Back Button
Menu Button

Expansion of Medicaid – What REALLY Matters?

Quality care diceA new randomized and controlled clinical trial provides fascinating information for Iowa (and other states) to review while policymakers consider whether or not to expand Medicaid. I highly encourage you to read this study, as it helps frame the real issues we must focus on as a state and country.

Published in The New England Journal of Medicine, ‘The Oregon Experiment – Effects of Medicaid on Clinical Outcomes,’ study reviews the potential effects of expanding Medicaid to impact healthy outcomes when health coverage becomes available to low-income adults. As you have correctly guessed, the petri dish for this experiment was the state of Oregon.

When expanding Medicaid for the poor, the primary benefits can be lower depression rates, greater health-care utilization and the elimination of catastrophic medical expenses for those who acquire the insurance. According to the study’s primary author, Katherine Baicker, a Harvard health economics professor, “The purpose of insurance is not to just get you access to healthcare, it’s to protect you from financial ruin if you have an expensive condition.” Dr. Baicker was one of many speakers at Harvard’s “Forces of Change” series on healthcare that I attended in Boston a few years back…she is a wickedly smart and a concise researcher.

In Iowa, a great debate has erupted (mostly along partisan lines) about whether to expand Medicaid or pursue a new but untested plan offered by Governor Branstad. Both approaches have supporters and critics for a number of reasons – arguments founded on facts, emotion and, you guessed it, politics.

So what is the truth?

I don’t pretend to have the answer. However, the Oregon Experiment does give additional insight on the implications for any legislative activity enacted in this state. It is common knowledge that having insurance coverage allows us to seek medical care that will make us healthier and more productive…and we won’t go bankrupt. We also know that having insurance provides each of us a peace of mind, it certainly does for me. Finally, having insurance improves access to healthcare providers and services. Enough said, right?

Not so fast – after learning of this new study, we may need to reassess this logic and maybe qualify it a bit more. The study findings consistently support the importance of delivering QUALITY health care to our population. To borrow a quote from Dr. Ashish Jha, another wickedly smart physician and researcher at Harvard, “The explanation is simple. It’s not about access to healthcare; it’s about access to high quality healthcare.” Baicker’s recent study certainly supports Dr. Jha’s conclusions.

We cannot expect to have a healthier population by merely providing insurance to gain access to necessary care. In fact, there is evidence that shows doctors who spend a great deal of their time serving Medicaid recipients deliver lower-quality care. Insurance will unlock the door to gaining access to care, but having this access does not ensure we receive quality care that will improve our health.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) attempts to improve access to care for those least fortunate in our society – and most everyone agrees that this is important. However, the ACA does little to control spiraling costs and improve the quality of care being delivered. By adding more insureds into an already dysfunctional, high-cost ‘system,’ will only make our health costs considerably greater and even more uncontrollable over time.

It’s like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.

Improving the health of our population means that we must pursue logical steps to ensure that high-quality care is being delivered at a reasonable cost. Gaining access to care is not enough…we must commit to having high-quality care accompany this access. Dr. Jha articulated this point very well: “Quality is the link between healthcare services and better health outcomes.”

It is time to make sure this healthcare ship is traveling in the right direction. It’s what we all should demand…it’s what we all deserve!

To learn more, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

Medicaid Crunch

David P. Lind BenchmarkUnder the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Iowa (and all other states) will be making key decisions on whether to expand Medicaid to those who fall within the 100 percent to 133 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). Currently, Iowa covers about 104,000 Iowans (aged 18-64) under the Medicaid program who qualify up to 100 percent of FPL.

Prior to the Supreme Court decision in June, each state would need to expand Medicaid from 100 percent FPL to 133 FPL, with the federal government paying the entire cost of this expansion from 2014 through 2016 (federal funding will then eventually drop to 90%). The assumption made in the law was that those who were included in the Medicaid expansion would not receive federal tax credits for health insurance because they would be eligible for Medicaid. Only those who fall between 133 – 400 FPL would receive some form of federal subsidy to help pay for health insurance coverage if purchased through a qualified state-based exchange.

However, after the Supreme Court decision, each state can now decide whether to expand Medicaid coverage to those who qualify up to 133 percent FPL. Should Iowa elect to not expand Medicaid coverage, there could be approximately 134,000 residents who are caught between the 100 and 133 percent FPL – who would not be eligible for Medicaid coverage, but presumably receive federal subidies to purchase health insurance through an approved state-based exchange. These numbers are very fluid, by the way, requiring additional analysis:

 David P. Lind Benchmark

By not expanding Medicaid, Iowa health care providers could have more uncompensated care than anticipated, resulting in cost-shifting to those who have private coverage (employer provided plans).  The Supreme Court ruling has caused a hiccup for those residents who fall within the 100 – 133 percent FPL – especially if Iowa elects to not expand Medicaid coverage. This hiccup may affect employers too. Here’s how:

Under the health care law, employers with over 50 employees would pay a $3,000 penalty for flunking the 9.5% affordability test – but only if affected employees are eligible for federal premium subsidies to buy health coverage in a state-based health exchange. The health law indicates if the employee is eligible for Medicaid, the employee is not eligible to receive the federal subsidy to buy health coverage through the exchange. The employer in this case would not be liable to pay the $3,000 penalty. However, should the state not expand Medicaid, the employer would need to make sure the employee in the 100 – 133 percent FPL does not pay a premium above 9.5% of their income to qualify for a subsidy. Somewhat confusing, but this is a potential unintended consequence of the state refusing to expand Medicaid eligibility.

Even though we now have the ACA, two age old questions remain:  1) Who pays?, and 2) How much?