eligibility limit (i.e. if the SCHIP eligibility limit is 300% FPL, the state may establish a threshold of 330% FPL for purposes of Express Lane determinations).  States may also temporarily enroll children in SCHIP if the child in question “appears eligible” (criteria undefined) based on the Express Lane agency’s income determination, subject to a “prompt follow up” (time limit undefined) by the State as to whether or not the child actually qualifies.  The bill also allows states to “initiate and determine eligibility” for Medicaid or SCHIP “without a program application from, or on behalf of” children based on data from other sources, and only requires parental consent through “affirmation in writing, by telephone, orally, through electronic signature, or through any other means” the Secretary may provide.  Some Members may be concerned that removal of the written signature requirement in the original House bill will increase the risk of fraudulent enrollments in Medicaid and SCHIP.

The bill provides for a annual sample audit of Express Lane cases to establish whether or not the eligibility determinations made comport with eligibility determinations made using the full Medicaid review process and provides for state remedial actions (and eventually payment reductions) if the error rate for such audits exceeds 3%.  The bill sunsets the Express Lane option at the end of the authorization and includes $5 million for a report on its effectiveness.

Some Members may be concerned first that the streamlined verification processes outlined above will facilitate individuals who would not otherwise qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP, due either to their income or citizenship, to obtain federally-paid health benefits.

Citizenship Verification: Current law applies citizenship verification requirements differently to state SCHIP programs, depending upon the nature of the program.  The BBA permitted states to establish separate SCHIP programs, utilize Medicaid expansions to cover eligible populations, or some combination of the two.  The eight states and the District of Columbia that chose Medicaid expansions, along with Medicaid beneficiaries of the 24 states that chose combination programs, must comply with citizenship verification provisions enacted as part of the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA, P.L. 109-171) in 2006.  These procedures—which include verification of citizenship and nationality by presenting any of a variety of documents (e.g. birth certificate, passport, etc.)—were prompted in part by a July 2005 Inspector General report, which found that 47 states (including the District of Columbia) often relied on an applicant’s self-attestation of citizenship to determine Medicaid eligibility and that 27 of these states undertook no effort to determine whether the self-attestation was accurate.  Beneficiaries in the 18 states with separate SCHIP programs are not subject to the DRA verification requirements with respect to either citizenship or nationality.

The bill provides an alternative to the Medicaid citizenship verification process enacted in DRA—and extends this process to beneficiaries in stand-alone SCHIP programs—for children up to age 21 by allowing states to verify applicants’ citizenship through a name and Social Security number match.  If the Social Security Administration finds an invalid match, the state must make “a reasonable effort to identify and address the causes of such invalid match;” in the event the state cannot resolve the discrepancy, it must dis-enroll the individual within 120 days, during which time the individual in question has 90 days to respond and present satisfactory evidence to resolve the mis-match.

States will be required to submit data for each applicant to determine the states’ invalid match rates, but errors will only include cases where the individual has been dis-enrolled by the state after having received SCHIP benefits.  The bill provides that states with error rates above 3% will be required to pay back funds used to pay for ineligible individuals in excess of the 3% threshold—except that the Secretary may waive such a return requirement “if the state is unable to reach the allowable error rate despite a good faith effort.”

Some Members may echo the concerns of Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue, who in a September 2007 letter stated that the verification process proposed in the bill would not keep ineligible individuals from receiving federal benefits—since many applicants would instead submit another person’s name and Social Security number to qualify.  Some Members may believe the bill, by laying out a policy of “enroll and chase,” will permit ineligible individuals, including illegal aliens, to obtain federally-paid health coverage for at least four months during the course of the verification process.  Finally, some Members may be concerned that the bill, by not taking remedial action against states for enrolling illegal aliens—which can be waived entirely at the Secretary’s discretion—until states’ error rate exceeds 3%, effectively allows states to provide benefits to illegal aliens.

Coverage of Legal Aliens: The bill would permit states to cover pregnant women and children under 21 who are legal aliens within Medicaid and SCHIP without imposing the five-year waiting period for most legal aliens to receive federal welfare benefits established as part of the welfare reform law (P.L. 104-196) signed by President Clinton in 1996.  For decades, Medicare has maintained a five-year residency requirement for legal aliens to obtain access to benefits; this waiting period was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1976, when Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for a unanimous Court in the case of Mathews v. Diaz, held that “it is obvious that Congress has no constitutional duty to provide all aliens with the welfare benefits provided to citizens.”

Some Members may be concerned that permitting states to cover legal aliens without imposing waiting periods will override the language of bipartisan welfare reform legislation passed by a Republican Congress and signed by a Democrat President, conflict with decades-long practices in other federally-sponsored entitlement health programs (i.e. Medicare), and encourage migrants to travel to the United States for the sole or primary purpose of receiving health benefits paid for by federal taxpayers.

Premium Assistance: The bill permits states to establish premium assistance programs—which provide state and federal funds to finance employer-sponsored health insurance.  The bill provides that employers must pay at least 40% of premium costs in order for the policy to qualify for premium assistance but prohibits high-deductible policies associated with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) from qualifying under any circumstances.

The bill changes the current premium assistance criteria within SCHIP, such that rather than requiring the cost of covering the entire family through the employer policy be less than the costs to enroll a child in government-run coverage, states should instead use an “apples-to-apples” comparison of the marginal costs of covering the applicable child (or children) when compared to enrolling the child in SCHIP. The bill also permits states to “wrap-around” coverage to supplement the employer policy if the latter does not meet appropriate SCHIP benchmark standards, and to establish a purchasing pool for small employers (i.e. those with fewer than 250 employees) with low-income workers to provide workers options to utilize premium assistance to enroll their families.

The bill requires states that have created premium assistance programs to inform SCHIP applicants of the program and includes provisions regarding coordination with employer coverage and outreach to workers to inform them of premium assistance.  However, the bill does not require states to establish premium assistance programs.  Some Members may therefore be concerned that the bill does not ensure that all children with access to employer-sponsored coverage will be able to maintain their current coverage.

Quality Measures: The bill requires CMS to develop an initial set of child health quality measures for state Medicaid and SCHIP programs, including those administered by managed care organizations, and establish programs allowing states to report such measures and disseminate information to the states on best practices.  The bill includes further requirements for the Department to create a second pediatric quality measures program “to improve and strengthen the initial core child health care quality measures” and authorizes grants and contracts to develop and disseminate evidence-based quality care measures for children’s health.

The bill requires states to report annually on state-specific health quality measures adopted by their Medicaid and/or SCHIP plans and authorizes up to 10 grants for demonstration projects related to improved children’s health care and the promotion of health information technology.  The bill also authorizes (subject to appropriation) $25 million for a demonstration project to reduce childhood obesity by awarding grants to eligible local governments, educational or public health institutions, or community-based organizations.

