Kaiser Health News, October 19, 2018
Chad Terhune

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[...] The current political debate over Medicaid centers on putting patients to work so they can earn their government benefits. Yet some experts say the country would be better served by asking this question instead: Are insurance companies — now receiving hundreds of billions in public money — earning their Medicaid checks?

More than two-thirds of Medicaid recipients are enrolled in such programs, a type of public-private arrangement that has grown rapidly since 2014, boosted by the influx of new beneficiaries under the Affordable Care Act.

States have eagerly tapped into the services of insurers as one way to cope with the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA, which has added 12 million people to the rolls. This fall, voters in three more states may pass ballot measures backing expansion. Outsourcing this public program to insurers has become the preferred method for running Medicaid in 38 states.

Yet the evidence is thin that these contractors improve patient care or save government money. When auditors, lawmakers and regulators bother to look, many conclude that Medicaid insurers fail to account for the dollars spent, deliver necessary care or provide access to a sufficient number of doctors. Oversight is sorely lacking and lawmakers in a number of states have raised alarms even as they continue to shell out money.

“We haven’t been holding plans to the level of scrutiny they need,” said Dr. Andrew Bindman, former director of the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and now a professor at the University of California-San Francisco. “This system is ripe for profit taking, and there is virtually no penalty for performing badly.” [...]

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