Category Archives: Medicaid Contracts

NC Medicaid: Freedom of Choice of Providers? Why Bother? Providers Are Fungible!…Right?

I found some interesting language in the 1915(b) Waiver last week (well, interesting to me).

What is the 1915(b) Waiver? In the simplest of terms, with the 1915(b) Waiver, NC has asked the federal government for an exception to certain mandatory statutes.  In order to request the exception or “waiver” of certain federal statutes, NC had to draft our 1915(b) Waiver and promise the federal government that, despite the fact that NC is not following certain federal statutes, that certain things about Medicaid will not change.  Even though we may have waived the federal statute requiring it.

For example, in our 1915(b) Waiver, NC asks to waive Medicaid recipients’ “freedom of choice of provider” provision.  As in, federal statute requires the states to allow a Medicaid recipient to have the freedom to choose whatever or whomever provider that recipient desires.  (Kind of like…”You like your doctor? You can keep your doctor!”)

Well, NC had to waive the freedom of choice of provider because the MCOs in NC are jurisdictional.  For example, if Dr. Norwood provides Medicaid services in Durham, there is no reason that she should have to contract with Smokey Mountain Center (SMC).  And because Dr. Norwood does not contract with SMC, a Medicaid recipient cannot choose to receive services from Dr. Norwood, which, obviously, limits Medicaid recipients’ freedom of choice of provider.

The thinking behind the waiver of Medicaid recipients’ freedom of choice of provider is that (in my opinion), realistically, even if we did not waive the provision mandating the freedom of choice of provider, how likely is it that a Medicaid recipient residing in Asheville would choose to receive services from a Medicaid provider in Durham, NC? Most likely, the Medicaid recipients in Asheville have never heard of the Medicaid providers in Durham.  So…waive the freedom of choice….it’s harmless.

However, in order for the feds to allow this waiver of the freedom of choice of provider, NC had to promise something.

Our promise is found in the 1915(b) Waiver.  The language of our promise reads, ”

1915(b)

Why is this important?

Because it is not true.  Our promise that we made to the federal government in order for the federal government to allow us to implement our managed care system for our mental health, substance abuse, and developmentally disabled population is not true.

“These providers support this initiative and consumers have at least as much choice in individual providers as they had in the pre-reform non-managed care environment.”

If the Waiver were Pinocchio, its nose would be circling the earth.

It reminds me of my grandma.  Grandma is the sweetest, most wonderful grandma in the world.  She and my grandpa lived in a home in Cary, NC for over five decades.  When grandpa passed and grandma’s health began to decline, grandma decided to sell her home and move into an assisted living facility.  Well, grandma’s home was near and dear to all 5 children’s hearts, as well as all 15+ grandchildren’s hearts (I know…I have a huge family).  I, personally, had so many wonderful memories there (fishing in the lake behind the house, playing pool and ping-pong in the basement, climbing up and down the laundry chute acting as if it were a secret passage way, and grandpa’s amazing tomato sandwiches, gumbo and cornbread).

Anyway, the point is that when grandma sold the house, there was a stipulation in the contract.  The buyer promised to not bulldoze the house and build a new home.  You see, this neighborhood was old…one of the oldest in Cary.  So the homes were built in the 70s.  It had become “posh” to buy an older home in this neighborhood because the lots were so large and the location was so great and to simply flatten the old house for a new one.

Well, grandma wouldn’t have it.  There was too much nostalgia in the home for some buyer to bulldoze the home.  So the contract to sell the house stipulated that the buyer would not bulldoze the house.  So grandma sold the home.

And the buyer bulldozed the home.

Of all the low-down, dirty tricks!!! To lie in a contract to my grandma! Needless to say, grandma was very upset.  She felt that a piece of her life vanished, which, obviously, it did.

Well, grandma has a number of attorneys in the family (including me).  So grandma’s kids began to talk about a lawsuit.  But grandma said that even if she sued the buyer that it would not bring back the house.  Money could not replace the memories at grandma’s house.

If I am remembering correctly, this new house was built 5-6 years ago. Maybe more.  I pass the neighborhood all the time.  To date, I still have not driven to see the house that replaced grandma’s house.  I don’t think I could take it.

What is worse than lying to a grandmother about her home?

In my opinion? Lying to the feds about the freedom of choice of Medicaid provider that our Medicaid recipients have here in NC.  Talk about a vulnerable population…our most needy citizens, but add to the vulnerability mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and/or developmentally disablement.  And, now, let’s lie about their freedom of choice.

So where am I getting my allegation that Medicaid recipients do not have “at least enough choice in individual providers as they had in pre-reform non-managed care?”

Normally I only blog as to facts that I can corroborate with some research.  However, this blog may not be corroborated by any independent research.  My allegation is based on my own experience as a Medicaid attorney, conversations with my clients, emails that I have received from providers across the state, memos I have read from the MCOs, and the very real fact that the MCOs are terminating (or not renewing) hundreds of provider contracts across the state.

For the sake of argument, let’s say I am right.  That Medicaid recipients do not have at least the same freedom of choice of provider as pre-MCOs.  What then?

If I am right, this is the situation in which we find ourselves today.  So what is happening today?

As the MCOs determine that fewer providers are needed within a catchment area, the MCOs are refusing to contract with “redundant and unnecessary” providers.  But are these providers really unnecessary?  Really redundant?  Are we to believe that mental health providers are fungible?  Meaning that one provider is just as good as the next…that nothing makes some provider “stick out?”  Are providers fungible like beach balls are fungible?

Let’s test that theory.

Abby is a suicidal teenager.  She has suffered from schizophrenia with auditory hallucinations since she was a child.  For the last six years, Abby has seen Dr. Norwood.  It took some time, but, eventually, Abby began to trust Dr. Norwood.  Dr. Norwood has developed a close relationship with Abby, even telling Abby to call her 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if she is in crisis.  Dr. Norwood resides in Durham, so Alliance Behavioral Healthcare (Alliance) is her MCO, and Dr. Norwood provides Abby with outpatient behavioral therapy (OBT).  But, in addition to the weekly therapy, Dr. Norwood also provides Abby with a sense of security.  Abby knows that, if needed, Dr. Norwood would be there for here under any circumstances.  In addition, Abby trusts Dr. Norwood because she is a female.  Abby has an intense distrust of males.  When Abby was 9, her step-father raped her over and over until child protective services stepped in, but not before Abby suffered 8 broken bones and has lost the ability to reproduce forever.

Then, Alliance held its RFPs a couple of months ago.  It’s “tryout.”

And Dr. Norwood was not awarded a contract with Alliance.  Dr. Norwood has no idea why Alliance did not award her a contract.  Only that, according to Alliance, Alliance has sufficient number of providers providing OBT within its catchment area and Dr. Norwood’s services are no longer needed.

Because mental health care providers are fungible, right?

Who cares whether Abby receives services from Dr. Norwood? She can get the same exact services from a large corporation…we will call it “Triangle Counseling.” (BTW: If a Triangle Counseling really exists, I apologize.  This is a fictitious company made up for my example).  Triangle Counseling employs 25+ psychiatrists and 30+ counselors.  When a Medicaid recipient is referred to Triangle, Triangle assigns a psychiatrist and a counselor to the recipient.  Oh, and if, for some reason, the Medicaid recipients needs crisis help outside business hours, Triangle provides “tele-care” so the Medicaid recipient can speak to a computer screen on which a person can be seen by a counselor.

Abby is now hospitalized.  Dr. Norwood filed bankruptcy, lost her 30 year+ career, and is receiving monetary support from the state.

I ask you, if Alliance (or any other MCO) has terminated even one provider, hasn’t that MCO restricted Medicaid recipients’ freedom of choice of provider beyond what was contemplated by the Waiver?  Is the clause in our Waiver that “freedom of choice of provider will be the same as before the implementation of MCOs?,” truthful?  What if the MCO has terminated 10 provider contracts?  50?  100? 

Yet, in order to implement the MCO system, we promised the federal government in our 1915(b) Waiver that “consumers have at least as much choice in individual providers as they had in the pre-reform non-managed care environment.”

Fact or fiction?

Are providers fungible?  Because my grandma knows from experience, houses sure are not.

MCOs Terminating Providers and Restricting the Freedom of Choice of Providers for Medicaid Recipients: Going To Far?

Who remembers Dennis Kozlowski?  He is the former CEO of Tyco International, and his net worth is estimated at $600 million.  However, his residence? A mansion? On his own island?

Nope.  He is currently serving 8.33 to 25 years at the Mid-State Correctional Facility in Marcy, New York.

