Social Determinants of Health

TennCare Acquiesces to CMS’s Demands for Demo Revisions

Bowing to CMS’s request after another public comment period, Tennessee is reluctantly pursuing a series of changes to the pending TennCare III demonstration that had been approved by the Trump administration for a start date of Jan. 8, 2021. In what one source says is an unusual back-and-forth on public display, the state will abandon its notorious plans to implement a closed Medicaid formulary and adopt a fixed funding mechanism.

Shortly before President Joe Biden took office, the Trump administration in January 2021 approved Tennessee’s request to use an “aggregate cap” for Medicaid funding that many industry observers had likened to a block grant. Through that approach, Tennessee would have received federal Medicaid funds based on a fixed budget target that is determined by CMS and the state using historical enrollment and costs data. If spending fell below that target cap but certain quality goals were met, the state would earn up to 55% of annual savings to reinvest back into other state health programs.

Medi-Cal Awards Diss Centene With Reduced Service Area

As part of a Medicaid managed care revamp and its first statewide competitive procurement for the Medi-Cal program, the California Dept. of Health Care Services (DHCS) on Aug. 25 named the three insurers that will serve as commercial managed care plans (MCPs) in 2024. Elevance Health’s Anthem Blue Cross Partnership Plan, Centene Corp.’s Health Net and Molina Health Care were selected to participate in varying service areas across 21 counties. Health Net’s loss of three counties, however, spooked investors as Centene already faces declining Medicaid enrollment and continues to settle allegations of mishandling Medicaid pharmacy benefits in multiple states, the latest being Washington.

Mississippi Medicaid Plays Musical Chairs With MCOs, Trades UHC for CareSource Affiliate

Despite a challenge earlier this year to its longstanding pact with Mississippi Medicaid, Centene Corp. on Aug. 10 said its Magnolia Health Plan subsidiary was selected to continue serving the Mississippi Coordinated Access Network (MississippiCAN) and the Mississippi Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Meanwhile, the state’s Division of Medicaid (DOM) unveiled its intent to award new four-year contracts to two other insurers, including new entrant and CareSource affiliate TrueCare, which will bump leading managed care organization UnitedHealthcare out of the market.

Centene over the past year has reached multiple settlements with states regarding its handling of Medicaid pharmacy benefits. In June 2021, the health care giant agreed to pay $55.5 million to Mississippi after a 2019 investigation by the Office of the State Auditor concluded Centene’s pharmacy benefit manager was overbilling the state.

Seniors’ Unmet Social Needs Drive Greater Acute Care Utilization

Health-related social needs (HRSNs) can increase acute care utilization among Medicare Advantage members — including avoidable hospital stays and emergency department (ED) visits — asserts a July 8 investigation published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Health Forum. Researchers studied a group of about 56,000 older adults enrolled in MA plans offered by Humana Inc., and found that HRSNs, such as housing, utility and food insecurity, limited access to transportation, and financial difficulties, were associated with significantly higher acute care usage. Notably, 13.6% of the selected population were Medicare-Medicaid dual eligibles, a particularly vulnerable cohort.

Medication Abortion Faces Legal Uncertainty Post-Dobbs

With abortion banned or on the verge of a ban in a growing number of states following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, medication abortion has become more important than ever for women and pregnant people seeking abortion care. Abortifacients, the class of prescription drug used to terminate pregnancies, can be used more discreetly than surgical abortions: they don’t require an in-person consultation and, since the start of the pandemic, have been dispensed online without medical risk to patients.

However, experts say that the legal status of medication abortion is far from settled in states where abortion has been banned. Many patients haven’t heard that medication abortion is available, and women and pregnant people who do use abortifacients — or suffer a miscarriage — could face prosecution in states where abortion has been banned. It’s not clear what sort of criminal or civil risk providers, purchasers and carriers will bear if their patients and plan members use abortifacients prescribed across state lines.

Pharmacist Care Managers Could Help Improve Diabetes Outcomes

Pharmacists and other non-physician care managers can improve the quality of diabetes care in the primary care setting, but structural issues make it difficult to fully leverage their potential, according to research published in the July issue of the journal Health Affairs.

“We need to have a different way of taking care of people with a chronic illness,” said Thomas Bodenheimer, a professor emeritus of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who spoke at a Health Affairs briefing on July 19. The briefing convened several researchers who published diabetes-focused articles in the journal’s July issue.

Prediabetes Population Soars, Prevention Programs Stay Unused

Although the prediabetes prevalence rate increased by 4.8 percentage points between 2010 and 2020, access to the National Diabetes Prevention Program remained limited, with only 3% of people with prediabetes participating in the program, according to a recent Health Affairs study. The researchers estimated 13.5% prevalence of diagnosed prediabetes and 30% of potentially undiagnosed prediabetes in 2020, using two national surveys.

The National Diabetes Prevention Program — an intensive 12-month, group-based, lifestyle intervention to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes — remained underused and undersupplied. Only 5% of patients diagnosed with prediabetes were referred to such a program. In general, men were more likely to be referred but less likely to participate than women.


Quality of Diabetes Care Declines as Health System Grows More Fragmented

In a series of articles in the July issue of the health policy journal Health Affairs, researchers evaluated diabetes care in the United States through several lenses, including care management, prevention, interventions, health equity, quality measures and value-based payment design. Several of them also spoke at a July 19 policy briefing in which a key message was that the fragmented U.S. health system is contributing to a plateau in improving diabetes care — and value-based diabetes payment programs may be causing still more fragmentation.

Despite remarkable advances in clinical understanding and treatments for diabetes, the U.S. has stagnated over the past decade in preventing and managing the condition, said Mohammed Ali, a professor in the Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory University. Ali served as the theme advisor for Health Affairs’ diabetes-focused issue and also was a co-author of the issue’s overview article, “Diabetes And The Fragmented State Of US Health Care And Policy.”


CMS-Sponsored Report Shows Medicare Advantage Members Encounter Significant Racial Disparities

Medicare Advantage members can experience markedly different outcomes in measures related to prescription drugs based on race and/or ethnicity that ultimately impact their overall quality of care, according to the CMS Office of Minority Health’s latest report on health disparities in MA. The report, “Disparities in Health Care in Medicare Advantage by Race, Ethnicity, and Sex,” was funded by CMS and conducted by RAND Health Care’s Quality Measurement and Improvement Program. The report authors studied both the 2021 Medicare Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) survey and the 2021 Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS), highlighting disparities in several clinical areas. In addition to the prescription drug measures illustrated in the graphics below, the report also covered other clinical care measures such as cancer screening rates and patient experience measures including the ease of getting medical appointments and customer service experiences.

Plans Build Trust, Mine Data to Dash Medication Adherence Barriers

When it comes to medication adherence rates, disparities among racial and ethnic groups pose a common challenge to health plans. But leaders in the Medicare Advantage space are working to disrupt the status quo with patient-centric, data-driven solutions that are helping to bridge the gap.

A recent initiative at SCAN Health Plan, a not-for-profit insurer serving 270,000 MA members in Arizona, California and Nevada, sought to narrow the gap between member groups by engaging in a top-down endeavor that wrapped in multiple departments, from human resources to pharmacy. “Our goal was to improve adherence,” relays Romilla Batra, M.D., chief medical officer with SCAN, “and to reduce gaps among African American and Latinx [members].”