The 2019 Legislative Session Underway 

This year's state legislative session began on Monday.  Here’s a PowerPoint with our 2019 Legislative Priorities.  Like other years, lots of things will come up during the session that we will support or be opposed to.  Our Public Health Policy Committee will share information and meet during the session as we prepare our positions and conduct our public health advocacy.

The party balance in the Senate will remain 17-13 while the balance in the House will be 31-29 (a much closer party balance than there has been in recent years).

The President of the Senate will be  Karen Fann (R) LD-1 and House Speaker will be  Rusty Bowers (R) LD-25.   The Senate Health and Human Service Committee will be chaired by Senator Kate Brophy-McGee (Sen. Heather Carter will be Co-chair).  The House Health Committee will be chaired by Representative Nancy Barto (Rep. Jay Lawrence is Vice Chair)

Senate Health & Human Services Committee

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee will meet this Session on Wednesday mornings at 9 am in Senate Hearing Room #1.  The Chair will be Senator Kate Brophy McGee with Senator Heather Carter as the Vice Chair.  Other committee members will be Tyler Pace, Rick Gray, Sylvia Allen, Rebecca Rios, Tony Navarette, and Victoria Steel.

House Health & Human Services Committee

The House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee will meet this Session on Thursday mornings at 9 am.  The Chair will be Rep. Nancy Barto with Jay Lawrence serving as Vice Chair.  Other members are Representatives John Allen, Gail Griffin, Becky Nutt, Kelli Butler, Pamela Powers-Hannley, Alma Hernandez and Amish Shah.

Intermediate Care Facilities Like Hacienda de los Angeles are Exempt from State Licensing Requirements

By now you’ve heard the disturbing story of a 29-year-old resident of Hacienda de los Angeles who gave birth a couple of weeks ago. What’s troubling about the birth is that the mother was unable to give consent because of the nature of her medical condition. In short, it means she was raped and delivered a baby while under the care of Hacienda de los Angeles.

Quite honestly, it’s astonishing that the facility and its staff apparently failed to detect – or report -- the sexual assault or pregnancy until after the baby was born and in medical distress.  Arizona law (ARS 46-464) requires people that have responsibility to care for a vulnerable adult to report any abuse or neglect that they suspect.  Failure to report is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

With such resources now deployed with the various investigations including the Phoenix Police Department, we will eventually most likely learn whether Hacienda staff knew but did not report the pregnancy or whether the care being provided was such that staff did not discover the pregnancy until the woman gave birth.  

Arizona and local law enforcement officials are investigating the matter – but they may be impeded by this troubling fact: Hacienda de los Angeles isn’t required to have a state license (and doesn’t have one).

How is this possible?

Hacienda de los Angeles is classified as an intermediate care for persons with intellectual disabilities. Facilities in this class provide more intensive services than a residential group home for persons with intellectual disabilities but different services than a skilled nursing facility.

When I learned through the media of the assault and birth, I went to the ADHS’ AZ Care Check    website to look at the regulatory compliance record for the facility. I was puzzled when I discovered that the facility didn’t have an ADHS License number. They have an identifying number for their Certification to get paid by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) -- but no state license.

In digging deeper- I discovered that this class of facility doesn’t require a license from the ADHS.  They are specifically exempt. The exact statutory language is located in ARS 36-591(E) where it states that: “An intermediate care facility for persons with an intellectual disability that is operated by the division or a private entity is not required to be licensed under this section if the facility is certified pursuant to 42 Code of Federal Regulations section 483.400”.

That’s not to say that there’s no oversight of the facility.  There is. ADHS has conducted annual certification inspections under a contract from CMS every year for the last several years, and you can see that there are several deficiencies that have been identified (and corrected) over time.

What’s problematic is that the state has no direct regulatory authority over the facility because they’re not required to have a state license (if they’re CMS certified).  That means there’s no direct mechanism to compel compliance with state care regulations – because there’s no license to suspend, put on provisional status, or to revoke. 

With information that will be discovered in the coming days and weeks, the federal government could elect to decertify the facility and to no longer pay for services provided there, and/or our state Medicaid agency could decide to no longer approve placement of their members at the facility- but the state has no direct authority to compel compliance -- again, because there’s no state license to use as leverage to compel compliance with state licensing requirements.

Intermediate care facilities were exempt from state licensing requirements back in 1997 when HB 2247 was passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Hull.

Perhaps this case provides an opportunity for our state elected officials to re-examine the wisdom of exempting intermediate care facilities from having a state license.

