Category Archives: Medicaid Recipients

New Mexico AG clears third agency of Medicaid billing fraud!!!

BREAKING NEWS

Here is the article (my opinions will be forthcoming):

SANTA FE – The Attorney General’s Office has cleared a third behavioral health agency of Medicaid fraud, and it’s reaching out to audit firms for help in investigating the remaining dozen referred by the Human Services Department two years ago.

Attorney General Hector Balderas said Wednesday that he has issued requests for proposals from audit firms to help with the investigations, to speed up the process.

A spokesman for Balderas, meanwhile, said the AG’s Office has completed its investigation into Raton-based Service Organization for Youth and found no Medicaid fraud on the part of the agency, although there was overbilling.

The AG’s Office referred the case back to the Human Services Department to pursue the overbilling, according to spokesman James Hallinan. The alleged amount was not immediately available.

As an outgrowth of the SOY investigation, a former therapist for the agency was charged six weeks ago by the AG’s Office with Medicaid fraud. She allegedly provided false billing information to SOY.

The Human Services Department in 2013 referred to the attorney general 15 nonprofits that provided services to the mentally ill and addicted, saying an audit it commissioned had found $36 million in overbilling, mismanagement and possible fraud.

Two of the providers – The Counseling Center of Alamogordo and Santa Fe-based Easter Seals El Mirador – had previously been cleared of fraud by the AG’s Office and are in disputes with HSD about what, if anything, they owe for alleged overbilling.

Former Attorney General Gary King, who left office at the end of December, had said it could take up to six years to complete the probes. Balderas said that was too long and got approval from the Legislature during the regular session to shift $1.8 million out of a consumer protection fund to hire extra help.

The request for proposals “is a critical infusion of resources to expedite the behavioral health Medicaid fraud investigations,” Balderas said Wednesday in a statement. He said expanding the pool of experts to work with his staff “will allow our investigation to proceed even more quickly and efficiently, which has always been my priority.”

The request for proposals, issued last week, requires that bidders respond by June 30.

After the Human Services Department cut off Medicaid funding to the providers and referred them to the AG’s Office, it brought in five Arizona companies to take over a dozen of them. SOY, however, had its Medicaid funding restored by HSD and continued to operate, with technical assistance from one of the Arizona firms.

The report on the SOY investigation was not immediately available from Balderas’ office. Hallinan said it was being reviewed before release to ensure that it didn’t affect the criminal proceedings against the former SOY therapist.

NC State Auditor Finds Eastpointe Guilty of Accepting Kickbacks!

Last week I traveled to Houston, Dallas, and Denver to meet with other health care attorneys of Gordon & Rees.  It was a great trip and I met some wonderful colleagues.  But I was happy to get home to my family, including our new addition of 9 peacock eggs.

Yes, 9 peacock eggs!!

Here is a pic:

peacock eggs

(I know that there are 10 eggs in the picture, but we will not talk about the 10th.  Just know that we have high hopes that the other 9 are viable and survive!!  As of today, at 1:00 pm, all 9 eggs are chirping, but no cracks yet!!)

Oh, and, before I forget…Watch ABC news tonight.  I was interviewed for a story about one of my clients.

Anyway, while I was gone, I was unable to post a blog regarding the State Auditor’s most recent audit report regarding Eastpointe.  So here it is…

As the managed care organizations (MCOs) continue to accuse health care providers of fraud, waste, and abuse (FWA), it seems from a recent State Auditor report that, at least, one of the MCOs itself is guilty of the very accusation that they are alleging against providers.  See blog. And blog.

There is an old story:

A wolf, passing by, saw some shepherds in a hut eating for their dinner a haunch of mutton. Approaching them, he said: What a clamor you would raise, if I were to do as you are doing!

Moral:
Men are too apt to condemn in others the very things they practice themselves

The audit findings beg the questions…Is it only Eastpointe? Or all 9 MCOs? How much Medicaid money is lining the pockets of MCO executives, instead of paying for medically necessary services for Medicaid recipients?  Beth Wood  only audited Eastpointe. Is this only the tip of the iceberg?

According to our State Auditor, Eastpointe former executive has lined his pockets with $547,595+…

Here are the key findings from the NC State Auditor’s report regarding Eastpointe:

KEY FINDINGS

  • Former CFO facilitated apparent kickbacks totaling $547,595 from two Eastpointe contractors
  • Former CFO purchased three vehicles totaling $143,041 without a documented business purpose
  • Former CFO purchased $18,600 of equipment for personal use
  • Former CFO, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and other employees used Eastpointe credit cards to make $157,565 of questionable purchases
  • Inadequate CEO and area board oversight contributed to operational failures

Eastpointe is one of 9 MCOs in NC charged with managing and supervising Medicaid behavioral health care services. So what do we do when the entity IN CHARGE of managing Medicaid money is mismanaging tax dollars???

Where is the supervision??

Over the last few years, since the MCOs went live across the state, I have seen the MCOs terminate Medicaid providers for no cause, claim providers owed money, penalties, plans of corrections (POC), and/or refuse to contract with providers for reasons as silly as:

  • Failing to put shoes on a paraplegic (no feet), because the assessment included that the patient required help dressing;
  • Using green ink (a personal favorite) on a service note;
  • Having signatures on service notes that are difficult to read (so the auditors assume that the person doesn’t have the correct licenses).

Here, we have the State Auditor finding that Eastpointe’s former CFO unilaterally hired two contractors to improve Eastpointe’s building (paid for with Eastpointe’s funding), but the former CFO accepting over half a million dollars.  This is no green ink! This is no insignificant finding!!

