Thursday, June 16, 2011

White House clears path for Ryanizing Medicaid

Not only has the Administration given states the go-ahead to Ryanize their Medicaid programs, the White House has sent a clear message to private managed care companies that Medicaid fraud is OK.

Actions taken by the Administration on April 26, 2011, May 6, 2011 and May 26, 2011 combine to paint a chilling picture of a newly-emerging White House policy towards Medicaid.

On April 26, the government signed a settlement agreement with for-profit Medicaid managed care provider Wellcare and nine states. In exchange for a payment of $137 million against all claims for criminal Medicaid fraud, the government agreed never to call Wellcare a crook and not to hold this information against them in any future contract awards.

On May 6, the government published a proposed new Medicaid access rule in the Federal Register. The underlying message is that the federal government will not intervene in state Medicaid matters. National health policy expert Sara Rosenbaum called the rule "a model of inaction...[that will] establish what might charitably be characterized as an information-gathering exercise." The rule exempts everyone receiving managed care medicaid from even this poorly-defined five year study, a figure Rosenbaum estimates at 70%. About one-third of that are enrolled with for-profit health insurers, and that number grew 21% just in the last three months of 2010.

May 26 was the date the Administration's friend of the court brief was submitted to the Supreme Court. In it, "the Obama administration ... has entered the case on the side of the state, arguing that the courts are closed to private individuals where Medicaid-access litigation is concerned." It was a concession as well to the big business health insurers like Wellcare, Unitedhealthcare, Amerigroup and six other major players they wouldn't need to worry about federal oversight of how state and federal money was being spent. The savings in potential legal fees defending medically indefensible denials of medical treatment is enormous, if our recent experience in Hawaii is any indication.

The Administration has given states the power to Ryanize (block grant) Medicaid, and apparently agreed not to interfere in paltry civil rights issues.

On June 9, Igor Volsky published an article whose title says it all: "Texas Follows in Paul Ryans Footsteps: House passes measure to block grant medicaid, privatize medicare."
Texas would enter a compact that would exempt the state from the federal eligibility and benefit rules in the Medicaid program and from all Medicare rules, allowing lawmakers to “possibly sweep Texas seniors on Medicare into private health insurance policies.”

New Jersey has imposed mandatory managed care on the state's disabled children and families. Two of the four private contractors are Unitedhealthcare and Amerigroup, both of which have been accused in the past of stealing money from children's Medicaid programs.

The Florida legislature accomplished the same thing recently. Wellcare told the SEC in May that new contract opportunities were opening up in Louisiana, Texas and Kentucky, while "Florida and Hawaii are also considering expansions of their Medicaid managed care programs." [This could be news to many people in Hawaii, although a state press conference held on May 10 implied this was coming.]

On June 13, twenty-nine Republican governors published their views on Medicaid reform, demanding greater flexibility in running state Medicaid programs. "States and territories are best able to make decisions about the design of their healthcare systems based on the respective needs, culture and values of each state" is number one on the Republican agenda for Medicaid.

Jonathan Cohn wrote in The New Republic back on April 4 that "Ryan confirmed that he and his fellow Republicans would propose to change Medicaid from an entitlement to a block grant--which, as I noted on Friday, means giving the states a lump sum of money, with much more freedom to spend the money as they choose."

Ryan also stated "private insurers are more efficient than government programs" in operating Medicare and, presumably by extension, Medicaid. One of the strongest proponents of that idea is Unitedhealthcare, which had its wholly owned research company (The Lewin Group) write reports to states informing them of that fact. Unitedhealthcare's Medicaid managed care contracts showed a five percent increase in membership between September 30, 2010 and March 31, 2011, during which same time the company's quarterly Medicaid revenues skyrocketed 23%. The company is not, perhaps, an uninterested observer.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities confirms that the hardest hit victims of Ryanized Medicaid will be children, adults as well as children with disabilities, families and senior citizens. The "Ryan Plan would likely eliminate most or all protections for Beneficiaries."

Ryan didn't have to do anything to get that accomplished; the White House has done it for him.

Please sign our petition to get this process stopped before it get codified by law and the Supreme Court.

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I'm the mom of a child with disabilities. Hannah's first neurologist said she might never develop beyond the level of a 2 month old infant, and there wasn't anything I could do about it. The brain damage was just too severe. Nine years later, she walks, uses a touchscreen computer and I've just been shown she can learn to construct sentences and do simple math with the right piece of technology. Along the way, I discovered I needed to teach myself what Hannah's rights to services really were. Learning about early intervention services led to reading about IDEA and then to EPSDT. I've been waiting for the Obama administration to realize the power and potential of EPSDT for the medical rights - including the right to stay at home with their families - of children with disabilities. The health reform people talk about long term care, and the disability people talk about education and employment, but nobody is talking about EPSDT. So I am.