The bill establishes a program to develop a model electronic health record for Medicaid and SCHIP beneficiaries and authorizes a study on pediatric health quality measures.  These and the other quality programs addressed above would be funded through mandatory appropriations totaling $45 million per fiscal year.

Lastly, the bill applies certain quality provisions to the managed care organizations with whom states contract to provide SCHIP benefits—including marketing restrictions, required disclosures to beneficiaries, and access and quality standards both for the managed care organizations and the state agencies overseeing them.  The bill also requires a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on whether the rates paid to SCHIP managed care plans are actuarially sound.

Enhanced Benefits: The bill requires state SCHIP plans to have access to dental benefits, and mandates that those dental plans resemble a) coverage provided to children under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program (FEHBP), b) “a dental benefits plan that is offered and generally available to state employees,” or c) the largest commercially-available dental plan in the state based on the number of covered lives.  States would also be permitted to offer “wrap-around” SCHIP dental benefits packages to supplement children’s employer-sponsored coverage.

The bill includes language requiring mental health parity in state SCHIP benefits, specifically that “financial requirements and treatment limitations applicable to such…benefits” are no more restrictive than those applied to medical and surgical benefits covered by the plan and establishes a prospective payment system for federally qualified health centers receiving Medicaid reimbursements.  The bill also requires that states impose a grace period of at least 30 days on beneficiaries for non-payment of any applicable premiums due before terminating the beneficiaries’ coverage; under current law, such premiums generally only apply to individuals with family incomes above 150% FPL.

Other Provisions: The bill includes language stating that “nothing in this Act allows federal payment for individuals who are not legal residents.”  However, as noted above, the bill provisions allow states to verify SCHIP eligibility without document verification and provide no financial penalties to states enrolling illegal aliens until those errors (which in the case of “Express Lane” applications will be derived from sample audits, not scrutiny of each application) exceed 3%—and these penalties may be waived in the Secretary’s sole discretion.

The bill establishes a new Medicaid Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC), similar to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), and requires the new Commission to submit two annual reports to Congress.  The bill requires the Commission to examine both payment policies for the two programs as well as the program’s impact on “access to covered items and services,” including creation of an “early warning system” designed to draw attention to any “problems that threaten access to care” for beneficiaries.  Some Members may be concerned that this provision first would establish a new federal bureaucracy, and second that both its membership—which will include consumer and related advocacy groups—and its stated purpose on maintaining access will result in a primary focus on expanding the scope and reach of federal Medicaid spending, rather than restoring the program’s fiscal integrity and improving its quality of care.

The bill includes language prohibiting the Department of Health and Human Services from approving any new state Health Opportunity Account demonstrations under the program established in DRA.  Some Members may be concerned that the prohibition on this innovative—and entirely voluntary—program for beneficiaries may hinder beneficiaries’ ability to choose the health plan that best meets their needs.

The bill would disregard any “significantly disproportionate employer pension or insurance fund contribution” when calculating a state’s per capita income for purposes of establishing the federal Medicaid matching percentage for that state.  According to CMS, only one state would benefit from this provision—Michigan.  The bill would also increase Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) allotments for Tennessee and Hawaii and would clarify the treatment of a regional medical center in such a manner that the Congressional Budget Office, in its score of the bill, identified the provision as specifically benefiting the Memphis Regional Medical Center.  Some Members therefore may view these provisions as constituting authorizing earmarks.

Tobacco Tax Increase; Pay-Fors: The bill would increase by 62 cents—from 39 cents to $1.01—the federal per-pack tobacco tax and place similar increases on cigars, cigarette papers and tubes, and smokeless and pipe tobacco products.  Some Members may be concerned that an increase in the tobacco tax, which is highly regressive, would place an undue and unnecessary burden on working families during an economic downturn and could encourage the production of counterfeit cigarettes by criminal organizations and other entities.

Lastly, the bill increases the percentage of payment of certain corporate estimated taxes in the last fiscal quarter of 2013 by 0.5%, and reduces the next applicable estimated tax payment in the first fiscal quarter of 2014 by a similar amount.

Cost: A final CBO score of the Senate amendments was not available at press time.  However, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the original House-passed bill would increase direct spending by a total of $39.4 billion between Fiscal Year 2009 and Fiscal Year 2014, and $73.3 billion over the FY09-FY19 period.  Most of the spending in the first five years of the budget window ($34.3 billion) would be derived from the SCHIP expansion; and Medicaid spending in the latter five years would rise, as the score notes that children enrolled in SCHIP would be shifted to the Medicaid program upon SCHIP’s expiration.  However, both the Medicaid and SCHIP scores are contingent upon provisions in the bill cutting SCHIP spending from $17.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2013 to $5.7 billion in Fiscal Year 2014.  To the extent that Members believe this 66% reduction in SCHIP expenses will not take place, they may be concerned that the funding “cliff” is a budgetary gimmick designed to mask the true costs of the bill’s expansion of health care benefits.

The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the increase in tobacco taxes would generate $38.8 billion through Fiscal Year 2014, and $72 billion from Fiscal Years 2009-2018.  The bill also increases revenues by $1.6 billion through Fiscal Year 2018 as a result of individuals dropping private health insurance in order to enroll in the SCHIP program, as employees with group health insurance would have less of their income sheltered from payroll and income taxes.

The JCT score on the tobacco tax notes that the tax provisions would generate $7.2 billion in FY10 (the first full year the tax increase would take effect), but only $6.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2019—a decrease of more than 10%.  Some Members may be concerned that expansions of the SCHIP program would rely on a declining source of revenue.

Legislative Bulletin: H.R. 2, Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act

Order of Business: On January 14, 2009, H.R. 2 is expected to be considered on the floor under a likely closed rule, requiring a majority vote for passage. The rule is expected to waive all points of order against the bill, except those arising under clauses 10 of rule XXI (PAYGO), and provide for one hour of debate, equally divided between the Majority and the Minority, with one motion to recommit. This legislation was introduced by Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) on January 13, 2009. The bill was referred to the House Committees on Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means, but was never considered.

Summary: The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), established under the Balanced Budget Act (BBA) of 1997, is a state-federal partnership originally designed to provide low-income children with health insurance—specifically, those children under age 19 from families with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), or $42,400 for a family of four in 2008. Funds are provided to states on the basis of capped allotments, and states receive an “enhanced” federal match greater than the federal Medicaid matching rate in order to enroll covered children. SCHIP received nearly $40 billion in funding over ten years as part of BBA, and legislation passed by Congress in December 2007 (P.L. 110-173) extended the program through March 2009, while providing additional SCHIP funds for states.

