Medicaid Preventive Services:

Concerted Efforts Needed to Ensure Beneficiaries Receive Services

GAO-09-578: Published: Aug 14, 2009. Publicly Released: Sep 14, 2009.

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Medicaid, a federal-state program that finances health care for certain low-income populations, can play a critical role in the provision of preventive services, which help prevent, diagnose, and manage health conditions. GAO examined available data to assess (1) the extent to which Medicaid children and adults have certain health conditions and receive certain preventive services, (2) for Medicaid children, state monitoring and promotion of the provision of preventive services, (3) for Medicaid adults, state coverage of preventive services, and (4) federal oversight by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). GAO analyzed data from nationally representative surveys: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which includes physical examinations of participants, and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS). GAO also surveyed state Medicaid directors and interviewed federal officials.

Nationally representative data suggest that a large proportion of children and adults in Medicaid have certain health conditions, particularly obesity, that can be identified or managed by preventive services, and adults' receipt of preventive services varies widely. For Medicaid children, NHANES data from 1999 through 2006 suggest that 18 percent of children aged 2 through 20 were obese, 4 percent of children aged 8 through 20 had high blood pressure, and 10 percent of children aged 6 through 20 had high cholesterol. Furthermore, MEPS data from 2003 through 2006 suggest that many Medicaid children were not receiving well-child check ups. For Medicaid adults aged 21 through 64, NHANES data suggest that more than half were obese or had diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or a combination. MEPS data suggest that receipt of preventive services varied widely by service: receipt of some services, such as blood pressure tests, was high, but receipt of several other services was low. MEPS data also suggest that a lower percentage of Medicaid adults received preventive services compared to privately insured adults. For children in Medicaid, who generally are entitled to coverage of comprehensive health screenings, including well-child check ups, as part of the federally required EPSDT benefit, most but not all states reported to GAO that they monitored or set goals related to children's utilization of preventive services and had undertaken initiatives to promote their provision. Nine states reported that they did not monitor children's utilization of specific preventive services. Forty-seven states reported having multiple initiatives to improve the provision of preventive services to children. For adults in Medicaid, for whom states' Medicaid coverage of preventive services is generally not required, most states reported to GAO that they covered most but not all of eight recommended preventive services that GAO reviewed. Nearly all state Medicaid programs, 49 and 48 respectively, reported covering cervical cancer screening and mammography, and three-quarters or more states reported covering four other preventive services. Two additional recommended services--intensive counseling to address obesity or to address high cholesterol--were reported as covered by fewer than one-third of states. For children in Medicaid, CMS oversees the provision of preventive services through state EPSDT reports and reviews of EPSDT programs, but gaps in oversight remain; for adults, oversight is more limited. For children, state reports showed that, on average, 58 percent of Medicaid children who were eligible for an EPSDT service in 2007 received one; far below the federal goal of 80 percent. CMS reviewed only 11 state EPSDT programs between April 2001 and June 2009. Few states reporting low rates of service provision were reviewed. CMS guidance to states may also have gaps: a 2006 study raised concerns that providers may not be aware of coverage of obesity-related services for Medicaid children. CMS has recognized the need for but has not yet begun drafting guidance on such coverage. For adults, CMS has provided some related guidance to states, but not on the reviewed preventive services.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CMS agreed with our recommendation and has taken several actions aimed at improving children's access to preventive services. In December 2010, CMS formed a National EPSDT Improvement Workgroup which has generated options for improving service delivery, reducing the reporting burden for states, and improving CMS oversight of state performance. As of June 2013, CMS was considering which options to pursue. In 2011, CMS engaged a contractor to conduct in-depth analyses of EPSDT in nine states, conduct an EPSDT literature review, and undertake a 50-state environmental scan of available information on a variety of EPSDT topics. This contract is ongoing and has an estimated completion date of December 2015. In addition, CMS has issued two Informational Bulletins related to EPSDT services, one on prevention and early identification of mental health and substance use conditions in March 2013 and the other on improving access to dental services in April 2013.

    Recommendation: To improve the provision of preventive services to the Medicaid population, the Administrator of CMS should ensure that state Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) programs are regularly reviewed to identify gaps in provision of EPSDT services to children and to identify needed improvements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress has acted on GAO's recommendation to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to improve guidance to states on coverage under the Medicaid program for obesity-related services. Specifically, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, enacted on March 23, 2010, requires the Secretary of HHS to provide guidance and relevant information to states and health care providers regarding preventive and obesity-related services that are available to Medicaid enrollees, including obesity screening and counseling for children and adults. The law also requires that each state design a public awareness campaign to educate Medicaid enrollees regarding availability and coverage of such services, with the goal of reducing incidences of obesity. In addition, not later than January 1, 2011, and every 3 years thereafter through January 1, 2017, the Secretary of Health and Human Services is required to report to Congress on the status and effectiveness of these efforts. HHS submitted its first report to Congress in 2010.

    Recommendation: To improve the provision of preventive services to the Medicaid population, the Administrator of CMS should expedite current efforts to provide policy guidance on coverage of obesity-related services for Medicaid children, and consider the need to provide similar guidance regarding coverage of obesity screening and counseling, and other recommended preventive services, for adults.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services


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