In 2005 he was convicted of crimes related to $81 million in unauthorized bonuses and the payment by Tyco of a $20 million investment banking fee to Frank Walsh, a former Tyco director.  See Wikipedia.

So here you have this “rich-as-crap,” millionaire…going about his business, no doubt believing that he is smarter than anyone else and that he will never get caught.  Then all Hades breaks lose and he goes from Armani $10,000 suits to an orange, cotton jumpsuit.  Talk about riches to rags!

Now, I am by no means comparing Kozlowski’s criminal actions to NC managed care organizations (MCO).  By no means.  I am merely demonstrating that it is easy to continue doing the wrong thing…UNTIL you get caught.

Here’s a less dramatic example:

My eight-year-old has a hard time with food.  She eats slowly and we constantly have to tell her to eat.  (We think she has sinus problems and can’t taste the food…which we are looking into).  Anyway, last week when we cleaned her room, I found a stack of bags of carrots.  Like 10 bags of carrots.  I had been putting bags of carrots in her lunch and each day, she was hiding the carrots under the bed.  She didn’t want me to know that she wasn’t eating her carrots.  Again, she thought she wouldn’t get caught, so she kept doing the wrong thing….UNTIL she got caught.

Here in North Carolina, we have now set up this MCO system for Medicaid recipients needing behavioral health care services.

These MCOs have only gone live this past year.  These are new entities.  Our 1915 b/c Waiver (Waiver), which gives the MCOs the authority to do certain things is new. 

But, what if, these new entities are NOT following the Waiver?

Won’t they just keep not following the Waiver until they get caught?

That’s what Kozlowski did.  That’s what my 8-year-old did.

If you know Medicaid, you understand that federal law requires a “single state entity” to manage Medicaid.  In North Carolina the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) is our “single state entity.” 

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is the federal agency that has to “ok” our State Plan and all Waivers.  The State Plan outlines the organization and function of DMA.  CMS has to authorize our State Plan, including each and every amendment to our State Plan.  Our State Plan is basically “The Law of Medicaid in NC.”  NC is required to follow the State Plan or risk losing federal funding for our Medicaid system.

Our Waivers, on the other hand, are our allowable exceptions to “The Law of Medicaid in NC.”  Think of the State Plan as the general rule and the Waivers as the exceptions.  Generally, all cars must stop at a red light.  The exceptions are police cars, ambulances and fire trucks with the sirens blaring and lights flashing.

Our State Plan states, generally, DHHS, DMA is the single state entity for Medicaid and must make all administrative and managerial decisions for the program.  The 1915 (b)/(c) Waiver says…well, the exception is that the local management entities (LMEs) or managed care organizations (MCOs) have SOME responsibilities. 

BTW: People in NC keep calling the MCOs:”LME/MCOs.”  In fact, I was at a meeting during which a a representative from DHHS called the MCOs “LME/MCOs.”  The woman asking the question with the microphone asked, “Why don’t we just drop the “LME” portion and call them “MCOs,” not “LME/MCOs?”  To which the gentleman answered, “Old habits are hard to break.”

Our 1915 b/c Waiver “waives” Section 1902(a)(4) of the Social Security Act, the freedom of choice of providers.  Generally, a Medicaid recipient has the freedom to choose a provider from whom he or she wants to receive services.  Our Waiver says, “Ok, Medicaid recipient, you can choose from any provider within your MCO’s catchment area.”  Meaning, if Sally the Medicaid recipient lives in Wake county, Sally could choose any provider within Alliance’s catchment area, Cumberland, Durham, Wake and Johnson counties.

But the Waiver does not stop there.

In order for the federal government to allow NC to place this restriction on Medicaid recipients, because it is a restriction, NC had to make some promises.

We promised in our Waiver to the feds:

“These providers support this initiative and consumers have at least as much choice in individual providers as they had in the non-managed care environment.”

Hmmmmmm.

I do not have exact numbers, but I would wager that Alliance has terminated, refused to contract with, or denied a contract to at least 100 providers.  Considering in the recent RFP Alliance chose so few providers to serve its catchment area, I can only imagine how many providers no longer can provider services within Alliance’s catchment area.  100? 200?  See my blog: “An Ominous Cloud Looms Over NC’s Mental Health System! And Radix Malorum Est Cupiditas!”

Is terminating providers giving the consumers as much choice as they had in the non-managed care environment?

I think not.

 But who is going to stop them from continuing down this path of eliminating choice of providers within the catchment areas?

Obviously, DHHS has proved itself to be incapable of such a feat.

So the MCOs are going about their businesses…thinking no one will ever catch them…that they are free to do whatever they want…just like Kozlowski (without the criminal behavior…we hope)…just like my daughter hiding the carrots….

It’s human nature.

We just keep doing the same things over and over…UNTIL someone tells us we have to change. 

Who will tell the MCOs to follow the Waiver?  Will it take a judge?

An Ominous Cloud Looms Over NC’s Mental Health System! And Radix Malorum Est Cupiditas!

“There is an ominous cloud over North Carolina’s mental health care system that many fear is limiting access to care and treatment by those who need it the most,” wrote Jason deBruyn in Friday’s Triangle Business Journal article titled, “Mental Health Block.”

TBJ Pic

(Thanks, Jason, for the nice spread:) )

Two phrases that can never be good when linked together: “an ominous cloud” and “mental health care system.”  Upon reading “ominous cloud,” I get this dark (dare I say ominous?), dreary outlook on whatever the “ominous cloud” is  over.  Then to discover that the “ominous cloud” is over our mental health system here in NC, I get goosebumps and a pit in my stomach (and a bit of disgust at the sheer ineptness of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)).

What is causing that “ominous cloud” over our mental health system? Well, according to Jason, the managed care organizations (MCOs) that were implemented across the state only this past year.

What are these MCOs you talk of?

The MCOs were established to manage the Medicaid mental health, developmentally disabled, and substance abuse services in NC.  If you want mental health services or are attempting to get prior authorization on behalf of a Medicaid recipient, then the buck stops with the MCO.  See my blog: “NC MCOs: The Judge, Jury and Executioner.” Or “NC MCOs: Accountability Must Be Somewhere!”

Here is a list of the MCOs along with the “correct toll free number” in case you wanted it:

LME-MCO CORRECT TOLL FREE NUMBER
Alliance Behavioral Health 1-800-510-9132
Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions 1-800-939-5911
CenterPoint Human Services 1-888-581-9988
CoastalCare 1-855-250-1539
East Carolina Behavioral Health (ECBH) 1-877-685-2415
EastPointe 1-800-513-4002
MeckLINK 1-877-700-3001
Partners Behavioral Health Management 1-888-235-4673
Sandhills Center 1-800-256-2452
Smoky Mountain Center 1-800-849-6127
Western Highlands Network 1-800-951-3792

Going back to the “ominous cloud…”

Jason writes further that “under the state’s new payment system, MCOs have the unbridled authority to terminate providers in an attempt to keep costs down – with little accountability for the process.”

The only word I would change is “little” to “no.” But, then, maybe Jason was referring to the little accountability as arising from advocates such as myself who are fighting for the providers.

Have I not been saying this all along?  The MCOs can terminate providers with little (or no) accountability!! To save money!!

And who suffers?? The providers, yes.  And the Medicaid recipients!!   “Patients aren’t going to know where to go to access services,” Goldston says. “Those patients are going to suffer.”

Why? Why are these MCOs terminating providers and denying services to our most-needy population??  Have they no heart? No conscience?

One word answers all these questions:

Money

Radix malorum est cupiditas, meaning, in Latin, greed is the root of all evil.  In the Bible, 1 Timothy 6:10, starts “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil…”

“MCOs register as not-for-profit organizations and receive fixed amounts of money from the state, called their “capitation.” Unlike physical health care providers, when Medicaid patients receive mental health services, their providers bill these MCOs instead of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. If an MCO doesn’t spend up to its capitation level, it keeps the remainder. And therein lies the problem, say provider advocates,” writes Jason. (emphasis added).

And he is absolutely correct!

What was the MCOs’ response?

“The myth that we are trying to eliminate every provider in our network is not an accurate statement,” says Rob Robinson, chief operating officer for Alliance Behavioral Healthcare, the MCO that covers Wake, Durham, Johnston and Cumberland counties.

Mr. Robinson’s comment, however, is incorrect on, at least, two fronts: (1) the “myth” is not that the MCOs are trying to eliminate every provider; and (2) it is no myth.  The MCOs are, without question, terminating as many providers from the networks as possible without the appearance that services will not get rendered.  The MCOs need a certain number…just to appear that services are not getting cut.