H.R. 2 would reauthorize and expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), as follows:

Funding and Allotments: The bill would maintain the current capped allotment method of SCHIP financing but would increase the allotments over the four and a half year period of the reauthorization (through September 30, 2013). Including funding for the first half of the current fiscal year (i.e. through March 30, 2009) already provided under P.L. 110-173, the bill would include total SCHIP funding of nearly $69 billion—an increase of almost $44 billion in SCHIP outlays when compared to the statutory baseline.

The bill increases funding levels for the five fiscal years covered in the program—a total of $10.6 billion in FY09, $12.5 billion in FY10, $13.5 billion in FY11, and nearly $15 billion in FY12. For Fiscal Year 2013, the bill includes a total of $17.4 billion in funding. However, this funding would be delivered in two installments—one appropriation of $14.4 billion in October 2012, and a second six-month appropriation of $3 billion in March 2013. Some Members may be concerned that this funding “cliff”—which presumes a 66% reduction in SCHIP expenses, from $17.4 billion in FY13 to $6 billion in FY14—is a budgetary gimmick designed primarily to mask the true costs of an SCHIP expansion.

The bill shortens from three years to two years the amount of time states have to utilize their allotment funding and provides that unused state allotments would be redirected to states projected to have allotment shortfalls after that period. The bill rebases state allotments every two years to reflect actual state expenditures and provides that state allotments will increase annually to reflect increases in health care expenditures and the growth of child populations within each state. The bill language would permit states to obtain increases in their allotments to reflect planned future expansions of SCHIP coverage and would allow certain states to receive the enhanced SCHIP federal matching rate (if funds are available from the state’s allotment) for Medicaid coverage of children in families with incomes above 133% FPL ($28,196 for a family of four in 2008).

Child Enrollment Contingency Fund: The bill would establish a new contingency fund within the U.S. Treasury for states that exceed their allotments, while also increasing enrollment at a rate that exceeds the states’ child population growth by at least 1%. The money within the contingency fund would be carved out from the SCHIP allotments described above and could not exceed 20% of overall SCHIP funding. Some Members may be concerned that the fund—which does not include provisions making additional payments contingent on enrolling the low-income children­ for which the program was designed—will therefore help to subsidize wealthier children in states which have expanded their programs to higher-income populations, diverting SCHIP funds from the program’s original purpose.

Performance Bonus Payments: The bill creates a new performance bonus payment mechanism to offset state costs associated with enrollment outreach and retention activities. States which increase coverage of eligible low-income children in Medicaid by at least 2% will be eligible for bonuses of up to 15% of each beneficiary’s projected costs, and states which exceed their targets for enrolling eligible children by at least 10% will become eligible for additional bonus payments of up to 62.5%.

Funding for the performance bonus system under the bill totals at least $3.3 billion, which would be increased by any allotments not obligated to the states or any state allotments not expended or redistributed to other states. State eligibility for the performance bonuses would remain contingent on states’ use of several practices designed to increase ease of enrollment, including continuous eligibility for at least 12 months, eliminating or liberalizing asset tests associated with enrollment applications, automatic administrative renewal, presumptive eligibility for children, and participation in the “Express Lane” process outlined below.

As there are no provisions linking payment of performance bonuses to the enrollment of low-income children, some Members may be concerned that these performance bonuses may provide an inducement to instead enroll children from wealthier families, diverting the program from its original intent. Some Members may also be concerned that the provision linking performance bonuses to the adoption of at least four so-called best practices for enrollment—including the “Express Lane” process—will provide a strong financial incentive for states not to scrutinize the eligibility of certain applicants.

Coverage of Pregnant Women: The bill adds new language permitting states to utilize SCHIP funding to cover low-income, pregnant women. The bill imposes several requirements on states seeking to use SCHIP funds to cover pregnant women, including a minimum eligibility threshold of at least 185% FPL (and not below the Medicaid eligibility threshold) for pregnant women only after covering all children under and 200% FPL without a waiting list or other enrollment cap to limit children’s participation in the program. The provision provides that children born to certain low-income pregnant women participating in SCHIP will automatically be enrolled in the program for the child’s first year.

Coverage of Childless Adults: The bill prohibits the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) from approving further waivers to cover childless adults under the SCHIP program and phases out SCHIP coverage of childless adults. States requesting an extension will receive a waiver to cover childless adults for two years under SCHIP. The bill also allows states to apply for a Medicaid waiver to continue to cover childless adults but at the lower Medicaid matching rate instead of the enhanced SCHIP rate. Some Members may be concerned that the bill would permit the continued coverage of childless adults within SCHIP for at least two years—and for indefinite periods beyond that using the lower Medicaid match rate—diverting its focus from the targeted low-income children for whom it was created.

Coverage of Low-Income Parents: The bill also prohibits the issuance of new SCHIP waivers permitting the coverage of low-income parents and phases out parent coverage. States may request an automatic two-year extension to cover low-income parents, and may continue coverage of low-income parents through the length of the authorization legislation (i.e. until October 2013), provided the state does not increase its income eligibility thresholds for parent coverage. Some Members may be concerned that the bill would permit the continued coverage of low-income adults within SCHIP for at least five years, diverting its focus from the targeted low-income children for whom it was created.

Coverage of Higher-Income Children: The bill places certain restrictions on states’ matching rate for coverage of children in families with “effective family income” higher than 300% FPL—$63,600 for a family of four in 2008—to the lower Medicaid match rate, rather than the enhanced SCHIP federal match. Specifically, the bill would prohibit states from using a “general exclusion of a block of income that is not determined by type of expense or type of income.” This provision is designed to address an issue related by New Jersey’s SCHIP program, which disregards all income between 200-350% FPL for purposes of eligibility—thus making children in families with incomes up to $74,200 eligible for federal health benefits.

However, the bill expressly retains states’ ability to disregard unlimited amounts of income by type of income (i.e. salary, capital gains) or type of expense (i.e. disregard all housing-related expenses)—thus permitting states to continue to use “income disregards” effectively to ignore some or all of a family’s income for purposes of determining whether the family income falls below the 300% FPL threshold. And the bill grandfathers in states (i.e. New Jersey) that already have programs in place using blanket income disregards.

Some Members may be concerned first that this provision does not prohibit states from expanding their Medicaid programs to families with incomes above $64,000, and second that the provisions allowing continued use of “income disregards” will only encourage states to use such mechanisms to expand their SCHIP programs to wealthier families—rather than covering poor children first.