New Funding Opportunity Available for Arizona to Explore Strategies to Reduce Maternal Mortality

A couple of months ago (before the government shutdown happened) landmark federal legislation was passed and signed that will provide millions of dollars to help states determine why women are dying from pregnancy and childbirth at troubling rates.  

The new funding is great news because studies have found that at least half of childbirth-related deaths could have been prevented if health care providers had followed best medical practices to ensure complications were diagnosed and treated quickly and effectively.

The bill provides $12M in annual funding to the CDC to pass through to states with maternal mortality review committees and create committees in the 12 states that lack them.  Arizona has a committee in statute because of a law signed in 2011 - here's a link to the most recent report.

In order to qualify for funding, states need to demonstrate  that their “methods and processes for data collection and review use best practices to reliably determine and include all pregnancy-associated deaths and pregnancy-related deaths, regardless of the outcome of the pregnancy.” All indications are that the ADHS meets these CDC data standards and therefore would qualify for funding.

We and the Arizona Chapter of the March of Dimes will keep an eye out for the grant announcement and offer any assistance that the ADHS needs with their application for this important funding opportunity that can be used to save the lives of Arizona moms.

Maternal Mortality: A Tragic Trend Continues in the US and AZ

The US has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country.  Sadly, it’s getting worse each year.  About 800 American women die and 65,000 almost die during pregnancy or childbirth.

The number of deaths in AZ jumped from around 10 in 2015 to about 30 in 2016 (the last year for which ADHS has data posted). The numbers are rounded for statistical reasons (called cell suppression in the public health statistics trade.)

Nationally, back women die from pregnancy-related causes at three to four times the rate of white women, even after controlling for social determinants. Women in rural areas also have higher maternal mortality rates than urban women.  Here’s a story that highlights some of the issues in an easy to read way.

Fortunately, there are public health policy leverage points that can make a difference within state health departments and Medicaid agencies.  Medicaid is a leverage point because it pays for over half of all births each year in 25 states including Arizona.  

All states provide Medicaid coverage for women with incomes up to 133% of poverty during pregnancy and for 60 days after delivery.  But the scope of services covered before and after delivery vary between states.  As a result, some women lose coverage or Medicaid eligibility in certain states after that 60-day period (mostly in states without Medicaid expansion).

In Medicaid expansion states (like AZ) women have more opportunities to achieve better preconception health because they’re more likely to be able to access contraception and plan their pregnancies, receive primary care services to manage chronic conditions prior to and between pregnancies and access prenatal and perinatal care once pregnant.

Evidence-based policy making is a key.  Twenty-nine states (including Arizona) have committees that review maternal deaths and make public policy recommendations.  Back in 2011, Arizona passed, and the Governor signed a bill that amended our child fatality review statutes by adding reviews of maternal deaths.

The statute charges our existing Child Fatality State Teams to review maternal deaths (called the Maternal Mortality Review Subcommittee) and make policy recommendations. The primary goal is to identify preventive factors and make recommendations for systems change. The existing statute doesn't require an annual report- and the last report was published in 2017. Note: we've heard that there may be a Bill this session that will require an annual report of the committee's work.

Here are some of the recommendations from the most recent ADHS report (published in 2017):

  • All pregnant women should have access to prenatal care;

  • Encourage maternal care professionals, organizations, and health facilities to update their standards of practice and care to include all recommended guidelines for the prevention of medical complications;

  • Promote public awareness of the importance of healthy behaviors and women’s overall health prior to pregnancy;

  • Women should always wear proper restraints when riding in cars;

  • Maternal health-care systems require strengthened, prepared, and educated communities to improve deliveries in health facilities, particularly in rural areas;

  • Increase and streamline access to behavioral health services statewide, including training and education for advanced practice nurses in behavioral health services;

  • Support and implement community suicide prevention and awareness programs, such as Mental Health First Aid;

  • Health care providers should screen frequently for perinatal depression and domestic violence;

  • Institute and follow recommended California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative guidelines (www.cmqcc.org) for the timely transfer and transport to a higher-level care facility for any complications using regional transport services; and 

  • Educate providers on the availability of maternal postpartum resources such as home visiting programs.

Some states have gone further. For example, South Carolina’s Medicaid agency formed the South Carolina Birth Outcomes Initiative to advance reductions in early elective deliveries; incentivize Screening Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment; promote long-acting reversible contraception; and support vaginal births.  One outcome of the SC initiative was to reimburse for long-acting birth control (LARC) devices provided in a hospital setting. 

Fortunately, Arizona has also included LARC reimbursement in a hospital setting post-partum.  This is an important policy intervention because it provides women with a long-acting and reversible option, so they can better plan future pregnancies – improving opportunities for preconception health, which is a key to improving health outcomes.

