Monthly Archives: November 2013

MMIS and NCTracks: New is Not Always Better

New is not always better.

In December 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) awarded a contract to Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) to develop and implement a replacement billing system for Medicaid intended to replace Medicaid Management Information System (MMIS), originally built in the late 1970s.

Because after all…new is always better, right?

People want the newest…the latest…the most up-to-date… Just look at the company Apple.  The company Apple is built on (and thrives on) people’s desire to have the newest and latest gadget.  Hence, IPhone 4, Iphone 4s, Iphone 5, IPhone 5s, IPhone 5c (and, BTW, GENIUS to change the electrical cords, thereby forcing new consumers to also upgrade their docking speakers and even their cell phone covers).

We have two dogs.  Our oldest dog, Booker T, is 14.  He is a lab/dobie mix.  He used to be over 100 lbs, but, in his old age, he is down to 70-ish.  He also has lumps all over him.  My husband calls him “Lumpy” (to his face).  Booker has horrible breath because he has an oral disease rotting away his gums.  Every now and then a tooth falls out.  My husband jokes that if Booker were to be hit by a car, the car would be totaled and Booker would walk away without a scratch.

But Booker is the most loving and loyal dog I have ever known.  When I am standing in the kitchen, Booker will push his head between my legs for a head scratch.  Right now, as I am typing, Booker is at my feet.  When I shower, Booker lays in the bathroom.  When I sleep, Booker lies on the floor beside my side of the bed (Why would he lay beside my husband’s side? He calls him Lumpy, right?)

Then we have Kate.  She is a 2-year-old English Setter.  Absolutely gorgeous!!  In the mornings, she runs 4-8 miles with me.  My husband bought her (at a high price and shipped her in from North Dakota) for bird hunting and she can point like a champ.  She’s very fluffy and cuddley.  When she sees me, she gets all hoppy and excited.  Usually she will leap into the air so that I can catch her and hold her.

But Kate is very special.  If she sees a spot of light on a wall, she will stare/point at it for hours with her nose barely an inch from it.  We have a glass dining room table, and, more than once, Kate has tried to jump into my lap only to bang her head on the table and crumple to the ground.  The other day I brought her a McDonald’s cheeseburger.  She held it in her mouth without eating it and ran around the house.  She finally ended burying it in the back yard and our pig Oink found it to her great satisfaction (Oh, yes, we have a micro pig too, but that is another story).  Kate won’t eat unless I sit down next to her, and, even then, it’s like force feeding.

You see, MMIS is Booker T, and NCTracks is Kate.

MMIS was old, lumpy, and smelly, but it was loyal.  It didn’t have the kinks of a new system.  Like Booker, it could have just kept going.

NCTracks is new and special.  Like Kate, NCTracks tends to stare at something insignificant without doing anything.  It bangs its head on the dining room table and loses its cheeseburgers to a pig.

DHHS wanted the newest…the latest…the IPhone 6…Kate…

But, with the newest also comes the newest kinks…the newest wrinkles…

And DHHS is no Apple.

Are PCG’s Extrapolated Medicaid Audits in Violation of State Statute?

Public Consulting Group (PCG) is one of the contracted entities conducting Medicaid post-payment audits in North Carolina. I’ve heard rumors that NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is not renewing PCG’s contract, although I have found no evidence to corroborate this rumor.

Regardless, right now, PCG is here and the Medicaid post-payment audits continue. And PCG continues to extrapolate.  For more information as to the extrapolations, see my blog: How Does $100 Become $100,000? Check for Clusters!

But is PCG legally allowed to extrapolate? Oh, of course it is allowed to legally extrapolate!! The contract between DHHS and PCG allows PCG to extrapolate, right? But…what if….the extrapolations are not being conducted legally?

N.C. Gen. Stat. 108C-5 states, in pertinent part:

“(i) Prior to extrapolating the results of any audits, the Department shall demonstrate and inform the provider that (i) the provider failed to substantially comply with the requirements of State or federal law or regulation or (ii) the Department has credible allegation of fraud concerning the provider.

Prior to extrapolating, the Department must demonstrate and inform…

Prior to…

Of all the Tentative Notices of Overpayment (TNO) that I have seen, the actual TNO states the extrapolated amount and states that the audit is extrapolated because “(1) the provider  failed to substantially comply with the requirements of State or federal law or regulation or (ii) the Department has credible allegation of fraud concerning the provider.”  There is no more detail.  The TNO literally regurgitates the statutory language into the TNO.  Does that constitute “demonstrating”?  Better yet, if a provider receives the information that “(1) the provider  failed to substantially comply with the requirements of State or federal law or regulation or (ii) the Department has credible allegation of fraud concerning the provider” CONCURRENTLY with receipt of the extrapolated amount, does that notice meet the statutory criteria of PRIOR TO?

Question #1: Does regurgitating the statutory language meet the requirement that the State demonstrate the noncompliance?

Question #2: Does the Department sending the reason for the extrapolation concurrently with the extrapolation meet the statutory requirement to inform the provider prior to extrapolating?

Let’s start with Question #1…

Last night I was checking my daughter’s homework.  She had to read an article on Abraham Lincoln.  Then she had to answer reading comprehension questions about the article.  One question was something like, “What is this article primarily about?”  The article discussed the Civil War, Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s top hat, Lincoln’s assassination and Lincoln’s gravesite.  My daughter answered “B: Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.”  (Which was wrong). 

What if I told her she was wrong, but never explained why?  I believe the conversation would go something like this: “You’re wrong.”  “Why?” “Because you’re wrong.”  “But WHY am I wrong.”  “Because you are wrong.”

In the above scenario, I informed my daughter that she was wrong.  But I failed to demonstrate how or why she was wrong.

Similarly, N.C. Gen. Stat. requires that the Department  demonstrate and inform the provider that the provider failed to substantially comply with the requirements of State or federal law or regulation or that the Department has credible allegation of fraud concerning the provider.

Inform + Demonstrate = Statutory compliance

So, does PCG demonstrate and inform the providers that the provider failed to substantially comply with the requirements of State or federal law or regulation or that the Department has credible allegation of fraud concerning the provider, simply by restating the identical language in the TNO?

