CMS Announces New Healthy Adult Opportunity Initiative

On January 30, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the roll-out of its “Healthy Adult Opportunity” (HAO) initiative.  Under the initiative, participating states will have a portion of their current federal Medicaid funding converted to block grants.  In return, the states will gain greater flexibility in providing for the health care needs of certain portions of their existing Medicaid populations.

In a letter directed to State Medicaid Directors, CMS outlined the details of how the HAO initiative would operate.  The initiative will be operated under CMS’ 1115 waiver authority.  In order to participate, a state must submit an application setting forth the specific demonstration projects it intends to implement.  CMS reiterated that participation in the HAO initiative is voluntary.  CMS further indicated that it will review state applications on a case-by-case basis and make an independent decision on whether the proposed policies merit approval.  States with existing Section 1115 waivers that cover eligible populations will be permitted to transition existing demonstrations into the HAO initiative.

CMS indicated that HAO demonstrations will generally be approved for an initial 5-year period, and successful demonstrations may be renewed for a period of up to 10 years.

A summary of some of the major provisions of this initiative is provided below.

Federal Funding

The Medicaid Program is a joint federal and state program that provides free or low-cost health coverage to nearly 65 million Americans.  The Program is administered by each state, with the federal government reimbursing states for a percentage of their qualifying Medicaid expenditures.  The amount of federal matching funds is based on a statutory formula that compares a state’s per capita income to the national average.  States with lower per capita incomes receive a higher Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP).  FMAPs range from 50% to a maximum of 83%.  In addition, the federal government provides higher matching rate (called an Enhanced FMAP) for certain services or populations.  For example, the federal government currently pays 90% of the costs of providing health care to those covered by the Medicaid expansion included in the Affordable Care Act.

Under the HAO initiative, participating states would forego the FMAP for certain Medicaid populations.  Instead, these states would receive a fixed amount of federal funding (i.e., a block-grant), which will be calculated based on either a total expenses or per-enrollee basis.  To the extent the state spends more than its budgeted amount, it would not be eligible for additional federal matching funds.  To the extent the state ends up spending less than its budgeted amount, the state would participate in the cost-savings.

Eligible Medicaid Populations

The HAO initiative is focused on the non-mandatory adult Medicaid populations, i.e., individuals that are under the age of 65, and who are not eligible for Medicaid on the basis of disability, or their need for long term care, and who are not otherwise eligible under a State Medicaid Plan.  In other words, this initiative is largely targeted at those individuals that become eligible for Medicaid as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

Benefit Package Design

Under the HAO initiative, states will have the ability to design benefit packages that closely resemble the benefit packages provided by private insurers.  At a minimum, this would include benefit packages that cover all of the Essential Health Benefits (EHBs) required for commercial insurances sold on the State ACA Exchanges.  States may also design federally qualified health center coverages that facilitate the use of value-based payment design among safety-net providers.

Beneficiaries that are shifted into HAO demonstration projects will retain certain beneficiary protections, including all federal disability and civil rights laws, fair hearing rights, and limits on their mandatory cost-sharing amounts.

Coverage of Prescription Drugs

One major change would be to state’s coverage of prescription drugs.  The initiative would give states the flexibility to offer formularies under an HAO demonstration project similar to those provided in commercial health insurance markets.  This would remove the current mandate that states provide a so-called “open formulary.”  States that elect to establish their own formulary would be required to comply with the EHB requirements regarding prescription drug benefits.  States would also be required to cover substantially all drugs used to treat: (1) mental health disorders (i.e., antipsychotics and antidepressants), (2) HIV (i.e., antiretroviral drugs), and (3) opioid use disorders (i.e., all forms, formulations, and delivery mechanisms) where there are rebate agreements in place with the manufacturers.

In theory, this would permit states to cover only a single drug for many pharmaceutical classes.

Cost-Sharing Amounts

States would have the flexibility to impose additional cost-sharing obligations on beneficiaries covered under a demonstration program, subject to two broad limitations:

  1. Aggregate out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries covered under an HAO demonstration must not exceed 5% of the beneficiary’s household income, measured on a monthly or quarterly basis; and
  2. Premiums and cost-sharing charges for tribal beneficiaries, those beneficiaries living with HIV, those beneficiaries needing treatment for substance use disorders, and the cost-sharing charges for prescription drugs used to treat mental health conditions must not exceed amounts permitted under the implementing regulations. States would also not be permitted to suspend enrollment for these individuals if they fail to pay their premiums or cost-sharing amounts.

Wrap-Around Services (Including NEMT)

States would be given the flexibility to discontinue the coverage of Alternative Benefit Plan wrap-around services, including non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) and early and periodic screening, diagnostic and treatment services (EPSDT) for individuals aged 19-20.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Healthy Adult Opportunity (HAO), Medicaid


Brian Werfel

Brian S. Werfel, Esq. is a partner in Werfel & Werfel, PLLC, a New York based law firm specializing in Medicare issues related to the ambulance industry. Brian is a Medicare Consultant to the American Ambulance Association, and has authored numerous articles on Medicare reimbursement, most recently on issues such as the beneficiary signature requirement, repeat admissions and interrupted stays. He is a frequent lecturer on issues of ambulance coverage and reimbursement. Brian is co-author of the AAA’s Medicare Reference Manual for Ambulance, as well as the author of the AAA’s HIPAA Reference Manual. Brian is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the Columbia School of Law. Prior to joining the firm in 2005, he specialized in mergers & acquisitions and commercial real estate at a prominent New York law firm. Werfel & Werfel, PLLC was founded by David M. Werfel, who has been the Medicare Consultant to the American Ambulance Association for over 20 years.