Monthly Archives: June 2014

NCTracks’ One-Year Anniversary Is Celebrated with a Newly-Released, NCTracks, Congratulatory, SUCCESS Video! You agree?

Happy Anniversary, NCTracks!!!!  Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of NCTracks going live.

DHHS TV released a video touting the wonderful success of NCTracks, despite its, admittedly, rocky start (The video admits a rocky start).  In the video, health care providers gush over how wonderful NCTracks is and its success.  I have no comment due to the current pending litigation. Therefore, I am merely reporting the release of the video and asking whether you agree.

See the DHHS TV video here: .

Medicaid Mishaps Cause Tempers to Flare

Here is an interesting article…

Article from Carolina Journal Online by Dan Way:

RALEIGH — With $2 billion in cost overruns the past four years, Medicaid continues to be North Carolina’s most volatile political conundrum, and now unanswered questions about its spending and growth threaten to delay passage of 2014-15 state budget adjustments before next Monday’s deadline.

Things got nasty in a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting last week, and one is left to wonder whether Gov. Pat McCrory and the state Department of Health and Human Services squandered political capital by snubbing budget writers struggling with alarming lapses in vital Medicaid data.

Medicaid “is the linchpin” to writing the 2014-15 budget, said an irritated Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg. “Would someone explain to me why we don’t have [Office of State Budget and Management] or staff people from DHHS here to help us get to an answer so that we can move this budget forward?”

If not a prairie fire, the meeting at least exposed the slow burn of senators handcuffed by a dearth of crucial budget numbers from DHHS. Capital press corps reporters instinctively asked one of their most oft-repeated questions: Is DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos to blame for yet another major Medicaid predicament?

Due to significant backlogs, DHHS cannot provide accurate Medicaid enrollment numbers, valid claims data, and categories into which new enrollees are entered. Without precise, up-to-date information for this fiscal year, drafting an accurate budget for 2014-15 is impossible.

That’s a tough corner to be backed into for McCrory and Wos, who have made Medicaid budget predictability a holy grail.

The exasperation of Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, typified the level of lawmaker frustration.

“If push comes to shove,” he said, “we can always issue subpoenas and have the numbers come to us. So let’s not take that off the table.”

The irritability in Senate Appropriations was bipartisan.

“Will we ever know what we need to know?” Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, asked incredulously. “Do we have to be completely at the mercy of executive branch agencies on an issue like this that is so critical to what we do?”

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, explained, in measured but heart-attack serious tones, why there is an elevated sense of urgency, and why he had wanted someone from the budget office at the Appropriations Committee meeting to explain Medicaid numbers that have swung from wildly varying to unaccounted for.

“Our feeling is we need to reach some understanding on the Medicaid number before we can realistically start talking about most of the other things,” including teacher pay raises and pay hikes for state workers, Berger said.

And then there was this jaw-dropping exchange between Sen. Joel Ford, D-Mecklenburg, and Susan Jacobs of the legislative Fiscal Research Division.

“Based upon the uncertainty and the lack of data, how can we say for certain that people are not being overpaid or underpaid?” Ford asked.

“We probably can’t say that,” responded Jacobs. She also dropped a bombshell that it could be “probably late next year” before all necessary numbers are completely and accurately obtained.

“To me that is a very disturbing scenario where we are taking taxpayer money with good intentions, but with no verification that we’re doing the right thing because of a broken system,” Ford said.

Whether he realized it, Ford’s characterization of Medicaid as a broken system oozed irony.

In one of their first official acts upon assuming office in January 2013, McCrory and Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos lambasted the state’s Medicaid program as a chaotic, broken system. Eighteen months later and holding Swiss-cheese Medicaid reports, state senators are grumbling that the agency’s disarray persists.

Pressed by reporters, Berger stopped short of saying he has lost confidence in Wos’ leadership.

