Social Determinants of Health

Medicaid Beneficiaries Are Unequally Served by Non-Emergency Medical Transportation

Medicaid beneficiaries of different races and ethnic backgrounds may not have equal access to non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT), suggests a new study from the Medical Transportation Access Coalition (MTAC). While only a small number of Medicaid beneficiaries use NEMT, it is more common among beneficiaries with complex, costly medical needs. When breaking down NEMT utilization by race and ethnicity, MTAC (staffed by Faegre Drinker Consulting, in partnership with the National Opinion Research Center) found that the number of riders was not proportionate to overall enrollment distribution, which “indicates that NEMT is not serving beneficiaries of different races and ethnicities equally and may suggest a need for focused education about NEMT to certain groups.” Researchers and policymakers should focus on finding and addressing the root causes of these differences, the authors asserted. American Indian and Alaska Native beneficiaries had the highest utilization rates, followed by Black enrollees, then white enrollees.


2023 Outlook: Redeterminations, Social Needs Will Keep Medicaid Plans Busy

Medicaid managed care organizations this year will have their hands full as they support state efforts to resume eligibility redeterminations and try to help members avoid gaps in coverage, or “churn” historically associated with failing to meet cumbersome paperwork requirements. At the same time, MCOs may have more opportunities to address health-related social needs (HRSNs) as CMS encourages states to pursue new funding flexibilities around items like food and housing, industry experts tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT.

As a condition of receiving enhanced federal matching funds during the COVID-19 public health emergency —which will end on May 11 — states had to maintain continuous coverage for Medicaid enrollees. But the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 (CAA) decoupled that requirement from the expiration of the PHE. Per the CAA, the temporary 6.2 percentage-point increase in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage will phase down over three quarters starting on April 1, when states may begin terminating Medicaid coverage for individuals who no longer qualify. States have up to 12 months to begin — and 14 months to complete — eligibility redeterminations for all individuals enrolled in Medicaid.


News Briefs: CMS Innovation Center Report Recognizes Potential for ‘Upcoding’ in Models

A new report from the CMS Innovation Center identified redesigning financial benchmarks and risk adjustment to improve model test effectiveness as a priority going forward. In its annual report to Congress, the Innovation Center noted that “[m]any financial benchmarks and risk adjustment methodologies have created opportunities for potential gaming and upcoding among participants — and have therefore reduced savings for Medicare.” The Innovation Center largely tests models serving fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries and has relied on risk adjustment as a critical component of its models, including all accountable care organization (ACO) based models. The agency added that it has launched “an examination of its benchmarking and risk adjustment approaches to provide incentives to encourage participation, especially among providers caring for underserved beneficiaries and ACOs with varying levels of experience, as well as ensure payment accuracy.” The report also highlighted health equity as an ongoing focus and observed ways to improve communications with potential hospice benefit enrollees, referring to one component of the ongoing Medicare Advantage Value-Based Insurance Design model, to ensure that hospice and palliative care are accessible to all beneficiaries.


SCAN Group, CareOregon Form HealthRight Group to Create ‘Formidable’ Government Partner

SCAN Group, the parent company of not-for-profit Medicare Advantage insurer SCAN Health Plan, on Dec. 14 said it will combine with another not-for-profit organization, CareOregon. For more than 25 years, CareOregon has provided health services and community benefit programs to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program in its home state and currently serves more than 500,000 Oregonians, including individuals who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid.

Under the name HealthRight Group, the combined companies will operate as a mission-driven not-for-profit health care organization and maintain their respective consumer-facing brands, according to a press release from the firms.


Plans, Community Orgs Need to Share Data to Tackle Social Determinants of Health

As health insurers rapidly expand their technology divisions and ally with tech companies to create population health and business insights, many health care leaders have expressed a hope that new technologies and insights can help tackle social determinants of health (SDOH). Those tools hold great promise, according to experts, but must be paired with old-school, community-based coalition building to be successful.

During a panel convened for a Dec. 6 Milliman Inc. webinar, health tech experts from organizations including Independence Blue Cross and Microsoft Corp. agreed that population health and equity insights can’t move the needle on SDOH if they aren’t paired with grassroots coalitions.