What is Eastpointe’s funding?

eastpointe funding

As you can see, 72.7% of Eastpointe’s funding is pure Medicaid money. When Eastpointe’s former CFO received $547,595 in kickbacks, 72%, or $394,268.40, should have been used to provide Medicaid behavioral health care services.

These are our tax dollars, people!!  These are our tax dollars budgeted to aid our most needy population with behavioral health care services!!  These are our tax dollars budgeted to provide psychiatric services, substance abuse services, and services for those with developmental disabilities!!!!

Our State Auditor states in her report, “The former CFO may have violated several state laws including fraud, misrepresentation, and obtaining property by false pretenses.”

Let’s look at a couple of those statutes that may have been violated:

42 U.S. Code § 1320a–7b imposes criminal penalties for acts involving Federal health care programs, and federal dollars pay a portion of our Medicaid program.

North Carolina General Statute § 14-234 states: “No public officer or employee who is involved in making or administering a contract on behalf of a public agency may derive a direct benefit from the contract except as provided in this section, or as otherwise allowed by law.”

The question becomes was the former CFO of Eastpointe, at the time of the receipt of kickbacks a “public officer” or “employee who is involved in making or administrating a contract on behalf of a public agency?” I believe the answer is yes, at least as to the latter.

Here is the point in this blog that my personal views will be aired. I find the former CFO’s behavior significantly opprobrious and reprehensible.

Here we have an MCO which is in charge of behavioral health care for our most vulnerable and needy populations…not just those in poverty, but those in poverty suffering from mental illness, substance abuse, and/or developmental disabilities (MH/SA/DD). Obviously, those Medicaid recipients suffering from MH/SA/DD will not have the means to hire a private attorney to defend their interests. When they receive denials for authorizations or reductions in services, they are defenseless. Sure, some children have strong advocate parents, but, on the whole, those suffering from MH/SA/DD have little to no advocates.

Juxtapose someone sitting in the role of a CFO…a chief financial officer of a company. Think he or she can hire a private attorney?? Think he or she has advocates or means to hire advocates??
How can someone in power abuse that power to the detriment of the under-privileged and sleep at night? I find the State Auditor’s audit findings repugnant beyond comprehension.

We are left with a former CFO who may or may not have committed criminal activity, but, who, at least according to the State Auditor, has received kickbacks. We are left with questions.

Is it only Eastpointe? Or all 9 MCOs? How much Medicaid money is lining the pockets of MCO executives, instead of paying for medically necessary services for Medicaid recipients?  Will there be justice?

We can only hope that this audit is a catalyst to consequences.

A Brave New World With Mergers and Acquisitions of Behavioral Health Care Providers: Not Always Happily Ever After!

Unintentionally, I misrepresented the Benchmark panel discussion on which I appeared last Thursday. See blog.  I thought that I would be sitting on the panel along with MCO representatives. I honestly cannot tell you from where I got this idea. Maybe it was a subconscious desire. Regardless, the panel discussion was about merges and acquisitions among behavioral health care providers. While the subject of managed care organizations (MCOs) did come up, managed care was not the primary subject.  And the only MCO representative that I saw was Smokey Mountain’s attorney.

panelpic2

Nevertheless, the panel discussion went fantastic and was informative for those who attended.  I will summarize the panel discussion here for those who could not attend.  First, if you are a behavioral health care provider in NC, joining an association, such as Benchmarks, is an asset.  Not only do you get the benefit of attending educational programs, but you also have the opportunity to meet other behavioral health care providers across the state at the events.  You never know the potential relationships that could be created by attending a Benchmark event.

Going back to the panel…

There were 5 people sitting on the panel.  Besides myself, the panel consisted of Robert Shaw, Senior Counsel with me at Gordon & Rees, Frank Williams, a broker who facilitates mergers and acquisitions for health care providers, and two CEOs of health care providers who have undergone successful mergers and/or acquisitions.

The general consensus of the panel was that the future of behavioral health care will be larger companies which offer multiple services, instead of mom and pop shops that provide few types of services.  The panel was intended to bring potential mergers/acquisitions together in one venue and to educate the providers on “Do’s and Don’ts of Merging/Acquiring,” which is summarized below.

This consensus is generally derived from the MCO atmosphere here in NC.  Right or wrong, the MCOs are operating in closed networks and have the financial incentives to save money by contracting with fewer providers and decreasing authorizations for Medicaid services requested by Medicaid recipients.  See blog. And blog. And blog.

The MCOs seem to be terminating or refusing to contract with smaller health care providers, which, in turn, incentivize small health care providers to join other providers in order to grow its footprint.

Merging or acquiring a company is similar to partnering with another person in marriage.  Both parties have to familiarize themselves with the other’s habits, expectations, learn the other’s faults/liabilities, and, ultimately, have to work together on projects, issues and other matters.  And as we can discern from today’s high divorce rate, not everyone lives happily ever after.

Some marriages, as well as mergers, simply do not work.  Others live happily ever after.

The two provider panelists shared successful merger/acquisition stories.  Both shared experiences in creating new and larger entities effectively.  Both panelists were happy with the mergers/acquisitions and hopeful as to what the future will bring both new entities.

But all mergers and acquisitions do not have happy endings.  The two entities do not always live happily ever after.

Robert and I shared a story of an acquisition from Hades. There is no other way to describe the outcome of the acquisition.

The story of these two companies begins with the fact that the companies leased space in the same building.  One company was on floor 2 and the other was on floor 1.  The staff knew each other in passing.

The problem with the merger of these companies stemmed from a difference in culture.

