On Thursday, January 30, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma, introduced the Healthy Adult Opportunity (HAO) proposal, which would allow states the flexibility to essentially create block grant programs for certain adult Medicaid beneficiaries, primarily the Medicaid expansion population, through the Medicaid 1115 demonstration waiver process.
Initial HAO demonstration models would initially last for five years and would be financed annually either through a per capita model or a total expenses model. Per capita and total expenses models’ funding levels would be calculated together by CMS and a respective state by using a trendline based on historical expenditures and within the bounds of the projected rate of medical spending inflation. The administration has touted the HAO proposal as a way to provide states with greater flexibility to operate their Medicaid programs while reining in state and federal Medicaid spending. However, health policy experts have expressed concerns over how this proposal might impact beneficiary eligibility and coverage levels.
HAO demonstration models could include adults eligible for Medicaid through Medicaid expansion (individuals with income up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level) and other adults under age 65 who are eligible for Medicaid on the basis of something other than a disability – including low-income parents and pregnant women covered under state options and other populations covered under other 1115 demonstration models. States that implement a HAO model would be required to apply certain beneficiary protections for individuals with HIV and those with behavioral health conditions (including opioid use disorders), particularly when it comes to the availability of drugs used to treat or prevent these conditions.
States implementing a HAO model could also include conditions on eligibility. Such conditions include work requirements (or community engagement requirements) and premium and co-payment requirements (not to exceed 5 percent of annual household income). States could also eliminate retroactive coverage or hospital presumptive eligibility provisions for beneficiaries covered under the HAO model. While states could technically set an income limit and asset tests under a HAO model for beneficiaries currently covered under Medicaid expansion, these would forfeit the ability to receive the enhanced federal matching for this population (permanently set at 90%).
The CMS proposal also requires states to report a suite of 25 quality metrics (taken from the CMS Adult Core Set) to CMS, including flu vaccinations, screening for depression and follow-up care, controlling for high blood pressure, and comprehensive diabetes care. States would also be required to report quarterly to CMS on a set of metrics related to enrollment, retention, and access to care, including the number of providers actively enrolled and seeing patients, retention of beneficiaries at renewal, and complaints regarding difficulty in accessing timely services. Requiring states to report these metrics would allow CMS to address concerns over access to care in a timely manner.
It is currently unclear what impacts the HAO proposal will have on Medicaid coverage. Past experiences in other block grant programs and implemented work requirements, however, do not indicate positive results. Since the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program was converted to a block grant in the 1990s, Congress has held funding flat, despite inflation and growing need, which has resulted in reduced benefits and fewer beneficiaries without necessarily transitioning beneficiaries out of poverty. Furthermore, Arkansas’ implementation of controversial Medicaid work requirements resulted in 18,000 beneficiaries losing Medicaid coverage in the last six months of 2018. On the other hand, the HAO proposal could entice some states that have not already done so to provide coverage to the Medicaid expansion population, while it is unlikely that many (if any) of the states that have already implemented Medicaid expansion would opt-in to a HAO model.
Financial sustainability is critical in a program as large as Medicaid; however, it is equally critical that that sustainability does not come at the expense of beneficiary access to care. ANA’s principles for health system transformation state that the U.S. health system must ensure universal access to a standard package of essential health care services for all citizens and residents, and registered nurses stand at the front line of that care.
While ANA supports the protections included in this proposal for individuals with HIV and behavioral health conditions, it is essential that CMS and the states ensure that no citizen or resident loses access to comprehensive healthcare services. In states where Medicaid leaders pursue HAO waivers, nurse advocates have an opportunity to engage in stakeholder and official comment processes. Policymakers should consider nurses’ perspectives on specific proposals and program designs for a given state. Key areas to address include access choice of provider, healthcare workforce issues, and accountability for healthcare quality.