The Senate on Tuesday night passed legislation to help states establish hospital-coordinated health homes for chronically sick kids through a boost in federal Medicaid funds.
The Advancing Care for Exceptional (ACE) Kids Act has been years in the works, pushed hard by children's hospitals and just as strongly opposed by Medicaid managed care plans wary of losing contracts for kids with complex conditions.
The legislation failed to pass late last year when Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) blocked a vote for unanimous consent. The bill has garnered criticism from conservatives who don't want to establish additional programs to fund.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who championed the bill in the Senate, told Modern Healthcare last week he was working to convince the hold-out senator so lawmakers could pass ACE Kids as part of a larger package to extend various Medicaid programs.
The package, called the Medicaid Services Investment and Accountability Act of 2019, also included a measure to prevent pharmaceutical companies from misclassifying their drugs within the Medicaid drug rebate program in order to get more money.
Grassley and his Senate co-sponsor Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) touted the passage of ACE Kids after the upper chamber held its vote of unanimous consent.
Grassley noted in his statement that kids with complex medical needs often see "five to six specialists and up to as many as 20-30 allied professionals."
ACE Kids "will reduce the burden on families and caregivers by improving the coordination of medical care for these children," he said. "In addition, better coordination of care will reduce emergency room visits and hospitalizations and thereby reduce healthcare expenditures."
The final bill was considerably watered down from the version passed last fall by the House, which would have funneled a 90% federal Medicaid match to states to pay for care in hospital-coordinated health homes. Some children's advocates were wary the money would motivate states to send kids to the health home model whether or not it was the right fit for them.
The version that will become law boosts the federal Medicaid match rate by 15% and only for two fiscal quarters, in order to help with startup costs.