The Medicaid Buy-In Programs: Lessons Learned From Nine "Early Implementer" States

05/01/2002

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

The Medicaid Buy-In Program: Lessons Learned From Nine "Early Implementer" States

Executive Summary

Donna Folkemer
National Conference of State Legislatures

Allen Jensen
Center for Health Services Research and Policy, School of Public Health and Health Services, George Washington Medical Center

Robert Silverstein
Center for the Study and Advancement of Disability Policy

Tara Straw
National Conference of State Legislatures

May 2002


This report was prepared under contract #HHS-100-00-0018 between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Disability, Aging and Long-Term Care Policy (DALTCP) and George Washington University. For additional information about this subject, you can visit the DALTCP home page at http://aspe.hhs.gov/_/office_specific/daltcp.cfm or contact the office at HHS/ASPE/DALTCP, Room 424E, H.H. Humphrey Building, 200 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20201. The e-mail address is: webmaster.DALTCP@hhs.gov. The Project Officer was Andreas Frank

This policy paper was funded through a contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation supporting a project entitled "Case Studies and Technical Assistance for Medicaid Buy-Ins for People with Disabilities." This paper was also funded by a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the U.S. Department of Education supporting the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Workforce Investment and Employment Policy for Persons with Disabilities. In addition, the paper was supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The opinions contained in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Education, or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.


For many individual Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients, the risk of losing Medicaid coverage linked to their cash benefits is a powerful work disincentive. Eliminating barriers to health care and creating incentives to work can greatly improve financial independence and well being. To support this goal, Congress included a Medicaid Buy-In option in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 and enacted the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act (TWWIIA) in 1999. These laws authorized states to create Medicaid Buy-In programs to extend Medicaid coverage to persons with disabilities who go to work.

This report discusses findings from case studies of nine states operating Medicaid Buy-In programs for working persons with disabilities. The nine states are Alaska, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, Vermont, and Wisconsin. At the time of the study, approximately 13,000 persons were enrolled in the programs in the nine states. The paper gives particular attention to the decisions made by states concerning program eligibility, their approaches to estimating program enrollment and costs, and the patterns of program enrollment to date. The report is designed to assist stakeholders (such as Medicaid directors, state legislators, and cross-disability coalitions) design and implement Medicaid Buy-In programs and related work incentive initiatives.

This report is the second in a series of three reports. The first report includes in-depth case studies of nine early implementer states entitled Medicaid Buy-In Programs: Case Studies of Early Implementer States. The final report, Policy Frameworks for Designing Medicaid Buy-In Programs and Related State Work Incentive Initiatives, provides policy frameworks describing the interrelationships between health entitlements (especially Medicaid) and cash assistance programs (particularly SSDI, SSI and state SSI supplementation programs).1

Major Findings

  1. Medicaid Buy-In programs typically are managed by state Medicaid agencies with significant input from consumers and assistance from other state agencies.

    • Stakeholder involvement was important in program design. The input of persons with disabilities and other stakeholders had an impact in shaping program design. In many states, persons with disabilities played a central role in planning the program and were heavily involved in surveys, field research, focus groups or other preliminary program design activities. Several states have formal mechanisms for involving persons with disabilities in program management.

    • The Medicaid Buy-In program is linked to other employment supports. To address the multiple barriers facing persons with significant disabilities, most states linked their Medicaid Buy-In program to complementary employment supports for persons with disabilities. Benefits counseling, expanded vocational rehabilitation services, supports for employers, and collaboration with One-Stop centers are among the programs in place.

    • The state Medicaid agency usually works with other state agencies to support persons with disabilities in the workplace. In general, states use existing Medicaid eligibility, reimbursement, service delivery and program management structures, both at the state and county level, to administer the Medicaid Buy-In program. In most states, the Medicaid agency has formal or informal relationship with other state agencies, particularly vocational rehabilitation programs, to carry out functions that are outside the scope of Medicaid.

  2. Eligibility standards and cost-sharing policies show considerable variation across the states and may have a significant impact on program enrollment.

    • Most Medicaid Buy-In programs have an upper income limit of 250% of Federal Poverty Level (FPL) and broadened asset standards, but vary considerably in how they "count" income and assets. With the exception of Connecticut and Minnesota, the upper income limit for Medicaid Buy-In programs is 250% of FPL ($1,790 monthly net income after applying the standard SSI disregards or $3,665 gross income for a single person in 2001). Connecticut's limit is 450% of poverty while Minnesota has no upper income limit. CoMost Medicaid Buy-In programs have an upper income limit of 250% of Federal Poverty Level (FPL) and broadened asset standards, but vary considerably in how they "count" income and assets. With the exception of Connecticut and Minnesota, and Oregon do not count the income of other household members, thus easing access to the program for certain married individuals. In every state except Alaska and Nebraska, applicants may retain more assets than persons in other Medicaid categories. In several states, retirement accounts, medical savings accounts, or approved employment accounts are not counted as assets and provide additional opportunities for individuals to save money.

    • Limits on unearned income may be an important factor in restraining enrollment in several states. In the states of Alaska, Maine, Nebraska, and Vermont, in addition to gross income standards, applicants are subject to a separate dollar limit on their unearned income. This policy prevents enrollment of persons with significant income from non-work sources and may have the effect of reducing overall program enrollment.