Crowd-Out Provisions: The bill does not contain provisions to reduce “crowd-out”—that is, individuals leaving private coverage in order to join a government program—included in both versions of SCHIP legislation (H.R. 976, H.R. 3963) in 2007. Those provisions included several studies about the extent to which crowd-out occurs within SCHIP, best practices on how to reduce crowd-out, and authority for the Secretary to reduce payments to states enrolling too many children above 300% FPL. Some Members may be concerned that removal of these provisions will remove the last disincentive for states to enroll large numbers of children in families with incomes above $64,000—and possibly well above that threshold.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would result in 2.4 million individuals dropping private health insurance coverage to enroll in government programs—a higher level of crowd-out in both number and percentage terms than the first SCHIP bill (H.R. 976) presented to President Bush in 2007.

Outreach and Enrollment Provisions: The bill includes $100 million in new mandatory funding for grants to various entities—including states, localities, elementary and secondary schools, and other non-profit or faith-based organizations—to conduct outreach and enrollment activities, including 10% for a national enrollment campaign and an additional 10% set-aside for the Indian Health Service. The bill also provides a minimum 75% Medicaid and SCHIP match for translation or interpretation services under the two programs.

“Express Lane” Enrollment Option: The bill permits states to use eligibility determinations from “Express Lane” agencies as a means to facilitate enrollment in Medicaid and SCHIP, including renewals and re-determinations of coverage. Agencies—including but not limited to those which determine eligibility for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, federal school lunch programs, Head Start, and federal housing assistance—may not deem children ineligible for coverage based solely on an initial adverse determination with respect to income eligibility.

Under the program, states may establish an income threshold 30 percentage points above the Medicaid or SCHIP eligibility limit (i.e. if the SCHIP eligibility limit is 300% FPL, the state may establish a threshold of 330% FPL for purposes of Express Lane determinations). States may also temporarily enroll children in SCHIP if the child in question “appears eligible” (criteria undefined) based on the Express Lane agency’s income determination, subject to a “prompt follow up” (time limit undefined) by the state as to whether or not the child actually qualifies. The bill also allows states to “initiate and determine eligibility” for Medicaid or SCHIP “without a program application from, or on behalf of” children based on data from other sources.

The bill provides for a annual sample audit of Express Lane cases to establish whether or not the eligibility determinations made comport with eligibility determinations made using the full Medicaid review process and provides for state remedial actions (and eventually payment reductions) if the error rate for such audits exceeds 3%. The bill sunsets the Express Lane option at the end of the authorization and includes $5 million for a report on its effectiveness.

Some Members may be concerned first that the streamlined verification processes outlined above will facilitate individuals who would not otherwise qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP, due either to their income or citizenship, to obtain federally-paid health benefits.

Citizenship Verification: Current law applies citizenship verification requirements differently to state SCHIP programs, depending upon the nature of the program. The BBA permitted states to establish separate SCHIP programs, utilize Medicaid expansions to cover eligible populations, or some combination of the two. The eight states and the District of Columbia that chose Medicaid expansions, along with Medicaid beneficiaries of the 24 states that chose combination programs, must comply with citizenship verification provisions enacted as part of the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA, P.L. 109-171) in 2006. These procedures—which include verification of citizenship and nationality by presenting any of a variety of documents (e.g. birth certificate, passport, etc.)—were prompted in part by a July 2005 Inspector General report, which found that 47 states (including the District of Columbia) often relied on an applicant’s self-attestation of citizenship to determine Medicaid eligibility and that 27 of these states undertook no effort to determine whether the self-attestation was accurate. Beneficiaries in the 18 states with separate SCHIP programs are not subject to the DRA verification requirements with respect to either citizenship or nationality.

The bill provides an alternative to the Medicaid citizenship verification process enacted in DRA—and extends this process to beneficiaries in stand-alone SCHIP programs—for children up to age 21 by allowing states to verify applicants’ citizenship through a name and Social Security number match. If the Social Security Administration finds an invalid match, the state must make “a reasonable effort to identify and address the causes of such invalid match;” in the event the state cannot resolve the discrepancy, it must dis-enroll the individual within 120 days, during which time the individual in question has 90 days to respond and present satisfactory evidence to resolve the mis-match.

States will be required to submit data for each applicant to determine the states’ invalid match rates, but errors will only include cases where the individual has been dis-enrolled by the state after having received SCHIP benefits. The bill provides that states with error rates above 3% will be required to pay back funds used to pay for ineligible individuals in excess of the 3% threshold—except that the Secretary may waive such a return requirement “if the state is unable to reach the allowable error rate despite a good faith effort.”

Some Members may echo the concerns of Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue, who in a September 2007 letter stated that the verification process proposed in the bill would not keep ineligible individuals from receiving federal benefits—since many applicants would instead submit another person’s name and Social Security number to qualify. Some Members may believe the bill, by laying out a policy of “enroll and chase,” will permit ineligible individuals, including illegal aliens, to obtain federally-paid health coverage for at least four months during the course of the verification process. Finally, some Members may be concerned that the bill, by not taking remedial action against states for enrolling illegal aliens—which can be waived entirely at the Secretary’s discretion—until states’ error rate exceeds 3%, effectively allows states to provide benefits to illegal aliens.

Coverage of Legal Aliens: The bill would permit states to cover legal aliens in Medicaid and SCHIP programs without imposing the five-year waiting period for most legal aliens to receive federal welfare benefits established as part of the welfare reform law (P.L. 104-196) signed by President Clinton in 1996. For decades, Medicare has maintained a five-year residency requirement for legal aliens to obtain access to benefits; this waiting period was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1976, when Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for a unanimous Court in the case of Mathews v. Diaz, held that “it is obvious that Congress has no constitutional duty to provide all aliens with the welfare benefits provided to citizens.”

Some Members may be concerned that permitting states to cover legal aliens without imposing waiting periods will override the language of bipartisan welfare reform legislation passed by a Republican Congress and signed by a Democrat President, conflict with decades-long practices in other federally-sponsored entitlement health programs (i.e. Medicare), and encourage migrants to travel to the United States for the sole or primary purpose of receiving health benefits paid for by federal taxpayers.

Premium Assistance: The bill permits states to establish premium assistance programs—which provide state and federal funds to finance employer-sponsored health insurance. The bill provides that employers must pay at least 40% of premium costs in order for the policy to qualify for premium assistance but prohibits high-deductible policies associated with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) from qualifying under any circumstances.

The bill changes the current premium assistance criteria within SCHIP, such that rather than requiring the cost of covering the entire family through the employer policy be less than the costs to enroll a child in government-run coverage, states should instead use an “apples-to-apples” comparison of the marginal costs of covering the applicable child (or children) when compared to enrolling the child in SCHIP. The bill also permits states to “wrap-around” coverage to supplement the employer policy if the latter does not meet appropriate SCHIP benchmark standards, and to establish a purchasing pool for small employers (i.e. those with fewer than 250 employees) with low-income workers to provide workers options to utilize premium assistance to enroll their families.