“I’ll leave it to others as to why they’re not able to provide that information,” he said, but he insisted this budgeting fiasco shows the need to remove Medicaid from Wos’ control and make it a standalone agency.

The Senate budget calls for $88 million more in Medicaid spending in 2014-15 than the House version. Berger said the Senate used higher, worst-case-scenario numbers.

Berger and his counterparts rightly expressed no appetite for once again using rosy projections only to find out halfway through the budget year that there is a whopping shortfall.

To make matters worse, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said Fiscal Research staff isn’t even confident the worst-case numbers are sufficiently high. “I think that’s important to make sure everyone understands it.”

Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, co-chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, agreed with frustrated Fiscal Research staff that much of the problem with missing data stems from NC Tracks, the new but deeply flawed Medicaid billing system.

But he was quick to note that Republicans inherited the woefully underperforming computer system that was in development for years under Democratic administrations.

“I don’t know if they made up-to-date adjustments as they went along, and we don’t know if it was tested properly before it went live,” Pate said. Others, including State Auditor Beth Wood, warned last year that the nearly half-billion-dollar system was not ready to launch.

Wos lost control and never regained the upper hand in messaging after she defiantly promised she was going to drag the long-beleaguered NC Tracks over the July 1 finish line, and declared it sound when she did.

The bravado and exuberant can-do proclamations might have seemed politically appropriate for a new administration seeking to position itself as an intrepid change agent.

But Wos would have been wise to have tempered her rookie remarks with caveats about the huge challenges left behind by previous Democratic administrations, downplayed expectations, and more candidly acknowledged what IT skeptics already knew — the system was going to encounter plenty of rollout problems that would require a long time to correct.

Pate was among those declaring that the current Medicaid budgeting calamity further demonstrates the “critical necessity for reorganization” of the agency. But restructuring has been hampered by the unsteadiness of tectonic policy shifts.

Pate is among senators who continue to oppose the latest reform plan favored by McCrory and Wos, and now in bill form in the House. He said the proposal only tinkers around the edges of budget predictability and restraint.

This latest iteration is an accountable care model comprising networks of doctors and hospitals. It was rolled out after the administration’s stunning U-turn from months of championing full-risk managed care, and scoring a coup in recruiting Carol Steckel, a highly sought, nationally renowned expert on Medicaid managed care.

Steckel, former head of the National Association of State Medicaid Directors, left her $210,000-a-year job in North Carolina last September after only eight months working for Wos.

Whether there was a back-story to the swift departure of a highly heralded Medicaid reformer, much like what this year’s Medicaid numbers are, remains a guessing game.

Will Heated Disagreements over Medicaid Expansion Cause the Eradication of the Freedom of Speech?

Over last few months, I have noticed multiple examples of a state government attempting to silence opposing views, especially when it comes to Medicaid expansion/reform. Two of them, from Louisiana and Missouri, are discussed in this blog.  Those government efforts to silence protests raise serious concerns about the health of our freedom of speech.  Is our freedom of speech so limited now that we cannot express dissimilar views from those in government?  The First Amendment of our U.S. Constitution protects the freedom of speech.

Here are some out-of-state examples of attempts to thwart the freedom of speech:

Down in Louisiana, a group called Moveon.org, leased a billboard and advertised the following:

Louisiana

For obvious reasons, the Governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, disapproved of the billboard and brought a lawsuit against Moveon.org in federal court requesting the federal judge to Order Moveon.org to remove the billboard.

The federal judge denied the lieutenant governor Jay Dardenne’s request for an injunction, and the billboard remains.

Similarly, in Kansas City, Missouri a couple dozen clergymen were arrested by Capitol police for singing “Amazing Grace” at the legislature.  The pastors were peacefully protesting that refusing to expand Medicaid was an “amazing disgrace.”  These pastors should have been protected by the freedom of speech and the freedom to assemble.

