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Tax-Exempt Status For Nonprofit Hospitals Under The ACA: Where Are The Final Treasury/IRS Rules?


October 23rd, 2014

Months have now stretched into years, and there still remains no sign of final Treasury/IRS regulations interpreting the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s provisions covering the expanded obligations of nonprofit hospitals that seek tax-exempt status under §501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

The ACA amendments do not depend on formal agency policy to take effect. Nonetheless, Congress directed the Treasury Secretary to issue regulations and guidance necessary to carry out the reforms (26 U.S.C. §501(r)(7)). To this end, two important sets of proposed rules were issued: the first in June, 2012; and the second, in April 2013. While an informative IRS website lists various proposed rules and guidelines important to nonprofit hospitals, final rules seem to have performed a disappearing act.

Apparently recognizing the problems created by its delays, the agency has gone so far as to issue a special Notice letting nonprofit hospitals (and presumably the public) know that they can rely on its proposed rules. But this assurance overlooks the fact that the proposed rules themselves contained crucial areas in which final agency policy has not yet been adopted.

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Implementing Health Reform: The Qualified Health Plan Federal Exchange Participation Agreement And More


October 21st, 2014

CMS continues to put the pieces into place that are needed for the launch of the 2015 coverage year.  On October 16, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released at its REGTAP.info website the certification agreement and privacy and security agreement that qualified health plan (QHP) insurers must sign with CMS to access the federally facilitated exchange (FFE), the federally facilitated SHOP (FF-SHOP), and CMS Data Services Hub.  The agreement focuses primarily on obligations that the QHP insurer undertakes to protect personally identifiable information and to ensure secure communications with CMS, although it also addresses the effective date and termination of the agreement and a few other issues.  Most of the terms of the agreement are unremarkable, and this post will only comment on a few.

QHP insurers undertake under the agreement to protect personally identifiable information and to ensure secure communications with CMS in conformity with applicable laws, regulations, and standards.  They must also ensure that their contractors and downstream entities comply with these requirements.  QHP insurers agree to report any personally identifiable information incidents or breaches to CMS within 72 to 96 hours.  This is a far cry from the one-hour breach reporting requirement proposed by CMS last year but never finalized, but perhaps recognizes the difficult of identifying and assessing a security breach.

The agreement expressly recognizes that QHP insurers have developed their products based on the assumption that advance premium tax credits and cost-sharing reduction payments will be available through the marketplace and that QHP insurers could have cause to terminate the agreement if this assumption ceases to be valid.  This could be interpreted as a reference to the Halbig/King litigation which currently threatens the availability of tax credits and cost-sharing reduction payments through the FFE, but could also have been included in recognition of the likely Republican takeover of the Senate and the possibility that the Republicans may accomplish through budget reconciliation or otherwise their longstanding goal of repealing the ACA.  As the agreement is renewable from year to year, this clause may contemplate contingencies in the indefinite as well as the near future

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Enrolling College Students In Health Insurance: Lessons From California (Part 2)


October 21st, 2014

Editor’s note: As we approach the beginning of the second open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act, Walter Zelman describes an effort he led during last year’s initial open enrollment period to enroll students in the California State University (CSU) system in coverage. Part 1 of this post provided background on the CSU system and the enrollment effort, the CSU Health Insurance Education Project, as well as a discussion of what worked well. Part 2, below, addresses what worked less well, as well as project results, lessons and policy implications, and next steps.

In addition to Zelman, authors of this post include Wendy Lee, now in a Masters of Public Health Program at Johns Hopkins; Natasha Buransombati, now in a graduate program in Nursing and Public Health at the University of Seattle in Washington; and Carla Bracamonte, now in an MPH program at California State University, Fullerton. As CSU students, Lee and Buransombati served as regional coordinators for HIEP and Bracamonte served as a coordinator, CSU Los Angeles.

IV.  What Worked Less Well

Assessments as to what did not work must be rendered with caution. In most cases lack of success may have been due to lack of emphasis or time, to the relative inexperience of student educators, or the failure of project leaders to follow-up aggressively with CSU or administrative personnel.

Campus groups, social media, and web pages

Most striking and disappointing, was the difficulty in engaging campus groups. Many seemed supportive of the mission. But, in the end, most were unable to commit time and resources to the project, even after repeated engagement by project representatives. Most campus groups had specific goals and agendas, and promoting insurance coverage to students was not one of them. More time or resources might have produced more campus organization support, but these were not available.