“Why?” “Because you’re wrong.”

Ok, how about Question #2…?

How important is something to occur prior to versus concurrently? I mean, at least it is done, right? Who cares whether the action is done prior to or concurrently? 

Think of skydiving.  I tell you to be sure to put on your parachute prior to jumping.  Instead you hold your parachute, leap out of the plane, and attempt to put on your parachute contemporaneously as jumping.  With the amount of air resistance you encounter after you jump, you are unable to get the parachute secured and you die.

Let’s look at a less grotesque example…Think about eating…I tell you to open your mouth prior to inserting the piece of chocolate cake into your mouth.  Instead you insert the piece of chocolate cake into your mouth while you concurrently open your mouth.  Sure, you get some cake into your mouth, but the majority of the chocolate cake is smeared all over your face.

Can PCG send you one letter saying you are non-compliant while concurrently informing you of the extrapolated amount? Or is that a bit like squashing chocolate cake into your face?

Are PCG’s Extrapolated Medicaid Audits in Violation of State Statute?

Former DHHS staffer takes jobs with Medicaid contractor

I cannot take credit for this blog.  I cut and pasted the test from WRAL.  But…WOW!!!!

Raleigh, N.C. — A state employee who helped oversee the construction and rollout of the NCTracks Medicaid billing system now works for Computer Sciences Corp., the contractor responsible for the troubled project. Paul Guthery was an IT manager at the Department of Health and Human Services, where he had worked since January 2010. At a hearing Wednesday, State Auditor Beth Wood described him as the agency’s “point person” for CSC, responsible for certifying NCTracks’ testing process. At least one good-government watchdog says his jump from supervising the company to working for it raises the appearance of a potential conflict of interest, one that the state should try to avoid in the future.

According to public records, Guthery began working for the state on Jan. 1, 2010. His last salary was $126,500 per year. He stopped working for the state Aug. 27 and soon after began working for CSC as an executive account executive.  Doctors, hospitals and others who render care for patients covered by Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled, must use the CSC-built NCTracks system to get paid for those services. The system went live July 1 and soon after become the focus of controversy, with providers saying it was nearly impossible to submit claims and that payments were delayed by months. The delays threatened to drive some providers out of business and complicated care for thousands of patients.

Since then, the state and CSC have struggled to right the program. It was in late August, as providers bombarded lawmakers and the governor’s office with complaints about the system, that Guthery made the jump to the private sector.
Guthery declined via email to speak with WRAL News, deferring to his company’s corporate communications department. Michelle Sicola Herd, a spokeswoman for CSC, declined a request for an interview and was not willing to speak on the record about the circumstances of Guthery’s hiring.

Officials with DHHS downplayed Guthery’s part in the rollout of NCTracks, saying Thursday that he never occupied a position in which he would give the final word on the program going live. “One of the key things is that Paul was one of many people involved in this project, a very large project going on for a very long period of time,” said Ricky Diaz, a spkesman for the department.  Diaz emphasized that an outside testing group reviewed the stability of the NCTracks system before state officials turned it on July 1.

But Wood blasted the role of that third-party overseer, saying the company hired for independent verification and validation of system testing had not actually conducted any independent verification. Rather, they merely collected information from DHHS and CSC and summarized it in a report.

During a hearing Wednesday, Sen. Jeff Tarte, R-Mecklenburg, asked Wood who was responsible for signing off on reports that system testing had been completed and was successful.

“The agency,” Wood answered, adding, “The point person that was at the agency is now working for CSC.”  That person was Guthery. 

Diaz said state personnel laws prevent him from talking about what, if any, steps were taken to try to keep Guthery as an employee. But he emphasized that the state had taken strides to get the system on track, pointing out that it has been under construction for more than 10 years. 

“There have no doubt been challenges. This is a very large transition for the state of North Carolina,” he said. “The NCTracks project has, to date, paid $3.8 billion to North Carolina health care providers, as well as processing more than 78 million claims.”  With regard to Guthery, Diaz said state law does not currently prohibit employees who work with a contractor from taking a job with that contractor. By contrast, had Guthery taken a job as a lobbyist, he would have needed to wait six months before working with the legislature or his old employer. No such cooling-off period applies to employees in other lines of work. 

Jane Pinsky, with the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, says lawmakers should consider changing that.  “If I’m a skeptical, cynical citizen, the question is, did he (Guthery) give them a pass and then they gave him a job?” Pinsky said.  Earlier this year, another high-ranking DHHS staffer left for a private-sector job. Former state Medicaid director Carol Steckel was recruited to overhaul North Carolina’s system but left abruptly for a position with Wellpoint, a managed-care company based in Florida.

Pinsky pointed out that Wellpoint could end up bidding to run some or all of North Carolina’s Medicaid services under the McCrory administration’s planned reforms.
“In state government, and in DHHS, it is not unprecedented for employees to go work for vendors,” Diaz said. 

Asked if he thought the Guthery situation could be viewed as a conflict of interest, Diaz said DHHS was being “very transparent” with regard to the situation. Asked if the agency would put any policy changes in place, Diaz referred to DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos’ efforts to improve contracting practices more broadly.  “I think what you’ve seen is this secretary has placed a heavy emphasis on contract oversight and compliance,” he said.  But Pinsky says the problem could be addressed in other ways.  “One thing you can do is tell the contractor that, as a condition of the contract, they can’t hire anybody” in the agency, she said. She also suggested the possibility of a non-compete clause for employees hired to administer contracts.

In the meantime, she says, lawmakers should consider instituting a cooling-off period for high-level staffers.  “Anybody who oversees a contract or supervises an industry shouldn’t be able to go to work for them the next day,” she said. “Does that affect any decisions they’re going to make in how they administer the contract?”

Lawmakers Demand Accountability as to NCTracks Debacle (Finally) and the Action of Nonaction

Yesterday (11/20/13), State Auditor Beth Wood appeared before the Joint Program Evaluation Oversight Committee meeting.  Lawmakers and Wood criticized NCTracks, its rollout, and the lack of accountability on the part of the administration. Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson, even asked whether criminal charges could be filed against whomever was in charge of the NCTracks rollout. 

