This blog is part of a series to highlight the dangers of repealing the Affordable Care Act. Multiple times a week, Community Catalyst will highlight a different constituency to draw attention to the benefits the ACA has afforded them and to outline what a loss of coverage would mean.

Olivia's Story

In 2014, Community Catalyst shared Olivia Richard’s story in a video. Olivia is enrolled in the One Care program, the Massachusetts demonstration project which coordinates care for people with disabilities eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid (“dual eligibles”). Olivia uses a wheelchair and relies on personal care attendants (PCAs) to help her with activities of daily living. Before enrolling in the One Care program, she had not been receiving an adequate amount of PCA hours, nor other services she needed to achieve the quality of life and degree of independence she envisioned for herself. After enrolling in One Care, Olivia was able to live independently, with services that met her needs, preferences and goals, thanks to a coordinated plan developed together with her Independent Living-Long Term Services and Supports Coordinator. This was possible because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which enabled the creation of the dual eligible demonstration projects now ongoing in Massachusetts and 12 other states (formally termed the Financial Alignment Initiative.)

Fast forward to November 9, 2016: Individuals like Olivia now face the serious possibility that this much-improved coordination of their Medicare and Medicaid benefits may be significantly undermined by repeal of the ACA, impacting the delivery of critical services. Dual eligibles are a particularly vulnerable population – doubly in the line of fire – not only from the immediate attack on the ACA, but also from proposals circulating among the Republican-controlled Congress that threaten to seriously undermine each program in other ways in the future.

Beyond the unfolding rush to repeal the ACA, proposals in favor among Republican congressional leaders and the nominee for HHS Secretary, Rep. Tom Price, would permanently rework the structure and financing of Medicaid and could end the existing guarantee of coverage for all those who qualify for the program. In addition, House Speaker Paul Ryan has for years floated proposals to change Medicare from a defined benefit program to one in which adults over 65 get “premium support” to purchase private insurance, a plan slanted toward benefitting those older adults who are more affluent and in better health, leaving low-income elders in poorer health without the safety net that they have counted upon.

Who Are the Duals?

Dual eligible beneficiaries are entitled to Medicare either by virtue of age (being 65 or older) or by having a permanent disability and receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). They are also eligible for Medicaid based on low-income eligibility guidelines. Currently, there are over 10 million dually eligible beneficiaries, with the majority (59 percent) aged 65 and older, and with most of them (73 percent) also eligible for full Medicaid benefits. Dually eligible beneficiaries comprise 14 percent of all Medicaid beneficiaries, but account for 33 percent of Medicaid spending; they also make up 20 percent of the Medicare population, but account for 35 percent of Medicare spending. In part, this disproportionate spending is because dual eligibles tend to have complex health needs, with higher rates of diabetes, mental illness and cognitive impairment. Another reason is that these beneficiaries have to navigate two complex systems, Medicare and Medicaid, which more often than not, has resulted in very fragmented and inefficient care. 

Altering Medicaid Will Have Serious Implications

The most significant implication of GOP proposals to restructure Medicaid – like changing to block grant or per capita cap funding methods – is the strong likelihood that eligibility will be limited and critical services will be cut, as the total federal dollar payments to states would be greatly reduced. Block grants or per capita caps would also limit states’ abilities to pursue innovative strategies that address issues beyond medical services such as access to long-term services and supports and the addressing of social determinants of health, which result in better integrated and more coordinated care. This is true for many low-income populations, but the dually eligible population is particularly at risk.

Medicaid, especially since the passage of the ACA, has served as fertile ground for innovative solutions to addressing health care cost, quality and access issues. Medicaid programs have been vital to improving care for dual eligibles, often serving as a catalyst for innovation. Fundamental changes to the Medicaid program could jeopardize such innovative programs as:

  • The Dual Eligible Demonstration Projects: as noted above, thirteen states are running demonstration programs – like the One Care program in Massachusetts helping Olivia – to better align the financing of the Medicare and Medicaid programs in order to better integrate services for dual eligible enrollees. These demonstration projects could not have been possible without the ACA creating the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMM) and the Medicare-Medicaid Coordination Office (MMCO) within CMS.
  • Medicaid Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs): ten states are actively running Medicaid ACO programs to improve care coordination and delivery of Medicaid benefits by holding providers accountable through quality improvements, increased financial risk and innovative information technology. Some states are using or are planning to use ACOs as a model of care for dual eligibles, such as Maryland and Oregon.
  • Initiative to Reduce Avoidable Hospitalizations among Nursing Facility Residents - the MMCO and CMMI are spearheading an initiative to help improve the quality of care for people in long-term care (LTC) facilities by reducing potentially avoidable inpatient hospitalizations. The most recent evaluation report for this initiative shows a decline in all-cause hospitalizations and potentially avoidable hospitalizations in participating sites. The evaluation report also finds that there were reductions in overall Medicare expenditures relative to a comparison group.

Innovations such as these will be seriously impacted if the ACA is repealed and/or if Medicaid funding were to be radically undermined. Investments in delivery and payment reform in Medicaid are critical and must continue. The dual eligible population has complex medical and social needs and taking away needed services and shifting costs onto a group of consumers the least able to take on new financial stresses is bad policy. If innovative changes to our health care system can work better for the most vulnerable, they can work better for everyone. Stakeholders, including providers, plans, payors and advocates, need to come together now and raise their voices loudly to protect the ACA and the Medicaid program itself. This fight is nothing less than a fight for health care justice, period.