So what is that magic number?

A client informed me a couple of months ago that Smokey Mountain Center (SMC) told him that SMC wants two providers per service per county.  If correct, hundreds and hundreds of providers will be put out of business.  And, hello…I thought the current Republican administration was pro small business!

Alliance has chopped its provider network recently.

Just recently, Alliance called for Requests for Proposals (RFPs) from all contracted providers within its catchment area.  Kinda like a tryout.  When I was in college at NCSU, I was on the cheerleading team.  I will never forget being a freshman and learning these routines that I would have to perform in front of a judge’s panel.  Literally hundreds of young men and women were all learning the same routine…all to perform for the tryouts.  In the middle of learning the routine with hundreds of people, I looked around and realized that only 8 girls and 8 guys would be chosen.  Which meant 90% of the people there would not be on the team.  I tried to remove the thought from my head.

When the D-Day arrived, there was simply a white piece of paper taped to the gymnasium’s window on the outside for anyone to see.  I had to walk up to the piece of paper, shuffle through the small crowd surrounding it, ignore others’ tears and congratulations, and look for my name.

Holding my breath, I searched for “Knicole Carson” (my maiden name). And I did not see it.  For a moment, I was crushed.  Then I saw “Nicole Carson.”  My name was on there, just misspelled.

What does college cheerleading tryouts have to do with NC Medicaid?

Alliance’s RFPs created a provider tryout.  Hundreds submitted.  Only a few were chosen.  Those few chosen were written on a piece of paper for all to see, and providers had to scan the list to see if they were chosen.

For Wake county, Alliance decided to award a 1 year contract for community support team (CST) to only 6 companies.  For the entire county of Wake, Alliance has determined that only 6 companies may provide CST to Medicaid recipients (with a 1 year contract).  Only 6 names were on the list.

For Durham county, Alliance decided to award a 1 year contract for CST to only 5 companies.  For the entire county of Durham, Alliance has determined that only 5 companies may provide CST (with a 1 year contract).  Only 5 names were on the list.

Now let’s go back to Mr. Robinson’s comment:

“The myth that we are trying to eliminate every provider in our network is not an accurate statement,” says Rob Robinson, chief operating officer for Alliance Behavioral Healthcare, the MCO that covers Wake, Durham, Johnston and Cumberland counties.

You are right, Mr. Robinson, you aren’t trying to eliminate “every provider.”  Just the ones that Alliance, in its subjective discretion, doesn’t want to deal with (I don’t care that I ended the sentence in a preposition).

Oh, and what about our State Plan?

Our State of North Carolina MH/DD/SA  Health Plan Renewal, states, in pertinent part, as an answer regarding concerns as to provider choice with MCOs, “network capacity studies and gap analyses were conducted by Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions (CIHS) annually and prior to expansion the coverage area, and by the new PIHPs prior to start-up, as required. Access and provider choice appear to be as good as or better than it was prior to waiver implementation, although there is room for improvement in several areas.” (emphasis added).

Obviously, that was written a while ago and Cardinal, an MCO, was the entity conducting the study (cough, cough…bias…cough).  Regardless, we told the federal government that “provider choice appears to be as good or better than it was prior implementation.”  Are you kidding me???

How many providers didn’t make Alliance’s cut?

How many providers have MeckLINK terminated? Smokey Mountain?

Jason deBruyn was dead on when he said, “There is an ominous cloud over North Carolina’s mental health care system that many fear is limiting access to care and treatment by those who need it the most.”

Medicaid Providers: Do Not Omit Information on Your Medicaid Application or NC Ct of Appeals Says, “You Can Lose Your Medicaid Contract Without Notice.”

We’ve all told our share of little, white lies, right?  “Yes, honey, you look fantastic in that dress!” Or… “I never think about my ex-boyfriend!”  But omissions are also lies.  People have told me in the past that omissions are not lies, but they are, obviously, wrong.  Even in the court of law, a nonverbal action (or omission) can be used against you.

For example, if your neighbor comes up to you and accuses you of killing his cat and you say nothing except shut the door, you better believe that when your neighbor testifies in court that your “nonassertion” or “non- dispution” (I know, not a word) his allegation will be admitted into the court, or at least the attempt will be made.  Even though the “nonassertion” would be considered hearsay.

Hearsay is an out of court statement made by someone other than the testifying witness to be admitted to prove the truth of the matter asserted.  For example,  if I were on the stand and I said, “My neighbor told me that he killed my cat.”  If, in fact, I was testifying in a trial in which I was trying to prove that my neighbor killed my cat, then my statement would be hearsay and not admitted into evidence.  The same would be true if I were testifying that I accused my neighbor of killing my cat and he said nothing.  His nonadmission would be hearsay as well…because a normal person would protest to killing the cat if accused and innocent.

However, in the law, there are always grey areas.  Sometimes when the “statement” is nonverbal, the hearsay objection will be overlooked. Attorneys argue that the hearsay rule is almost always, in the abstract, phrased in terms of “statements” or “utterances” and the possible application of the rule to “conduct” may not be immediately apparent.

However, CAVEAT, In the world of Medicaid, omissions can cost you your Medicaid contract.

In a recent North Carolina Court of Appeals decision, Powell’s Medical Facility v. NC DHHS, the NC Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision to uphold the Division of Medical Assistance’s (DMA) termination of Dr. Eddie N. Powell’s (I know, really? Who’s name is legally Eddie and not Edward?) Medicaid contract based on Dr. Powell’s omission on his Medicaid verification packet to Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC).

In 2009, CSC began to re-verify Medicaid providers in an effort to determine that all Medicaid providers met criteria as a Medicaid provider (yes, folks, this is the very same CSC that has catastrophically rolled-out NCTracks).

In Dr. Powell’s case, DMA informed him, in the termination letter, that if a provider were convicted of a criminal offense or made “any mistatement…or omission while submitting the provider application” that DMA had the authority to terminate a provider without notice.

Dr. Powell’s attorneys argued that the termination was erroneous because “the sole basis for DMA’s decision to terminate Dr. Powell’s participation in Medicaid is the mere existence of Dr. Powell’s criminal conviction.”  (emphasis in the original)(Notice, people, that I have not told you what the criminal offense was…that is on purpose.  Once I read the criminal conviction, I was tainted for the remainder of the Court’s opinion.  So you will find out the criminal conviction at the end.  Those of you impatient readers, can scroll down.  But, for now, imagine that the criminal conviction is for stealing a loaf of bread for his family.  See “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo.)

The Court, however, disagreed.

A witness for the Respondent  (DMA) testified on recross that Dr. Powell’s termination was based on (1) the conviction (of stealing bread); and (2) the OMISSION to disclose his conviction (of stealing bread) on his application.

Supposedly, the result of the this opinion is that if you were convicted of a criminal offense and it does not involve something really, really, bad (such as stealing bread) and you DO disclose it on the Medicaid application that you would not be terminated. 

Moral of the story? Disclose everything!

If you were convicted of littering when you were 18, disclose it.

The problem with Dr. Powell? He was not convicted of littering when he was 18.  He also was not convicted of stealing bread for his starving family like Jean Valjean.

He was convicted of the felonies of incest and taking liberties with a minor, who is his stepdaughter.  (To which my husband, asked, “Is it incest if it was his stepdaughter?”  To which, I said, “Hmmmmm. I don’t know.  I am not a criminal attorney.”)

Regardless, Dr. Powell is a convicted sex offender.

Interestingly, one issue before the NC Court of Appeals was whether a Medicaid contract is a “property right” to a provider.  That is a HUGE issue for NC Medicaid providers!!! This issue goes back to the whole “is a Medicaid contract terminable at will?”  Obviously, DMA and the managed care organizations want the Medicaid contracts to be terminable at will so they can terminate a contract without due process. 

But the NC Court of Appeals did not rule as to this very important issue.  The Court ruled that “even assuming, arguendo, that Dr. Powell’s enrollment was not terminable at will, DMA had substantial evidence to terminate the contract.

However, the moral is obvious. We don’t need Aesop to tell us the moral.  If you are a Medicaid provider and have been convicted of a criminal offense in the past, disclose the conviction on all Medicaid applications.  Period.

Could NC Hospitals Be the Surprising and Much Needed Advocate for Mentally Ill Medicaid Recipients?

North Carolina has created the perfect storm when it comes to mentally ill…the perfect scenario for disaster.  10…9….8…..7……6…….5……..4………3………..2…………..