Criminal charges!!

There is little disagreement that the rollout of NCTracks has been a complete CATASTROPHE.  NCTracks went live July 1, 2013, and the past 143 days have been nothing short of a hair-pulling-out, feet-stomping, spit-wielding debacle for most providers. So lawmakers, as the health care providers have been asking for the past 143 days, ask, “Who is to blame?”

Who is to blame?

  • The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)?
  • Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) (the company who designed NCTracks)?
  • Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Contractor? (the third-party contractor hired for independent verification and validation of NCTracks)?
  • Governor Pat McCrory?
  • Secretary Aldona Wos?

No one in the administration is stepping up to accept accountability.  The vendors are not accepting responsibility.  It is as if the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is just standing there…watching the debacle…doing nothing.  I am reminded of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg.  Anyone remember who Dr. Eckleburg is?

Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s spectacled eyes are a powerful symbol in The Great Gatsby, one of my favorite novels of all time, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Dr TJ Eckleburg

Originally, the billboard was erected to promote Dr. Eckleburg’s optometry practice.  The eyes are supposed to symbolize commercialism and the greed of America, but the billboard is neglected and the eyes remain throughout the story to symbolize God watching over Nick Carraway and the other characters.  The eyes seem to be an all-knowing and all-powerful figure over the characters. The eyes frown down on the characters and judge their actions.

Wilson equates T.J.’s eyes to the eyes of God. He recounts to Michaelis what he says to Myrtle after discovering his affair, “‘and I said “God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!”” However, Michaelis tries to point out to him that “It’s just a billboard.”

Maybe it is not just a billboard. 

Throughout The Great Gatsby, Eckleburg’s eyes watch.  Yet, in the novel, God, symbolized by Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s spectacles, seems to have abandoned America, leaving only Dr. T.J. Eckleburg behind to stare down with his empty eyes.  Dr. T.J. Eckleburg never moves…never speaks. Yet, Fitzgerald creates this looming, unmoving billboard and characterizes the billboard as God.  And who is more in charge than God?

Similarly, (not as to God, but as to Dr. T.J. Eckleburg), DHHS is supposed to be the all-knowing and all-powerful head of North Carolina Medicaid. 

42 C.F.R. 1396a(5) requires the State Plan to “either provide for the establishment or designation of a single State agency to administer or to supervise the administration of the plan; or provide for the establishment or designation of a single State agency to administer or to supervise the administration of the plan.”

That single state entity is DHHS.

DHHS is charged with watching over all things Medicaid.  DHHS is our Medicaid Dr. T.J. Eckleburg.

When State Auditor Wood was asked by legislators who is to blame, she answered, “The agency.” As in, DHHS.  “Accountability comes at the secretary level, those that report to the secretary, and the governor.”

If DHHS is in charge and Secretary Wos is in charge of DHHS, then (going back to Logic 101) Wos is to blame for the NCTracks debacle.  Right? 

Before jumping up and down and blaming Secretary Wos for NCTracks, remember that it was the prior administration that began the whole NCTracks idea in the first place.  Wos did not come to NC and say, “Hey, let’s change the Medicaid billing system.  There is this company CSC that will be so perfect for the job.  Let’s pay them a ton of money to revamp the entire system.”  No, Wos came to NC with NCTracks already begun.  The past administration started this little ball rolling.  Wos stepped in when the ball was huge and its inertia kept it going…or should we say Wos did not stop the rolling ball.

Does that exonerate Sec. Wos from any accountability and/or blame for the current state of mess Medicaid is now in due to NCTracks? Absolutely not.  It is without question that Sec. Wos is charged with managing DHHS.  It is without question that Sec. Wos has not accepted the accountability of the NCTracks debacle.  Shoot, she hasn’t even admitted there is a problem!! Isn’t admitting there is a problem the first step?

Someone at DHHS made a fatal flaw in implementing NCTracks.  Someone told HP Enterprises to take a hike without ensuring that NCTracks would work.  That is like walking a tight rope with no net!  And that fatal decision is on this administration.

Like Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, DHHS is watching over Medicaid.  And like Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, DHHS is unmoving and silent.

DHHS cannot be a billboard.  Nonaction is not an option.

Senator Bingham asked whether we could fire anybody (whomever was in cgarge of the debacle).  To which, Wood stated, in her normal, no-nonsense manner, “I don’t have a problem firing anybody.”

One News and Observor editorial wrote, “What Wos should have told lawmakers wasn’t that she’s pressing DHHS staff and its computer vendor to pay people who are owed. She should have said, “We thought we were being frugal and instead we were reckless and it has cost everyone a great deal. I take responsibility. I apologize. And I’m determined to keep learning from my mistakes to fulfill the mission of my department.”  Instead, she told the committee, “I assure you that where necessary, I will hold people accountable.”  Excepting herself, of course.”

Right now DHHS is just a billboard.

In fact, maybe the most important nonactions to note are what Sec. Wos is NOT doing.  She has has NOT blamed CSC.  She has NOT condemned CSC.  She has NOT had heads rolling at CSC.   Sec. Wos has NOT publicly spoken disparagingly about CSC’s implementation of NCTracks.  She has NOT terminated CSC’s contract.  To my knowledge, she has NOT asked for help from HP Enterprises.  Right now, DHHS is nothing more than a billboard, a symbol of Medicaid, but doing nothing.

In fact, on Tuesday, DHHS representatives tried to tell the Joint Program Evaluation Oversight Committee that NCTracks was improving and its “trajectory is good.”  Doing nothing…just watching…

In The Great Gatsby, Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes never change.  They continue to watch.  Unlike Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, Sec. Wos can move.  She needs to move. 

Yet, whereas Wood said that she doesn’t have a problem firing anybody, Wos stated on Tuesday “that, where necessary, I will hold people accountable.” 

Where necessary?? 

Aren’t we to “where necessary” yet?  143 days after the catastrophic implementation of NCTracks and the mess is not fixed….don’t you think it is necessary to hold someone accountable??