    • Persons with incomes above specified levels must pay premiums. The threshold level for premium liability ranges from 100% FPL to 200% FPL. Four states--Iowa, Maine, Nebraska, and Vermont--use a premium schedule based on income brackets. In three others--Alaska, Connecticut, and Minnesota--applicants pay a premium calculated as a variable percentage of individual or household income. The states of Oregon and Wisconsin calculate premiums separately for earned and unearned income with steeper schedules for unearned income. This approach may discourage persons with substantial income from non-work sources from enrolling in the program.

    • Several states provide enrollment protections for individuals who lose employment while in the Medicaid Buy-In program, but protections are not consistent across the states. Such protections are designed to continue Medicaid eligibility for persons when they temporarily lose their ties to the workplace. Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin provide an incentive for continued work effort by providing Medicaid Buy-In program coverage during temporary periods of unemployment and, in Wisconsin, before an individual finds a job as well. Without such protections, individuals risk losing Medicaid benefits if a job effort fails. Allowing persons returning to other Medicaid categories to retain accumulated assets is an additional protection available in Connecticut and Minnesota.

  3. Available data are insufficient to show whether the program is meeting its objectives.

    • Before they began operating their Medicaid Buy-In programs, states developed enrollment and cost projections, often assuming considerable contributions from private insurance and premium payments. States typically used existing Medicaid eligibility and claims data to estimate program enrollment and per capita costs. States typically relied on the estimates of other states when projecting private insurance offsets and premium payment amounts. Thus far, premium payments and private insurance offsets have been lower than expected, due in part to lower than expected levels of earned income and insufficient work hours to qualify for private insurance coverage. States with large state-funded personal care or pharmacy programs, such as Connecticut and Wisconsin, are offsetting some previous state expenditures with federal Medicaid funds.

    • Program performance data are not available in a consistent format across the states. The amount and types of administrative program data available from the states varies considerably. While every state can report the number of participants, the availability of data on earnings, private insurance coverage, or client characteristics is not uniformly available. Thus, it is not possible to compare state experience across a broad range of variables.

    • Preliminary data show actual enrollment exceeding projections in two states, falling short of projections in one state, and matching projections in five states. Minnesota and Iowa have exceeded projections, Nebraska has fallen short of projections, and Alaska, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, and Wisconsin have matched projections. (Oregon did not provide information on projected enrollment.) Given the variation in state methods of projecting enrollment, it is not possible to identify with certainty the forecasting approaches that are most likely to result in accurate estimates.

    • Most Medicaid Buy-In program enrollees are persons who moved from another Medicaid eligibility category to the Medicaid Buy-In program. Consistent with state expectations, most Medicaid Buy-In program enrollees are individuals who were already enrolled in Medicaid and who moved from another category to the Medicaid Buy-In category. Such persons include both individuals who moved from a "spend-down" category to the Medicaid Buy-In program and persons who moved from another category when their incomes increased.

  4. State policies on general Medicaid eligibility, SSI, and state SSI supplementation and federal policies on SSDI affect Medicaid access for working persons with disabilities.

    • A state's choices about SSI and state SSI supplementation affect Medicaid access for working persons with disabilities. When states elect to provide automatic Medicaid eligibility for all SSI beneficiaries, SSI beneficiaries who go to work receive Medicaid coverage automatically through Section 1619 work incentives without submitting any additional documentation. Four study states--Iowa, Maine, Vermont, and Wisconsin--have automatic eligibility for federal SSI recipients. Five study states--Alaska, Connecticut, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Oregon--make retaining coverage somewhat more difficult by requiring a separate application to the state for continued Medicaid coverage. Similarly, states can adopt policies that help assure continued Medicaid coverage when persons eligible only for state SSI supplements without federal SSI enter the work force. Connecticut, Vermont, and Wisconsin have adopted such policies.

    • A state's choices about income standards for persons with disabilities within its overall Medicaid program affect Medicaid access for working persons with disabilities. In a state with relatively generous Medicaid income standards in non-Buy-In categories, a greater proportion of working persons with disabilities can gain access to Medicaid through avenues other than a Medicaid Buy-In program. Income standards in traditional Medicaid eligibility categories vary greatly across the study states with Alaska, Connecticut, Maine, Nebraska, and Vermont having higher income standards than the other states.

    • Several states cite the Social Security Administration's (SSA) inability to grant demonstration waivers for SSDI beneficiaries as a barrier to increasing program enrollment and the earnings levels of participants. Preliminary data suggest that significant numbers of persons participating in Medicaid Buy-In programs may increase their disposable incomes but are unwilling to earn more than $780 per month (Substantial Gainful Activity-SGA) because their eligibility for SSDI will be jeopardized by doing so. (In states collecting earnings data, only 14% of enrollees in Medicaid Buy-In programs had earnings over SGA.) States want to implement projects that would move from the "cash cliff" to a gradual phase-out of benefits, but have not received authority to do so.

NOTES

  1. The three reports were funded through a contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation supporting a project entitled "Case Studies and Technical Assistance for Medicaid Buy-Ins for People with Disabilities." Additional support was provided from a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the U.S. Department of Education supporting the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Workforce Investment and Employment Policy for Persons with Disabilities and a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The Full Report is also available from the DALTCP website (http://aspe.hhs.gov/_/office_specific/daltcp.cfm) or directly at http://aspe.hhs.gov/daltcp/reports/2002/EIlesson.htm.