From 2001 to 2012, the total population of North Carolina increased from 8,203,734 people to 9,781,022.  Over 1 and a half million more people live here now than twelve years ago.  Which is understandable when you think about all the people relocating here.

The number of NC residents in need of mental health services has increased from 517,447 in 2001 to 613,379 in 2012 (not sure how many are on Medicaid).  However, since 2001, the number of inpatient psychiatric beds has DECREASED by fifty percent (50%), from approximately 1,750 beds to approximately 850 beds.  850 beds!!  Not even enough beds to serve 1/10 of the population in need!!

In the past, it was understandable to decrease the number of psychiatric beds.  NC was doing a fairly decent, not perfect, by any means, but a decent job of providing community-based mental health services to those in need. 

Those days of decent care for mentally ill Medicaid recipients are over.  Instead, we have the perfect storm for utter disaster.

Enter main ingredient of the perfect storm…the managed care organizations (MCOs).  In NC, we moved only behavioral health care to the MCOs.  Basically, if you are on Medicaid and need any type of health care services, besides behavioral health services, you will never come into contact with an MCO.  However, if you suffer from a mental illness, a developmental disability, or a substance abuse problem and rely on Medicaid for insurance, you have encountered the MCOs.

Prior to 2013 (except for the experimental 1st MCO, which was called Piedmont Behavioral Health, but now called Cardinal Innovations), the MCOs did not exist.  Literally, the MCOs have gone “live” this year.  The MCOs are new to being the gatekeepers of mental health services for Medicaid recipients in NC.

Not only do we have these new, inexperienced companies deciding which Medicaid recipients may receive mental health services, but we, in our great wisdom, gave them the monetary incentive to DENY services to recipients and to DENY providers Medicaid contracts, which is the 2nd ingredient for the perfect storm.  Oh yes, we did all that!  The MCOs are prepaid.  So, in theory, the MCOs are taking the burden of risk (i.e., going over budget) off the State and onto themselves.  If the MCOs go over budget, it is on the MCOs to come up with the money.  However, in reality, the MCOs, to save on money and increase profit, are denying medically necessary services and terminating (or not enrolling) quality health care providers.  See my blog “The NC Medicaid Mental Health 10-Ring Circus: How 10 Mini Jurisdictions Will Be the Downfall of Mental Health.”

Enter the 3rd ingredient to the perfect storm…the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Medical Assistance (DMA)’s complete absence of supervision of the MCOs.

The MCOs have full reign and uninhibited authority to deny mental health care services, to terminate Medicaid provider contracts, or to refuse to contract with Medicaid providers with absolutely ZERO repercussions (unless you hire an attorney (not necessarily me) and obtain an injunction) from DMA, from the federal government, from anyone.  See my blog “The MCOs: Judge, Jury, and Executioner.”

[The equation for the perfect storm = the decreased number of psychiatric beds + increase in population + the increase of mentally ill residents + the MCOs + the monetary incentive for MCOs to deny services and not enroll providers + DMA’s complete lack of supervision]

As I am sure you are aware, a week or so ago, Virginia state Senator Creigh Deeds was stabbed multiple times by his son.  Deeds was hospitalized for three days, but his son took his own life after stabbing his father.  According to the media, Deeds’ son, Gus Deeds, suffered from severe mental problems and the day prior to the stabbing, an emergency custody order was sought.  However, a psychiatric bed, reportedly, could not be found.

Sadly, the tragic story of Gus Deeds is too common.  In Modern Healthcare this week, the feature story is called, “No Room for the Mentally Ill.”

The article discusses how the hospitals “are trying to collaborate with other hospitals  to place psychiatric patients in open beds, using separate psychiatric EDs, setting up crisis triage centers, and referring patients to residential treatment centers.” See Modern Healthcare, dated November 18, 2013.

The hospitals may be acting in a self-serving manner.  Most mentally ill patients, who are admitted to the ERs are not paying clients.  The hospitals cannot turn a profit if too many non-paying clients are admitted to the ER.  However, whatever the motivation, I say, thank goodness, and God bless the hospitals’ efforts!

Mentally ill, Medicaid recipients may be the demographic with the LEAST voice of all demographics in existence. 

Sadly, few care about poor people, and even fewer care about poor people suffering with MH/DD/SA. (When I say “care,” I mean will devote time, resources, and energy to them.  I mean hire lobbyists for them, hire attorneys.)

Here, in NC, we are staring into the face of a perfect storm.  If the hospitals can make headway with a bigger voice than those depending on Medicaid with behavioral health issues, God bless the hospitals, whatever the reason for their advocacy.

Because, perhaps, without the hospitals, we could be seeing:

3….2…..1……BOOM!

To Decrease Medicaid Spending (Without Decreasing Medicaid Recipients’ Services), Drastic Administrative Cuts Are Needed

It is indisputable that reigning in Medicaid costs is one of this administration’s top priorities.

And, I agree, reigning in Medicaid costs should be a top priority.  In fiscal year 2011, it is estimated that Medicaid comprised 23.6 percent of total state expenditures (average of all states).  My only concern is reigning in the appropriate Medicaid costs without interfering with Medicaid recipients’ medically necessary services.  A Medicaid budget cut (or reigning in Medicaid spending) should not be painfully felt by the Medicaid recipients by increased denials of services or by their providers being terminated from the Medicaid program without cause.  Instead a Medicaid cut should be felt by the administration. 

The Medicaid budget exists in order to provide medically necessary services to the most needy, not to create jobs at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

“About $36 million a day we spend on Medicaid, and the numbers grow by the second. It is a non-sustainable system,” Wos said to members of the Medical Care Commission this past Friday.  For the article, please click here.  The Medical Care Commission is a governor-appointed medical advisory group made-up of 16 North Carolinians and charged with the responsibility of recommending Medicaid cost control and budget predictability. (Actually, it is interesting that when you look at the NC DHSR website (click on Medical Care Commission) that the website states that the commission is composed of 17 individuals.  But when you count the individuals, only 16 are listed.  I assume that Gov. McCrory or Sec. Wos is the 17th member, but I am not 100% sure).

While I agree with Sec. Wos that continuing to spend $36 million a day and, perhaps, more in the future, is a non-sustainable system, I also believe that we could decrease Medicaid spending without decreasing services to recipients. 

The Medical Care Commission’s chairperson, Ms. Lucy Hancock Bode “served as the Deputy Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Human Resources from 1982 to 1984. She has been an Independent Trustee of Tamarack Funds Trust and various Portfolios in the fund complex of Tamarack Funds since January 2004. She served as a Director of BioSignia, Inc.”  See BusinessWeek.

The Vice-Chairperson, Joseph D. Crocker, “is Director of the Poor and Needy Division at Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he has served in such capacity since May 2010. Mr. Crocker served as Assistant Secretary for Community Development at the North Carolina Department of Commerce in Raleigh, North Carolina, from 2009 to 2010.  See Forbes.

Well, goodness, the appointees can be found in BusinessWeek and Forbes!! Who else is on the Medical Care Commission? The grandson of the founder of the Biltmore Estates, 6 MD’s, the ex-CEO of FirstHealth of the Carolinas, the Vice President and Director of the Health Care Program for The Duke Endowment, the President and CEO of Coastal Horizons.  My guess is that not one of the appointees to the Medical Care Commission has ever depended on Medicaid for insurance nor been personally acquainted with those dependent on Medicaid. How will these elite (which I am defining as making a salary well-over poverty level for years and years) help “adopt, recommend or rescind rules for regulation of most health care facilities,” and help “[b]e able to provide the proper care to the proper people at the proper time and at the proper price?”  How does the person making $13.8 million truly understand the troubles and turmoil of someone making $9.00/hour?

I recently read an article about McDonald’s and its low wages it pays to its employees.  The article pointed out that most McDonald’s employees received minimum wage, the median hourly wage is $9.00/hour.  McDonald’s also recommends that its employees file for food stamps and welfare.  Then I read that the CEO of McDonald’s is paid $13.8 million/year.  That’s over $1 million/month!!! That is stupid money!! What in the world does Donald Thompson do with that much money?  When Mr. Thompson encourages his employees to file for food stamps and welfare programs, how can he, making $13.8 million/year, have an inkling as to the daily troubles of an employee making $9.00/hour…how difficult it can be to maneuver government beaurocracy…to even get authorization to receive the food stamps…only to discover that the legislature suspended the distribution of food stamps this week…

(A quick aside, for those of you thinking right now, “What about you, Knicole? You are a partner at a big law firm? How can you protest to know anything about the $9.00/hour employee? Without getting too personal, I have not always been employed at a law firm.)