Oh, and by the way, during these past 143 days since NCTracks’ implementation, who is getting harmed?  The doctors, the dentists, the in-home health care providers who are not receiving proper Medicaid reimbursements.  And then who suffers? The Medicaid recipients because providers stop accepting Medicaid.  In a Medicaid system that already discourages providers from accepting Medicaid, NCTracks is certainly not helping.  Counting business damages, loss of clinical time, and unpaid claims, can you imagine the invoice that the harmed providers should serve on DHHS??   Maybe the invoice sent to DHHS should give DHHS 15 days to request a reconsideration review.

One thing is for certain, DHHS (whether or not through Wos) must stop merely being a symbol of Medicaid, a billboard, and start acting… and be accountable.

Because after 143 days of this hair-pulling-out, feet-stomping, spit-wielding debacle for most providers, there aren’t many more hairs, stomps, or spit.

DHHS Still Claims NCTracks on Track?? CSC Doing Its Best?

Today  the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services met at noon. Mr. Joe Cooper, DHHS’ Chief Information Officer, spoke on behalf of DHHS.  He began by explaining that NCTracks is not NC Fast, which I believe we already knew.

Most interestingly, it was stated that DHHS has assessed approximately a quarter of a million dollars in penalties against CSC since NCTracks going live.  These assessments are paid to the state.  To which I ask, “Why does CSC pay penalties to the state? Why not pay the people actually damaged by CSC’s ineptness..the unpaid providers?”  It makes no sense that, while providers are not getting paid, CSC pays the state.  That’s like a robber paying restitution to the insurance company that never covered the losses of the victim.

Another interesting comment was when asked exactly how much has been spent on NCTracks, Mr. Cooper deferred to DHHS’ CFO, Rod Davis who answered that he does not have that information.  To which Senator Tarte stated, “That doesn’t make me feel comfortable.”

Mr. Cooper described CSC’s monumental effort to try to get providers paid.  According to Mr. Cooper the “backlog” will be nonexistent by the end of the year.  But when asked, “What is the number of remaining backlogs?” Mr. Cooper answered, “Senator, I don’t have that number.  I can get it to you.” 

When asked a follow-up question about whether the number of backlogs was similar to a previous number of approximately 43,000, Mr. Cooper noted that there are two types of backlogs.  One backlog addresses prior authorizations, and, according to Mr. Cooper there is no more backlog as to prior authorizations.  NCTracks is absolutely current. The non-current backlog is regarding returning calls and responding to emails.

Providers, Is it true? Is NCTracks current as to prior authorizations?

Mr. Cooper further stated that calls to the Call Center are now answered within seconds. Last week CSC implemented a new process for answering phone calls that when providers call the Call Center, CSC estimates when it will call back the providers in order to stop the providers from staying on the phone too long.  That’s great, but getting an estimated time for a callback doesn’t really resolve the problem, right?

Mr. Cooper also showed a graph depicting total Medicaid claims payments from State fiscal year 2012 through October 2012 (the graph on the left) and payments from State fiscal year 2013 through October 2013. 

NCTracks Payouts

Obviously the point of this graph is to demonstrate that CSC is approximately right on track with what HP Enterprises paid last year.  And, I agree, when looking at this graph, it appears that both CSC and HP paid out similar amounts for the different years.  But the graph does not explain whether the volume of claims increased from 2012 to 2013.  One would think that the number of claims increased in 2013, as our population grew.  So is the comparability of the graph deceiving?

Senator Nesbitt pointed out that another graph, the graph depicting claims adjudication, does not appear to demonstrate positive progress.  He said, “It doesn’t look like we are fixing the problem.  We are generating more and more bills that aren’t being paid.”

Here is the chart Senator Nesbitt was talking about:

Chart

Senator Nesbitt pointed out that, according to the chart, it looks like claim adjudication is declining.  He sais that he heard someone mention that 70% is the goal, but he doesn’t think that 70% is a good goal.  Why not 100%?

After Senator Nesbitt made his comments, the meeting adjourned until 2:00.  If you want to listen to the committee meeting, click on: http://ncleg.net/Audio/Audio.html.  and select “Appropriations Committee Room (Rm 643).”

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.

In the Future, Could Physicians Be Forced to Accept Medicaid?

According to a report in the “Mason Conservative,” Virginia Democrat delegate candidate, Kathleen Murphy, stated, during a debate, that the government should force physicians to accept Medicaid.

After reading that, how many of you shuddered from horror?

I think we can all agree that we need more physicians to accept Medicaid.  We simply do not have enough physicians to meet the needs of all our Medicaid recipients.  Not enough physicians equals not enough quality health care to our most needy.  In particular, rural areas suffer most from the lack of physicians who accept Medicaid.

According to Forbes magazine, “Right now, the United States is short some 20,000 doctors, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The shortage could quintuple over the next decade, thanks to the aging of the American population — and the aging and consequent retirement of many physicians. Nearly half of the 800,000-plus doctors in the United States are over the age of 50.”  I’m sure Forbes would have found even more shortage had it researched the rural areas.

But is the answer to force doctors to accept Medicaid?

A week or so ago I saw my primary care physician.  I’ve seen my primary care doctor for years. (We will call him Dr. Bob).  He’s a native North Carolinian, just like I.  So he knew me in college, law school, and for the past 13 years of my legal career, both pre-baby and post-baby.  Until a week or so ago, I always knew Dr. Bob accepts Medicaid as a form of insurance.  I liked that he did.

Per our normal routine, Dr. Bob asks about my husband, my daughter, and my job.  But, usually he is extremely interested in “all-things-Medicaid.”  He normally asks the status of reimbursement rates, my opinion on the current administration, my perception of the trend at my job (who was getting audits, who may be getting audits soon, etc.), and other various Medicaid-related issues.

But, at my visit, Dr. Bob fails to ask about the current events of Medicaid.  And I, being I, just started talking about Medicaid.  He interrupts me and says, “Knicole, I made a difficult decision since I have seen you last.”

Pause….I’m expecting:

Retirement….possible divorce???

Retirement….change in profession???

Retirement…closing his practice???

Instead, Dr. Bob says, “I’ve decided to no longer accept Medicaid.”  (My jaw is agape).

My first instinct is, “What? But you CARE! How could you?”

My second instinct is, “I get it. Medicaid is a hassle.”