The Intersection of Public Health and Housing

Affordable, safe, and stable housing directly impacts an individual’s health and well-being and improves people’s ability to manage chronic diseases and mental conditions, access education and employment, and build healthy relationships.  Persons that are homeless face illness at three to six times the rate of housed individuals and are three to four times more likely to prematurely die than the general population.

Ensuring that patients have stable housing can also reduce healthcare costs.  An analysis of Oregon Medicaid claims data found people placed in stable and affordable housing reduced their overall Medicaid expenditures by 12%. Housing placement also correlated with a 20% increase in primary care visits and an 18% decrease in emergency department visitations among Oregon Medicaid members. 

It’s no surprise then that hospitals and health systems are increasingly interested in supporting access to stable and quality housing as a strategy to reduce downstream healthcare spending, especially as they move toward value-based payment models.

CMS is catching on too.  A couple of years ago they released a bulletin emphasizing the importance of designing Medicaid benefits packages that incorporate the social determinants of health. They outlined allowable coverage of housing-related activities and services for individuals with disabilities and older adults requiring long-term services and supports, like conducting individual tenant housing assessments, assisting with the housing search and application process, or offering tenancy sustaining services.

Last month the HHS Secretary suggested that CMS will be introducing a payment model allowing hospitals to directly pay for housing and other social services using federal Medicaid dollars. The statement suggests that this shift stems from a broader interest in better alignment between health and human services and that such a model would be tested by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI).

While direct spending on room and board still isn’t allowed under the Medicaid statute, several state Medicaid programs are pursuing demonstration waivers that allow for innovations or flexibilities in Medicaid-managed care programs to address housing needs or other social determinants of health.

North Carolina recently received approval of its Section 1115 waiver which will allow their Medicaid managed care contractors to cover evidence-based, non-medical interventions that have a direct impact on members health outcomes and costs. The pilots will be implemented regionally to address housing, food security, transportation, employment, and interpersonal safety. I think North Carolina is the first state to receive this type of waiver, but I'm not 100% sure about that.

CMMI is also exploring the impact of screening and referrals for health-related social needs (including housing) of Medicaid and Medicare dual beneficiaries. They’ll be measuring whether screenings and referrals to community-based organizations and social services generate improvements in health outcomes and reductions in healthcare spending. The model is being piloted through 31 organizations in 23 states including at AHCCCS.

‘Opportunity Zones’ & Public Health

When you think about the tax bill passed by congress last year you probably think about the permanent reduction in corporate tax rates and changes in the person income tax standard deductions and stuff like that.  But there was a sleeper provision in the law that could influence the built environment and therefore public health.  It’s a provision in the law called ‘Opportunity Zone’ investment tax deferment.

The ‘Opportunity Zones’ part of the new tax law provides incentives to investors to put their money into areas designated by states as low income or underdeveloped.  The law lets investors defer (or eliminate) their capital gains tax obligation when they invest the money in a designated ‘Opportunity Zone’. If they hold the investment for 7 years, 15% of their capital gains liability can be written off.  If they hold the investment for 10 years, then their entire capital gain tax liability can be written off.

The theory is that geographically targeted tax cut opportunities will encourage new clusters of economic activity to form which has the potential to improve conditions that influence the social determinants of health within the designated ‘Opportunity Zones’.

There are very few conditions that are put on the program in terms of what is a qualifying investment, except that the investment must be within a state designated Opportunity Zone.  Developers must make a substantial improvement on the property in the first 30 months.  Investors need to show that 70% of their capital is in the opportunity zone and 50% of their activities.

The governor of each state decides where the Opportunity Zones are (they can name 25% of the qualifying low-income Census tracts as Opportunity Zones).  Our Governor delegated that decision to the Arizona Commerce Authority.  Arizona’s Opportunity Zone nominations were submitted to the US Treasury Department a few months ago and have already been approved.  Here’s the map of the Opportunity Zones Arizona selected.

A couple of months ago the U.S. Department of the Treasury released their guidance on the Opportunity Zone tax law provisions.  The Internal Revenue Service issued proposed regulations in October. 

The AZ Commerce Authority has some material on their website with a more in-depth view of Opportunity Zones including a Guidance Update Webinar Presentation and an Opportunity Funds Guidance Update Webinar Video October 2018.

One thing is clear- the incentives built into the Opportunity Zone parts of the tax bill are huge- and there will be billions of dollars moving into these Opportunity Zones in the coming years.  What remains to be seen is what impact the program will have on the built environment and economic opportunities in these areas and what public health impacts will occur – both good and bad – as a result of the investments that are made in these communities. 