Had I been in McCrory’s position of appointing the folks onto the Medical Care Commission, I would have wanted at least one appointee to have either been personally dependent on Medicaid, been a case manager exclusively for Medicaid recipients, or, in some way, dealt with Medicaid recipients on a close, personal level.  In other words, I would have wanted at least one appointee to understand the real-life difficulties actually suffered by Medicaid recipients.  If I were a CEO of a company for 20 years, how would I know that medically necessary services are being denied to Medicaid recipients?  How would I know that when a mother calls to make a dental appointment for her child that it can take months to be seen by a dentist if you are on Medicaid? How can the social elite understand the frustrations of Medicaid recipients? They have never been turned down by a doctor because of the insurance they have.

I called a few of the offices of the 6 MDs appointed on the Medical Care Commission and learned that those offices I called accept Medicaid, which relieved me.  But I would be interested in knowing what percentage Medicaid clients each office accepts.  And how closely the MDs work with Medicaid recipients (do the MDs appeal denials for their clients’ services and appear and testify on their behalf in court?)

A funny thing happens when you’ve made a lot of money over a number of years…you forget how important $20 can be to a single mom with rent to pay and a kid with a tooth ache.  I would also assume the same thing happens when you are Governor or Secretary…you forget how debilitating a service denial is and how scary the prospect of an appeal can be.

Going back to reigning in Medicaid costs:

Is there a way to decrease spending on Medicaid without compromising medical services.  Is there even a way to decrease Medicaid spending while providing better medical services to Medicaid recipients…? Could it be possible?? I believe so.

How many times have you heard the administration state that the Medicaid system is broken and the money spent on Medicaid is non-sustainable? And what about the Performance Audit conducted by the Office of the State Auditor?  The January 2013 Performance Audit revealed that almost 1/2 of the Medicaid administrative expenditures in the 2012 fiscal  year went to private contractors…such as the managed care organizations (MCOs), Public Consulting Group (PCG), and the Carolinas Center for Medical Excellence (CCME).  Another huge expenditure is the administrative costs for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)…think about it…DHHS employs approximately 70,000 people at an average salary of $42,000.  Add up the costs associated with private contractors and the administrative costs of DHHS, and the sad truth is that not even a quarter of the Medicaid budget goes to paying Medicaid recipients’ actual services.

Remember my blog: “How Dare They! That Money Could Have Been Used on a Medicaid Recipient!”

Remember the January 2013 Performance Audit of DHHS

Another contributing factor to the high amount of North Carolina’s administrative spending is insufficient monitoring of administrative services that are contracted out by DMA. Private contractor payments represent about $120 million (46.7%) of DMA’s $257 million in administration expenditures for SFY 2012. It is always important for a state government to even more critical when almost half of the administrative expense is made up of contract payments. Although contract payments represent a high percentage of its administrative budget, DMA was not able to provide a listing of contracts and the related expenditures in each SFY under review for this audit. DMA’s inability to provide this information is indicative of its inadequate oversight of contractual expenditures. The initial list DMA provided only included amounts expended to date per contract. However, we were able to eventually obtain contracted service expenditures for FY12 and compile this information.”

Inadequate oversight of contractors…Hmmmm…

In order to decrease Medicaid spending, how about a little thing I like to call: ACCOUNTABILITY!?

As in, if DHHS contracts with an entity that spends too much Medicaid money on “extras,” then DHHS must instruct the entity to cease the “extra” spending.  This is our tax money, remember!! For example, everyone knows that attorneys are not cheap, right? At hearings, the MCOs usually have in-house counsel  or retain the county attorney.  But two MCOs, Cardinal and MeckLINK (yes, MeckLINK, despite MeckLINK’s solvency issues) have hired an expensive and prestigious law firm.  There is no question that the law firm has experienced, excellent attorneys.  But who is paying for the expensive attorneys’ fees? Medicaid dollars? You? Me? I thought about these questions when, at a recent hearing three attorneys appeared on behalf of the MCO.  Let’s see…$450/hour + $350/hour + $275/hour = $1075/hour?  And who is paying?  (Obviously, I made these numbers up, but I dare say they are close estimates).

By the same token, DHHS needs to monitor its own expenses.  I can only imagine how difficult it is to monitor 70,000 employees.  At any given time, thousands may be on Facebook, cell phones, or surfing the web.  I am not suggesting that Sec. Wos turn DHHS into a sweat shop, by any means.  No, I am merely suggesting that a way to decrease money spent on Medicaid is to conduct a self-audit and determine that if 3 people are doing the job that 1 person could do, only employ the one person.  Just like, DHHS would be accountable if PCG used Medicaid dollars to pay for in-office massages for employees.  Medicaid dollars should be spent on Medicaid recipients.  DHHS should be accountable for superfluous spending.

With all these newly- contracted entities working for DHHS (and getting paid by DHHS), where is the savings in Medicaid spending?? To my knowledge, there has not been a huge slash in jobs at DHHS…the salaries and administrative costs at DHHS have not decreased drastically…no, instead, we’ve hired MORE companies and we are paying MORE salaries!! How will hiring more contractors decrease Medicaid costs if we are not decreasing our administration overseeing Medicaid?  We all know that no one wants to be the administration who cut government jobs, but if you truly want to decrease administrative costs, you have to decrease the cost of the administration, especially if you are hiring companies to do what the administration used to do.

Going to McDonald’s low wages and ridiculously, high-paid CEO, obviously, McDonald’s is a private company and is entitled to pay its CEO $13.8 million/year and its employees an hourly median wage of $9.00/hour.  McDonald’s only has to answer to its shareholders.

DHHS, on the other hand, is not a private company.  DHHS is funded by tax dollars and is accountable to every taxpaying citizen of North Carolina.

Want to decrease Medicaid spending while providing the medically necessary services to our most needy?  Cut the administrative costs…eliminate unnecessary staff (no matter how unpopular the idea is)…actively monitor the expenses of all contracted entities…provide the medically necessary services to Medicaid recipients (thereby decreasing the need for the more expensive ER visits and incarcerations)…

Cease all unnecessary administrative costs!  Be accountable!  Self-audit! Closely monitor all contracted entities’ expenditures!!

And, remember, hiring a third-party company costs money…real money…tax payer’s money!  If the hiring of the company is not offset by a reduction in spending elsewhere, the result is increased overall spending.  It isn’t hard, people…this is Logic 101.  So when DHHS hired PCG or CCME or HMS, the administration should have decreased Medicaid spending elsewhere just to break even (as in, just to continue our high Medicaid spending).  To decrease spending along with hiring third-party contractors, we have to severely and drastically decrease Medicaid spending.  In order to avoid reducing Medicaid recipients’ services, a decrease in Medicaid spending calls for the drastic action of slashing administrative costs.

It isn’t fun, but it is necessary.

DHHS’ Robotic Certification of MCOs…So Stepford-ish!

Senate Bill 208, Session Law 2013-85, requires the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to conduct certifications to ensure the effectiveness of the managed care organizations (MCOs), and the first certification was to be before August 1, 2013.  N.C. Gen. Stat. 122C-124.2 was added as a new section by Session Law 2013-85 and states:

“In order to ensure accurate evaluation of administrative, operational, actuarial and financial components, and overall performance of the LME/MCO, the Secretary’s certification shall be based upon an internal and external assessment made by an independent external review agency in accordance with applicable federal and State laws and regulations.”

In order to comply with the statute, Secretary Wos conducted the first certification and published the findings July 31, 2013.  Well, actually Carol Steckel signed the certification and sent it to Sec. Wos (technically Wos did not conduct the certification, but she certified the content).

Steckel’s certification states that “DMA is attesting that all ten [MCOs] are appropriate for certification.”

Strong language!

Attest means to provide or service as clear evidence of.  See Google.  Clear evidence?  That the MCOs are compliant?

One of the areas that was certified was that the MCOs are timely paying providers, that the MCOs are accurately processing claims, and that the MCOs are financially accurate (whatever that means).

Here is the chart depicting those results:

Compliance chart2

Wow.  Who would have guessed that East Carolina Behavioral Healthcare (ECBH) is 100% compliant as to timely payments to providers, 100% compliant as to accuracy of claim processing, and 100% compliant as to financial accuracy.  ONE HUNDRED PERCENT!! As in, zero noncompliance!!

I mean…Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow!

Have you ever read “The Stepford Wives?” The book was published in 1972 by Ira Levine. 

Basically, the main character, Joanna Eberhart and her husband move to Stepford, Connecticut (a fictional place).  Upon arrival, Joanna and spouse (I can’t remember his name, so we will call him Ed) notice that all the woman are gorgeous, the homes are immaculate, and the woman are all perfectly submissive to their husbands (how boring would that be??). As time passes, Joanna becomes suspicious of the zombie-like actions of all the wives.