Theoretically, the two companies did everything right.  The owner of the company getting acquired agreed to stay and work for the company buying it in order to ensure consistency. The buying company agreed to hire all the seller’s employees at their current salaries.  The acquisition was to be seamless.

The problems arose when news of the acquisition passed to the employees.  There was genuine discontentment with the arrangement.  The employees from the seller reacted with hostility and resentment.  Prior to the acquisition, the seller was fairly lax in regulatory compliance.  For example, if a service note was not drafted and filed the date of services….eh?…not that big of a deal.  Well, the buyer had strict document compliance rules for daily service notes.  Anytime more stringent policies are enacted on employees, there is sure to be a negative reaction.  The buyer also expected the seller’s employees to provide more services for the same salary received before the acquisition.

There was no legal or logical step omitted in the acquisition of the one company to the other.  On paper, the acquisition should have been successful.  But, then, personalities got in the way of happily ever after.

The other panelists offered great advice as to mergers and acquisitions, both from the providers’ view and a broker’s view.  I have compiled the advice that I recall below.  I have taken the liberty to provide analogous dating advice, as well, since marriages and mergers/acquisitions are so similar.  Hope it helps!!

Do’s and Don’ts of Mergers/Acquisitions

  • Do not let the secret out.

One provider panelist explained that if your employees learn of a possible merger/acquisition, they will kill the deal. Confide only in the CEO of the firm of which you are looking to merge, acquire, or sell.  Those dating: Never tell other that you want to marry (until the appropriate time).

  • Look outside your catchment area.

The reason companies merge/acquire is to grow.  Think of potential companies outside your own catchment area to grow even more.  For example, if you are in Alliance’s catchment area, think of merging with a company in ECBH/Eastpointe’s area.  Those dating: Have you exhausted your resources? Think of others, such as church, Match.com, etc.

  • Do your due diligence

This is a task as important as the oxygen you breath.  The last thing that you want is to acquire or merge with a company that owes $500,000 in employment taxes or an alleged overpayment.  Part of due diligence will be to check the credentials of every single staff member.  If someone is acting in the role of a LCAS, ensure the person is appropriately licensed.  Those dating: Is he/she employed? Have significant debt?

  • Review the other company’s documentation policies

This could be lumped into the due diligence section, but I think its importance is worth emphasizing.  Whatever service(s) the other company provides, what are its policies as to documentation? Does the provider have a computer program to maintain electronic health records (EHR)? Does it employ paper copies? Does the other company require the providers to submit daily service notes? Look at your own documentation policies.  Contemplate whether your own documentation policies would mesh well with the other company’s policies.  Those dating: How does your potential partner document spending, taxes, and calendared events?

  • Analyze both company’s corporate culture

Merging or acquiring a company is difficult in many ways, but it’s also hard on staff.  Imagine walking into work one day and you notice that the staff had doubled…or tripled.  And you and your colleagues are being told what to do by someone you never met.  This is not an uncommon occurrence with mergers and acquisitions.  Sometimes accepting change of supervision or team members can be a bitter pill to swallow.  How will you work through employee issues?  Personality clashes?  Ego fights?  Those dating: Analyze both person’s personalities, dispute resolutions, religion and beliefs.  Do you like his/her friends?

In addition to the potential conflicts with employees that stay with the merged entity, you also need to contemplate which employees, if any, may, potentially leave the new entity.  Disgruntled employees are a liability.  Those dating: How does he/she treat ex-partners?

  • Research the company’s relationship with its MCO

In our current MCO atmosphere, it is imperative to know, before merging or acquiring, whether the company has a good relationship with its MCO.  What if you acquire the company and its MCO refuses to continue to contract with the new entity.  Knowing the company’s relationship with the MCO is not an absolute.  As in, the company may believe it to have a good relationship with the MCO, while, in truth, it does not.  Ask to review some correspondence between the company and the MCO to discern the tone of the communications.  Those dating: How does he/she treat his/her mother/father?

  • Surround yourself with knowledge

Have a broker and an attorney with expertise in Medicaid.  Those dating: What do your friends think?

To watch the video of me speaking as a panelist for Benchmark, click here.  Scroll down until you see the video with Robert and me.

Otherwise, I hope you live happily ever after!

Knicole Emanuel: Panel Discussion – David Is To Goliath As NC Behavioral Health Care Providers Are To MCOs

Isn’t that analogy apropos? (And it’s not mine…its Benchmarks’)

I will be sitting on a panel today in Raleigh, NC.  See below.

A wonderful association, Benchmarks, is hosting a panel discussion for behavioral health care providers. While it is meant for smaller providers, in my own humble opinion, all behavioral health care providers would benefit from this panel discussion.

Senior Counsel, Robert Shaw, and I will be sitting on the panel…with managed care organizations (MCO) representatives.  It is without question that I have not been a big fan of the MCOs.  If I were to suggest otherwise, I believe that my blog followers would scoff. However, I am interested in hearing these MCO representatives’ side of the argument.

Will these MCO reps merely parrot? Or will they truly engage in worthwhile conversations to understand what it is like for a behavioral health care provider in NC today?

Feel free to join the discussion at 12:30-2:30.  Below is the Evite: 3801 Hillsborough St.

david and goliath

Breaking News: Knicole Emanuel and Team Move to the National Law Firm of Gordon & Rees!!

April 2015 has turned into a month of change for my family and me.

I am so excited to announce that as of today, I am a partner at Gordon & Rees.  Robert Shaw will be joining as a senior counsel and Todd Yoho, our paralegal, will also be joining.  So “Team Medicaid” is staying together!! Both Robert and Todd are integral parts of this team.

