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An annual audit of North Carolina’s compliance with federal human services programs uncovered significant issues at the state’s health agency, including overpaying for Medicaid services and skipping a background check for adoptive parents.

The audit released on March 31 found problems with nearly every program they checked at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, from administration of the federal food stamps program to Medicaid billing and neglecting to spend a federal grant to help AIDS and HIV patients.

DHHSA DHHS spokeswoman said the agency has worked under in recent years under Secretary Aldona Wos to improve the management of federal programs, and plans on addressing the issues highlighted in the audit.

“The department has made significant progress improving its operations over the past two years and we continue to value the role that audits can play in further enabling us to do so,” DHHS spokeswoman Alex Lefebvre wrote in an emailed response to questions. “This annual audit will be used by the department to continue on the path of improved effectiveness.”

There were other findings that didn’t point to wasted money, but may have put children’s safety at risk.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services didn’t check to make sure prospective adoptive parents were clear of prior abuse allegations, by checking a registry of abuse and neglect allegations.

“The Department did not monitor that the child abuse registry was checked before a child was placed for adoption,” the federal compliance audit stated. “As a result, children could be placed in an unsafe environment.”

DHHS, in the response contained in the audit, said it thought county-level officials had ensured the abuse and neglect check had been done. Criminal background checks were conducted.

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Commentary

RWJA new report from Manatt Health Solutions on behalf of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds that states that have tapped federal funds to expand Medicaid are seeing significant financial benefits. By the end of 2015 the savings and revenues across the eight states examined in the report are expected to exceed $1.8 billion.

This is consistent with the county level examination of expansion in North Carolina commissioned by the Cone Health Foundation and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. That study, using conservative estimates, found that the savings and revenues more than offset the costs of expansion through 2020.

The states featured in the report — Arkansas, Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and West Virginia — had direct budget savings from reduced spending on the uninsured, they experienced increased tax revenue from the new flow of federal funds into the state, and they realized additional savings from switching some existing Medicaid patients into the expansion program.

A source of significant savings, for example, comes from pregnant women. North Carolina has traditionally covered pregnant women in Medicaid up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level. This coverage, however, is only for pregnancy related services. Also, once a woman has the baby she oftentimes loses Medicaid because coverage for parents is quite stingy.

After expansion, pregnant women above 133 percent of federal poverty level would qualify for full Medicaid coverage. And, instead of the lower match rate, the federal government would pay 90 percent of the costs for these women. Once the baby is born many women would then be able to continue coverage through Medicaid. This would result in healthier babies, healthier parents, and major savings for the state.

The report notes that states will also garner savings in behavioral health and among the medically needy population.

States that opted to expand Medicaid early will have the largest benefits, but there are still plenty of positives for states like North Carolina that haven’t hit the leader board yet. The final year for the federal government to pay the full cost of expansion is 2016 so we need to act fast or our people, and our economy, will miss out on a much needed boost.

Commentary

Medicaid expansionIn case you missed it, the best editorial of the weekend dealt with the most important failure of North Carolina’s political leadership in recent years. The essay in Raleigh’s News & Observer was entitled:

NC losing funding and savings with Medicaid holdout: By balking on Medicaid expansion, N.C. forgoes billions of dollars and a chance to cut costs.”

As the editorial noted:

“In medicine, the small things can matter most. And it is the neglect of the small things that can lead to the biggest costs.

That’s why preventative care is so important and early intervention so significant. And that’s why North Carolina’s stubborn refusal to expand Medicaid is so wildly irresponsible and hugely expensive. As a result of its intransigence, the Republican-led General Assembly is struggling to find tax revenue on one end and turning away billions of dollars on the other.”

The piece goes on to explain how North Carolina’s award-winning nonprofit Medicaid manager, Community Care NC, is saving millions upon millions of dollars and thousands of lives already and to lament the toll in both categories that is being taken by the state leadership’s pigheaded refusal to close the Medicaid gap for hundreds of thousands of lower-income, working people. It also cites report which holds up the astounding amount in federal funds the state is foregoing:

“The report estimates that forgoing federal Medicaid expansion from 2013 to 2022 will cost North Carolina $39.6 billion. In addition, the state’s hospitals will lose out on $11.3 billion in federal funds intended to offset cuts in their Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements as required under the Affordable Care Act, which anticipated that all states would expand Medicaid.

That’s more than $50 billion in federal funding forgone over 10 years. Meanwhile, the state would have to spend about $3 billion for its share of expansion. That is a mindboggling deal to refuse so that conservatives can express their pique over ‘Obamacare.’