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Enrolling College Students In Health Insurance: Lessons From California (Part 1)


October 20th, 2014

Editor’s note: As we approach the beginning of the second open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act, Walter Zelman describes an effort he led during last year’s initial open enrollment period to enroll students in the California State University system in coverage. Part 1 below provides background on the CSU system and the enrollment effort, the CSU Health Insurance Education Project, as well as a discussion of what went well. Part 2, which will appear tomorrow, addresses what did not go so well, as well as project results, lessons and policy implications, and next steps.

In addition to Zelman, authors of this post include Wendy Lee, now in a Masters of Public Health Program at Johns Hopkins; Natasha Buransombati, now in a graduate program in Nursing and Public Health at the University of Seattle in Washington; and Carla Bracamonte, now in an MPH program at California State University, Fullerton. As CSU students, Lee and Buransombati served as regional coordinators for HIEP and Bracamonte served as a coordinator, CSU Los Angeles.

The California State University (CSU) system is the largest public university system in the nation, as well as one of the most diverse. The CSU Health Insurance Education Project (HIEP) received a $1.25 million grant to educate students in the CSU system about the Affordable Care Act and health coverage options through California’s new marketplace, Covered California. A pre-open enrollment, multi-campus poll found that approximately 25-30 percent of CSU students were uninsured, primarily because they could not afford insurance.

The project placed student educators on the CSU’s 15 largest campus. Over a seven-month period they gave approximately 1500 classroom presentations, and conducted 70 forums and 300 enrollment events. University administrators sent out over 1 million emails to CSU students. Project strategy emphasized a focus on affordability, the need for insurance (accidents happen), and the simplicity of the enrollment process.

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Arkansas Payment Improvement Initiative: Private Carriers Participation In Design And Implementation


October 15th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of a periodic Health Affairs Blog series, which will run over the next year, looking at payment and delivery reforms in Arkansas and Oregon. The posts will be based on evaluations of these reforms performed with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The authors of this post are part of the team evaluating the Arkansas model.

Since the inception in 2011 of the multi-payer Arkansas Payment Improvement Initiative (APII), the state’s Medicaid program and some of its largest private insurers, including Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) and QualChoice, have worked together to help create critical mass toward systemic change.

With private payer alignment on design elements and implementation strategy, providers in Arkansas are now responding to common expectations from payers, including consistent financial incentives, standardized reporting tools and congruent targets for both quality and outcomes. While we’ve referenced the role of private carriers in our previous blog posts, here we provide more detail on this collaborative effort.

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Different Parts Of The Same Elephant: Medicaid Research And State Expansion Decisions


September 19th, 2014

Debates about Medicaid expansion betray an underlying fundamental disagreement not only about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) but about the Medicaid program itself. Medicaid, unlike Medicare, lacks the near-universal buy-in to the fundamental value of the program to beneficiaries’ health and well-being. As a means-tested (read welfare-related) program, Medicaid raises concerns and disagreements regarding work (dis)incentives, labor market effects, the “deserving” poor, and how this relates to the construct of health care as a right and a public good.

The Medicaid program serves as a centerpiece of the ACA and of the nation’s health care safety net. The states that continue to oppose Medicaid expansion reveal an important and less acknowledged aspect of this debate: That there remains fundamental disagreement in the United States about whether to include Medicaid as a central and important component of the evolving health care financing and delivery system, or whether system transformation would involve a move away from or elimination of Medicaid, even as a safety net program. Alternatively, how does or might the Medicaid program maintain (or attain) sufficiently broad-based buy-in to withstand wide swings in political control at the federal and state levels?

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Pediatric Asthma: An Opportunity In Payment Reform And Public Health


September 18th, 2014

Editor’s note: The post is informed by a case study, the third in a series made possible through the Merkin Initiative on Physician Payment Reform and Clinical Leadership, a special project to develop clinician leadership in health care delivery and financing reform. The case study will be presented on Wednesday, September 24 using a “MEDTalk” format featuring live story-telling and knowledge-sharing from patients, providers, and policymakers. 

The Clinical Challenge: A Chronic, but Manageable Illness

Asthma affects 7 million children – more than 10 percent of kids in the U.S. – and is the most common chronic childhood disease. Yet even with high levels of insurance coverage, 46 percent of pediatric patients have uncontrolled asthma. There are substantial gaps in appropriate prescribing and adherence to effective medications. In addition, a multitude of non-medical issues influence a child’s ability to control their asthma: low parental health literacy, poor quality housing, and environmental triggers such as pests, mold, and cleaning chemicals. As a result 800,000 kids visit the emergency department (ED) for asthma each year.