The bill requires states that have created premium assistance programs to inform SCHIP applicants of the program and includes provisions regarding coordination with employer coverage and outreach to workers to inform them of premium assistance. However, the bill does not require states to establish premium assistance programs. Some Members may therefore be concerned that the bill does not ensure that all children with access to employer-sponsored coverage will be able to maintain their current coverage.

Quality Measures: The bill requires CMS to develop an initial set of child health quality measures for state Medicaid and SCHIP programs, including those administered by managed care organizations, and establish programs allowing states to report such measures and disseminate information to the states on best practices. The bill includes further requirements for the Department to create a second pediatric quality measures program “to improve and strengthen the initial core child health care quality measures” and authorizes grants and contracts to develop and disseminate evidence-based quality care measures for children’s health.

The bill requires states to report annually on state-specific health quality measures adopted by their Medicaid and/or SCHIP plans and authorizes up to 10 grants for demonstration projects related to improved children’s health care and the promotion of health information technology. The bill also authorizes (subject to appropriation) $25 million for a demonstration project to reduce childhood obesity by awarding grants to eligible local governments, educational or public health institutions, or community-based organizations.

The bill establishes a program to develop a model electronic health record for Medicaid and SCHIP beneficiaries and authorizes a study on pediatric health quality measures. These and the other quality programs addressed above would be funded through mandatory appropriations totaling $45 million per fiscal year.

Lastly, the bill applies certain quality provisions to the managed care organizations with whom states contract to provide SCHIP benefits—including marketing restrictions, required disclosures to beneficiaries, and access and quality standards both for the managed care organizations and the state agencies overseeing them. The bill also requires a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on whether the rates paid to SCHIP managed care plans are actuarially sound.

Enhanced Benefits: The bill requires state SCHIP plans to have access to dental benefits, and mandates that those dental plans resemble a) coverage provided to children under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program (FEHBP), b) “a dental benefits plan that is offered and generally available to state employees,” or c) the largest commercially-available dental plan in the state based on the number of covered lives.

The bill includes language requiring mental health parity in state SCHIP benefits, specifically that “financial requirements and treatment limitations applicable to such…benefits” are no more restrictive than those applied to medical and surgical benefits covered by the plan and establishes a prospective payment system for federally qualified health centers receiving Medicaid reimbursements. The bill also requires that states impose a grace period of at least 30 days on beneficiaries for non-payment of any applicable premiums due before terminating the beneficiaries’ coverage; under current law, such premiums generally only apply to individuals with family incomes above 150% FPL.

Other Provisions: The bill includes language stating that “nothing in this Act allows federal payment for individuals who are not legal residents.” However, as noted above, the bill provisions allow states to verify SCHIP eligibility without document verification and provide no financial penalties to states enrolling illegal aliens until those errors (which in the case of “Express Lane” applications will be derived from sample audits, not scrutiny of each application) exceed 3%—and these penalties may be waived in the Secretary’s sole discretion.

The bill includes language prohibiting the Department of Health and Human Services from approving any new state Health Opportunity Account demonstrations under the program established in DRA. Some Members may be concerned that the prohibition on this innovative—and entirely voluntary—program for beneficiaries may hinder beneficiaries’ ability to choose the health plan that best meets their needs.

The bill would disregard any “significantly disproportionate employer pension or insurance fund contribution” when calculating a state’s per capita income for purposes of establishing the federal Medicaid matching percentage for that state. According to CMS, only one state would benefit from this provision—Michigan. The bill would also increase Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) allotments for Tennessee and Hawaii and would clarify the treatment of a regional medical center in such a manner that the Congressional Budget Office, in its score of the bill, identified the provision as specifically benefiting the Memphis Regional Medical Center. Some Members therefore may view these provisions as constituting authorizing earmarks.

Tobacco Tax Increase; Pay-Fors: The bill would increase by 61 cents—from 39 cents to $1—the federal per-pack tobacco tax and place similar increases on cigars, cigarette papers and tubes, and smokeless and pipe tobacco products. Some Members may be concerned that an increase in the tobacco tax, which is highly regressive, would place an undue and unnecessary burden on working families during an economic downturn and could encourage the production of counterfeit cigarettes by criminal organizations and other entities.

The bill would impose additional restrictions on so-called specialty hospitals by limiting the “whole hospital” exemption against physician self-referral. Specifically, the bill would only extend the exemption to facilities with a Medicare reimbursement arrangement in place as of January 1, 2009, such that any new specialty hospital—including those currently under development or construction—would not be eligible for the self-referral exemption. The bill would also place restrictions on the expansion of current specialty hospitals’ capacity, such that any existing specialty hospital would be unable to expand its facilities, except under limited circumstances. Given the advances which several specialty hospitals have made in increasing quality of care and decreasing patient infection rates, some Members may be concerned that these additional restrictions may impede the development of new innovations within the health care industry.

Lastly, the bill increases the percentage of payment of certain corporate estimated taxes in the last fiscal quarter of 2013 by 1%, and reduces the next applicable estimated tax payment in the first fiscal quarter of 2014 by a similar amount.

Cost: According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would increase direct spending by a total of $39.4 billion between Fiscal Year 2009 and Fiscal Year 2014, and $73.3 billion over the FY09-FY19 period. Most of the spending in the first five years of the budget window ($34.3 billion) would be derived from the SCHIP expansion; and Medicaid spending in the latter five years would rise, as the score notes that children enrolled in SCHIP would be shifted to the Medicaid program upon SCHIP’s expiration. However, both the Medicaid and SCHIP scores are contingent upon provisions in the bill cutting SCHIP spending from $17.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2013 to $6 billion in Fiscal Year 2014. To the extent that Members believe this 66% reduction in SCHIP expenses will not take place, they may be concerned that the funding “cliff” is a budgetary gimmick designed to mask the true costs of the bill’s expansion of health care benefits.

The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the increase in tobacco taxes would generate $38.8 billion through Fiscal Year 2014, and $72 billion from Fiscal Years 2009-2018. The bill also increases revenues by $1.6 billion through Fiscal Year 2018 as a result of individuals dropping private health insurance in order to enroll in the SCHIP program, as employees with group health insurance would have less of their income sheltered from payroll and income taxes.

The JCT score on the tobacco tax notes that the tax provisions would generate $7.2 billion in FY10 (the first full year the tax increase would take effect), but only $6.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2019—a decrease of more than 10%. Some Members may be concerned that expansions of the SCHIP program would rely on a declining source of revenue.