Very few guardrails exist for what kinds of developments qualify for the tax deferral- and no doubt there will be some good things (affordable housing) and bad things (investments that don’t improve conditions) in Opportunity Zone communities in the coming years.

Jami Snyder Appointed AHCCCS Director

Jami Snyder was appointed to the post of the Director of AHCCCS effective this Friday.  She has been serving as the as deputy director of AHCCCS since December of 2017. Prior to that she was the Medicaid Director in Texas and as Chief Operating Officer of the University of Arizona Health Plans. She also previously held posts as  a Bureau Chief at the Arizona Department of Health Services. 

Jami is a 2013 Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy Fellow, and graduated with a BS in political science from Gustavus Adolphus College and went on to earn a master’s degree in political science from ASU.

I really think Jami is a terrific choice for this important job. She has a good reputation in the public health world and is known as somebody that understands the linkages that public health and health care can forge in designing and implementing interventions that improve public health outcomes while reducing costs.

Congratulations Director Snyder! 

Recently Passed Federal Public Health Legislation

Congress has passed several bills in the last few weeks related to public health.  Here’s a quick summary and links to the laws.

Improving Access to Maternity Care HR 315

This bill requires HRSA to identify maternity care health professional target areas and publish data comparing the availability of and need for maternity care health services in health professional shortage areas and areas within those areas.

Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2018 HR 1318

This bill authorizes HHS grants to states to review maternal deaths, publish reports with the results.

PREEMIE Reauthorization Act of 2018  S 3029

This bill increases federal research on preterm labor and delivery, improve the care, treatment, and outcomes of preterm birth and low birthweight infants. 

Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 – The Farm Bill HR 2

The Farm Bill reauthorizes food security programs through FY23 including Supplemental Assistance Program (SNAP) and SNAP nutrituon education.  It also removes hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, which would legalize hemp production and therefore changes how CBD is regulated.

State Offices of Rural Health Reauthorization Act: S 2278

This bill reauthorizes $12.5M annually through FY22 for the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy to make grants to each state office of rural health to improve health care in rural areas. This bill was approved by both the House and Senate but is not yet signed.

The Action for Dental Health Act of 2018

This bill provides an opportunity to improve oral health across the country.  The bill will provide additional resources to the CDC to increase funding for groups and organizations to qualify for federal grants that develop programs and expand access to oral health education and care in states and tribal areas

CDC will still need to flesh out the grant guidance in the coming months before they put out their announcement with the application and expectations. 

PEPFAR Extension Act of 2018  HR 6651

This bill extends certain provisions of the U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003.

Sickle Cell Disease Research, Surveillance, Prevention, and Treatment Act of 2018  S 2465

This bill reauthorizes a sickle cell disease prevention and treatment program and to authorizes funding for grants for research, surveillance, prevention, and treatment of heritable blood disorders.

Infrastructure for Alzheimer's Act S 2076

This bill would create an Alzheimer's public health infrastructure across the country to implement effective Alzheimer's interventions focused on public health issues such as increasing early detection and diagnosis, reducing risk and preventing avoidable hospitalizations.

Federal Government Shut-Down & Public Health

Federal funding for several federal agencies and programs expired on Saturday. The President wouldn't sign a Senate-approved short-term continuing resolution extending funding for some federal agencies through Feb. 8.  The House subsequently approved a short-term continuing resolution that included $5.7 billion for a wall at the US Mexico border. The Senate couldn't pass that House Resolution, and federal funding for several agencies and programs then expired, forcing a shut down of some programs.

The shut-down won't impact very many core public health programs (except for WIC and IHS- which I'll get to in a sec). That's because a couple of months ago Congress passed a bill that included funding for the HHS family of agencies: CDC, HRSA, SAMHSA, NIH, CMS, FDA, AHRQ.  

Other federal agencies and programs, such as WIC, EPA, and the Indian Health Services are affected because they weren't in the HHS funding bill. Public health programs outside of HHS are affected (WIC is within the US Department of Agriculture- not HHS).

Fortunately, Arizona has enough funding to keep WIC clinics open for a few weeks at least. Providing this information broadly is important so participating families don't think the shutdown means that WIC clinics will be closed due to the shutdown.

Public health programs working in Indian Country funded by HHS will not be impacted butn some other IHS services will be impacted. IHS will continue to provide direct clinical health care services, but some programs and activities that aren't directly related to the safety of human life may not be available during a shutdown.

Tribally-operated health programs will continue to operate under the direction of the Tribe- and each Tribe will determine how to address the impact from a government shutdown. 