She and her friend Bobbie (until Bobbie turns zombie-like) research the past of the Stepford citizens and discover that most of the wives were past, successful business women and feminists, yet become zombie-like.  At one point, they even write to the EPA inquiring as to possible contamination in Stepford.

After Bobbie turns zombie-like, Joanna fears that the women are changed into robots.  She decides to flee Stepford, but is caught and is changed into a robot.  The books concludes with Joanna happily and submissively walking the grocery store with a large smile and robotic movements, and another wife moving into Stepford.

That book coined the word “Stepford” to mean someone acting as a robot, submissive, or blissfully following orders.

I am not saying that the DMA certification was conducted as a Stepword wife…I am merely explaining that I was reminded of “The Stepford Wives” when I read the certification.  Maybe there is no analogy to be made…you decide.

Upon quick review of the certification, a number of questions arise in my mind.  Such as…didn’t anyone proofread this??? Under each graph, it states “Data is based on a statistical sample of Medicaid claims processed between February and May of 2013 for each LME-MCO.”  Data is???

Hello!…It is data ARE, not data is!!  Data are; datum is.

Besides the obvious grammar issue, I am concerned with the actual substance of the certification. 

Nothing is defined. (Not surprising for an entity that doesn’t know data are plural).  Except “compliant” is defined on the last page as “A finding of  “compliant” means that HMS found that the LME-MCO was compliant with the requirements set forth in SB 208.”  That is like saying, “Beautiful is hereby defined as whatever I say is beautiful.”  That is not a definition.

And HMS? HMS, as in, the company North Carolina hired as a Medicaid recovery audit contractor (RAC)?  I do not know if HMS the RAC and HMS the credentialing company is the same company…but the names sure are similar.

Speaking of RACs, going back to the basis of the data…”a statistical sample?” (Which is not defined?)  What is a statistical sample?  Is this a statistical sample like Public Consulting Group’s (PCG) in extrapolation audits?  From where does the sample come?

Looking at the timeliness of provider payments, the lowest percentage is CoastalCare.  At 93.06%.  But what does that mean?  That CoastalCare takes longer than 30 days to pay providers in 6.94% of cases?  And what is noncompliance?  80%? 20%?  Because where I went to school, a 93% is a ‘B.’ Yet 93%, here, is “compliant.”  Does “compliant” mean not failing?

What is “claims processing accuracy?”  Does that mean that ECBH was 100% correct in processing (or not processing) claims based on medical necessity (or failure to meet medical necessity)?  or, merely, that the process by which ECBH processes claims (regardless of whether the process abides by clinical policy), does not deviate; therefore ECBH is 100% compliant?

How does one determine 100% compliance?  Does this certification mean that between February and May 2013, Sandhills paid 100% providers timely.  That for 4 months, Sandhills was not late for even one provider?  Because Sandhills had 100% in relation to timely provider payments.  (Personally, I would be extremely hesitant to attest for any entity achieving 100% compliance.  How easy would that be to disprove?? A journalist finds one mistake and the certification loses all credibility).

The next chart demonstrates the MCO’s solvency.

Solvency

I have to admit…this chart makes very little sense to me.  The only information we get is that greater than 1.0 equals compliance.  If you ask me, being greater than 1 seems like a very low bar.

But, if greater than 1 equals compliance, then, applying Logic 101, the higher the number the more solvent.  I could be wrong, but this makes sense to me.

Using that logic, in February MeckLINK was N/A (not “live” yet).  March: 1.32.  April: 1.54. May: 1.80.  Tell if I’m wrong, folks, but it appears to me that MeckLINK, according to HMS and unknown data, that MeckLINK is becoming more solvent as the months pass.

And this is the same MCO that WFAE cited was using accounting tricks to remain in the black????

And the same MCO that, come March 1, 2014, must be acquired by another MCO?  And then there were 9

Under the chart demonstrating the “Solvency Review,” it states, “Data is (sic) base don financial information…”  Duh!! I thought we’d review employee personnel records to determine solvency!! (Although…that could be helpful because we could see employee salaries…I’m just saying…).

What the certification does not say is financial information from whom?  The MCOs? 

Secretary Wos: “Hey, Alliance, are you solvent?”
Alliance: “Yes, Secretary.”
Secretary Wos:  “Oh, thank goodness! I wouldn’t know what to do if you were not!!”

Going back to the finding of compliance means HMS determined compliance…Does that mean that HMS compiled all the data?  What about the intradepartmental monitoring team?  Does the intradepartmental monitoring team just authorize whatever HMS says it finds?  Almost…Stepford-like.

The letter from Steckel showing DMA’s attestation of all 10 MCOs being appropriate for certification says just that…DMA is attesting that all 10 MCOs are appropriate for certification.  No analysis.  No individual thinking.  Almost…Stepford-like.

Then the letter from Sec. Wos to Louis Pate, Nelson Dollar, and Justin Burr (legislatures) regurgitates Steckel’s letter.  Except Wos’ letter says “I hereby certify that the following LME-MCOs are in compliance with the requirements of NC Gen. Stat 122C-124.2(b).”

Again, no analysis.  No independent thinking.  Steckel’s letter is dated July 31, 2013; Sec. Wos’ letter is dated July 31, 2013.  Wos did not even take ONE DAY to verify Steckel’s letter.

Zombie-like.

Stepford-like.

What good is a statute requiring DHHS to certify the MCOs every 6 months if each certification is attested to by a Stepford??

NC Medicaid Providers: “Credible Allegations of Fraud?” YOU ARE GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT!!

“Credible allegations of fraud.”  What does that mean???

As it pertains to Medicaid, “credible allegations of fraud” was first introduced into law by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010.  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) issued its Final Rule February, 2, 2011, and the Informational Bulletin in March 2011.

As you can see, “credible allegations of fraud,” as pertaining to Medicaid, is a relatively new concept.  But what does it mean?  The ACA does not define “credible allegations of fraud.”

I know what “allegation” means.  I also know allegations are not always true.  I also know allegations can change your life. 

When I was a senior in high school, I had been dating my high school sweetheart for 2 years.  An acquaintance, and an apparently, mean-spirited girl, alleged that my boyfriend cheated on me with another girl.  I was so angered and so hurt that I called up my boyfriend immediately and broke up with him.  For weeks, my boyfriend hounded me, professing his innocence.  But I was not to be swayed.  I refused phone calls, avoided seeing him, and publicly disparaged him to my friends.  20 years later I saw him.  I asked him whether he had really cheated on me, knowing that he had no reason to lie now (he is married with 4 children; I am happily married with one child).  But I was just curious because that allegation that he had cheated changed both our lives.  I am not saying that had it not been for the allegation that he and I would be together…not at all…in fact, I am sure we would have eventually broken up.  The point is that the allegation that he cheated, for good or for bad, changed our lives.  And, to me, he was guilty based on the allegation.

20 years later I found out that the allegation was false.  He never cheated.  But his innocence did not change the consequences of the accusation.  He was guilty until proven innocent.

Similarly (and more importantly), a mere accusation that a Medicaid provider is undergoing abhorrent billing practices or committing Medicaid fraud, and without any proof, can change a provider’s life.  A mere allegation of fraud suspends a Medicaid provider’s reimbursements.  The consequence of which can be dire…You are guilty until proven innocent.  Just like my boyfriend.  The accusation alone made him guilty.

According to 42 C.F.R. 447.90, “This section implements section 1903(i)(2)(C) of the Act which prohibits payment of FFP with respect to items or services furnished by an individual or entity with respect to which there is pending an investigation of a credible allegation of fraud except under specified circumstances.”  FYI: FFP stands for Federal Financial Participation (or Medicaid reimbursements in the vernacular).

Section 1903(i)(2)(C) of the Social Security Act (SSA) states that no payments shall be paid to “any individual or entity to whom the State has failed to suspend payments under the plan during any period when there is pending an investigation of a credible allegation of fraud against the individual or entity, as determined by the State in accordance with regulations promulgated by the Secretary for purposes of section 1862(o) and this subparagraph, unless the State determines in accordance with such regulations there is good cause not to suspend such payment.”

But what does “credible allegation of fraud” mean? Where is the definition?  Not in the SSA.

