What GAO Found
GAO identified four key issues facing the Medicaid program, based on prior work.
Access to care : Medicaid enrollees report access to care that is generally comparable to that of privately insured individuals and better than that of uninsured individuals, but may have greater health care needs and greater difficulty accessing specialty and dental care.
Transparency and oversight : The lack of complete and reliable data on states’ spending—including provider payments and state financing of the non-federal share of Medicaid—hinders federal oversight, and GAO has recommended steps to improve the data on and scrutiny of states’ spending. Also, improvements in the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) criteria, policy, and process for approving states’ spending on demonstrations—state projects that may test new ways to deliver or pay for care—are needed to potentially prevent billions of dollars in unnecessary federal spending, as GAO previously recommended.
Program integrity : The program’s size and diversity make it vulnerable to improper payments. Improper payments, such as payments for non-covered services, totaled an estimated $17.5 billion in fiscal year 2014, according to HHS. An effective federal-state partnership is key to ensuring the most appropriate use of funds by, among other things, (1) setting appropriate payment rates for managed care organizations, and (2) ensuring only eligible individuals and providers participate in Medicaid.
Federal financing approach : Automatic federal assistance during economic downturns and more equitable federal allocations of Medicaid funds to states (by better accounting for states’ ability to fund Medicaid) could better align federal funding with states’ needs, offering states greater fiscal stability. GAO has suggested that Congress could consider enacting a funding formula that provides automatic, timely, and temporary increased assistance in response to national economic downturns.
Medicaid’s ongoing transformation—due to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the aging of the U.S. population, and other changes to state programs—highlights the importance of federal oversight, given the implications for enrollees and program costs. Attention to Medicaid’s transformation and the key issues facing the program will be important to ensuring that Medicaid is both effective for the enrollees who rely on it and accountable to the taxpayers. GAO has multiple ongoing studies in these areas and will continue to monitor the Medicaid program for the Congress.