Yes, I will remain in Raleigh.  Yes, I will still maintain this blog!

I did not take this decision lightly.  I enjoyed every second of my time at Williams Mullen.  The attorneys over at WM are top-notch and will be greatly missed.

However, Gordon & Rees (GR) provides us with a national platform, as it is the 89th largest firm in the country!!!!!

GR has 600+ lawyers in 21 different states!! This national platform will enable us to grow our practice across the country.  We (GR) do not have an office in New Mexico yet…

In this type of practice, my clients are health care providers that provide health care to our most needy population.  Every time that we “win” for our clients, we are allowing that client/health care provider to continue to accept Medicare/caid and to continue to serve their patients.  Now we will have the opportunity to help health care providers all over the country!!! This is such an amazing opportunity, and I feel so blessed.

And it doesn’t stop there!

Concurrent with my transition to GR, my family has purchased a new house!!! We close on April 10th and the movers are coming April 11th.  It is almost 5 acres with a four-stall barn and a lighted round ring for evening riding.  For those who know me, my family and I have wanted a small horse farm for years.  We are so excited! Although, between you and me, I may be taking away my husband’s debit card soon.  He believes that prior to our move, we need to have a tractor, a golf cart, hay, fencing, a donkey, and multiple other farming paraphernalia.  I disagree.

Oh, and we cannot forget the trial in New Mexico fast approaching…and another trial 2 weeks afterward.  This is just how I like it! I love my family, and I love my job!

So, Happy Easter, everyone!!!

My new email is:

kemanuel@gordonrees.com

The appearance of my blog may change in the near future…but the content will not.  I will continue to blog on the ongoing plights of those health care providers who choose to accept Medicaid/care, the Goliaths who stand in their way, the laws and regulations surrounding this esoteric, but so important topic, and the impact of public health on our tax dollars!

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolige.

NC Medicaid Reimbursement Rates for Primary Care Physicians Slashed; Is a Potential NC Lawsuit Looming?

Here is my follow-up from yesterday’s blog post, “NC Docs Face Retroactive Medicaid Rate Cut.

Nearly one-third of physicians say they will not accept new Medicaid patients, according to a new study.  Is this shocking in light of the end of the ACA enhanced payments for primary physicians, NC’s implementation of a 3% reimbursement rate cut for primary care physicians, and the additional 1% reimbursement rate cut?  No, this is not shocking. It merely makes economic sense.

Want more physicians to accept Medicaid? Increase reimbursement rates!

Here, in NC, the Medicaid reimbursement rates for primary care physicians and pediatricians have spiraled downward from a trifecta resulting in an epically, low parlay. They say things happen in threes…

(1) With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Medicaid reimbursement rate for certain primary care services increased to reimburse 100% of Medicare Cost Share for services paid in 2013 and 2014.  This enhanced payment stopped on January 1, 2015.

(2) Concurrently on January 1, 2015, Medicaid reimbursement rates for evaluation and management and vaccination services were decreased by 3% due to enactments in the 2013 NC General Assembly session.

(3) Concurrently on January 1, 2015, Medicaid reimbursement rates for evaluation and management and vaccination services were decreased by 1% due to enactments in the 2014 NC General Assembly session.

The effect of the trifecta of Medicaid reimbursement rates for certain procedure codes for primary care physicians can be seen below.

CCNC

As a result, a physician currently receiving 100% of the Medicare rates will see a 16% to 24% reduction in certain E&M and vaccine procedure codes for Medicaid services rendered after January 1, 2015.

Are physicians (and all other types of health care providers) powerless against the slashing and gnashing of Medicaid reimbursement rates due to budgetary concerns?

No!  You are NOT powerless!  Be informed!!

Section 30(A) of the Medicaid Act states that:

“A state plan for medical assistance must –

Provide such methods and procedures relating to the utilization of, and the payment for, care and services available under the plan (including but not limited to utilization review plans as provided for in section 1396b(i)(4) of this title) as may be necessary to safeguard against unnecessary utilization of such care and services and to assure that payments are consistent with efficiency, economy, and quality of care and are sufficient to enlist enough providers so that care and services are available under the plan at least to the extent that such care and services are available to the general population in the geographic area.”

Notice those three key goals:

  • Quality of care
  • Sufficient to enlist enough providers
  • So that care and services are available under the plan at least to the extent that such care and services are available to the general population in the geographic area

Courts across the country have held that low Medicaid reimbursement rates which are set due to budgetary factors and fail to consider federally mandated factors, such as access to care or cost of care, are in violation of federal law.  Courts have further held that Medicaid reimbursement rates cannot be set based solely on budgetary reasons.

For example, U.S. District Court Judge Adalberto Jordan held in a 2014 Florida case that:

“I conclude that while reimbursement rates are not the only factor determining whether providers participate in Medicaid, they are by far the most important factor, and that a sufficient increase in reimbursement rates will lead to a substantial increase in provider participation and a corresponding increase to access to care.”

“Given the record, I conclude that plaintiffs have shown that achieving adequate provider enrollment in Medicaid – and for those providers to meaningfully open their practices to Medicaid children – requires compensation to be set at least at the Medicare level.

Judge Jordan is not alone.  Over the past two decades, similar cases have been filed in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Texas, and D.C. [Notice: Not in NC].  These lawsuits demanding higher reimbursement rates have largely succeeded.

There is also a pending Supreme Court case that I blogged about here.

Increasing the Medicaid reimbursement rates is vital for Medicaid recipients and access to care.  Low reimbursement rates cause physicians to cease accepting Medicaid patients.  Therefore, these lawsuits demanding increased reimbursement rates benefit both the Medicaid recipients and the physicians providing the services.