On March 25, 2011, CMS issued an Informational Bulletin in which “credible allegations of fraud” is defined…sort of…

The Informational Bulletin states, “In the final rule, CMS provides certain bounds around the definition of “credible allegation of fraud” at 42 C.F.R. § 455.2. Generally, a “credible allegation of fraud” may be an allegation that has been verified by a State and that has indicia of reliability that comes from any source. Further, CMS recognizes that different States may have different considerations in determining what may be a “credible allegation of fraud.” Accordingly, CMS believes States should have the flexibility to determine what constitutes a “credible allegation of fraud” consistent with individual State law. However, a credible allegation of fraud, for example, could be a complaint made by an employee of a physician alleging that the physician is engaged in fraudulent billing practices,  i.e., the physician repeatedly bills for services at a higher level than is actually justified by the services rendered to beneficiaries. Upon State review of the physician’s billings, the State may determine that the allegation has indicia of reliability and is, in fact, credible. “

1. An allegation

An allegation by its very definition is “a claim or assertion that someone has done something illegal or wrong, typically one made without proof.” See Wikipedia.  Without proof!!!  Why without proof? Because an allegation is preliminary…an accusation…not a conclusion. Girl alleges my boyfriend cheated on me.

2. Verified by a State

Makes sense to need to be verified…

2. Indicia of reliability

Indicia? Indicia means “distinctive marks: indication.” See Dictionary.com.  Not quite sure what that means, but indicia of reliability does not sound like a very high threshold.  Nothing like preponderance of the evidence or beyond a reasonable doubt.  Could be as low a threshold as I applied when the girl alleged my boyfriend cheated on me.

3. Comes from any source

Are you kidding me?? So, if I were a Medicaid provider, my ex-husband, out of spite and hatred, could call up Patrick Piggott over at Program Integrity (PI) and accuse me of Medicaid fraud…or the disgruntled employee I fired….or my next door neighbor who is angry about the bush I planted on his property…you get the point.

Why is it important what the definition is of “credible allegation of fraud?”

As a Medicaid attorney, I represent Medicaid providers (duh).  The point is that I have seen the dire consequences, first-hand, to many, many a Medicaid provider accused of “credible allegations of fraud.”  Here are a few, real-life examples (names have been changed to protect the innocent):

  • Provider Leroy is accused of “credible allegations of fraud.”  Leroy is placed on prepayment review and all Medicaid reimbursements are suspended.  Leroy provides residential services (the people he serves actually live in his home because of severe mental illnesses).  Without Medicaid reimbursements, Leroy cannot pay the mortgage, his staff’s hourly wages, or anything else.  He acquires a $200,000 loan to help him through, and the interest is high.  He truly thinks that he will get off prepayment review and save his company and his Medicaid recipients from not having a home or Medicaid mental health services.  After 6 months of barely sliding by, Leroy receives a Notice of Termination terminating his Medicaid contract with the State.  (It is important to note that the termination was based of a faulty audit by an inept contractor).  He declares bankruptcy and all the Medicaid recipients are discharged to the homes that could not care for them in the first place.  The “credible allegation of fraud?” It came from a disgruntled employee.
  • Provider Lacey receives a Tentative Notice of Overpayment (TNO) in the amount of over $2 million based on “credible allegations of fraud.”  Provider Lacey (after her initial heart attack) hires Attorney Clueless.  Clueless appeals the TNO and gets the overpayment amount reduced to $1.5 million.  Lacey does not have $1.5 million and asks Clueless to appeal again.  Clueless fails to appeal the overpayment by the appeal deadline, and Lacey gets a judgment entered against her and her company.  Lacey’s husband is sick and tired of hearing about the Medicaid audit and abandons her and her two children.  Lacey declares bankruptcy.  Lacey used to support herself and her family.  Now North Carolina does.  The “credible allegation of fraud?” Lacey’s husband (apparently he had issues WAY before he left).
  • Provider Larry receives notice from a managed care organization (MCO) terminating his Medicaid contract based on “credible allegations of fraud” and demanding a $700,000 recoupment.  Larry also hires Clueless.  Clueless files a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the MCO.  Clueless did some homework and actually makes a good argument in court.  But by the time Clueless gets to court, 4 months has passed and Larry racked up $50,000 in legal fees.  Larry can’t pay the attorney fees.  Clueless withdraws as counsel.  Larry goes bankrupt.  The 400 Medicaid recipients that his company serviced do not receive the health care needed.  The “credible allegation of fraud?” One of his own recipients receiving substance abuse services in a state of incoherence while on crack cocaine.
  • Provider Lucy receives notice from the Medicaid Investigative Department  (MID) that she is under criminal investigation based on a “credible allegation of fraud.”  Lucy does not have enough money to hire an attorney, so she opts for the public defender, who knows nothing about Medicaid and is also named Clueless.  The public defender did not even review Lucy documentation because she did not understand the complex system of Medicaid.  Clueless provided poor representation, and Lucy was sentenced to 5 years in prison.  Lucy said, “I was the first in my family to get a PhD and the first to go to jail.”  The “credible allegation of fraud?”  Her local competitor.
  • 15 providers in New Mexico, based on “credible allegations of fraud,” have their Medicaid reimbursements suspended.  The 15 providers cannot pay staff, rent on buildings, and other bills.  The State of New Mexico brings in Arizona providers to replace the 15 Medicaid providers.  The Arizona provider takes over the 15 providers’ buildings, most staff and all consumers.  The 15 providers are out of business.  Without a trial.  Without even reviewing the evidence against them.  Based on a mere allegation of fraud, 15 providers go bankrupt…lose their careers…are unemployed… The “credible allegation of fraud?” Unknown.

Remember “credible allegation of fraud” is preliminary, and, at times, without any proof, yet the consequences are dire. 

Innocent until proven guilty is a bedrock principle in the American justice system.  Yet, innocent until proven guilty does not apply to Medicaid providers.  Our founding fathers created the concept of innocent until proven guilty.  While innocent until proven guilty is not explicitly codified in the Bill of Rights, the presumption of innocence is widely held to follow from the 5th, 6th, and 14th amendments. See also Coffin v. United States and In re Winship.

Here’s the problem….presumption of innocence only applies to criminal law.  Even when the consequences of a civil action is so monumental, so dire, so irreparable, the presumption of innocence does not apply.

So “credible allegation of fraud?”  It does not matter what the definition is.  The fact is that if ANYBODY alleges a “credible allegation of fraud” against you, you are guilty.  You are my boyfriend who never cheated on me, but a girl alleged that he did cheat. 

No evidence…You are GUILTY based on the ALLEGATION of fraud!

Credible?

“Black legislators question DHHS as agency touts accomplishments.” Where Are the White Legislators?

A colleague sent the following article to me this morning.  When I first read it, I was thrilled, because I have been beseeching the North Carolina legislators to demand accountability of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) for the sake of health care providers who accept Medicaid in NC (especially behavioral health care providers).

So few providers accept Medicaid as is.  But with the Medicaid system in such a downward spiral, more providers decide to NOT accept Medicaid every day.  Providers just don’t want to deal with the harassment (not to mention the low reimbursement rates).

According to this News and Observer article below, “black legislators” are demanding accountability from DHHS.

Again, my first response was, thank goodness, at least someone is. But when I talked to my husband about this, he asked, “Why are just the black legislators demanding accountability? Where are the white legislators?  Where are the other ethnicities?”

I agree.

Providers across NC are having their Medicaid contracts erroneously terminated or not renewed.  Providers are going out of business.  Providers are not accepting Medicaid. Medicaid recipients are being denied medically necessary services.  Medicaid recipients are unable to find providers willing to accept Medicaid. Especially in behavioral health.  What will it take for people to care?  A Columbine?

Is this a “black” problem? A “white” problem? A Republican or Democrat problem?

NO!  It is a North Carolina problem.

So, bravo, members of the Legislative Black Caucus!!! Bravo for being a leader.  But I hope your leadership causes all legislators, no matter the color or party-affiliation, to question DHHS.

Here is the article:

Leading black legislators are calling on the head of the Department of Health and Human Services to explain delays in Medicaid payments to providers, problems getting food stamps to the needy, and agency employee raises.

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus said at a news conference Wednesday that they were not receiving timely and accurate information about activities in the department. Their news conference came a few hours after DHHS distributed information touting the department’s accomplishments.

DHHS spokesman Ricky Diaz said the agency provides legislators with regular updates and will continue to do so.

The department has been under scrutiny for the past few months for personnel decisions and problems with expensive computer systems.

The department included on its list of accomplishments the Medicaid payment system called NC Tracks. The system continues to frustrate some providers who have trouble getting paid for patient care.

