Many states are looking to adapt their Medicaid programs to address new challenges related to COVID-19, including by increasing coverage and protection for Medicaid enrollees. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued guidance on the types of measures that states can take to change their Medicaid programs.

In an FAQ addressed to state Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program agencies, CMS addressed questions from states, saying that states may have flexibility to cover telehealth services, accelerate or relax prior authorization requirements, expand provider networks, extend Medicaid eligibility, and suspend copayments, although some of these measures may require CMS’ waiver of federal requirements or approval of changes to the state Medicaid plan.

On March 22, CMS released checklists and tools that guide Medicaid programs through the processes of seeking expedited approval of such changes and waivers, including section 1115 demonstration waivers, section 1135 waivers, Appendix K of section 1915(c) home and community-based services waivers, and disaster amendments to the state plan. In the associated press release, the Trump Administration indicated that the tools could be used by states to “access emergency administrative relief, make temporary modifications to Medicaid eligibility and benefit requirements, relax rules to ensure that individuals with disabilities and the elderly can be effectively served in their homes, and modify payment rules to support health care providers impacted by the outbreak.” CMS is providing states the options to request waivers effective retroactively to March 1.


Continue Reading CMS & State Medicaid Agencies Seek to Expand Enrollee Protections During COVID-19 Pandemic

On January 31, 2020, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared COVID-19 a public health emergency under Public Health Service Act Section 319. Subsequently, on March 13, 2020, President Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency under Sections 201 and 301 of the National Emergencies Act. Doing so empowered Sec.

In early February, two federal bills targeting surprise billing in healthcare advanced out of committee.  On February 11, the House Education and Labor Committee passed the Ban Surprise Billing Act (H.R. 5800), which was introduced by Chairman Rep. Bobby Scott (D. – Virginia) and Ranking Member Rep. Virginia Foxx (R. – North Carolina).  One day later, the House Ways and Means Committee unanimously advanced the Consumer Protections Against Surprise Medical Bills Act (H.R. 5826), led by Chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D. – Massachusetts) and Ranking Member Rep. Kevin Brady (R. – Texas).  Both bills would prohibit providers from balance billing patients for surprise medical bills and would limit patients’ cost-sharing to in-network amounts.  The two competing bills must be reconciled before the full House can vote on the issue.  Leaders hope to include the final product in a spending bill that must pass Congress by May 22.

Similar scopes of coverage

The competing bills are substantively similar in several ways.  Each bill applies to out-of-network emergency claims, to post-stabilization inpatient services provided to patients who are admitted to the hospital through the emergency room, and to non-emergency services provided at in-network facilities by out-of-network providers.  The Ban Surprise Billing Act also covers air ambulance services.  Additionally, both bills apply to all individual and group health plans (both fully- and self-insured) in the group and individual markets, but do not apply to federal programs such as Medicaid or the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.  The Ban Surprise Billing Act also extends to grandfathered health plans.

Notice requirements
Continue Reading Competing Surprise Billing Proposals Set to Collide in the U.S. House; States Test Different Solutions

On December 31, 2019, in New Mexico Health Connections v. U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upheld the methodology adopted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) to administer the Risk Adjustment Program under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”). In doing

In a victory for the Trump Administration, on July 18, 2019, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia upheld a 2018 regulation designed to expand the sale of short-term, limited duration insurance policies and rejected claims that the regulation unlawfully undermined the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) and would destabilize the ACA marketplaces. Plaintiffs have indicated that they will appeal the decision.

Short-term, limited duration insurance policies are not required to comply with ACA protections, including those relating to essential health benefits like maternity care and prescription drugs. Originally designed to fill very short gaps in coverage, these types of plans were not included in the definition of individual health insurance under the ACA. These short term policies can be designed with high out-of-pocket maximums, low coverage caps, and significant benefit gaps. They can also deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. For these reasons, these policies can be marketed at a lower cost. Plaintiffs representing insurers, providers, and consumer groups sued the administration arguing that the availability of short term plans would draw away younger and healthier individuals from risk pools and put insurers at an unfair disadvantage by forcing them to compete with short term plans that would not be required to comply with the same ACA protections.


Continue Reading Court Upholds Short-Term, Limited Duration Insurance Policy Rule

Nearly 20,000 comments have been submitted in response to the Department of Health and Human Services January 31, 2019 notice of proposed rulemaking eliminating discount safe harbor protection for reductions in price to prescription pharmaceutical products (or rebates) provided by manufacturers to plan sponsors under Medicare Part D and Medicaid managed care organizations (MCOs), whether negotiated by the plan or by pharmacy benefit managers (PBM) or paid through a PBM to the plan or Medicaid MCO. Most of the comments appear to be relatively short, text box comments submitted by individuals through patient or business advocacy groups.  The following is a very high level summary of the several hundred comments posted (so far) from health plans, manufacturers, pharmacies, their respective associations, and policy oriented groups:
Continue Reading Highlights from the Comments on the Proposed Elimination of Discount Safe Harbors for Rebates

Last week the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced significant policy changes for Medicare Advantage (MA) and Part D programs. On April 1, 2019, CMS released the calendar year 2020 Rate Announcement and Call Letter, and on April 5, 2019, CMS release the unpublished version of a final rule revising the MA and Part D program regulations for 2020 and 2021 (scheduled to be published April 16, 2019). These documents include many important policy changes for MA plans—including opportunities to offer broadened supplemental benefits packages and expanded telehealth services.