North Carolina is not immune from these attempts to silence disparate viewpoints.  During the 2013 General Assembly session 924 people were arrested during Moral Monday protests.  (The Moral Monday protests consist of people chanting and yelling their political views around and in the legislative building).  More have been arrested this year during the short session, which is now in session.  My firm has its office in the PNC building downtown Raleigh, so each Monday, I can hear the protestors walking the streets, chanting their cheers, and, subsequently, the police sirens.  I understand that many issues drive these Moral Monday protests and that Medicaid expansion/reform is one of these issues.

924 arrested people…that’s a lot of people arrested.  For each arrested person, taxpayers are paying for the person’s stint, however short, stay at the police station.  The police are devoting resources and time to peaceful protesters instead of violent criminals.

In an effort to stay some of these economic considerations and other considerations, the General Assembly had new Legislative Building rules ready before the beginning of the short session that would prohibit people from “making a noise loud enough to impair others’ ability to conduct a conversation in a normal tone of voice” and would provide for the arrest of those “creating an impediment to others’ free movement around the grounds.”

It is understandable that the legislators would like their offices quiet enough to hold conversations; I know my nerves get irritated by loud music or conversations outside my office door.  But is prohibiting the loud noise and arresting those noise culprits the right answer?  And who is to say what a “normal tone of voice” is.  For gracious sake, Bill Clinton argued about the definition of the word “is.”  “Normal tone of voice” is vaguer than the word “is.”  I know my husband would tell you that my normal tone of voice is “obnoxiously loud,” so is my tone of voice “normal?”

Recently Judge Carl Fox issued an Order stating that the new Legislative Building rules with phrases that include “disturbing behavior” and “disruptive signs,” are too vague to enforce.  Judge Fox stayed the General Assembly’s implementation of the new rules until a determination as to the constitutionality of the rules could be made.

As previously stated, North Carolina is not the only state that is attempting to limit speech and protests.  And the Republicans are not the only group attempting to silence opposing views.  Earlier this year, the federal government, vis-a-vis the IRS, announced that it would try to rewrite rules to limit how much political activity nonprofits can do and still qualify for tax-exempt status, which would limit the ability of social welfare charities to even discuss the political candidates close to an election (hence, inhibiting the freedom of speech).

But, first, why should we care whether people can protest at the legislature or comment on political views?

When I was a first year law school student, one of the core class requirements was Constitutional Law class.  The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

There are always exceptions to the general rule of you having the right to say whatever and wherever you like.  Despite these limitations, as of now, in America, we still celebrate the freedom of speech.

When evaluating whether a person has the freedom to say something, it is easy to get caught up on the content of the message.  Suppose I wrote something here inflammatory against women.  Many people would have a hard time discussing the constitutionality of my speech without focusing on the content of that statement.  However, our courts must look past the content of the statement to the constitutionality of the speech.

The Supreme Court set its standard for limiting the freedom of speech (that we use today) back in the 1960s.  The High Court overruled its previous “clear and present danger” standard and wrote:

“[Our] decisions have fashioned the principle that the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not allow a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or cause such action.

(emphasis added).  The above language was written by the Supreme Court in 1969 and was followed by the Cohen v. California case.  In Cohen, the Supreme Court overturned a conviction of a man who was wearing a shirt with the depiction: “Fuck the Draft!” inside a courtroom.  In one of the most eloquent decisions in history, Justice John Marshall Harlan, who wrote the majority opinion, stated that Cohen’s jacket constituted protected political speech.  He wrote that, despite the use of an expletive, “one man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric.” The First Amendment recognizes enough breadth to permit a wide range of differing political views, even speech that exceeds traditional limitations of courtesy and polite behavior.

It is the logical assessment by Justice Harlan that we need to continue to implement today.  In order to determine whether we should limit a person’s freedom of speech, we must close our ears to the content of the speech and determine whether the speech is protected by the Constitution.  Read the Constitution.  Read Supreme Court cases regarding the freedom of speech.  The more polarized the content of the speech, the more likely we may be to immediately ban the speech without due regard for the Constitution.

