By Lauren Flynn Kelly

Despite a recent federal court ruling creating some uncertainty about the future of Medicaid expansion, industry experts express optimism about several recent developments that they believe will give way to better patient care going forward.

For one, November’s midterm election results may spell more Medicaid expansion, particularly in historically Republican-controlled states. Voters in three states approved measures to extend Medicaid coverage, and three Democratic governors unseated Republicans who did not support expansion.

From a policy perspective, given that Congress is “fairly neutered in the split in the House and the Senate, then the bigger macro level, seismic changes like per capita caps are probably off the table vs. more under-the-radar, yet significant impacts you see from a regulatory and even judicial perspective,” predicts Alex Shekhdar at Medicaid Health Plans of America.

“In terms of patient engagement, payment reforms and so forth, the biggest tool that the administrator and the secretary have to effectuate the Medicaid programs is the 1115 waiver,” he says, referring to the demonstration waiver that states can use to make broad changes to their Medicaid programs or modifications that focus on a specific population or service over a five-year period. “And [CMS] has indicated that there is no stop and believes they have the legal authority to continue to push forward on the waivers.”

“I think the tide has turned and the red states realize that Medicaid is an important part of the continuum of health care in the U.S.,” weighs in Jerry Vitti, CEO of Healthcare Financial, Inc. “But I also see the potential for more work requirements, lockout periods and premiums, copayments, deductibles…and I think there will be a continued push to get those approved” via 1115 waivers. As a result, Medicaid managed care organizations may see a “burst of enrollment” from expansion, followed by churn due to various requirements that make it difficult for people to maintain coverage, he predicts.

Meanwhile, states and plans are hoping for more leeway to address social determinants of health, adds Vitti.

HHS Sec. Alex Azar in public comments last fall hinted at a possible demonstration addressing social determinants through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. Given some of the work already being done by Medicaid MCOs to address housing and other non-medical factors through local partnerships, CipherHealth’s Friso van Reesema says he is optimistic that CMS will “follow suit” and start reimbursing for those types of services.