In 2007 (the latest year which data are available) the U.S. spent over $56 billion on asthma care, of which nearly $27 billion was spent on pediatric asthma. Medicaid is the primary payer for pediatric asthma related hospitalizations with 55 percent of the market. Better control may also mean lower medical costs, due to reductions in ED visits, admissions, and other health care utilization – patients with poorly controlled severe asthma cost nearly $5,000 more per patient per year compared to average pediatric asthmatic costs.

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Early Observations Show Safety-Net ACOs Hold Promise To Achieve The Triple Aim And Promote Health Equity


September 15th, 2014

Safety-net accountable care organizations (ACOs) have the potential to deliver cost-effective, patient-centered care that engages patients and contributes to achieving the Triple Aim in Medicaid. Safety-net ACOs are playing increasingly important roles in delivering care for vulnerable populations. Active ACO formation is occurring in at least 18 state Medicaid programs with considerable variability across states, although they have been slower to develop than ACOs serving Medicare or commercial populations.

This post will outline five key observations regarding emerging safety-net ACOs and suggest broad policy implications. We are defining safety-net ACOs as collaborative entities of providers and sometimes payers that are 1) accountable for managing the health of their population, 2) assuming upside and/or downside financial risk, and 3) serving predominantly Medicaid (including dual eligibles) and uninsured patients.

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Mortality Rate Increases With Emergency Department Closures


September 11th, 2014

The Health Affairs article, “California Emergency Department Closures Are Associated With Increased Inpatient Mortality At Nearby Hospitals,” by Charles Liu, Tanja Srebotnjak, and Renee Y. Hsia, recently published in the August issue, presents an important, timely, and well-conceived analysis, especially given the number of emergency department (ED) closures in the last 10-15 years, the concomitant rise in ED visits during the same period, and the likelihood of further closures due to increased hospital consolidation across the country since the study took place.

The article focuses on mortality rates and finds that hospitals in close proximity to an ED that had closed had 5 percent higher odds of inpatient mortality than admissions to hospitals not occurring near a closure, and that this effect disproportionately affected minority, Medicaid, and low-income patients, further exacerbating existing disparities in health care and health outcomes. This finding adds to Hsia’s body of work that calls attention to the disproportionate impact of institutional closures on health outcomes for vulnerable populations.

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Year Zero: Leaders At Oregon’s CCOs Share Lessons From The Early Days


September 11th, 2014

Oregon is one of the first states to implement a version of accountable care organizations statewide across its Medicaid program; insights from those who were “on the ground” during the early days of this experiment may prove useful to other states contemplating a similar model.

Oregon’s Big Bet

Facing a massive gap in funding for Medicaid, a team of legislators, business leaders, and health care leaders in Oregon developed a plan to redesign Oregon’s Medicaid delivery system with Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs), regional public-private partnerships that accept a single global budget and are accountable for the physical, mental, and dental health care of their local Medicaid population. Oregon secured a federal investment of $1.9 billion over five years to support the costs of transitioning to the CCO model; if savings do not materialize, Oregon will have to pay the money back.

CCOs are designed to incorporate all who care for a regional Medicaid population. This includes payers who compete for commercial contracts, providers who compete for business, and county public health departments who have not traditionally shared their systems or structures. CCOs include health systems with separate EHRs, for-profit and not-for-profit entities, and community-based organizations with a fraction of the operating budgets of other partners. CCOs had to grow fast: applications were due to the state just a few months after the enabling legislation passed.

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A First Look At How The Affordable Care Act Is Affecting Coverage Among Parents And Children


September 9th, 2014

Following the implementation of the major coverage provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014, the question arises: “How is the health law affecting uninsured children and their families?” Today, the Urban Institute released two new briefs using the Health Reform Monitoring Survey (HRMS) to begin to answer that question.

The bottom line is that between September 2013 and June of 2014, coverage increased for parents, particularly in states that have expanded Medicaid under the ACA, but no coverage changes were yet apparent for children. This early look suggests that the ACA is contributing to coverage gains for parents, which in turn should be beneficial to both them and their children.