Think about….what are your hot button topics? Abortion?  Fracking?  Stem cell research?  The death penalty?  Racism?  Now think about the worst possible thing that any person could say to you, which would incite your anger uncontrollably.  Say it to yourself in your head.  Then imagine yourself comparing the “hate speech” to whether “such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or cause such action.”  Does the imagined words incite you to lawless action?  Unless you imagined statements simply horrible, most likely, the words would cause you anger, frustration and resentment, but not cause you to conduct imminent lawless action.

My point is that we cannot confuse constitutionally protected speech with statements by people with differing political and moral views.  I remember my dad told me one time, “If there are two people with the exact same opinions, then one person is not necessary.”

Differing views shape our country.  But, recently, in the area of Medicaid, health care and Obamacare, people on both sides of the aisle are forgetting to step back and read the Constitution.  People on both sides of the aisle are stooping to name calling and attempts to restrict speech.  Our Constitution does not limit the freedom of speech to: “anything that will make everyone happy”…or “any statements that are aligned with the views of whoever is in charge.”

What if we lived in a country in which you are thrown in jail for placing a billboard touting your disagreement with the administration’s decisions or for singing “Amazing Grace” in a legislative building?

If we lived in a country in which you could be thrown in jail for speaking your mind, then we need to make immense amendments to our Constitution, and I also better start researching where to move.

Right Wing, Left Wing: Does It Equal a More Balanced Senate Bill 744?

Our Senate put forth Senate Bill 744 with radical and shocking changes to our Medicaid system. However, one section of our General Assembly cannot create law. Both sides,the Senate and the House, much agree on a Bill in order to create law.

Senate sent SB 744 to the House on May 31, 2014. Between May 31 through June 13, 2014, the House revised, omitted, and added language to SB 744, making SB 744 a much different document than what the Senate had fashioned. Today, SB 744 is back in the Senate for more revisions. The end result will be a law that appears nothing like the initial SB 744 brought to the Senate on May 15, 2014.

The “ping pong” revision system between the Senate and the House that our founding fathers installed in order to generate actual laws is a well-crafted, finely-tuned balancing machine. It is an effort to keep all ideological agendas in-check. When one side dips too low, the other side counters in an effort to maintain balance. It reminds me of a bird in flight.

Our nation’s symbol is the bald eagle. I am sure everyone knows that, right? But did you also know that the bald eagle is not named the bald eagle because its white head gives the appearance that it is bald? No, bald eagle, in Latin, is haliaeetus leucocephalus (from Greek hali-, which means sea; aiētos , which means eagle; leuco-, which means white, and cephalos, which means head). So, literally its name means “sea eagle with white head.”

Even more important about the bald eagle is its set of wings. A bald eagle has a right wing and a left wing, and without both, the bald eagle would not be able to fly.

We need both the right and the left wings in order to maintain balance in our government. Both sides are necessary, and, yet, it seems that nowadays the left and right sides are at war with each other. Politics has become so polarized that the right wing and the left wing forget the attributes of the other.

The result of the ping pong revision system, in theory, is that, by the time a bill is brought into final shape and enacted into law, all polarized ideations have been balanced out in order to move forward. It does not always work that way, and it becomes increasingly difficult to balance the sides when the sides become more and more divided.

The Senate created SB 744, the House has made its alterations…and, if SB 744 passes, it will pass after many more modifications, no doubt.

When our state Senate passed Senate Bill 744 and sent it to the House, I blogged about the shocking ramifications to Medicaid had that bill been passed.