SCHIP Crowd-Out

Background:  The State Children’s Health Insurance Program, established under the Balanced Budget Act (BBA) of 1997, is a state-federal partnership originally designed to provide low-income children with health insurance—specifically, those children under age 19 from families with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), or approximately $40,000 for a family of four.  States may implement SCHIP by expanding Medicaid and/or creating a new state SCHIP program.  SCHIP received nearly $40 billion in funding over ten years as part of BBA, and legislation recently passed by Congress in December (P.L. 110-173) extended the program through March 2009, while providing additional SCHIP funds for states.

One concern of many conservatives regarding the SCHIP program relates to crowd-out—a phenomenon whereby individuals who had previously held private health insurance drop that coverage in order to enroll in a public program.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of H.R. 3963, a five-year SCHIP reauthorization which the President vetoed (and the House failed to override), found that of the 5.8 million children who would obtain Medicaid or SCHIP coverage under the legislation, more than one-third, or 2 million, would do so by dropping private health insurance coverage.

Administration Guidance:  In order to prevent policies that encourage crowd-out, and ensure that SCHIP funds are more effectively allocated to the low-income beneficiaries for whom the program was created, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), on August 17, 2007, issued guidance to state health officials about the way CMS would evaluate proposals by states to expand their SCHIP programs to include families with incomes above 250% of the federal poverty level (FPL).  Specifically, CMS included several steps which states should take before contemplating expansions above 250% of FPL:

  • Cost sharing requirements for state plans similar to those for private plans;
  • A one-year period of uninsurance for beneficiaries prior to receiving SCHIP coverage, to ensure that individuals and families are not dropping private coverage in order to receive benefits on government rolls;
  • Monitoring of child beneficiaries’ eligibility for coverage provided by non-custodial parents;
  • Assurance that states have enrolled at least 95% of children in families below 200% of FPL who are eligible for coverage under SCHIP or Medicaid;
  • Data that private insurance coverage for targeted populations has not declined more than two percentage points in the past five years; and
  • Regular monthly reporting of enrollment data monitoring crowd-out in state plans.

The guidance intended to maximize the use of state and federal SCHIP funding by ensuring that scarce resources are targeted at the populations for whom the program was originally created, and that government funds for health insurance are not merely replacing private dollars.  CMS later used the policies embodied in the August letter to reject New York’s application to extend SCHIP to children in families making up to 400% FPL—or nearly $85,000 per year.  New York and other states are suing the federal government to overturn CMS’ decision and allow further expansion of government-funded health insurance.

On May 7, 2008, CMS issued another letter to state health officials providing further clarification on the August 17, 2007 guidance.  The letter indicated that CMS would work with states to evaluate whether the states have effectively enrolled 95% of eligible children below 200% FPL before expanding their programs up the income scale.  It also noted that CMS does not expect states to apply the anti-crowd-out provisions—including the one-year waiting period for SCHIP coverage and cost-sharing requirements comparable to private insurance plans—for unborn children or children with family incomes below 250% FPL—approximately $53,000 for a family of four.  Most importantly, the letter noted that changes made to state procedures need not be applied to current enrollees—meaning that no child need be dropped off the SCHIP rolls as a result of CMS’ August 17, 2007 letter.

Recent Legislative Developments:  On May 15, 2008, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a legislative hearing on H.R. 5998, introduced by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH).  The legislation would prohibit the Administration from implementing its August 17, 2007 guidance letter to states regarding SCHIP crowd-out.  Press reports indicate that during the hearing, advocates of the legislation argued first that it would negatively impact enrollment in the SCHIP program, and second that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and other experts have concluded that CMS violated the Congressional Review Act by promulgating its policy as a “guidance letter,” rather than issuing a formal rule using notice-and-comment procedures.  In response, Health Subcommittee Ranking Member Nathan Deal (R-GA) noted that the guidance process allowed for more flexibility in responding to any concerns raised by states than would a formal rule.

On the same day, an amendment by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to nullify the August 17 letter was attached to the wartime supplemental spending bill at a Senate Appropriations Committee markup.  This SCHIP provision was added to legislative provisions overriding seven Medicaid anti-fraud regulations issued by CMS, which were also attached to the House version (H.R. 2642) of the supplemental spending bill.

Conclusion:  Most conservatives support enrollment and funding of the SCHIP program for the populations for whom the SCHIP program was created.  That is why in December the House passed, by a 411—3 vote, legislation reauthorizing and extending the SCHIP program through March 2009.  That legislation included an additional $800 million in funding for states to ensure that all currently eligible children will continue to have access to state-based SCHIP coverage.

However, many conservatives retain concerns about the significant expansions of SCHIP contemplated by House Democrats and their impact on reducing private health insurance coverage while increasing reliance on a government-funded program.  In this vein, the Administration’s guidance to states remains consistent with the goal of ensuring that SCHIP remains targeted toward the low-income populations for which it was designed.  Therefore, many conservatives will support the reasonable attempts by CMS to bolster the integrity of the SCHIP program while retaining state plans’ flexibility, and question efforts by Congressional Democrats—and states like New York—to encourage further expansion of government-funded health insurance financed by federal taxpayers.

Medicaid and the States

Executive Summary:  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued several proposed regulations concerning various issues relating to federal reimbursement of certain Medicaid services.  Although the proposed regulations address state financing arrangements that government reports have questioned for decades, the Democratic Congress passed moratoria prohibiting CMS from issuing final regulations.  Many conservatives may be wary of any further legislative efforts to override the proposed regulations—or to provide a temporary increase in the federal Medicaid match in an economic “stimulus” bill—as encouraging states to engage in questionable funding schemes and poor financial planning, resulting in significantly higher outlays for the federal government.

Background:  The Medicaid program, enacted in 1965, serves as a federal-state partnership providing entitlement health care coverage to certain low-income and disabled populations.  Federal funding for the program is provided on a matching basis, according to a Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) formula established in statute.

Because of the nature of the federal match, states have for some time created mechanisms designed to maximize the federal share of spending on Medicaid services.  In 1991, Congress passed legislation (P.L. 102-234) designed to restrict Medicaid provider taxes, as states were collecting funds from providers, then rebating those funds back to the providers once the states had utilized the taxes collected to capture additional federal matching funds.  The 1991 provisions were designed to avoid provider-specific taxes, and included “hold harmless” mechanisms guaranteeing that providers would receive all their money back after it was used by the state to recoup additional federal funds; however, broad-based provider taxes remained permissible, and states soon developed other ways to maximize federal Medicaid spending.

