RUPRI researchers examine Medicaid reform in rural settings

Published on June 13, 2016

A new research report by the Rural Policy Research Institute’s Health Panel, which includes University of Iowa faculty and is supported by research staff in the UI Department of Health Management and Policy, outlines the challenges and opportunities confronting rural providers, policymakers, and health systems as they work to implement reforms in rapidly expanding state Medicaid programs.

The report notes that efforts to reform the health care delivery system are gaining momentum among all payers and within Medicaid programs in particular, given their significance to a growing population as well as to state budgets.  The report calls on policymakers to “recognize both the desirability and shortcomings of new delivery system models for rural patients and providers.”

“While both national and state policymakers shape Medicaid reform, state-level policies have the potential to encourage a broader statewide focus on population health by connecting Medicaid to other important and impactful state-level resources, like human and social support services and public health,” the report states. “In implementing policies that promote delivery system reform, it is important to consider how certain models may be capable of either promoting access for rural populations or diminishing it.”

According to the report, broadened eligibility under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) nearly doubled the percentage of people covered by Medicaid programs — from 10.4 percent of the U.S. population in 2000 to 19.5 percent in 2014. As of January 2016, more than 72 million people nationwide were enrolled in Medicaid.

The significance of state Medicaid programs is even greater in rural areas where, as of 2014, 22 percent of residents were enrolled. Medicaid has surpassed Medicare as the largest source of public health coverage in rural areas, and is second in coverage only to employer-sponsored insurance plans. The program is also a crucial source of provider payments in rural communities.

The report identifies six recommendations for rural policymakers, providers, and communities. The recommendations are:

  1. Promote integrated and comprehensive primary care delivery.
  2. Promote integrated and comprehensive care across the health care continuum.
  3. Promote accountability for the health of the Medicaid population in rural communities.
  4. Promote measures, reporting standards, and payment approaches relevant to rural providers.
  5. Promote payment designs that recognize the nature and circumstances of rural providers and systems.
  6. Provide technical assistance to rural providers during the Medicaid transition to value-based payment.

The report was authored by the RUPRI Health Panel, which is chaired by Dr. Keith Mueller, professor and head of health management and policy at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. The work was supported by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. The full report is available at the RUPRI website.