I listed the most shocking changes included within SB 744:

1. DHHS must immediately cease all efforts to transition Medicaid to the affordable care organizations (ACOs) system that DHHS had touted would be in effect by July 2015;
2. DHHS, DMA will no longer manage Medicaid. Instead a new state entity will be formed to manage Medicaid. (A kind of…scratch it all and start over method);
3. All funds previously appropriated to DHHS, DMA will be transferred to Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) and will be used for Medicaid reform and may not be used for any other purpose such as funding any shortfalls in the Medicaid program.
4. Categorical coverage for recipients of the optional state supplemental program State County Special Assistance is eliminated.
5. Coverage for the medically needy is eliminated, except those categories that the State is prohibited from eliminating by the maintenance of effort requirement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Effective October 1, 2019, coverage for all medically needy categories is eliminated.
6. It is the intent of the General Assembly to reduce optional coverage for certain aged, blind, and disabled persons effective July 1, 2015, while meeting the State’s obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the United States Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring, 527 U.S. 581 (1999).
7. Repeal the shared savings program and just reduce the reimbursement rates by 3%.
8. DHHS shall implement a Medicaid assessment program for local management entities/managed care organizations (LME/MCOs) at a rate of three and one-half percent (3.5%).
9. Additional notices as to State Plan Amendments (SPAs), DHHS must post the proposed SPAs on its website at least 10 days prior to submitting the SPAs to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
10. Reimbursement rate changes become effective when CMS approves the reimbursement rate changes.
11. The Department of Health and Human Services shall not enter into any contract involving the program integrity functions listed in subsection (a) of this section that would have a termination date after September 1, 2015.
12. The Medicaid PROVIDER will have the burden of proof in contested case actions against the Department.
13. The Department shall withhold payment to any Medicaid provider for whom the DMA, or its vendor, has identified an overpayment in a written notice to the provider. Withholding shall begin on the 75th day after the day the notice of overpayment is mailed and shall continue during the pendency of any appeal until the overpayment becomes a final overpayment (can we say injunction?).

Since my last blog about Senate Bill 744 (the Appropriations Bill), Senate Bill 744 has reached its 7th revision.

The House took it upon itself to delete many of the shocking changes in the Senate Bill. Just like the bald eagle using its right and left wings to balance out.

First, the General Assembly’s proposed cease and desist order that would have stopped Gov. McCrory and Sec. Wos from implementing Medicaid reform and the accountable care organizations (ACOs), is deleted from the current version of the bill. Gone too is the “new state agency” created to manage Medicaid. Medicaid services are no longer eliminated. The Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) is no longer receiving all funds appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Medical Assistance (DMA).

On June 13, 2014, the House finished its revisions to SB 744 and sent the revised bill back to the Senate. On June 18, 2014, the conference committee for SB 744 was formed and includes:

  • Sen. Harry Brown, Chair
  • Sen. Andrew C. Brock
  • Sen. Kathy Harrington
  • Sen. Tom Apodaca
  • Sen. Ralph Hise
  • Sen. Neal Hunt
  • Sen. Phil Berger
  • Sen. Brent Jackson
  • Sen. Wesley Meredith
  • Sen. Louis Pate
  • Sen. Bill Rabon
  • Sen. Shirley B. Randleman
  • Sen. Bob Rucho
  • Sen. Dan Soucek
  • Sen. Jerry W. Tillman
  • Sen. Tommy Tucker

SB 744 is still not law. It takes both the House and Senate to pass the bill, and then the Governor has to sign the bill. So we have a ways to go. We need the agreement of the right wing and the left wing.

The two main political parties were not always so polarized.

A couple of our founding fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were fierce political adversaries. Imagine the political distance between Barack Obama and Ted Cruz. Despite their political differences, both Adams and Jefferson believed in the importance of funding public education. Rather than defaming the other’s point of view, Adams and Jefferson collaborated and compromised. “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it,” wrote Adams. “There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.” Adams and Jefferson were able to balance out the right wing and the left wing in order to fly a straight path.

