Enabling Sustainable Investment in Social Interventions: A Review of Medicaid Managed Care Rate-Setting Tools

Abstract

  • Issue: It is widely recognized that social factors, such as unstable housing and lack of healthy food, have a substantial impact on health outcomes and spending, particularly with respect to lower-income populations. For Medicaid, now dominated by managed care, this raises the question of how states can establish managed care rates to sustain investments in social supports.
  • Goal: To explore practical strategies that states can deploy to support Medicaid managed care plans and their network providers in addressing social issues.
  • Methods: Literature review, interviews with stakeholders, and analysis of federal regulations.
  • Findings and Conclusions: We identify the following options: 1) classify certain social services as covered benefits under the state’s Medicaid plan; 2) explore the additional flexibility afforded states through Section 1115 waivers; 3) use value-based payments to support provider investment in social interventions; 4) use incentives and withholds to encourage plan investment in social interventions; 5) integrate efforts to address social issues into quality improvement activities; and 6) reward plans through higher rates for effective investments in social interventions. More needs to be done, however, to assist interested states in using these options and identifying pathways to braid Medicaid dollars with other social services funding.

Introduction

Exhibit 1

State Options and Considerations

1. Classify certain social services as covered benefits under the state’s Medicaid plan

2. Explore the additional flexibility afforded states through Section 1115 waivers

3. Use value-based payment to support investment in social interventions

4. Use incentives and withholds to encourage plan investment in social interventions

5. Integrate efforts to address social issues into quality improvement activities

6. Reward plans with effective investments in social interventions with higher rates

It is now widely recognized that social factors, such as unstable housing, lack of healthy food, unsafe neighborhoods, and unemployment, have a substantial impact on health care outcomes and spending, particularly with respect to lower-income populations.1 Moreover, there is an emerging body of research on which interventions are most likely to result in better outcomes and reductions in spending.2 As the nation’s largest payer for health care services for low-income populations, many of whom have substantial social service needs, Medicaid is front and center when it comes to these issues. State Medicaid agencies are increasingly focusing on how the program can cover and reimburse for nonclinical interventions, particularly in managed care, now the dominant service delivery model in Medicaid.

This report identifies practical strategies that states can deploy to support Medicaid managed care plans and their network providers in addressing social issues. Based on a literature review and on interviews with state officials, health plan leaders, actuarial experts, and other stakeholders, we identify options for states to consider if they are interested in incorporating the cost of social interventions into Medicaid managed care rates (Exhibit 1). While the strategies do not represent a comprehensive solution to the issue of Medicaid’s role in addressing social issues, they are an essential building block.

– Commonwealth Fund

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