Republican leaders say they’re worried about being saddled with a higher entitlement cost if the federal government reneges on its promise to pay its full share, but the design and history of Medicaid do does not support that concern. Meanwhile, there are billions of reasons to expand Medicaid now.”

Amen. Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

Commentary

The beneficial impacts of Obamacare continue add up, but unfortunately, North Carolina isn’t getting its fair share. That’s that’s one of the takeaways from a new report distributed yesterday on the fifth anniversary of the law. As health policy expert Tara Culp Ressler of Think Progress reports:

“According to a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), hospitals saved at least $7.4 billion last year, thanks in large part to reforms under Obamacare. The savings reflect a reduction in the so-called “uncompensated care” that hospitals provide to uninsured Americans, and are even greater than HHS officials predicted they would be at the beginning of this year.

Since people without insurance typically don’t have any means to cover their medical bills, the cost of their treatment ends up falling on the hospital itself. Therefore, as more people gain coverage, it become less expensive for hospitals to care for their patients. More than 16 million previously uninsured Americans have gotten covered under Obamacare, contributing to the biggest drop in the national uninsurance rate over the past four decades.”

If states like North Carolina had gotten on board with closing the Medicaid gap, things would be even better:

“The savings have been most pronounced in the states that agreed to accept Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion, which seeks to extend public insurance to additional low-income people. Nearly 70 percent of the savings documented in the HHS report — a total of $5 billion — occurred in the 29 states that have expanded Medicaid. And, if every state had agreed to add more people to their Medicaid rolls, their hospitals could have saved an extra $1.4 billion.”

In other words, here’s more confirmation that,  in addition to helping hundreds of thousands of working people in need, Medicaid expansion would do wonders for some of the most important businesses in North Carolina (especially in rural North Carolina) hospitals. It’s hard to imagine that state leaders can resist taking this obvious and long overdue step much longer.

Commentary

Out-of-state activist J. Scott Moody will be making the rounds on Monday in North Carolina to say that expanding Medicaid will hurt our economy.

Moody is from a South Carolina outfit called State Budget Solutions and he travels the country speaking out against policies disfavored by conservatives. His schtick is releasing cut-and-paste reports showing the economic harm done by the programs he opposes.

For example, in 2012 he lit off to New Hampshire to warn that allowing same sex marriage in that state would result in economic devastation and a “demographic winter.” You have to read the entire news article of his visit to capture his arguments in all of their glory, but this is one of my favorite parts:

Also, according to Moody, when same-sex couples adopt, they place the child in a situation where one or both of their parents isn’t their biological parent. However, according to Moody, statistics have shown that a relationship with a stepparent is not the same as a relationship with a biological parent and stepparents tend to not have the same bond or pay the same attention as the biological parent. Moody did not provide charts or actual sources for this claim.

These days Moody is taking a break from attacking adoptive parents and is focusing on Medicaid expansion. Moody has made presentations in several states and published opinion pieces arguing that an expansion of the public sector will crowd out private sector spending. This analysis is about as sophisticated as his arguments that gay marriage will destroy the economy and that stepparents don’t pay attention to their children.

Actual economists have responded to Moody everywhere he has spoken to point out that he is wrong. A good example is from Dr. Sven Wilson at BYU when Moody visited Utah to warn them of the dangers of federal funds flowing to the state. Again, you should read the entire piece but here’s a taste of Wilson’s response:

Many economists argue that spending on Healthy Utah will further expand the economy by generating new jobs and new private spending as the money works its way through the economy. Economists call this effect a multiplier. As a conservative, free-market economist, I think multipliers are generally small. But no serious economist of any political stripe thinks the multiplier is negative, which is what Moody is suggesting.

Imagine someone saying that when tourists spend their money in our state, their purchases end up costing us jobs and hurting our economy. Who would believe that? But that is exactly the argument Moody is making about Healthy Utah.

Luckily, we already have a study on the economic impacts of Medicaid expansion in North Carolina using respected REMI models. That study concludes that expansion will grow our economy, create 43,000 jobs, and provide much needed revenue to county and state budgets. It will also provide affordable coverage to 500,000 North Carolinians and bolster rural health care in the state. States that have already expanded coverage, like Kentucky, are seeing these positive economic predictions realized.

We aren’t seeing the winter Moody predicted in 2012. Instead the economy keeps heating up despite gay marriage sweeping the nation. I suspect we will see similar results as more states expand insurance coverage.