All the Health Priorities in the $1.4 Trillion Spending Deal

The end of the year bipartisan spending deal will allocate $1.4 trillion in federal funding for the remainder of the fiscal year (through Sept. 30) and avoid a shutdown. The House has already passed the deal and the Senate is poised to do the same by tomorrow.

Samuel Corum for The New York Times (Source Linked)

So what health priorities made the cut for this deal?

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The Power of the Purse

Congress will send a $1.4 trillion spending deal to the President this week. It will fund the government and avert an end-of-the-year shutdown. The House has already passed the deal and the Senate will take it up by the end of the week. The government is currently operating under a continuing resolution that expires Dec. 20.

Read about the health-related specifics of what’s included in the deal here. But first let’s start with some key concepts related to Congress’ power of the purse.

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Back to Basics: Single Payer & Medicare-for-All

Estimates from the Urban Institute project that in 2020, the federal government will spend $732 billion on Medicare, $464 billion on Medicaid and CHIP, $60.4 billion on the health insurance marketplaces, and $27.5 billion to hospitals for uncompensated care. Households will spend $931 billion, employers will spend $955 billion, state governments will spend $285 billion on Medicaid and CHIP and $17.2 billion for uncompensated care, and providers will spend $24.1 billion.

We’re talking about an insane amount of money – honestly seems like Monopoly money to me.

Reigning in healthcare spending has to be a policy priority, it’s simply unsustainable. Medicare-for-All would shift most of the spending to the federal government, to the tune of $34 trillion over a decade.

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$12 Billion in Risk Corridor Payments at Risk

On December 10, 2019, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments concerning $12 billion that insurers say they are owed by the federal government as part of the risk corridor program.

The risk corridor program was one of the ACA’s three premiums stabilization programs (along with risk adjustment and reinsurance). The temporary risk corridors program was designed to run from 2014 to 2016 and meant to encourage risk-averse insurers to participate in the ACA marketplaces.

Here’s how the program was set up: If a plan’s costs were lower than it’s premiums, the plan would pay a share of it’s profits to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). If the plan’s costs exceeded premiums received, the plan would receive a payment from HHS for it’s excess costs. Insurers entered the marketplace under the assumption these risk corridor payments would be made to cushion extreme gains and losses.

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A Tale of Medicare Payment Models: From Volume to Value

Yes, it costs a lot of money to become a doctor. And yes, you will likely get paid a lot of money once you are a doctor. So it was surprising that a recent survey of internal medicine providers found that nearly two-thirds of respondents lacked familiarity with MACRA, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, which fundamentally alters how doctors are paid for caring for Medicare beneficiaries.

In 2017, Medicare spending accounted for 15 percent of all federal spending and is projected to increase to 18 percent by 2028. Medicare benefits payments cost $702 billion in 2017 (up from $425 billion in 2007). Add in our aging population (by 2035, there will be more Americans older than 65 than kids under 18) and costly medical advancements that can sustain and prolong life, and we’re looking at a serious problem. [The solvency of the Medicare trust fund is a hot issue on the Hill.]In one attempt to rein in Medicare spending, MACRA shifts a growing percentage of physician payment from a volume-based model to a value-based model. MACRA has four main provisions: (1) repeal of the sustainable growth rate (SGR), which determined Medicare Part B reimbursement rates; (2) change how Medicare rewards providers for value over volume; (3) streamline various quality programs under the Merit-based incentive program (MIPS); and (4) give bonus payments for participation in eligible alternative payment models (APM).

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Medicaid Financing & Reimbursement

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The U.S. spends about 10% of its budget on Medicaid and those expenses vary a bit by state. States like California with a very large Medicaid program spend upwards of $81 billion per year whereas Wyoming averages closer to half a million.

In almost every state, Medicaid is often the biggest program in state budgets after education. The cost of program is shared by the state and the feds using something called the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) to calculate the federal government’s contribution. Currently, Mississippi has the highest FMAP with the feds contributing nearly 76% of total Medicaid costs.

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