My third instinct is to actually ask HIM why HE made this decision. (My first couple instincts are usually the wrong route).

When I ask him why he decided to no longer take Medicaid, his response is “I’m sick of people who are not physicians telling me what to do in my practice.”

I get it. 

As a primary care physician, the bulk of his Medicaid work is conducting physicals (or what Medicaid calls, “preventative care”).

He says that he is ‘ok’ with the low reimbursement rates of Medicaid because he is able to offset the low reimbursement rates by accepting more privately insured patients (like me).  He says he loves serving the Medicaid population. His issue lies in the administrative burden of accepting Medicaid versus accepting private insurance, including the regulatory audits, the way in which the regulatory audits are conducted, NCTracks debacles, and possible unannounced payment suspensions…to name a few.  Dr. Bob explains that when he decides a procedure is “gender-and-age-appropriate,” inevitably, someone, from some, state-contracted company, will come back to him a couple of years later to recoup the Medicaid money because that (non-physician) auditor disagrees that the procedure he chose, as a physician, was “gender-and-age-appropriate.”

DMA Clinical Policy 1A-2 defines preventative care as, “An adult preventive medicine health assessment consists of a comprehensive unclothed physical examination, comprehensive health history, anticipatory guidance/risk factor reduction interventions, and the ordering of gender and age-appropriate laboratory and diagnostic procedures.” (emphasis added).

He describes an audit during which an auditor, who was not a physician, attempted to recoup a date of service (DOS), citing the reason as the procedure was not “gender-and-age-appropriate.”  How can a non-physician decide what treatment is or is not “gender-and-age-appropriate?”

I’ve seen this before.  In behavioral health care audits, an auditor with no substance abuse clinical background determines no medical necessity exists for a service for a Medicaid recipient suffering from substance abuse.  In dental audits, an auditor without ever attending dental school, will determine that a partial implant is not medically necessary.

N.C. Gen. Stat. 108C-5 requires that, “[a]udits that result in the extrapolation of results must be performed and reviewed by individuals who shall be credentialed by the Department, as applicable, in the matters to be audited, including, but not limited to, coding or specific clinical issues.” (emphasis added).

Credentialed in the matters to be audited.

Is DHHS seriously credentialing non-physicians to audit physician? Non-dentists to audit dentists? Non-substance abuse clinical providers to audit substance abuse clinical providers?

I do not know whether DHHS is credentialing the auditors, but, in my experience, non-qualified auditors (in the field in which they are auditing) are conducting audits.

Going back to my original premise, are we going to force/require that physicians, in order to be physicians, to accept Medicaid, thus subjecting themselves to limitless and unannounced Medicaid audits? To force physicians to undergo the administrative burden that comes with Medicaid audits, not to mention the administrative burden to just follow Medicaid regulations?  To force physicians to accept the quite possible possibility that the physician will need to defend him or herself against audits and incur steep attorneys’ fees?

In Dr. Bob’s case, he did accept Medicaid for years.  Then, he consciously made the decision that he no longer wanted to be subject to the regulatory scrutiny that comes with accepting Medicaid.  So, now, would we force Dr. Bob to undergo the very scrutiny he so loathes?

It would be similar to the State forcing all attorneys to accept clients at a discounted rate and accept the threat of audits.  Or forcing accountants to accept clients at a discounted rate and accept the threat of audits.  Or forcing a plumber to accept clients at a discounted rate and accept the threat of audits.

Don’t we, in the United States, have the economic freedom to own private property, thus, logically, allowing us the right to pursue private property?

“We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness;…”

See the Declaration of Independence.

I understand that Ms. Murphy’s comment was just that…a comment at a debate.  But her comment demonstrates that, while politicians understand there is a shortage of physicians who are willing to accept Medicaid, some politicians may believe that physicians should be forced to accept Medicaid.

But aren’t we all entitled to the economic freedom to pursue private property, happiness, and liberty?

Or is that all a ruse?

The Future of NC Medicaid Behavioral Health: Will We Soon Be Down to Eight MCOs? Two More Monkeys Jumping off the Bed?!

Remember the song “10 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed?”

Ten little monkeys jumping on the bed.
One fell off and broke his head.
Mama called the doctor and the doctor said,
“No more monkeys jumping on the bed!”

Nine…Eight…Seven…Six…Five…Four…Three…

I used to love that song as a kid.  I have two siblings and I distinctly remember our jumping-on-the-bed-game-while-trying-to-push-the-others-off-game.  Many times we would sing “10 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed,” while trying to push our siblings off the bed.

Here in North Carolina we started with 11 managed care organizations (MCOs) across NC to manage behavioral health care for Medicaid recipients.

MCO map

See the map? We began with 11 MCOs.  Today, we have 10 (Western Highlands Network (WHN) is no more) with strong possibilities of reducing the number of MCOs to 9…and then 8.

Rumor has it that Centerpoint Human Services (Centerpoint) and MeckLINK Behavioral Healthcare (MeckLINK) are on the brink of nonexistence.  “One fell off and broke his head.”

Centerpoint and MeckLINK are, however, moving forward to nonexistence in entirely different ways.  Centerpoint is looking to merge with two MCOs.  Both Partners Behavioral Health Management  (Partners) and Smoky Mountain Center (SMC) are getting updates as to Centerpoint’s merger plans.  Will Centerpoint break up its catchment area and merge with 2 MCOs? Or are those 2 MCOs the contenders?  Not sure. But either way, Centerpoint will be eliminated in the near future.

If SMC absorbed Centerpoint entirely, SMC will be HUGE!!

SMC began with Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, McDowell, Swain, Watauga and Wilkes Counties (15 counties).  Then SMC ate up WHN and acquired Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Transylvania and Yancey counties. (15 + 8 = 23 counties).

Centerpoint manages behavioral health care for Forsyth, Stokes, Davie and Rockingham counties.

(15 + 8 + 5 = 28 counties).  Over 1/4 of NC’s counties.  The MCO map would be dominated by dark blue, and, as North Carolinians, let me ask you, do we want our state dominated by dark blue? What about Wolfpack red? 