For more information about initial estimates for activities under the appropriations lapse you can review the HHS Contingency Staffing Plan for Operations in the Absence of Enacted Annual Agriculture and Interior Appropriations.

My "Mea Culpa" on E-cigarettes

There have been some compelling data in the last several months demonstrating a profound increase in e-cigarette use among the nations and Arizona’s youth.

E-cig use among youth has skyrocketed in the past year at a rate of epidemic proportions. According to data from the CDC and FDA’s National Youth Tobacco Survey, the percentage of high school-age children reporting past 30-day use of e-cigarettes rose by more than 75 percent between 2017 and 2018. Use among middle school-age children also increased nearly 50%.

The uptick in e-cigarette use has led overall tobacco product use to increase by 38% among high school students (to 27.%) and by 29% among middle school students (to 7.2%) in the last year. The results are similar in Arizona.

A few years ago when I was the Director over that the Arizona Department of Health Services I was convinced that e-cigarettes had a chance of providing a net public health benefit by providing active smokers with a new way to quit tobacco while posing a limited public health risk to youth and non tobacco smokers. My staff would often challenge my belief, but I clearly wasn’t listening closely enough.

I turned out to be dreadfully wrong. I didn’t anticipate that vaping among kids would become so popular or that the manufacturers would get so crafty at making them so attractive to kids and to manufacture them in a way that makes them virtually indistinguishable from things like thumb drives.

It’s now clear that e-cigarettes are causing more harm than good- and it’s time to do something about it. The FDA has been taking some actions in the last several months that look promising. I talked with Senator Elect Heather Carter this afternoon and she told me that she’s been working on several approaches to address the epidemic here in Arizona.

Mea Culpa

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What We Can Do to Prepare for a Post ACA Arizona 

A federal judge in Texas (Judge Reed O’Connor) dealt a blow to the Affordable Care Act late last week when he ruled in Texas v. Azar that the ACA is unconstitutional in its entirety- including the implementation of market reforms (e.g. protections for folks with pre-existing conditions), the health insurance marketplaces, and the expansion of Medicaid.

Fortunately, he didn’t issue an injunction ordering the Administration to stop implementing the law- so the ACA will remain the law of the land for now.

Back in February, 20 states (including Arizona) filed the lawsuit seeking to invalidate the 3 legs of the ACA stool: pre-existing condition exclusions, community rating, and guaranteed issue. 

The ACA prevents health insurance companies from: 1) denying someone health insurance because they have a preexisting condition -called the “guaranteed issue” requirement; 2) refusing to cover services that people need to treat a pre-existing condition- called “pre-existing condition exclusions”; and 3) charging a higher premium based on a person’s health status - called the “community rating” provision.

The U.S. Department of Justice isn’t defending the ACA because they agree with the plaintiff States.  In fact, the Justice Department has urged the court to strike down the law.  Luckily, several states including CA are defending the law.

The Plaintiffs (including AZ) argue that since the new federal tax reform law removed the financial penalty for not having health insurance, the ACA is now unconstitutional.  

So, Will the Supreme Court Uphold the ACA Again?

Last week’s ruling isn’t the last word. The case will certainly be appealed in the federal appellate court system and then to the US Supreme Court, which has a different cast of characters than it did when the ACA was originally upheld back in 2012 by a 5-4 vote.

Since then, Justice Gorsuch replaced Justice Scalia and Justice Kavanaugh replaced Justice Kennedy.  Both Scalia and Kennedy voted against the ACA- so not much on that score has changed.

Chief Justice Roberts voted with the majority that upheld the law.  His argument rested on the ACA’s link to the financial penalties for not having health insurance. But remember, the financial penalties for not having health insurance were removed from the IRS tax codes in last year's federal tax overhaul, pulling out the structure that Roberts used in his argument.

In the 2012 Ruling, Justice Roberts wrote that: “… the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a taxbecause the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.” 

Roberts rejected the Administration's argument that the federal government's authority to regulate interstate commerce provides the authority needed for the ACA to be constitutional (the Court struck down that argument 5-4).

The bottom line is that the ACA, including its protections for folks with pre-existing conditions, may very well be in jeopardy if Chief Justice Roberts views the ACA as fundamentally different now that the financial penalties for not having health insurance are gone.

 

What Happens in AZ if the ACA Goes Away & How Can We Prepare?

It's easy to see how the ACA could end up being struck down in a couple of years once this case gets to the highest court. Gone would be the health insurance market reforms like protection for folks with pre-existing conditions, community rating pricing and guarantee issue as well as Medicaid expansion and the health insurance marketplaces.