According to the above-mentioned study, in 2011, “96 percent of physicians accepted new patients in 2011, rates varied by payment source: 31 percent of physicians were unwilling to accept any new Medicaid patients; 17 percent would not accept new Medicare patients; and 18 percent of physicians would not accept new privately insured patients.”

It also found this obvious fact:  “Higher state Medicaid-to-Medicare fee ratios were correlated with greater acceptance of new Medicaid patients.”

Ever heard the phrase: “You get what you pay for.”?

A few months ago, my husband brought home a box of wine.  Yes, a box of wine.  Surely you have noticed those boxes of wine at Harris Teeter.  I tried a sip.  It was ok.  I’m no wine connoisseur.  But I woke the next morning with a terrible headache after only consuming a couple of glasses of wine.  I’m not sure whether the cheaper boxed wine has a higher level of tannins, or what, but I do not get headaches off of 2 glasses of wine when the wine bottle is, at least, $10.  You get what you pay for.

The same is true in service industries.  Want a cheap lawyer? You get what you pay for.  Want a cheap contractor? You get what you pay for.

So why do we expect physicians to provide the same quality of care in order to receive $10 versus $60?  Because physicians took the Hippocratic Oath?  Because physicians have an ethical duty to treat patients equally?

While it is correct that physicians take the Hippocratic Oath and have an ethical duty to their clients, it’s for these exact reasons that many doctors simply refuse to accept Medicaid.  It costs the doctor the same office rental, nurse salaries, and time devoted to patients to treat a person with Blue Cross Blue Shield as it does a person on Medicaid.  However, the compensation is vastly different.

Why?  Why the different rates if the cost of care is equal?

Budgetary reasons.

Unlike private insurance, Medicaid is paid with tax dollars.  Each year, the General Assembly determines our Medicaid budget.  Reducing Medicaid reimbursement rates, by even 1%, can affect the national Medicaid budget by billions of dollars.

But, remember, rates cannot be set for merely budgetary reasons…

Is a potential lawsuit looming in NC’s not so distant future???

Medicaid Reform in a House Divided and MCO, ACO…Who Cares?

We are living in the most polarized society in recent American history. A recent study shows that the feeling of political partisanship has more than doubled over the past 2 decades. So since 1995, politically, America has parted the Red Sea with voters increasingly ebbing away from the middle.

Even more interesting is that, according to the same 2014 study, political animosity is at an all-time, recent high. I say “recent” because I cannot fathom a more polarized society than the society in the 1850s-1860s leading up to the Civil War. So, when I say “recent,” I mean post-invention of the telephone.

According to the Pew Research Center, “[i]n each party, the share with a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994. Most of these intense partisans believe the opposing party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.””

partisanship

If BOTH parties express this identical sentiment, someone is wrong.

So, now, here, in this extremely polarized society, our NC General Assembly is tackling one of our most important and most divisive issues…Medicaid Reform.

But, you say, “Knicole, our General Assembly is an overwhelming Republican majority.  Our Governor is Republican.  How can this vast and deep political polarization prevent NC from creating a new, better, non-broken Medicaid system?”

In NC, even the Republicans are polarized, at least as to the issue of Medicaid reform.  The two differing opinions as to Medicaid reform can be found in our separate houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives (House).  As for our executive branch, Governor McCrory sides with the House.

The houses are divided by acronyms: ACOs (House) versus MCOs (Senate).

The House plan for Medicaid reform involves accountable care organizations (ACOs).  The ACO plan includes physicians, hospitals and other health care providers collaborating to serve Medicaid recipients and assuming the monetary risks.  For example, one ACO may be liable for 6000 Medicaid recipients.  The ACO would be given X dollars per Medicaid recipient to cover the person’s overall health care.  Say the ACO, via its health professionals, conducts a preventative breast exam on a woman and discovers a lump.  The ACO would pay to remove the lump and, hopefully, the woman is ok.  If the ACO fails to practice preventative medicine and the woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, then the ACO must finance the more expensive surgery and chemotherapy required.  The ACO’s incentive would be to provide the best, proactive health care because, regardless, the ACO will be liable for that individual’s care.  With ACOs, there is a financial incentive to keep people healthy and the profit is shared with the state.

The Senate plan for Medicaid reform involves managed care organizations (MCOs).  Unlike ACOs, MCOs will not be comprised of health care providers.  The MCOs will be large companies that will be charged with managing Medicaid by contracting with a network of providers.  Many Medicaid services require prior authorization, which would be in the hands of the utilization review team employed by the MCO.  Similar to the ACO, the MCO would be given an amount of money based on the number of Medicaid recipients within its network.  The profit for the MCO is the money remaining at the end of the fiscal quarter that was not spent on services for Medicaid recipients.

What is better?  Does better mean the most cost-savings?  Does better mean the best quality of care for Medicaid recipients?

In order to determine whether the MCO-model or ACO-model is better and what exactly “better” means, you have to follow the money.  For both models, you have to ask, “If the actual medical services provided cost double the anticipated amount, who bears the burden?” And, conversely, “If the actual medical services provided cost half the anticipated amount, who pockets the profit?”

There are numerous ways for an insurer to be paid.  At one end of the spectrum, you have capitation; while at the other end of the spectrum you have a more typical financial relationship in which the insurer simply pays the health care provider its reasonable and usual amount.

Capitation is how we currently have our MCOs set up for behavioral health care in North Carolina.  As we currently use capitation for our MCOs, I would assume that the Senate-model MCOs would also be capitated.  Capitation places the risk on the MCO because the MCO receives a fixed amount regardless of actual cost.  However, there is concern (or should be) that the MCOs will provide patients less care than needed in order to pocket a profit.