Children’s Coverage

The report on children’s coverage from The Urban Institute and the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families found that the uninsured rate for children remained at historically low levels—close to 7 percent—but did not decline further for children under age 18 between September 2013 and June 2014. However, this national snapshot does not capture all of the fluctuations in children’s coverage that may be occurring across the country in particular states; we will have to wait for data from federal sources to have a definitive assessment of how coverage is changing at the state level.

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Implementing Health Reform: DC Circuit Vacates Halbig Judgement, Grants Rehearing


September 5th, 2014

On September 4, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia granted a request by the government for a rehearing en banc (by the full court) in Halbig v. Burwell.  A divided three judge panel in the Halbig case had held on July 22, 2014 that an Internal Revenue Service rule allowing federally facilitated exchanges to grant premium tax credits was invalid. The D.C. Circuit’s decision to hear the case en banc vacated the panel’s judgement.

On the same day the Halbig panel decision was released, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, had unanimously upheld the rule.  The conflicting decisions resulted in dueling petitions for review.  The plaintiffs in the King case petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari, asking the Court to reverse the Fourth Circuit decision and hold the IRS rule invalid.  The government, on the other hand, petitioned the D.C. Circuit for a rehearing en banc.

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Big Data And The Public’s Health: Building Resilience For The 21st Century


September 5th, 2014

Editor’s note: For more on big data, check out the July issue of Health Affairs. 

In late August 2012, Hurricane Isaac was bearing down on New Orleans. Staff at the City’s Health Department were busy fielding calls from concerned citizens and reaching out to individuals on the City’s Special Needs Registry, a list of residents who have medical or mobility needs and who require extra assistance during an emergency. These individuals are at the highest health risk and are the first to face adverse health consequences during an emergency.

When Isaac made landfall as a slow-moving storm, it dumped approximately 20 inches of rain onto the streets of New Orleans, causing major power outages that lasted for eight days. Immediately following the storm, shelters were opened and many services were available; however, without power to use TV, radios, internet, or cell phones it was difficult for City officials to communicate this information to the public.

The Health Department went door to door to find at-risk residents, but we had no organized method of locating them or answering countless other urgent questions: Who needs power to run their medical equipment? Who needs transportation to dialysis? Who is trapped in a wheelchair on the fifth floor of a building where the elevators are not working?

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The Payment Reform Landscape: Non-Payments


September 4th, 2014

Throughout 2014 here on Health Affairs Blog, I have shared Catalyst for Payment Reform (CPR)’s insights on different types of payment reform, which run along a spectrum of financial risk. We began the year by examining payment models that have “upside only” risk, such as pay-for-performance, which give health care providers the opportunity for financial gain from improving care with no added financial risk.

Then we examined payment models that contain “two-sided risk,” like shared-risk arrangements for ACOs, bundled payment, and capitation with quality, where providers can reap financial gain as well as experience financial losses depending on care outcomes and expenditures.

This month, we examine a model that presents “downside only” risk — non-payment to providers. This payment strategy puts providers at financial risk for care that could or should have been avoided.

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Implementing Health Reform: Exchange Eligibility Redeterminations Final Rule


September 3rd, 2014

On September 2, 2014, as Americans returned to their labors following the Labor Day holiday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its Annual Eligibility Redeterminations for Exchange Participation and Insurance Affordability Programs final rule, the last rule that had to be in place for the 2015 open enrollment period. HHS also released a fact sheet describing the rule and forms for insurers to use when discontinuing or renewing an insurance product.

The rule finalizes a proposed rule issued in June, which I also analyzed on Health Affairs Blog. The proposed rule was accompanied by a guidance describing how the federally facilitated marketplaces (FFMs) intended to handle the 2015 redetermination process. That guidance is unchanged by the final rule.

Indeed, virtually nothing in the proposed rule is changed by the final rule. The preface to the rule offers some additional explanation of the reenrollment and redetermination process in response to the 36 comments received on the proposed rule, but virtually no changes were made other than minor wording changes.

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Transcending Obamacare? Analyzing Avik Roy’s ACA Replacement Plan


September 2nd, 2014

Avik Roy’s proposal, “Transcending Obamacare,” is the latest and most thoroughly developed conservative alternative for reforming the American health care system in the wake of the Affordable Care Act. It is a serious proposal, and it deserves to be taken seriously.