Supplemental Benefits for the Chronically Ill

Traditionally, CMS has interpreted section 1853(a) of the Social Security Act to allow MA plans to offer supplemental benefits (items or services not covered by original Medicare) when they are “primarily health related,” offered uniformly to all enrollees, and result in the MA plan incurring a non-zero direct medical cost. “Primarily health related” means an item or service that is “used to diagnose, compensate for physical impairments, acts to ameliorate the functional/psychological impact of injuries or health conditions, or reduces avoidable emergency and healthcare utilization.” For 2019, CMS introduced new flexibility into the uniformity requirement by allowing MA plans to offer supplemental benefits to some—but not all—vulnerable enrollees.
Continue Reading Medicare Advantage plans to offer expanded supplemental benefits and telehealth services

In Gresham v. Azar, United States District Court for the District of Columbia Judge James E. Boasberg “[found] its guiding principle in Yogi Berra’s aphorism, ‘It’s déjà vu all over again.’” No. CV 18-1900 (JEB), 2019 WL 1375241, at *7 (D.D.C. Mar. 27, 2019). In striking down the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) approval of Arkansas’s Medicaid work requirements as “arbitrary and capricious,” Judge Boasberg noted that the agency’s failures were “nearly identical” to those in Stewart v. Azar I, 313 F.Supp.3d 237, 243 (D.D.C. 2018), where he vacated the agency’s approval of Kentucky’s Medicaid Work requirements back in June 2018. The same day the Court issued Gresham, Judge Boasburg declared “[t]he bell now rings for round two” and again vacated Kentucky’s Medicaid work requirements finding the agency’s reaproval “arbitrary and capricious” in Stewart v. Azar II. No. CV 18-152 (JEB), 2019 WL 1375496, at *1 (D.D.C. Mar. 27, 2019).

Under Section 1115 of the Social Security Act, HHS may approve a state’s waiver application and allow a state to waive certain Medicaid program requirements. Such waivers include “experimental, pilot, or demonstration project[s]” that “in the judgment of the Secretary, [are] likely to assist in promoting the [Medicaid Act’s] objectives.” 42 U.S.C. § 1315(a). In March 2017, Seema Verma, the Administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”), along with HHS Secretary at the time, Thomas Price, sent a letter to state governors clarifying the agency’s “intent to use existing Section 1115 demonstration authority to review and approve” Medicaid work requirements. Heeding this call, the governor of Kentucky applied for a Section 1115 waiver to implement an experimental program which includes work requirements as a condition of Medicaid coverage. Under these work requirements, many adults must complete 80 hours of employment or other qualifying activities every month or lose their Medicaid coverage. These requirements primarily target the Medicaid expansion population (individuals who obtained coverage after states expanded eligibility under the Affordable Care Act). Arkansas’ program—which took effect last June as the first work requirements in the history of Medicaid—is substantially similar to the Kentucky program. The Kentucky work requirements had yet to take effect.


Continue Reading Federal District Court Judge Vacates Arkansas and Kentucky’s Medicaid Work Requirements

On March 22, 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would, if finalized, exempt states with high rates of Medicaid beneficiaries in managed care plans from monitoring and reporting requirements related to Medicaid service access set forth in 42 C.F.R. §§ 447.203 and

On December 31, 2016, in Franciscan Alliance v. Burwell, Case No. 7:16-cv-00108-O, the District Court for the Northern District of Texas  issued a nationwide injunction finding that portions of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office for Civil Right’s (OCR) Final Rule for ACA Section 1557 violated the Administrative Procedures Act and cannot be enforced. The case was brought by eight States, three private healthcare providers and the Christian Medical & Dental Society.

U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor found that OCR’s interpretation of Section 1557 to prohibit discrimination against transgender persons wrongly construed both Title IX and Section 1557. He found that these statutes only prohibit discrimination on the basis of biological sex. He also found that OCR’s Final Rule failed to properly incorporate the exceptions for religious institutions and for abortion services found in Title IX – which he said that Section 1557’s language was intended to incorporate. See 20 USC § 1681(a)(3); § 1688.


Continue Reading District Court Issues Nationwide Injunction on ACA 1557 Regulations on Gender Identity and Abortion