Monday, June 26, 2017
This week is a big one for the Senate as they consider the Republican version of a health care bill to "repeal" the Affordable Care Act. Now I confess that I've only skimmed portions of it, and I suspect that there will be some "deal making" going on to amend the proposal in an attempt to gather the necessary votes for it to pass. I don't intend this to be a political post, although the title probably makes you think I do. But depending on what happens, couldn't a crisis be looming as a result, at least for those individuals in nursing facilities whose stays are covered by Medicaid? Whether per capita caps or block grants, the potential remains that there may be less money to cover long term stays in nursing homes, right?
What got me thinking about this post was an article in the New York Times on June 24, 2017. Medicaid Cuts May Force Retirees Out of Nursing Homes asks the question, what happens if Medicaid cuts are enough to affect coverage for long term nursing home care? "Under federal law, state Medicaid programs are required to cover nursing home care. But state officials decide how much to pay facilities, and states under budgetary pressure could decrease the amount they are willing to pay or restrict eligibility for coverage." One expert interviewed for the story suggested that even if the ACA isn't repealed, Medicaid is still an attractive target for cuts and don't forget that long term nursing home care makes up a significant amount of Medicaid spending, "long-term services such as nursing homes account for 42 percent of all Medicaid spending — even though only 6 percent of Medicaid enrollees use them." The article considers the possibilities of cuts and the impact both on the facilities and the residents.
Justice in Aging released a blog post, issue brief and fact sheet focusing on the impact the Senate version of the bill will have on elders. The Fact Sheet, discussing Caps lists 5 downsides to the states and 3 ways elders will be harmed. Since the Times article was focused on nursing facility coverage, here's what the Justice in Aging Fact Sheet says about that: "Losing Coverage for Nursing Home Care. 62% of nursing home residents rely on Medicaid. For the vast majority of these 850, 000 nursing home residents, Medicaid coverage is provided through an eligibility category that is "optional" under federal Medicaid law. As states face insufficient funding, they will look for optional categories to cut, putting nursing home residents at particular risk." Both the Issue Brief and the Fact Sheet fail to take into account the aging of America by tethering the cap to "baseline years". As the Brief notes
[T]he fourth problem is that the Senate bill’s per capita cap fails to recognize how increasing age corresponds to a greater need for health care. In 2011, for example, persons aged 85 and over incurred average Medicaid costs that were 2.5 times higher than the average costs incurred by beneficiaries aged 65 to 74.35
Assume that a state currently has a large percentage of Medicaid beneficiaries in their early 70s. The base rate for that state will be weighted heavily towards the average health care needs of persons in their 70s, and that weighing will affect the cap amounts imposed in 2027, when the large group of beneficiaries will be in their early 80s — with different and more extensive needs for health care. Notably, such a shift in population from the young-old to the old-old is more likely than not, given the overall aging of America’s population. From 2025 and 2035, approximately two-thirds of the states will experience a rise in the share of seniors who are 85 and older. In most cases, the increase will be at least 25%. (citations omitted).
If these folks in nursing homes need a level of care that can't be provided by their families (if they even have families) and Medicaid is cut, what's the answer? Right now, all we can do is wait and see what happens with the Senate this week. Right now, the vote is projected to take place on Thursday.