On the other hand, ACOs typically do not rely on full capitation.  The ACOs may share the risk, and, therefore, the profit, with the state.

Another HUGE difference between ACOs and MCOs is that, with MCOs, the insurer in effect dictates what a health care provider is allowed to do.  For example, say a dentist believes that a person is in need of dentures.  Maybe 4-5 teeth have already fallen out and the remaining teeth are suffering more mild rot.  The dentist requests prior authorization from the MCO to extract teeth, create a mold of the mouth, and order dentures to be custom-created.  The MCO denies the requests saying, for example, not enough teeth have fallen out or not enough rot is present in the remaining teeth.  The dentist’s hands are tied to the decision of the MCO, unless the patient can fork over the cost of care that the MCO refuses to authorize.  And, BTW, the person who denied the request may have graduated from college with a BA in History . . . or in any event something else other than a field of medical or dental care

An ACO, on the other hand, is run by physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers. Theoretically, the decisions to authorize services would be made by those same people who swore the Hippocratic Oath.

With regard to healing the sick, I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means; and I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage.

(I doubt a History major ever swore to heal the sick).

There has also been contemplation as to whether the General Assembly should remove the responsibility of managing Medicaid from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) completely.  Obviously, this suggestion is extreme and would require a Waiver from the federal government to transfer the “single state agency” requirement from DHHS to another entity.

Regardless of what decisions are made…whether the GA requires a private Medicaid panel to usurp Medicaid responsibilities from DHHS….whether NC adopts an MCO-model or an ACO-model for Medicaid reform….as it currently stands, our houses are divided.  No bills pass a divided legislature.

The Senate and House both indicate that Medicaid reform is a forefront issue during this long session, but, so far, there has been no indication of a Great Compromise.

Low Medicaid Reimbursement Rates Violate the Supremacy Clause?! …The Supreme Court to Weigh In!

Tomorrow is a big day.  Not only will most of us return to work after a long weekend, but the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on a very important issue.

On January 20, 2015, (tomorrow) the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments on a very important issue that will affect every health care provider in America who accepts Medicaid, and, yet, there has been very little media coverage over this lawsuit.

Legal Issue: Does a Medicaid provider have a private right of action under the Medicaid Act to bring a lawsuit against states under the Supremacy clause.

The Issue Translated from Legalese to English: Can a Medicaid provider sue the state in which the provider does business if the provider believes that the Medicaid reimbursement rate for a particular service or product is too low? For example, can a dentist sue NC for a higher Medicaid reimbursement rate for tooth extractions? Can a long-term care facility and/or a home care agency sue due to low Medicaid personal care services (PCS) rates?

It is my opinion that Medicaid providers across the country have not brought enough lawsuits demanding higher Medicaid reimbursement rates. It is without question that Medicaid reimbursement rates across the country are too low. Low reimbursement rates cause health care providers to refuse to accept Medicaid recipients. See my blog NC Health Care Providers Who Accept Medicaid: Thank you!.

If you hold a Medicaid card, you do not automatically have access to good quality health care. You are segregated from the privately insured and the care you receive is not equal. You are limited in your choice of doctors. If you are an adult, you can forget any dental procedures. Even if you aren’t an adult, you require prior approval for almost all services (regardless of whether you are suffering from pain), which will often be denied (or reduced…or require a significant waiting period). You want mental health care? You better get the very least amount of help possible until you prove you need more help. See my blog NC Medicaid Expansion: Bad for the Poor.

And why won’t more health care providers accept Medicaid? The Medicaid reimbursement rates are too low!! The Medicaid reimbursement rates are too low for health care providers to yield a profit…or, in many instances, even cover the overhead. In fact, providers tell me that when they do accept Medicaid, they are forced to accept more privately insured patients to offset the losses from accepting the finite number of Medicaid patients. In many states, the states refuse to cover psychology costs for Medicaid recipients, and other states refuse to cover the costs for PCS.

So, I say, bring on the lawsuits!!! Force states to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates!!

For example, in obstetrics, if the national Medicaid reimbursement rate for ob/gyn visits is $1.00, here, in NC, we reimburse ob/gyns 88¢. Which is why only 34% of North Carolina ob/gyns accept Medicaid.  See Kaiser.

So far, across the country, federal courts have held that Medicaid providers do have a private right of action to sue states for low reimbursement rates. In fact, in most cases, the providers have PREVAILED and the states have been forced to pay higher rates!!!

Providers of all types have filed lawsuits across the country disputing the states’ Medicaid reimbursement rates as being too low. For example, in California, between April 2008 and April 2009, five lawsuits were filed against the state of California to stop scheduled reductions in reimbursement rates (on behalf of rehabilitation providers, nonemergency medical transportation providers, pharmacies, physicians, and emergency physicians).

A Florida lawsuit that was settled in December 2014 revolved around a young boy on Medicaid who was suffering from a painful sinus infection. His mother contacted multiple physicians and was denied appointments because the mother and her son were on Medicaid. He was forced to wait almost a week for an appointment. The judge in the case wrote, “I conclude that Florida’s Medicaid program has not compensated primary physicians or specialists at a competitive rate as compared with either that of Medicare or private insurance payers….I further conclude that Florida’s structure for setting physician reimbursement fails to account for statutorily mandated factors in the Medicaid Act, including the level of compensation needed to assure an adequate supply of physicians.”

Over the years, the Supreme Court has vacillated over even determining whether a Medicaid provider has a private right of action under the Medicaid Act to bring a lawsuit against states under the Supremacy clause.