Prior to the ACA, the standards to protect people with pre-existing conditions were determined at the state level.  Most states including AZ had very limited protections. Many insurers maintained lists of up to 400 different conditions that disqualified applicants from insurance or resulted in higher premiums.  35% of people who tried to buy insurance on their own were either turned down by an insurer, charged a higher premium, or had a benefit excluded from coverage because of their preexisting health problem.

Fortunately, Arizona is partially in control of our own destiny if the ACA is struck down. We couldn't do much about Medicaid rolling back to pre-ACA levels or the loss of subsidies on the Marketplace, but we could have some control over the market reforms like pre-existing condition exclusions, community pricing, and guarantee issue.

Several states have enacted their own laws to be consistent with the ACA market reforms. Several states (CT, HI, IA, IN, MA, ME, MD, MN, NE, NY, NC, ND, OR, SD, VA, VT) already have their own laws that incorporate some or all the ACA insurance market protections. Arizona could do the same. 

The good news is that we have time before the Texas v. Azar case makes it to the Supreme Court. A reasonable first step would be for the Governor to ask the Arizona Department of Insurance, the ADHS and AHCCCS to generate (or commission) a report outlining the real-life impact in Arizona in the event that the Texas v. Azar suit is ultimately successful. The report would also put forward options for state-based health insurance market reform laws that could be enacted to require things like prohibiting pre-existing condition exclusions.

Such a report would give the Arizona State Legislature an analysis with which to evaluate public policy options for state-based market reforms.

I know what you're thinking, it's impossible to pass these kind of market reforms in Arizona.  Maybe, but many thought that Arizona's expansion of our Medicaid system back in 2013 was impossible.

That case study shows that with the right kind of leadership on the 9th floor, anything is possible.

US Supreme Court Declines to Hear Appeal Regarding Reproductive Health

This week the US Supreme Court declined to hear a case that would have given them an opportunity to overturn a lower court ruling that found that Medicaid agencies can’t exclude providers offering preventive reproductive health services like annual health screens, contraceptive coverage and cancer screening because they also offer abortion services.  Lower federal courts had ruled that while states have broad authority to ensure that Medicaid health care providers are qualified, that power has limits. 

The case isn’t about elective abortion services per se (the Hyde Amendment from 1977 makes it clear that federal funds can’t be used to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment). The question is whether providers can be excluded from Medicaid contracts for preventive services like annual health screens, contraceptive coverage and cancer screening because they also separately offer abortion services outside of their public dollar contracts. 

The Supreme Court’s decision to decline the case will have implications here in Arizona. In 2016, Governor Ducey signed a bill giving the director of the AHCCCS the power (at his or her discretion) to disqualify any provider that doesn’t fully segregate the public dollars they get and ensure that none of those funds went toward providing elective abortions- including overhead expenses like rent, lights and A/C.

While that law is still on the books (as ARS 36-2930.05), it hasn’t been implemented. After a lawsuit was filed back in '16, attorneys for AHCCCS agreed not to implement the law and stipulated that AHCCCS won’t try to cut family planning dollars from Planned Parenthood or any other organization because it hasn’t fully segregated out the costs of abortion services to the satisfaction of the director.  The implementation hold agreed to in the stipulation was until Rules (Administrative Code) could be adopted- which they estimated would take about 2 years.

In exchange, the attorneys for the providers agreed to drop their lawsuit challenging the legality of the measure until there are actual rules in place.  I checked on the AHCCCS and Secretary of State’s website and can’t find any Rules fleshing out the criteria- but I might have missed them.

In any event- the fact that the US Supreme Court this week declined to hear a case similar to Arizona’s suggests that- at least for now- the status quo remains...  and Arizona’s Managed Care Organizations that contract with AHCCCS are free to contract with Planned Parenthood or other providers even though they may not be segregating expenses as required in ARS 36-2930.05.Of course- that could change at any time if the Supreme Court changes their mind and agrees to hear a similar case in the future.

Support School Attendance Vaccination Requirements

Please express your support for immunization requirements for public school attendance and informed use of appropriate vaccine exemptions by signing on to this letter of support to the Governor.

By simply clicking here you can add your name to the growing list of Arizonans that believe that it’s important to protect Arizona children against vaccine preventable diseases and protect community immunity that protects the most vulnerable among us. Here’s the letter:

Dear Governor Ducey,

We, the undersigned, want to express our full support for this resolution adopted by the Arizona Medical Association (ArMA):

“ArMA supports adopting requirements that parents (or guardians) who do not wish to have their children vaccinated receive public health-approved counseling that provides scientifically accurate information about the childhood diseases, the available vaccines, the potential adverse outcomes from catching diseases, the risks unvaccinated children pose to children who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, the risks of vaccine side effects, and the procedures that are implemented to exclude unvaccinated children if an outbreak of disease occurs in the area administered by the local or state public health agency.