The lawmakers, all Democrats, sent their letter to Dr. Aldona Wos, the department’s secretary, and Gov. Pat McCrory. The letter was full of questions about NC Tracks and NC FAST, another computer system, which handles food assistance. The letter also asked questions about personnel matters.

The department has a personal services contract with Joe Hauck, a vice president in Wos’ husband’s firm, that has paid Hauck more than $228,000 for about eight months of work as an adviser.

Rep. Garland Pierce, a Scotland County Democrat and president of the Black Caucus, referred to the Hauck contract as one of the “questionable decisions made by her that almost call her integrity into question.”

Wos sent an email to a small group of legislators last week saying Hauck has done important work for the department. Black Caucus members said the email should have been widely distributed.

Legislators also questioned salaries and raises given to new staff and long-time top administrators.

Diaz explained that Wos walked into a department without a leadership team or a succession plan. She had to find top people quickly, he said.

“We have attracted talent to the department to take on these challenges,” Diaz said. Meanwhile, the agency has cut its payroll $23 million, he said.

Lawmakers said they need accurate information from DHHS because health care providers ask them when the agency’s computer problems will be fixed and because low-income people are going hungry.

Sen. Earline Parmon, a Winston-Salem Democrat, said she was on a conference call with Wos and others in the department about two weeks ago, where they offered a “glowing perspective” on the computer systems.

“A few minutes later, I got information that everything they told us was not factual,” Parmon said. “First of all, we need for them to sit with us and admit that there are problems.”

The legislators’ letter included a report from the Triangle Business Journal that said for the week ending Aug. 23, the department missed three of four targets for approved Medicaid claims and had a backlog of more than 90,000 items.

Diaz noted that the system has processed 29 million claims and paid out $1.4 billion.

The department told the public there would be a 60- to 90-day rough patch once NC Track started running, Diaz said.

“Those who are trained come to realize the benefits of it,” he said.

The NC Medicaid Mental Health 10-Ring Circus: How 10 Mini-Jurisdictions Will Be the Downfall of Mental Health

Ever been to a three-ring circus? It is hard to stay focused on one ring because so much is happening in all 3 rings.  Are you supposed to watch the lion-tamer? The trapeze artists? Or the motorcycles jumping through rings of fire? You can’t watch all the acts.  You end up turning your head back and forth like a water sprinkler, only to catch some of each act.

Now imagine a 10-ring circus.

You wouldn’t be able to see much of any act.

This is similar to our NC Medicaid mental health system.  Instead of the one single state entity running our mental health system for Medicaid, we have 10 entities.  And all 10 entities have different rules.  Different Medicaid rates.  (Not to mention this is in violation of the federal “single state agency” mandate).

So what is the effect of these 10 mini-jurisdictions with different rules on our Medicaid mental health system?

Providers are going out of business.  Medicaid recipients are not receiving medically necessary, mental health services.

While the dancing bears, the fire-eaters and the acrobats are all performing, the ringmaster loses control.

Yesterday a psychologist-friend (We will call her Dr. Liz) told me that a mother called her asking whether Dr. Liz could see her child.  Dr. Liz soon learned that the mother and the child were on Medicaid.  Dr. Liz agreed to assess the child, but sadly informed the mother that it was highly unlikely that Dr. Liz could provide therapy for the child because the child is on Medicaid.

The mother burst into tears.  She explained that she lives in Fayetteville.  (Dr. Liz provides services in Durham).  One and a half hours away.  The mother said that Dr. Liz was the 30th provider she called.

29 providers either refused to see the child or had waiting lists months and months long because the child is on Medicaid.

The mother explained that the psychologist the child had routinely seen went out of business and that she did not understand why there were no psychologists within an hour and a half drive of her that were willing or able to provide services to her child.

She cried, “Why won’t anyone take Medicaid?”

When Dr. Liz told me this story, I was deeply saddened.  Yet this is reality.

Dr. Liz could not provide services to the child because, despite the fact that Dr. Liz has a Medicaid contract with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to provide Medicaid services throughout North Carolina, one managed care organization (MCO), Alliance Behavioral Health (Alliance), has decided that Dr. Liz cannot provide services in Durham County (where Dr. Liz is located).

We have 11 MCOs across North Carolina.

MCO map

Although after September 30, 2013, we will have 10 MCOs.  After Sept. 30, Western Highlands will be consolidated with Smoky Mountain, and Smoky Mountain will oversee management of mental health services for 23 western North Carolina counties.

So I will use 10 MCOs in this blog as there will be 10 within a few weeks.  BTW: There is also a lot of talk that MeckLINK will soon be the next MCO to disappear, but we shall see.

So how are these 10 MCO creating mini-jurisdictions? And why are these mini-jurisdictions causing the downfall of NC Medicaid mental health?

Let me explain:

Dr. Liz lives and works in Durham county.  Alliance is the MCO.  Alliance has refused to provide Dr. Liz with a Medicaid contract.  Therefore, Dr. Liz is not allowed to provide Medicaid services in Wake, Durham, Cumberland, or Johnston counties, because Alliance is in charge of those counties.

However, if Dr. Liz drives over to Fuquay Varina (Harnett county), Dr. Liz CAN provide Medicaid services there because Sandhills, the MCO for Harnett county, contracted with Dr. Liz.

Do you see the issue?

In essence, by Alliance not contracting with Dr. Liz, Alliance has taken Dr. Liz’s Medicaid contract with DHHS and torn a chunk out of it.  Dr. Liz’s contract with DHHS states she can provide services statewide.  But Alliance removed Dr. Liz’s ability to provide services in 4 counties, Wake, Cumberland, Durham and Johnston.  Since Dr. Liz could, theoretically, provide services in 96 other counties, Alliance removed a small chunk of Dr. Liz’s contract with DHHS…but still a chunk nonetheless.

If Dr. Liz ONLY provided services within Alliance’s catchment, then Alliance, by refusing to contract with Dr. Liz, would have either (1) put Dr. Liz out of business; (2) caused Dr. Liz to no longer accept Medicaid; or (3) forced Dr. Liz to relocate.

As all 10 MCOs are managing Medicaid differently, one provider could be allowed to provide Medicaid services in half the state, but not the other half.

While, theoretically, on paper, it may seem easy to tell Dr. Liz to just relocate her practice to Fuquay Varina, in reality, this is much more difficult.

Dr. Liz signed a 5-year lease for her building in Durham, and she is only in her first year (she just renewed it) of the lease.  She also has a daughter who attends school nearby her office.  Were Dr. Liz to move her office, she would no longer be able to transport her daughter to school.  Her clients cannot drive to Fuquay.  Most of her Medicaid clients lack transportation or the funds to pay for gas to drive 30 minutes further.  She has no clients in Fuquay.  She has no staff in Fuquay.  Her staff will not follow her to Fuquay; they all live in Durham. 

Dr. Liz does not have monetary ability to go lease another building in Fuquay.  But she is unable to perform her work where she is located now in Durham.

So what happens?

More times than not…the provider’s company goes bankrupt.  Which is why the mother cannot find services for her child in Fayetteville.  Many providers in Fayetteville and across NC have gone belly up.  The few remaining providers are either limiting the number of Medicaid patients they will accept or have long waiting lists.

Not only do the MCOs determine the providers with whom to contract differently, the MCOs even reimburse certain Medicaid services differently.

Assertive Community Treatment Team (ACTT) is a 24-hour service for the severely mentally ill.  All 10 MCOs must provide ACTT services, but the MCOs do not have to reimburse uniformly.

Therefore, if Dr. Liz were to provide ACTT services in the western part of the state, Dr. Liz may receive $295.32 per unit.  But if Dr. Liz provided the services in southern NC, she may have been reimbursed $323.98 per unit.

This Medicaid reimbursement rate changing depending on which MCO is paying would be like a Chatham county DMV charging $25 to renew your license, but a Mecklenburg county DMV charging $75.  It is a North Carolina state license!  The price to renew should be statewide.

Just like Medicaid should be uniform across the state. 

But, instead, here in NC, we have created 10 mini-jurisdictions.

In each of the 10 mini-jurisdictions, the MCO dictate the rules.  In each of the 10 MCOs, the rules are different.  Each MCO can choose to contract with a provider (or not) with zero regard as to the effect on the provider, the provider’s company, and the Medicaid recipients.  The MCOs can reimburse the same Medicaid services at different rates.

The dancing bears, the fire-eater, and the acrobats are all charging different entrance fees, depending on which entrance you entered.  (And we all know that a dancing bear should not be in charge of entrance fees!) 

The ringmaster is sleeping.

There is no uniformity in Medicaid mental health in NC. 

It is a 10-ring circus!