Roy’s proposal is a curious combination of conservative nostrums (limiting recoveries for victims of malpractice), progressive goals (eliminating health status underwriting, providing subsidies for low-income Americans), and common sense proposals (enacting a uniform annual deductible for Medicare).

Most importantly, however, Roy proposes that conservatives move on from a single-minded focus on repealing the ACA toward building upon the ACA to accomplish their policy goals. He supports repealing certain features of the ACA—including the individual and employer mandate—but would retain others, such as community rating and exchanges. As polling repeatedly shows that many Americans are not happy with the ACA, but that a strong majority would rather amend than repeal it, and as it is very possible that we will have a Congress next year less supportive of the ACA than the current one, Roy’s proposal is important.

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Collaboration, Consistency, and Community Spirit: How Durham Advances Health


August 28th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series written for Health Affairs Blog by local leaders from communities honored with the annual Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize. In 2014, six winning communities were selected by RWJF from more than 250 applicants and celebrated for placing a priority on health and creating powerful partnerships to drive change. Interested communities are encouraged to apply for the 2015 RWJF Culture of Health Prize. Applications are due September 17, 2014.

Durham, North Carolina is so richly endowed with health care resources that it is known as “the City of Medicine;” it is home to 95 percent of the companies that comprise the Research Triangle. Yet, while many of the county’s 288,133 residents are thriving, others are not nearly as healthy.

A 2004 community health assessment revealed that in Durham’s very diverse population — currently, 38.7 percent black, 42.1 percent white, and 13.5 percent Hispanic — there were high rates of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and infant mortality.

A 2007 evaluation also showed that 29 percent of the county’s adults were obese. The rate was 42 percent among African Americans. In the same report, 49 percent of adults said their health prevented them from participating in even moderate physical activities. Among children entering kindergarten in 2009, 18 percent were overweight or obese.

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The Winding Path To Effective Bundled Payment


August 28th, 2014

Tom Williams and Jill Yegian’s excellent blog post makes a great companion to our recent paper on the evaluation of the Integrated Healthcare Association (IHA) Bundled Payment Demonstration. Williams and Yegian offer lessons from their experience implementing a demonstration project that failed to meet its original objectives. This type of analysis is essential.

It’s not unusual for a demonstration to fall short of its original objectives. Learning from such cases is part of the innovation process. This is especially worthwhile for bundled payment, which has many potential benefits for patients, providers, and payers.

None of the barriers encountered in IHA’s demonstration signal a “death sentence” for bundled payment. However, the demonstration clearly shows that bundled payment is difficult to implement.

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State-Based Marketplaces: Leveraging Year-One Lessons To Boost Year-Two Enrollment


August 27th, 2014

In three months, consumers will log onto their state’s health insurance marketplace to investigate their options and enroll in a plan. Already, states are hard at work prepping for the second year of open enrollment, which begins November 15. State marketplaces are expected to increase the number of enrollees this year and adopting lessons from 2013-2014 can help.

A User-Friendly Marketplace

First and foremost, states need a user-friendly marketplace that functions properly and allows consumers, brokers, insurers and navigators to seek and provide information that is timely and credible. States know this, but recently, interviews with 100 staff from five successful state-based marketplaces (SBMs) unearthed several less obvious lessons.

To begin, states should move from last year’s ‘shotgun’ marketing that helped build awareness to a more targeted approach to outreach this year. In addition to some mass marketing to maintain awareness, states should target advertising dollars to high-priority segments and focus on less expensive tools, like direct mailing campaigns and walk-up enrollment centers, which proved to be most effective last year.

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Arkansas Payment Improvement Initiative: The First Year


August 25th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of a periodic Health Affairs Blog series, which will run over the next year, looking at payment and delivery reforms in Arkansas and Oregon. The posts will be based on evaluations of these reforms performed with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The authors of this post are part of the team evaluating the Arkansas model.

Arkansas payers and providers actively participated in the design of both the episodic payment and patient-centered medical home (PCMH) models the state has recently implemented. We’ve written about each of these components of the multi-payer Arkansas Payment Improvement Initiative (APII) in our previous Health Affairs Blog posts.

The state’s fragmented and largely rural provider environment presents an important test for a novel episodic payment model that may, if successful, have broader applicability in other states sharing a similar health care landscape. Fourteen episodes have now been launched and provider participation is mandatory. While our first posting goes into greater detail on the nuances of Arkansas’ approach to episodes, we provide the following brief summary here to add context to this discussion.

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