Back when our founding fathers squabbled and debated key issues, both sides worked together, instead of running mudslinging commercials and scoffing at the other side’s position on the media. During one of the biggest debates in history, the creation of our government, the lawmakers convened together for about 4 months. The Constitutional Convention lasted from May 25 to September 17, 1787 (the first one). The delegates were within close proximity of one another, which led to more conversations and more compromises. Until the Constitution was drafted, the delegates continued to meet together. I imagine they ate lunch together and shared whiskey and cigars in the evenings.

Maybe our lawmakers should schedule a new constitutional convention, both on the state and federal level. At least, both sides need to realize that the right wing and the left wing are necessary. Otherwise we would just fly in circles.

Mass Medicare and Medicaid Payment Suspensions Increase Based on “Credible Allegations of Fraud”

One way in which President Obama pushed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through Congress was the promise that the ACA would, basically, fund itself by the increase in recoupments from providers for fraud, waste, and abuse…hence, the dramatic increase in audits and payments suspensions for both Medicare and Medicaid providers.

Herein lies the problem, by relying on you, who accept Medicare and Medicaid to fund, even a portion, of the ACA, we are de-incentivizing you, as a health care providers, to accept Medicare and Medicaid. Think about this logically, we are placing MORE people in a system (by expanding Medicaid), more people will rely on Medicare and Medicaid as their health insurance, but we are incentivizing FEWER providers to accept Medicaid and Medicare. It is as though we don’t care what happens to the people once we give them insurance. The goal of the ACA seems to be: get more people insured; instead of having the goal to allow everyone to get health care.

But I digress…

Section 6402(h) of the ACA requires suspension of Medicare and/or Medicaid payments when there is a credible allegation of fraud. Before the ACA, the suspension was not mandatory.

So, what constitutes a credible allegation of fraud?

Let me give you a real life example. One of my clients, we will call it Company Good Health, had its Medicare and Medicaid payments suspended based on an anonymous letter claiming Good Health commits Medicaid fraud and sent to the Division of Health and Human Services (DHHS) with no name of the author or return address. Therefore, DHHS had no way to contact the anonymous author to verify whether any sentence within the letter had an ounce of veracity. In fact, the author of the letter may very well have been an ex-girlfriend of the CEO or a bitter competitor for business. There is no way to know.

Yet, according to the ACA, an allegation of fraud is credible if it has an “indicia of reliability.” Look up “indicia.” I did. I found “from Latin plural of indicium (“a notice, information, discovery, sign, mark, token”).” I thought, that’s an unhelpful definition, so I looked up indicia in my legal dictionary, Black’s Law Dictionary. I found, in part, “[t]he term is much used in Civil Law in a sense nearly or entirely synonymous with Circumstantial Evidence. It denotes facts that give rise to inferences, rather than the inferences themselves.” Facts that give rise to inferences. Circumstantial evidence is evidence which may allow a judge or jury to deduce a certain fact from other facts which can be proven. In some cases, there can be some evidence that cannot be proven directly, such as with an eye-witness. (Think of the Scott Peterson trial).

Under the ACA, if there is a fact that gives rise to an inference of an allegation of fraud, the your Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements must be suspended. I underlined the words in the preceding sentence “inference,” “allegation,” and “must” to emphasize the slight and without any factual verification circumstance may be that causes suspension of payments. For many of you, this suspension is financially debilitating and will cause you to go out of business…or, at the very least, never accept Medicare or Medicaid again. Suspensions of payments do not only affect you, if affects your recipients as well.

An example of a mass suspension can be found in our nation’s capital. Recently, in D.C., the Medicaid agency suspended payments to 52% of the city’s home health agencies for personal care services (PCS). The companies hired an attorney and got a temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing the city from withholding funds, but lost at the preliminary injunction.

In an Order denying the preliminary injunction, the Judge stated that “in contrast to a provider’s right to participate in the Medicaid program, there is no constitutional right to receive Medicaid payments.” (To which I disagree, because there is a right to Medicaid payments for services rendered. National case law from multiple jurisdictions illustrates this, but maybe it was not argued before or accepted by this judge).