ArMA also supports adopting requirements that parents annually sign an affirmative statement that acknowledges the risks they are accepting for their own children and the children of others by claiming a personal exemption from mandatory vaccination requirements.”

As residents of Arizona, we actively support and encourage you to work with the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), all County Health Departments, and longstanding partners of The Arizona Partnership for Immunization (TAPI) to maintain high levels of immunization coverage rates in our schools and our communities…to keep your constituents safer and healthier.

 

Action for Dental Act Passed

The Action for Dental Health Act of 2018 was overwhelmingly passed by congress last week providing an opportunity to improve oral health across the country.  The bill will provide (once signed by the President) additional resources to the CDC to increase funding for groups and organizations to qualify for federal grants that develop programs and expand access to oral health education and care in states and tribal areas.

Grantees are expected to include dentistry and hygiene programs working in rural and underserved areas as well as organizations helping to increase oral health literacy and disease prevention in low-income and minority communities.  The Bill is expected to a=invest an additional $133M over the next four years.

CDC will be entering into contracts with state, county, or local public officials and other stakeholders to develop and implement initiatives to: (1 improve oral health education and dental disease prevention;  2) reduce geographic barriers, language barriers, cultural barriers, and other similar barriers in the provision of dental services; 3) establish dental homes for children and adults; 4) reduce the use of emergency departments by individuals who seek dental services more appropriately delivered in a dental primary care setting; or 5) facilitate the provision of dental care to nursing home residents.

CDC will still need to flesh out the grant guidance in the coming months before they put out their announcement with the application and expectations.

Action Alert to Save Nutrition Education Programs

The Farm Bill is currently in its final negotiations, and important funding for SNAP-Ed programs in Arizona and across the country is at stake. We need your help to urge Congress to maintain the Senate version of the Farm Bill to save this critical support for these programs.

The SNAP-Ed program provides nutrition education and resources to thousands of Arizonans. If the Senate version of the funding is not maintained in the final Bill (expected to be approved before this congress exits), Arizona won’t be able to offer effective food and nutrition programs to low-income communities who need it, especially in Congressional Districts 1 and 3.  

The new House of Representatives funding formula would significantly shift SNAP-Ed grants away from more than 15 other states, thus ending programs for people in hundreds of low-income communities throughout the country. 

Click here to urge Congressman Tom O'Halleran and Congressman Raúl Grijalva to maintain the Senate version of the Farm Bill to save this critical support for these programs!

State Legislature Health Committees

Senate Health & Human Services Committee

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee will meet this Session on Wednesday mornings at 9 am in Senate Hearing Room #1.  The Chair will be Senator Kate Brophy McGee with Sen, Heather Carter as the Vice Chair.  Other committee members will be Tyler Pace, Rick Gray, Sylvia Allen, Rebecca Rios, Tony Navarette, and Victoria Steel.

House Health & Human Services Committee

The House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee will meet this Session on Thursday mornings (no room named yet).  The Chair will be Rep. Nancy Barto with Jay Lawrence serving as Vice Chair.  Other members are Representatives John Allen, Gail Griffin, Becky Nutt, Kelli Butler, Pamela Powers-Hannley, Alma Hernandez and Amish Shah.

State Agency Budget Requests

Here’s a summary of some of the budget requests that were made by state agency directors for the upcoming fiscal year:

Department of Health Services

  • Seeks increased compensation for “key” positions to reduce turnover & vacancy rates.  No dollar figure is attached.

  • Requests an increase of $4.1 M lump sum from Health Licensing Fund & ongoing Radiation Regulation appropriation increase of $600,000 from Health Service Licensing Fund to cover administrative expenditures & ongoing growth & workload for Licensing Division.

  • Asks for $550,000 from the General Fund for an “administrative shortfall” at the Arizona State Hospital.

  • Requests $500,000 from the ADHS Indirect Fund for the public health emergency fund.

  • Seeks $200,000 from the Land Fund to pay for higher costs for services at the State Hospital for pharmacy, dietary, EHR, housekeeping, etc.

  • Asks for an appropriation increase of $600,000 from the Newborn Screening Fund to cover administrative costs.

  • Asking for a $240,000 in state general funds for the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (under a cooperative agreement with CDC).

 

AHCCCS 

  • Requesting a net increase of $44.7 M over the current year.

  • Seeks an overall acute capitation rate increase of 1.9% over the blended rates from the prior year

  • Asks for overall weighted capitation rate increase of 2.5% over baseline across all populations.