In 2002, the Supreme Court denied certiorari (refused to hear the argument) on this very issue. Coming out of the 9th Circuit (which includes California), a Circuit which has been especially busy with lawsuits arguing Medicaid reimbursement rates are too low, the case of Independent Living Center of California v. Shewry would have squarely addressed this issue. But the Supreme Court denied certiorari and did not hear arguments.

In 2012, the Supreme Court decided to hear arguments on this issue. In Douglas v. Independent Living Center, Medicaid beneficiaries and providers sued the California state Medicaid agency, seeking to enjoin a number of proposed provider payment rate cuts. After the Supreme Court heard oral argument, but before it had issued its decision, the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) approved California’s state plan amendment containing the rate cuts. Consequently, the Douglas majority held that the case should be sent back to the lower courts to consider the effect of CMS’s approval of the state plan amendment, without deciding whether the beneficiaries and providers had a right to sue.

Now the case Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Center will be heard by the Supreme Court on January 20, 2015.

How did this case come about?

In 2005, the Idaho state legislature passed a law requiring the state Medicaid agency to implement a new methodology to determine provider reimbursement rates, and in 2009, the state Medicaid agency published new, higher rates based, in part, on a study of provider costs. CMS approved the state’s new methodology. However, the new rates never were implemented because the state legislature failed to appropriate sufficient funding, making the refusal to increase the reimbursment rate a budgetary issue.  A group of Idaho residential habilitation providers that accept Medicaid sued the Idaho state Medicaid agency and alleged that the state’s failure to implement the new rates conflicted with federal law (the Supremacy Clause).

Section (30)(A) of the Medicaid Act requires state Medicaid agencies to take provider costs into account when setting reimbursement rates. Under case law precedent, the rate must “bear a reasonable relationship to efficient and economical . . . costs of providing quality services.” To deviate from this standard of reasonableness, a state must justify its decisions with more than budgetary reasons.

The argument is that the state’s low reimbursement rate for X service, is too low to provide good quality services and that the low rates were set for purely budgetary reasons.

Once you prove that the reimbursement rates are too low to expect good quality care (which would be fairly easy for almost all Medicaid services in NC), then you argue that the state’s reimbursement rates violate the Supremacy Clause because the federal law requires good quality care.

What is the Supremacy Clause?

The Supremacy Clause can be found in Article VI, Paragraph 2 of the U. S. Constitution. Basically, it establishes that federal law trumps conflicting state laws , even state constitutional provisions, on matters within the Constitution’s grant of powers to the federal government – such as Medicaid..

In this case, we are talking about a state’s Medicaid reimbursement rate violating the federal law requiring that the rate must bear a reasonable relationship to quality of care.

This is not a small matter.

After all is said and done, the Armstrong case, which will be heard by the Supreme Court tomorrow, will be extraordinarily important for Medicaid health care providers. I believe it is obvious which way I hope the Supreme Court decides…in favor of providers!! In favor of a ruling that states are not allowed to underpay health care providers only because the patient holds a Medicaid card.

My wish is that Medicaid providers across the country bring lawsuits against their state to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates…that the providers prevail…that more health care providers accept Medicaid…and that more Medicaid recipients receive quality health care.

Is that too much to ask?

The Supreme Court will most likely publish its opinion this summer.

Its decision could have an extreme impact on both Medicaid providers and recipients.  Higher Medicaid reimbursement rates would increase the number of physicians willing to accept Mediaid, which, in turn, would provide more access to care for Medicaid recipients.

Keep in mind, however, the issue before the Supreme Court in Armstrong is narrow.  If, for whatever reason, the Supreme Court decides that Medicaid providers do not have a private right to sue under the Supremacy Clause…all is not lost!!! There is more than one way to skin a cat.

OIG Report: MCOs Cause Limited Access to Primary Care for Medicaid Enrollees!

With flu season well under way, access to care to primary care physicians for Medicaid recipients is (as it is always) extremely important.  During flu season, in particular, emergency rooms (ERs) are full of people suffering from flu-like systems.  Many of those in the ER are uninsured, but many of those in the ER have a valid Medicaid card in their wallet.

So why would a Medicaid recipient present themself to the ER instead of contacting a primary care physician?  In many instances, the Medicaid recipients do not have access to primary care. Many physicians simply refuse to accept Medicaid.  Some managed care organizations (MCOs) refuse to contract with a number of physicians sufficient to address the needs of its catchment area.

A December 2014 audit conducted by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that access to primary care for Medicaid recipients is in serious question…especially with the onslaught of states moving Medicaid to managed care systems.

32 states contract with 221 MCOs.   From each of the 32 states, OIG requested a list of all providers participating in Medicaid managed care plans.  Remember that, here in NC, our MCOs only manage behavioral health care. We have not yet moved to managed care for our physical health care.  However, this may change in the not so distant future…

Our Senate and House are attempting to pass Medicaid reform. The House is pushing for accountable care organizations (ACOs), which would be run by physicians, hospitals, and other health care organizations. The Senate, on the other hand, is pushing for MCOs. I urge the Senate to review this OIG report before mutating our health care system to managed care.

Federal regulations require MCOs to maintain a network of providers sufficient to provide adequate access to care for Medicaid recipients based on population, need, locations of providers, and expected services to be utilized.

However, as we have seen in NC, the MCOs are not properly supervised and have financial incentives to terminate provider contacts (or refuse to contract with providers). In NC, this has resulted in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of behavioral health care providers going out of business.  See MCOs Terminating Providers and Restricting the Freedom of Choice of Providers for Medicaid Recipients: Going Too Far? and NC MCOs: The Judge, Jury, and Executioner.