Here is the MCO map, as of October 2013:

October 2013 MCOs

Partners’ catchment area is light yellow and includes Burke, Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Surry, and Yadkin counties (all in the west and bordering SMC’s catchment area).  If SMC continues to expand, like Stephen King’s “The Blob,” SMC may ooze into Partners. 

Unlike Centerpoint, at least on paper, MeckLINK is not willingly jumping off the bed and breaking its head.  MeckLINK is the only MCO run by a county (Mecklenburg county).  See the lone red county? In May, state lawmakers passed a bill that says a county can’t run its own organization.  Mecklenburg County Commissioners voted last Tuesday to work out a deal with Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions (Cardinal) or dissolve MeckLINK when its contract expires next April.

Cardinal’s catchment area is purple and includes 15 counties.

But do not underestimate the power of usurping MeckLINK, even though it is only one county.  Mecklenburg county is one of NC’s most populous counties, which means it receives a hefty Medicaid budget.

Ten little MCOs jumping on our heads
One fell off; its assets in the reds,
DMA called the doctor and the doctor said
No more MCOs jumping on our heads.
 
Nine little MCOs jumping on our heads…

So which MCOs will survive? How soon until we only have 8 MCOs? Will all the MCOs be replaced with out-of-state, huge MCOs?  Will the future MCOs manage all Medicaid services?  Will there be carve-outs?  These are unanswered questions as we embark into the future of NC Medicaid managed care. 

One thing we do know is we started with 11 MCOs (all of whom were deemed solvent and competent by a state contractor) and, not even 1 year later, WHN falls…MeckLINK falls…and Centerpoint falls.

11…10…9…8…

Maybe the 11 MCOs were not solvent and competent in the first place.  Why else would the MCOs keep jumping off and breaking their heads?  Silly monkeys.

Is Sec. Aldona Wos Challenging the Goliath-Like MCOs? Will She Win?

I attended a Women in Leadership conference the other day. The keynote speaker asked for us to come up with a one sentence mantra or mission statement that we would use to describe our purpose in life.  I had never thought about what my life purpose is…my career?..being a mom?….being a wife?

As a woman, I was torn.  Was I a bad mom if I thought my “purpose of being” was my career?  Do all women feel this? Was I a bad wife if I thought my “purpose of being” was my career?  Does my career define me?  I decided that what defines me are the indirect consequences of my career? (i.e., those who benefit from my advocacy, but could never hire me).

So my mission statement came out on paper as: I am here in order to advocate for the voiceless.

I have a rare opportunity with my career choice to indirectly help Medicaid recipients (the voiceless) by serving the providers who serve recipients.  Obviously, Medicaid recipients cannot afford me or any other attorney.  But, by serving those that serve recipients, indirectly I am serving recipients.  For a more detailed explanation why I love my job, see my blog on Why I Have the Most Rewarding Career.

Sometimes, however, my job feels like I am David fighting Goliath.  No…the flea on David’s shoe while he is fighting Goliath.

In my own head, I have always felt that changing government policy (fighting DHHS) is a true David and Goliath story.

Which, finally, brings me to my point.  For those of you who have been reading my blogs, how many times have I blogged about MCOs not providing medically necessary mental heath care services??? Or Medicaid recipients being incarcerated or hospitalized because the MCOs were denying mental heath care services?  But never have I written that DHHS is not providing the medically necessary mental heath care services, quite frankly, because DHHS has stood back and allowed the MCOs to run rampant.

Since the inception of the MCOs statewide, in my opinion and from what I see every day, the MCOs have increasingly taken more and more steps to deny more services, terminate more provider contracts, and recoup more money from providers.  And DHHS has taken less and less steps to supervise, oversee or manage the MCOs.  By the MCOs increasingly having a “I can do what I want attitude,” and DHHS increasingly having a “I can’t tell an MCO what to do” attitude, when it comes to the MCOs, the MCOs’ power has grown while DHHS’ ability to manage the MCOs has shrunk.  Thus, in the behavioral health care world, the MCOs have morphed into the Goliaths.  DHHS is an onlooker, and I am still the flea on David’s shoe.

Thereby creating a counterintuitive situation in which Sec. Wos is David and the MCOs are the Goliath. (Normally DHHS would be Goliath).

I have written approximately 230 blogs. (really???).  I would wager a guess that over half of my blog topics have been MCOs denying medically necessary mental health services or MCOs reaping monetary rewards for terminating provider Medicaid contracts or denying services to Medicaid recipients.

The flea on the shoe of David fighting Goliath.

But….perhaps….last week….the flea was noticed.

Last week the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) (actually, Secretary Aldona Wos) announced a new mental health, substance abuse effort.

What is that new effort?

Sec. Wos announced, what she called the “Crisis Solutions Initiative.”  “DHHS estimated that there were 150,000 visits to emergency rooms in the state last year for addition-related issues or psychiatric conditions.”  See The Progressive Pulse blog.  Remember my blog, “Prisons and Emergency Rooms: Our New Mental Health Care Providers?”

Sec. Wos, in a written statement, states “With today’s announcement, we begin a focused, long-term effort to ensure that individuals and families who are experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis know where to turn for the help they need.  In turn, we can begin to reduce the tremendous burden that these issues place on hospital emergency departments and law enforcement.”

OMG…did she read my blog???? (And even more crazy….and agree???????)

Whether it was my blog, true statistics brought to her attention, or an epiphany, it does not matter.  Bravo, Sec. Wos, but, please follow through.

The fact of the matter is if Sec. Wos wants to “reduce the burden on hospital ERs and law enforcement” AND truly provide Medicaid recipients with mental health/substance abuse issues, Sec. Wos will have to take on the MCOs head-on.  Grab the bull by the horns.  Pony-up.  Put your big, boy pants on.  Just do it! (Nike). Buck up…against the MCOs. The Goliaths will have to be defeated.

Why?

Here a  little secret:  The MCOs have monetary incentive to deny medically necessary mental health services….WHAT???? Shut the front door!!!

Let me explain:

The managed care organizations (MCOs) in NC are managing behavioral health care services for Medicaid recipients.  However, the MCOs are pre-paid.  What does that matter?  It’s all about the money.