With Prescriber Interventions, Highmark Reduces Risky Opioid Use Among Members

The opioid epidemic — which by one measure peaked in 2017, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded 17,029 U.S. deaths involving prescription opioids — is far from over. In fact, CDC data show that deaths tied to prescription opioids, after declining in 2018 and 2019, came roaring back with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and totaled 16,416 in 2020.

As the country continues to grapple with this stubborn issue, health insurers have learned they have a role to play in helping stop would-be opioid use disorder cases where many originate: with well-meaning doctors poised to write out a prescription. One such insurer is Pittsburgh-based Highmark, which is engaged in a multiyear partnership with a company called Wayspring to track providers’ prescribing habits and reach out to educate those who appear to deviate from the CDC’s recently updated clinical practice guidelines for prescribing opioids for pain.


States Seek Integrated Services and Health Equity in Pending Medicaid RFPs

The latest round of current and upcoming state requests for proposals (RFPs) is continuing a sea change toward integrated care and greater health equity in managed Medicaid programs. Several states are redesigning their programs altogether, with a focus on integrating physical and behavioral health, as well as addressing social determinants of health. New Mexico’s new Turquoise Care program will combine physical health, behavioral health and long-term care services, while Oklahoma will incorporate managed care into its Medicaid program for the first time in 2023. Notably, the state is soliciting bids from both MCOs and provider-led entities to integrate physical health, behavioral health and prescription drug services. Moreover, Georgia and Virginia both hinted at upcoming program changes as they prepare to release RFPs within the next year, with Georgia recently asking stakeholders how it could improve health care in underserved communities. Texas, meanwhile, in the second quarter of 2023 will unveil what’s sure to be a hotly contested RFP — its managed care plans currently serve more than 5 million people. See an overview of key RFPs that are expected to be issued or awarded in the coming months in the table below.


Cell and Gene Therapies Hold Promise, but Stakeholders Must Overcome Challenges to Meet Their Full Potential

Researchers continue to make progress in developing cell and gene therapies that offer the promise of slowing a disease’s progression and even offering a potential cure to patients. And while these agents may offer hope to patients, some challenges exist, including access to the treatments. In order for these products to reach their full potential, stakeholders must work together to overcome these potential barriers.

With its Feb. 28 FDA approval, the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson and Legend Biotech USA, Inc.’s Carvykti (ciltacabtagene autoleucel or cilta-cel) became the sixth chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy approved in the U.S. In addition, the existing CAR-Ts continue to get additional FDA-approved indications added to their labels, including for use in earlier line settings. And in August and September alone, the FDA approved two bluebird bio, Inc. gene therapies: Zynteglo (betibeglogene autotemcel or beti-cel) and Skysona (elivaldogene autotemcel or eli-cel).


Priority Health Uses AI to Identify, Guide Chronic Kidney Disease Patients

As health insurers endeavor to improve care and lower costs for members with chronic conditions, they’re increasingly turning to companies that offer high-tech data analytic capabilities for help. Michigan-based nonprofit insurer Priority Health is one of those insurers, as it recently unveiled a partnership with the medical technology firm pulseData to “identify, notify and engage members with care management options” related to chronic kidney disease (CKD), which currently costs Priority Health roughly $225 million annually to treat.

CKD affects an estimated 37 million Americans — or 1 in 7 U.S. adults — but as many as 90% of people who have the disease don’t know it, Priority Health noted in a Sept. 27 press release. Because early-stage CKD typically has no symptoms, many diagnoses are missed until cases become more advanced.


Medicaid MCOs Will Aid Ambitious New Waiver Demos in Massachusetts, Oregon

Recently, the Biden administration approved a pair of wide-ranging Medicaid waiver demonstration programs in Massachusetts and Oregon, granting those states authority to test unique policies such as keeping certain populations enrolled in Medicaid for more than a year and covering clinically tailored housing and nutritional supports. Medicaid managed care plans that serve Massachusetts and Oregon tell AIS Health that they’re planning to play a major role in helping to implement the new waiver programs, which will allow them to expand some of the social-needs-based interventions that they’re already providing and reduce the enrollee churn that can stymie care-management efforts.