The consequences of MCOs picking and choosing to contract with a select few are twofold: (1) the non-selected providers go out of business; and (2) Medicaid recipients lose access to care and choice of providers.

Because of #2, OIG conducted this audit, which, sadly, confirms the veracity of #2.

To conduct the audit, OIG contacted 1800 primary care physicians and specialists and attempted to make an appointment.  OIG wanted to determine (1) whether they accepted Medicaid; (2) whether they were taking new Medicaid patients; and (3) the wait time for an appointment. OIG only contacted physicians who were listed on the states’ Medicaid plans as a participating provider, because Medicaid recipients rely on the states’ lists of participating providers in locating a physician.

Yet, the results of the OIG audit are disturbing, to say the least.

51% of the providers could not offer appointments to enrollees, which raises serious questions as to the adequacy of the MCO networks.

OIG chart

  • 45% did not accept Medicaid
  • 35%: could not be found at the location listed by the plan,
  • 8% were at the location but said that they were not participating in the plan.
  • 8% were not accepting new patients.

The average wait time was 2 weeks for those physicians accepting Medicaid. Over 25% had wait times of more than 1 month, and 10 percent had wait times longer than 2 months.

I guess they can always go to the ER.

Obama’s Executive Order, Its Impact on Health Care Costs, and the Constitutionality of Executive Orders

Pres. Barack Obama will address the nation tonight at 8 pm (Thursday, November, 20, 2014). He is expected to discuss his executive order that will delay deportations of up to 5 million migrants.

What does an executive order on immigration have to do with Medicaid? Well, you can bank on the fact that almost none of the 5 million people has private health care coverage….which means, there is a high likelihood that most, if not all, the people would qualify for Medicaid.

With the expansion of Medicaid in many states, adding another 5 million people to the Medicaid program would be drastic.  Think about it…in NC, approximately 1.8 million people rely on Medicaid as their insurance.  5 million additional Medicaid recipients would be like adding 3 more North Carolinas to the country.

So I looked into it…

The Kaiser Family Foundation website states that even immigrants who have been in America over 5 years are sometimes still barred from getting Medicaid and those people would remain uninsured.  The Kaiser website states that under current law “some lawfully present immigrants who are authorized to work in the United States cannot enroll in Medicaid, even if they have been in the country for five or more years.”

By law, only immigrants who have green cards are entitled to enroll in Medicaid or purchase subsidized health care coverage through the ACA. Usually those immigrants with green cards are on the course to become citizens.

Regardless of whether Obama’s executive order tonight will or will not allow the 5 million people Medicaid coverage (which it will not), the executive order absolutely will greatly increase health care costs

The truth is that, with or without Obama’s executive order, the government already funds some health care for undocumented immigrants. We have an “emergency Medicaid” program and it pays hospitals to provide emergency and maternity care to immigrants if: 1) he or she otherwise would be Medicaid eligible if they weren’t in the country illegally or 2) he or she are legally present in this country for less than 5 years.  (Which is the reason that ER wait times are so long…if you have no health insurance and you get sick, the ER is precisely where you go).

However, with the additional 5 million people living within the borders of USA, it is without question that the “emergency Medicaid” funds will sharply escalate as hospitals provide more emergency care. ER waits times will, inevitably, increase. Health care costs, in general, surge as the population increases.  And the addition of 5 million folks in America is not a “natural” increase in population.  It will be like we added additional states.  Overnight and with the stroke of a pen, our population will grow immensely.  I guess we will see whether we get “growing pains.”

An act of Congress will still be required before the undocumented immigrants impacted by the executive order would be allowed to participate in the Medicaid programs and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage.

As to the Constitutionality of executive orders…

Executive orders are not specifically mentioned in the Constitution.  Many people interpret the nonexistence of executive orders in the Constitution as barring executive orders.

Article I Section I of the Constitution clearly states that all legislative powers reside in Congress. However, an executive order is not legislation. Technically, an executive order is a policy or procedure issued by the President that is a regulation that applies only to employees of the executive branch of government.

Nonetheless, our country has a vast history of president’s issuing executive orders. Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order to engage military in the Civil War, Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order arming the military before we entered World War I, and Franklin Roosevelt approved Japanese internment camps during World War II with an executive order.

Regardless of your political affiliation, in my opinion, it is very interesting that Obama would initiate an executive order regarding immigration given his past statements over the years complaining about past presidents’ executive orders being unconstitutional.

In 2008 campaign speeches, Obama regularly emphasized the importance of civil liberties and the sanctity of the Constitution.

In fact, in speeches, Obama stated, “most of the problems that we have had in civil liberties were not done through the Patriot Act, they were done through executive order by George W. Bush. And that’s why the first thing I will do when I am president is to call in my attorney general and have he or she review every executive order to determine which of those have undermined civil liberties, which are unconstitutional, and I will reverse them with the stroke of a pen.”

Whether or not people believe that executive orders are constitutional, it is indisputable that presidents on both sides of the aisle have issued executive orders.

Reagan and Bush issued executive orders. Although there is an argument that those executive orders came on the heels of congressional bills, as adjustments. Neither Reagan nor Bush simply circumvented Congress.

Going back to tonight’s anticipated executive order allowing 5 million migrants to remain in America…

While the executive order will not allow the 5 million people immediate access to Medicaid and other subsidized health care, it will allow 5 million more uninsured people to exist in America, which will, undoubtedly, increase health care costs and ER visits. And, eventually, the additional 5 million people will be eligible for Medicaid, subsidized health care, and all other benefits of living in America.

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