For example, a Medicaid recipient suffers schizophrenia with auditory and visual hallucinations.  (We will call him Bill).  Bill’s psychiatrist, after an assessment, requests assertive community treatment team services (ACTT), which is an extremely high-level mental health service (and very expensive).  The MCO denies ACTT services based on “failing to exhaust lesser intensive services” (which is NOT a criterion for entrance criteria, but DHHS is not supervising or managing the MCOs, so who cares whether the MCOs follow DHHS policy).  Bill becomes incarcerated.  Yes, it is more expensive for tax payers to pay for Bill’s incarceration versus the community based services requested, but it is cheaper for the MCO.  The MCO does not pay the prison for Bill’s room and food; tax payers do.  The MCO is successful in keeping its money.  Similarly, Bill becomes hospitalized.  The hospital admits Bill into Butner or Holly Hill.  Sure it is more expensive for tax payers to pay for Bill’s stay at Butner or Holly Hill, but it is cheaper for the MCO.  The MCO does not pay Butner or Holly Hill; the tax payers do.  The MCO is successful in keeping its money.

But, according to the Press Release from DHHS, Sec. Wos wants to stop the MCOs from pushing the mentally ill to prisons and emergency rooms.  But in order to stop the MCOs, she will have to stop the Goliaths (MCOs).

Interestingly, everyone always thinks of David as the underdog to Goliath and, therefore, is surprised/excited when David beats Goliath.  In reality, according to “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants,” a book by Malcolm Gladwell, David was not the underdog.  According to Gladwell, Goliath suffered from acromegaly or, more commonly known as, gigantism, which can cause people to grow to abnormal heights. People who suffer from acromegaly, usually, also suffer other symptoms, such as poor eyesight and mobility.  Yes, Goliath looked scary and big, but, in reality, he may have been slow and somewhat blind.  Remember his words to David?  “Come to me so that I may feed your body to the birds of the air…”  “Come to me.”  As in, I cannot see you yet.  Come closer.

Furthermore, David was a trained “slinger.”  As in, the person in battle back then who did not wear armor and who became skilled at slinging rocks at high speeds to kill opponents.  Imagine a major league baseball player with a fast ball of 100mph throwing the ball directly at your head.  David was a shepherd, and he became a master with the sling to kill the wild life attacking his sheep.  Back in biblical times, being large, massive and heavily armored against a master slinger would be like bringing a butter knife to a gun fight.  Goliath had no chance.  David was smart.  Sec. Wos will need to be smart too, maybe even a master slinger.

A portion of the DHHS press release reads, “As a part of this initiative, a Crisis Solutions Coalition will be created to address the inefficiencies that currently exist surrounding crisis services in the state. Secretary Wos has charged Dave Richard, director of the DHHS Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disability and Substance Abuse Services, with leading this coalition. Patient advocates, along with leaders from healthcare, government, and law enforcement communities will be invited to join the coalition to help:

  • Recommend and establish community partnerships to strengthen the continuum of care for mental health and substance abuse services.
  • Promote education and awareness of alternative community resources to the use of emergency departments.
  • Make recommendations related to data sharing to help identify who, when and where people in crisis are served, and what the results of those services are.
  • Create a repository of evidence-based practices and provide technical assistance to Local Management Entities/Managed Care Organizations (LME/MCOs), law enforcement and providers on how to respond to crisis scenarios.
  • Recommend legislative, policy and funding changes to help break down barriers associated with accessing care.
  • Assist with the creation of LME-MCO Local Business Plans to provide a road map for mental health investments in the community.”

Hospitals are ecstatic and they should be!  “I want to thank Governor McCrory, Secretary Wos and the Department of Health and Human Services for their commitment to this issue,” said Dr. Bill Roper, CEO of UNC Health Care. “We look forward to partnering with you and the community to solve the mental health problems facing our state.”

The prisons should be ecstatic too.

Herein lies the problem…the MCOs are, most likely, NOT ecstatic.  Sec. Wos, by announcing this crisis solution, has placed her hand in the MCOs’ cookie jars.

Goliath will challenge David. “Come to me.”

Can you imagine the backlash by the MCOs if Sec. Wos actually followed through with this crisis solutions? In order to follow through with the crisis solutions, Sec. Wos will have to force the MCOs to authorize medically necessary mental health care services.  With more services authorized, there will be a greater need for providers who accept Medicaid; thus reducing the number of terminations of provider’s Medicaid contracts.

Because if Sec. Wos wants, as she stated in the Press Release, to stop the revolving doors at the hospitals for the mentally ill, Sec. Wos has to take on the MCOs.  DHHS will have to do its job and supervise/manage the MCOs.

But can David be smart enough? Or will the Goliaths prevail?

“Come to me.”

NC is #1 in USA!! (For Highest Percentage Increase in Total Medicaid Spending)…and What About the Rest of the USA?

On October 21, 2013, the magazine Modern Healthcare published an article, “Medicaid budgets By State,” which showed each state’s total Medicaid spent in 2012, total number of Medicaid enrollees in 2012, and average spending per enrollee in 2012.

Where does North Carolina rank in terms of our Medicaid budget versus other states?  We hear constantly that we spend all this needless money on administrative costs of Medicaid.  But, in terms of our Medicaid budget, where do we rank?  And my next question…do we simply have more Medicaid recipients in NC in relation to other states?  Is NC’s average spending per Medicaid enrollee grossly higher or lower than the national average?

Inquiring minds want to know!

Surprisingly, at least to me, Alaska has the highest average spending per Medicaid enrollee: $13,073, on average, per enrollee.  But then I thought about, much of Alaska is rural…not only rural , but almost impossible to navigate due to the snow and ice.  I don’t know for sure, but I would imagine that getting to and from Medicaid recipients or getting recipients to services (while not always reimbursed by Medicaid) must impact some of the costs.

[Important to note: The average spending per enrollee, to my knowledge, does not mean actual money spent per enrollee.  I believe the authors took the total budget and divided it by the number of enrollees.  So the average spent per enrollee includes built-in, administrative costs.]

Or…Maybe Alaska has a low number of Medicaid recipients and that is why Alaska spends the most per enrollee…maybe Alaska has a huge Medicaid budget without many recipients on which to spend it…few people, big pie…

I looked.