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) has also suspended Medicare payments on a large-scale. CMS suspended Medicare payments to 78 Dallas area home health providers. Last year’s “Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control report” stated that 297 providers were under “active suspension” from Medicare and 105 more suspensions were approved.

Another example of a mass suspension is the behavioral health providers in New Mexico. In June 2013, the Health Services Division (HSD) suspended all reimbursements for 15 behavioral health care providers, all of whom accounted for 87% of New Mexico’s behavioral health care, based on credible allegations of fraud. Most accused providers went out of business.

While both Medicare and Medicaid require the suspension of reimbursements upon a credible allegation of fraud, you are slightly more protected. Medicare suspensions end after 18 months and can only be extended from 6 months in special circumstances.

There is no such protection for you when it comes to Medicaid; the states make the rules. There is a good cause exception that allows the state NOT to suspend payments, but, to date, I have yet to witness one good cause exception being recognized by the state. Instead, relief for the accused providers only comes from filing a lawsuit, most likely, an injunctive lawsuit. The downside of filing a lawsuit is that you have to pay attorney’s fees, which can be daunting, and you must find an attorney that specializes in Medicare and Medicaid. I have seen too many inexperienced, but well-intended, attorneys create bad law for providers due to self-imposed, legal stumbles.

The enigma within the language of the ACA, in this particular section, is the complete disregard for due process. See my blog on “How the ACA Has Redefined the Threshold for “Credible Allegations of Fraud” and Does It Violate Due Process?”  By suspending Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements due to “indicia of reliability of an allegation of fraud,” the government is usurping your right to payment for services rendered without notice and an opportunity to be heard, which is one of the bedrocks of our Constitution.

So what are you to do if you are caught up in this web of mass suspensions based on “indicia of reliability of an allegation of fraud?”

Contact your Medicare and Medicaid litigation attorney!  And do NOT forget to fill out the “good cause” exception…just in case…

NC Medicaid: Ready or Not, the Onsite Reviews Have Started; Are You Ready?

Planning for the inevitable is smart. And it is inevitable if you are a provider and you accept Medicaid that you will undergo some sort of review, whether it is onsite or database checks, in the near future. And only two outcomes can result from this upcoming review:

Are YOU ready for that test???

So, it is imperative to arm yourself with knowledge of your rights, a liability insurance policy that covers attorneys’ fees (and lets you pick your attorney), and confidence that your billing practices comply with rules and regulations.  If you do not know whether your billing practices comply, do a self-audit or hire a knowledgeable billing expert to audit you.

Read or not here they come…

Beginning June 9, 2014, Public Consulting Group (PCG) began scheduling post-enrollment site visits to fulfill federal regulations 42 CFR 455.410 and 455.450, which require all participating providers to be screened according to their categorical risk level: high, moderate, or limited.

What does being high, moderate, or limited risk mean?

If you are limited risk, the state will check your licenses, ensure that you, as a provider, meet criteria for applicable federal and state statutes, conduct license verifications, and conduct database checks on a pre- and post-enrollment basis to ensure that providers continue to meet the enrollment criteria for their provider type.  This is the only category that does not need an onsite review.

If you are moderate risk, the state does everything for you as if you are a limited risk plus perform on-site reviews.  (Enter PCG).

If you are high risk, the state will perform all reviews as if you are a moderate risk but also will conduct a criminal background check, and require the submission of a set of fingerprints in accordance with §455.434. (And you thought fingerprints for only for the accused.)

Let’s discuss in which level risk you fall.  NC Gen. Stat §108C-3 spells out the risk levels.  Are you a new personal care service (PCS) provider getting ready to start your own business?  You are high risk.  Are you a directly-enrolled behavioral health care provider rendering outpatient behavioral health care services?  You are high risk.  Do you provide HIV Management services?  You are high risk.