Proposed Regulations:  During the past year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has attempted to move forward on several proposed regulations addressing specific issues and service areas within the Medicaid program.  Specifically, the various proposed rules would:

  • Limit reimbursement for publicly-owned health providers to costs incurred, narrow the definition of unit of government, and require providers to retain all Medicaid payments, in order to restrain intergovernmental transfers designed primarily to maximize states’ federal Medicaid payments;
  • Eliminate Medicaid reimbursement for graduate medical education;
  • Restrict the scope of rehabilitation services subject to the federal Medicaid match and eliminate coverage of day habilitation services for individuals with developmental disabilities;
  • Prohibit federal Medicaid payments for administrative activities performed by schools and transportation of children to and from school;
  • Restrict the scope of Medicaid outpatient hospital services and clarify the upper payment classification for outpatient services; and
  • Restrict the scope of targeted case management services, and specify that Medicaid will not reimburse states for services where another third party is liable for payment.

The proposed regulations were issued at various times between May and December 2007, and are collectively projected to result in at least $12.1 billion in savings to the federal government over the next five fiscal years.[1]  By point of comparison, these savings would constitute approximately 1% of total federal spending on Medicaid, which over the next five years is estimated to total $1.2 trillion.[2]

In addition, in February 2008, CMS issued proposed regulations altering current regulations on provider taxes; this rule, proposed as a result of legislative changes enacted in the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-432) and the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-173), would reduce the maximum provider tax under the federal “safe harbor” from 6% to 5.5% and make other related changes, saving an estimated $400-600 million over five years.[3]

Recent Legislative Developments:  In response to several of the Medicaid payment rules proposed last year, Congress has taken action to block CMS from issuing final regulations.  Section 7002(a)(1) of the 2007 wartime supplemental appropriations bill (P.L. 110-28) prohibited promulgation of regulations related to cost limits for providers and graduate medical education (GME) for one year—until May 25, 2008.  In addition, Medicare physician payment legislation passed last December (P.L. 110-173) included prohibitions on promulgation of regulations addressing rehabilitation and school-based transportation services until June 30, 2008.

On March 13, 2008, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) and Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) introduced H.R. 5613, Protecting the Medicaid Safety Net Act.  The legislation would extend until April 1, 2009, the existing moratoria on CMS’ issuance of the Medicaid regulations discussed above, and would further impose moratoria on issuance of  proposed rules addressing case management, re-defining hospital outpatient services, and allowable provider taxes.  An Energy and Commerce hearing on the legislation is scheduled for April 3, 2007, and further legislative action is possible, either as a stand-alone measure or as part of Medicare physician reimbursement legislation.

In addition, House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) has introduced H.R. 5268, which would provide a temporary increase in federal Medicaid matching funds to states under the FMAP formula for five fiscal quarters, through October 2009.  Similar proposals were circulated early this year as part of the debate surrounding the “stimulus” bill; while the National Governors Association and state Medicaid directors expressed strong support for these provisions, they were not included in the final legislation.  However, it is possible but not certain that such measures regarding FMAP could be attached to either the wartime supplemental appropriations legislation or a possible second “stimulus” package being discussed by the Democratic leadership.

GAO Analysis:  Since 1994, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has compiled more than a dozen reports highlighting problems with Medicaid financing, and specifically the ways in which state governments attempt to “game” Medicaid reimbursement policies in order to maximize the amount of federal revenue funding state health care programs.  The persistent shortcomings in federal oversight of these state funding schemes prompted GAO to add the Medicaid program to its list of federal entities at high risk of mismanagement, waste, and abuse in 2003.

Several of the GAO reports discuss state reimbursement efforts for several of the services CMS proposes to change in its new regulations.  For instance, testimony in June 2005 analyzed the ways in which 34 states—up from 10 in 2002—employed contingency-fee consultants to maximize federal Medicaid payments.  The report found that from 2000-2004, Georgia obtained $1.5 billion in additional reimbursements, and Massachusetts $570 million.[4]  The report concluded that the states’ claims for targeted case management “appear to be inconsistent with current CMS policy” and claims for rehabilitation services “were inconsistent with federal law.”[5]

In other areas, GAO found potentially inappropriate behavior—higher reimbursements for school-based health and administrative services that were not fully passed on to the relevant school districts, and questionable administrative costs, such as a 100% claim on a Massachusetts state official’s salary as a Medicaid administrative cost, even though the official worked on unrelated projects for other states designed to increase their own Medicaid reimbursements.[6]

The GAO reports also demonstrate states’ use of intergovernmental transfers to maximize federal Medicaid reimbursements.  In these schemes, local-government health facilities transfer funds to the state Medicaid agency.  The Medicaid agency in turn transfers funds back to the local-government facility—but not before filing a claim with CMS to obtain federal reimbursement.  Although permissible under current law in many cases, GAO found that these schemes “are inconsistent with Medicaid’s federal-state partnership and fiscal integrity.”[7]

Many of the GAO reports over the past decade—whose titles are listed at the bottom of this brief—have included calls for additional federal oversight around various state Medicaid reimbursement initiatives, particularly the need for clear and consistently applied guidance from CMS about the permissiveness of various financing arrangements.[8]  Several of CMS’ proposed regulations attempt to remedy this problem, and restore clarity and fiscal integrity to the Medicaid program.

Reports of Medicaid Waste and Fraud:  Although much of the debate surrounding the proposed CMS regulations has centered on the proper scope and limits of covered services within the Medicaid program, it is also worth noting the considerable amount of waste and criminal fraud present within some state Medicaid programs.  An extensive investigation published by The New York Times in July 2005 revealed several examples of highly questionable activity within the New York Medicaid program:

  • A Brooklyn dentist who billed Medicaid for performing 991 procedures in a single day;
  • One physician who wrote 12% of all the prescriptions purchased by New York Medicaid for an AIDS-related drug to treat wasting syndrome—allegedly so the steroid could be re-sold on the black market to bodybuilders;
  • Over $300 million—far more than any other state Medicaid program—in spending on transportation services, some of which involved rides for seniors mobile enough to rely on public transportation and other services which investigators believe may not have been performed at all; and
  • A school administrator in Buffalo who in a single day recommended that 4,434 students receive speech therapy funded by Medicaid—part of $1.2 billion in improper spending by the state on speech services, according to a federal audit.

A former state investigator of Medicaid abuse estimated that fraudulent claims totaled approximately 40% of all Medicaid spending in New York—nearly $18 billion per year, which may help explain why New York’s Medicaid expenditures greatly exceed California’s, despite a smaller overall population and fewer Medicaid beneficiaries.[9]

Likewise, reports from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Inspector General reflect Medicaid reimbursement submissions by states that either lack appropriate documentation for the claims or represent inappropriate use of Medicaid resources.  For example, one May 2003 claim for Medicaid targeted case management reimbursement included the following notation from the case manager explaining her contact with the beneficiary:

Phone call with mother.  Discussed the outstanding warrant for [name redacted].  She does not know where he is.  She will call police when he shows up.