Alaska had, in 2012, 109,000 Medicaid recipients.

The fewer people you have at Thanksgiving, the bigger the pie pieces.  However, interestingly enough, Alaska spent $1.425 million total in Medicaid in 2012.  Delaware spent $1.421 in Medicaid in 2012. (Close enough, right?).  Yet, Delaware spent $6831, on average, per enrollee.  Maybe the pie analogy doesn’t work.  Maybe sometimes, even with a big pie and few people, too many rats and ants nibble at the pie.

Out of 50 states, where do you think NC falls?  Top 10 highest spender?  Bottom 10?  Right in the middle?

Drum roll……..

#9.

The only 8 states that spend more than NC per Medicaid recipient are:

1. Alaska

2.  New Jersey (somehow that did not surprise me) ($11,433/recipient)

3. Rhode Island (that did surprise me…I mean, look how little RI is…how big a Medicaid budget can it have?) ($11,080/recipient)

4.  North Dakota (a less populous state (less tax dollars), I believe) ($10,969/recipient)

5.  Pennsylvania ($10,835/recipient)

6.  Minnesota (there are big cities there (more tax dollars), no surprise) ($10,080/recipient)

7.  Missouri  (I went to law school in Missouri. This number surprised me a bit).  ($10,022/recipient)

8.  Connecticut ($9883/recipient)

9.  NC ($9,430/recipient)

Crazy! What about Illinois? With the hugely populous, Windy City and it being Obama’s home state, surely, Medicaid spending per recipient is, at least, in the middle, right?

Wrong.  Illinois is dead last with only $5229, on average, per recipient being spent.

Probably because too many people were invited to Thanksgiving…in 2012, Illinois had 2.626 million Medicaid recipients enrolled….or too many rats and ants.

Compare to NC in 2012 – 1.471 million Medicaid recipients.

What was Alaska’s Medicaid budget/spending in 2012 that the average spending per enrollee was $13,073?

$1.425 million spent.  Up 10.3% from 2011.  And 109,000 Medicaid enrollees.

Here is NC:

Spending: $13.872 million. Up 22.8% from 2011. And 1.471 million recipients.

Here is a crazy one..Nevada:

In 2012, Nevada had 301,000 Medicaid enrollees.  A little under 3x Alaska.  Nevada spent $1.692 million on Medicaid (only 200,000-ish over Alaska), but Nevada’s average spending per enrollee was $5,621 (less than half of Alaska and the third lowest amount spent per enrollee).  Where did all Nevada’s Medicaid money go?? Rats and ants eating away the pie?

North Dakota has the very least number of Medicaid enrollees in 2012…66,000.  Wyoming is a close second with only 67,000 Medicaid enrollees in 2012.

North Dakota was the 4th highest state as to spending per enrollee with an average of $10,969/enrollee.

Wyoming was the 16th highest state as to spending per enrollee with an average of $8537/enrollee.

Guess which state had the highest total spending on Medicaid in 2012?

Drum roll…..

California. (Shocker!). California spent $47.726 million on Medicaid, up 4.2% from 2011.  California also had the highest number of enrollees on 2012 with 2.624 million enrollees (over a million more than NC).  California also spent the 5th lowest on average per enrollee, $6,065.

Having a high number of enrollees did not always have a direct correlation with spending the least, on average, per enrollee.  Oregon only had 569,000 Medicaid enrollees in 2012 and spent the 4th lowest amount, on average, per enrollee, $6,007.

New York is the closest state to spending and number of recipients to California, but New York succeeded in a much higher average spending per enrollee than California.

New York spent $39.257 million total on Medicaid (less than $8 million difference from California) in 2012.  New York had 5.004 million enrollees (2.8 million Medicaid enrollees less than California) and spent, on average, $7845/enrollee (absolute, dead-on-middle as compared to all states).

Georgia is, perhaps, the most comparable to North Carolina in terms of number of Medicaid enrollees in 2012.  NC = 1.471 million enrollees in 2012.  GA = 1.529 enrollees in 2012.

NC spent $13.872 million, while Georgia spent $8.497 million in 2012.  So, Georgia had MORE Medicaid enrollees and spent over $5 million less……

Is that good or bad?  Is Georgia more efficient?  Did Georgia spend less in administration costs?

Actually (albeit there may be other factors), Georgia spent significantly less, on average, on each Medicaid enrollee.

Georgia spent 2nd lowest, on average, per Medicaid enrollee.  Only Illinois surpassed Georgia in lowest spending, on average, per enrollee.  Georgia spent, on average, $5,229 per enrollee.

NC spent $9430, on average, per enrollee. (Which, BTW, is more than enough for my “A Modest Proposal”).

That is a huge difference!

One other number jumped out at me when I reviewed Modern Healthcare‘s article, “Medicaid Budgets By State.”  Remember I told you that NC spent $13.872 million on Medicaid in 2012…and that the amount spent was a 22.8% increase from 2011?

22.8% is a high percentage to increase in only one year!

I looked at the increases/decreases of the states.  North Carolina gets the award for the highest percentage growth in spending on Medicaid in the entire nation.  NC was the only state whose percentage “increase of Medicaid spending” percentage from 2011 to 2012 was in the 20s.

NC is #1 in the nation for percentage increase as to total Medicaid spending!!!! (Proud?)

The next state with the highest increase in spending on Medicaid is Mississippi with a 17.4% increase in spending from 2011.  Next in line is Alabama with a 14.7% increase in Medicaid spending.

Guess which states decreased its Medicaid spending the most from 2011 to 2012?

Drum roll…

Oregon (decrease of 23.2% spending) and Illinois (decrease of 15% spending).  Is it coincidental that Illinois spent the absolute least, on average, per Medicaid recipient and that Oregon spent the 4th lowest, on average, per Medicaid recipient?

Regardless the size of the pie, the number of guests, and the number of rats and ants, we need to make sure that the guests (Medicaid recipients) are benefitting most from the pie.

Sometimes a decrease in spending equals a decrease in services to Medicaid recipients…sometimes not…I guess it depends on the number of rats and ants.