  • Anticipates the FMAP rate (federal matching rate percentage) for the acute traditional members of 69.48%

  • Includes a $7.9M dollar figure if state law is modified to prevent freezing KidsCare (because of the reduction in federal payments (FMAP) moving from the current 100% to 90% beginning October 1, 2019)

 

AZ Department of Economic Security

  • Requests $41.6 M in increased funding to help providers cover some of the costs that providers of services for folks with developmental disabilities to cover costs for the coming increase in the minimum wage next fiscal year. 

  • Pursues use of federal Child Care Development Block Grant of $55.8 M (OF) which would allow child care rates to increase from 2000 to 2010 market rate and serve an additional 5,000 children

Merger of CVS & Aetna Finalized

Last week CVS Health completed their acquisition of Aetna. You know CVS through their pharmacy stores- and Aetna through their health insurance businesses (in AZ that includes Mercy Care and Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care). 

Aetna will be a stand-alone unit within CVS and led by members of its current management team.  It’s essentially a vertical integration- as it combines Aetna (primarily a health care insurer) with CVS (primarily a retailer).

The US Justice Department required Aetna to divest its Medicare prescription drug business to WellCare Health Plans before approving the merger.

One of the goals of the merger is to integrate Aetna's medical information and analytics into CVS Health's pharmacy data- creating a new model of care delivery.

The new company says they’ll be introducing new programs to target more efficient management of chronic disease with services focusing on self-management for patients with chronic conditions, expansion of chronic care management services at MinuteClinic, nutritional and behavioral counseling and benefit navigation support.  The plan includes expanded preventive health screenings to better manage high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.

A major focus will be on better managing five chronic conditions: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, asthma and behavioral health.

There are some academics and other analysts that suggest the merger is anticompetitive and won’t result in better care or outcomes- but it looks to me like it has a pretty good chance of improving outcomes- especially if they focus on better management of chronic medical conditions combined with more convenient and numerous service sites.

CVS has been moving their mission from its traditional pharmacy business model for some time- bringing it more in line with providing health care and other services.  Several years ago- as this new model was emerging, CVS decided to stop selling cigarettes etc. as they rightly saw those sales as inconsistent with that of a business focusing on improving health outcomes.

Marketplace Open Enrollment Ends December 15

December 15 is the last day to apply for Marketplace health insurance.  Most people get health insurance through their employer, Medicare or Medicaid, but about 87,000 Arizonans get their insurance though the Federally Facilitated Marketplace.  Nearly 9 out of 10 people in Arizona that get coverage from www.healthcare.gov receive tax credits – financial help – to make coverage more affordable. 

Each year many Arizonans meet with an Assister, thinking they will buy a www.HealthCare.gov plan, but find out they are in fact eligible for AHCCCS (Medicaid). Some learn their children are eligible for very low cost KidsCare (Children's Health Insurance Program). 

To find out what a comprehensive plan may cost go to www.healthcare.gov/see-plans. By simply entering your zip code, age, number of family members and projected 2019 income, you can look at available plans and find out if you qualify for a discount.  If a single person earns less than $48,560 they may qualify for financial help.  A family of four can earn up to $100,400 and qualify for financial help.

No matter where you live in Arizona, help is available. You can call 1-800-377-3536 or go to www.CoverAZ.org  and click on “Send a Message” to get your questions answered, or visit www.CoverAZ.org/Connector and make an appointment to meet with a local Assister.

Feds Open Door to Subsidizing non-ACA Plans

Last week CMS released new guidance urging states for states to start offering federal subsidies to people buying plans that don’t comply with the ACA.  Their objective is to provide subsidy options for short-term and association health plans, which offer fewer benefits and consumer protections but at a lower cost.  They’ve branded the new subsidy system "State Empowerment and Relief Waivers

If the program stands up to a judicial review, states will be able to who is eligible for health insurance subsidies. Under the ACA, anyone with an income 400% of the federal poverty line is eligible for subsidies on the insurance marketplace. This new guidance would allow states to add to that regulation, like prioritizing younger, healthier populations over lower-income residents.  Importantly, any waiver request would still need to meet the ACA standard that it ensures the waiver plan meets the four statutory standards relating to comprehensiveness, affordability, coverage, and federal deficit neutrality.

Included in last week’s announcement is a provision giving states a way to better manage risk in their Marketplace plans. The Risk Stabilization Strategy that they announced gives states a way to implement reinsurance programs or high-risk pools. Reinsurance programs can lower premiums by providing some protection from expensive risk pools.  Examples are a “claims cost-based model”, a “conditions-based model”, and a hybrid conditions and claims cost-based model.