While it may represent good public policy for this type of contact—which attempted to locate a juvenile for whom an outstanding arrest warrant existed—some conservatives would argue that such actions lie outside the scope of the Medicaid program’s intent and represent a far-from-ideal expenditure of federal matching dollars.

Conservative Concerns:  Given the many GAO reports highlighting problems with state Medicaid financing schemes, and the disturbing reports of fraud and graft within many Medicaid programs, some conservatives may be troubled by potential legislative action to override CMS’ modest attempts at limiting questionable behavior by state Medicaid agencies.  Likewise, a potential increase in the Medicaid FMAP formula might be viewed by some conservatives as a “bailout” for states which over-extended entitlement promises over the last few years—and which have failed to implement strong anti-fraud programs to ensure that Medicaid funds are spent wisely.  Some conservatives may argue that states wishing to reverse CMS’ proposed rules, or to seek an “emergency” FMAP increase from the federal government, should first ensure that their own fiscal houses are in order with respect to Medicaid waste, fraud, and abuse.

Although many state governors and Medicaid directors have pointed to the recent economic slowdown as putting a particular squeeze on their budgets, a recent study by researchers at the Urban Institute found that revenue loss generates a measurably larger impact on state budgets than enrollment increases in Medicaid and related public health programs.[10]  Because potential state deficits during economic downturns therefore stem largely from failed revenue models rather than greater public reliance on Medicaid and related programs, some conservatives may question whether the tactic of relying upon the federal government for backstop assistance will have the twin negative effects of increasing federal spending and debt while encouraging “moral hazard” among states with flawed budgetary models.

However, the discussion of Medicaid funding levels does provide conservatives with an opportunity to raise the important issue of entitlement reform.  One possible solution would see Medicaid converted into a block grant program, allowing for predictable payments to states, ending state distortionary schemes designed to win additional federal dollars, and enabling Congress to engage in a more rational attempt to control health care costs while setting clear national fiscal priorities.  At a minimum, some conservatives may support efforts to convert those portions of Medicaid not directly related to essential medical services into a discretionary spending program, which would re-focus Medicaid on its original mission of providing health care for low-income individuals, while allowing services tangential to that mission to compete with other federal programs for scarce funding dollars.

 

[1] Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, “Medicaid: Overview and Impact of New Regulations,” (Washington, DC, Report 7739, January 2008), available online at http://kff.org/medicaid/upload/7739.pdf (accessed March 31, 2008), p. 2.

[2] Office of Management and Budget, Analytical Perspectives: Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2009, available online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2009/pdf/spec.pdf (accessed April 1, 2008), p. 383.

[3] Jean Hearne, “Medicaid Provider Taxes,” CRS Report RS22843, March 21, 2008, pp. 4-6.

[4] Government Accountability Office, “Medicaid Financing: States’ Use of Contingency Fee Consultants to Maximize Federal Reimbursements Highlights Need for Increased Federal Oversight,” (Washington, Report GAO-05-748, June 2005) available online at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05748.pdf (accessed March 31, 2008), p. 4.

[5] Ibid., p. 19.

[6] Ibid., pp. 27-29.

[7] Ibid., p. 24.

[8] See ibid., p. 30.

[9] Clifford Levy and Michael Luo, “Medicaid Fraud May Reach into Billions,” The New York Times 18 July 2005, available online at http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/18/nyregion/18medicaid.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print&oref=slogin (accessed March 29, 2008).

[10] John Holahan, Stan Dorn, et al., “Medicaid, SCHIP, and Economic Downturn: Policy Challenges and Policy Responses,” (Washington, DC, Alliance for Health Reform briefing on Health Care and the Economic Slowdown, February 15, 2008), available online at http://www.allhealth.org/briefingmaterials/MedicaidSCHIPeconomicdownturn_2-14-2008-1079.ppt (accessed March 29, 2008).

Legislative Bulletin: H.R. 4848, Mental Health Parity Extension

Order of Business:  The bill is scheduled to be considered on Wednesday, February 6, 2008, under a motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill.

Summary:   H.R. 4848 would extend through December 31, 2008 certain provisions relating to mental health parity coverage that previously expired on December 31, 2007.

Specifically, the bill would reinstitute federal mandates first included in the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, and extended in subsequent legislation, requiring that annual and lifetime limits on coverage for mental health treatments equal similar limits for physical illnesses.  Group health plans failing to meet the requirements of the Mental Health Parity Act would be subject to an excise tax; however, employers with fewer than 50 employees would be exempt from the federal requirements.

H.R. 4848 would also include Medicare provider payments in the Federal Payment Levy System, which imposes a 15% levy on contractors to recover outstanding federal tax debt.  A 2004 Government Accountability Office study determined that 21,000 Medicare providers owed more than $1.3 billion in back taxes, in part because payments under Medicare Parts A and B are currently exempt from participation in the Federal Payment Levy System.  H.R. 4848 would extend the Federal Payment Levy system to Medicare Part A and B claims over a three-year period ending on September 30, 2011.

Finally, H.R. 4848 would deposit additional savings in the Physician Assistance and Quality Initiative Fund, which is used by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to finance physician payment and quality improvement initiatives.

Possible Conservative Concerns:  Some conservatives may be concerned that the bill would raise the cost of health insurance by re-imposing a lapsed federal mandate on individual and group health plans.  Some conservatives may also be concerned that the bill could lead to further action on full mental health parity legislation (H.R. 1424; S. 558) being considered in the 110th Congress, further inflating health insurance premiums nationwide.

Committee Action:  H.R. 4848 was introduced on December 19, 2007 and was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and in addition to the Committees on Ways and Means and Education and Labor, where no further action was taken.

Cost to Taxpayers:  However, H.R. 4848 would reduce federal revenues by $25 million over ten years by increasing the cost of health insurance, thus leading employees with group coverage to exclude more of their income from federal income and payroll taxes.  The bill would offset that foregone revenue through the extension of Part A and B Medicare payments to the Federal Payment Levy System as described above, saving a total of $374 million over ten years.  The bill diverts the additional revenue generated in excess of the foregone income and payroll taxes ($349 million over ten years) to the Physician Assistance and Quality Improvement Fund.

Does the Bill Expand the Size and Scope of the Federal Government?  No.

Does the Bill Contain Any New State-Government, Local-Government, or Private-Sector Mandates?  Yes, the bill reinstitutes federal mandates on individual and group health insurance plans regarding the design of their benefit plans.

Does the Bill Comply with House Rules Regarding Earmarks/Limited Tax Benefits/Limited Tariff Benefits?:  A Committee report designating compliance with clause 9 of rule XXI is unavailable.

Constitutional Authority:  A Committee report citing Constitutional authority is unavailable.