Here is a list of high risk providers:

  • Prospective (newly enrolling) adult care homes delivering Medicaid-reimbursed services.
  • Agencies providing behavioral health services, excluding Critical Access Behavioral Health Agencies
  • Directly enrolled outpatient behavioral health services providers.
  • Prospective (newly enrolling) agencies providing durable medical equipment, including, but not limited to, orthotics and prosthetics.
  • Agencies providing HIV case management.
  • Prospective (newly enrolling) agencies providing home or community-based services pursuant to waivers authorized by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under 42 U.S.C. § 1396n(c).
  • Prospective (newly enrolling) agencies providing personal care services or in-home care services.
  • Prospective (newly enrolling) agencies providing private duty nursing, home health, or home infusion.
  • Providers against whom the Department has imposed a payment suspension based upon a credible allegation of fraud in accordance with 42 C.F.R. § 455.23 within the previous 12-month period. The Department shall return the provider to its original risk category not later than 12 months after the cessation of the payment suspension.
  • Providers that were excluded, or whose owners, operators, or managing employees were excluded, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General or another state’s Medicaid program within the previous 10 years.
  • Providers who have incurred a Medicaid or Health Choice final overpayment, assessment, or fine to the Department in excess of twenty percent (20%) of the provider’s payments received from Medicaid and Health Choice in the previous 12-month period. The Department shall return the provider to its original risk category not later than 12 months after the completion of the provider’s repayment of the final overpayment, assessment, or fine.
  • Providers whose owners, operators, or managing employees were convicted of a disqualifying offense pursuant to G.S. 108C-4 but were granted an exemption by the Department within the previous 10 years.

Here is a list of moderate risk providers:

  •  Ambulance services.
  • Comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facilities
  • Critical Access Behavioral Health Agencies.
  • Hospice organizations
  • Independent clinical laboratories.
  • Independent diagnostic testing facilities.
  • Pharmacy Services.
  • Physical therapists enrolling as individuals or as group practices.
  • Revalidating adult care homes delivering Medicaid-reimbursed services.
  • Revalidating agencies providing durable medical equipment, including, but not limited to, orthotics and prosthetics
  • Revalidating agencies providing home or community-based services pursuant to waivers authorized by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under 42 U.S.C. § 1396n(c).
  • Revalidating agencies providing private duty nursing, home health, personal care services or in-home care services, or home infusion.
  • Nonemergency medical transportation.

Here are the limited risk providers:

  • Ambulatory surgical centers.
  • End-stage renal disease facilities.
  • Federally qualified health centers.
  • Health programs operated by an Indian Health Program (as defined in section 4(12) of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act) or an urban Indian organization (as defined in section 4(29) of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act) that receives funding from the Indian Health Service pursuant to Title V of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
  • Histocompatibility laboratories.
  • Hospitals, including critical access hospitals, Department of Veterans Affairs Hospitals, and other State or federally owned hospital facilities
  • Local Education Agencies.
  • Mammography screening centers.
  • Mass immunization roster billers.
  • Nursing facilities, including Intermediate Care Facilities for the Mentally Retarded.
  • Organ procurement organizations.
  • Physician or nonphysician practitioners (including nurse practitioners, CRNAs, physician assistants, physician extenders, occupational therapists, speech/language pathologists, chiropractors, and audiologists), optometrists, dentists and orthodontists, and medical groups

According to the June 2014 Medicaid Bulletin, the onsite reviews will last approximately two hours and PCG will send 2 representatives to conduct the review.

How to prepare for the onSite reviews

  1. Read and learn. (or re-learn, whichever the case may be).

“Providers will be expected to demonstrate a working knowledge of N.C. Medicaid through responses to a series of questions.”  See June 2014 Medicaid Bulletin.

Knowledge is power.  Brush up on your applicable DMA Clinical Coverage Policy.  Review the NC Medicaid Billing Guide.  Re-read your provider participation agreement.  If you don’t understand a section, go to your attorney and ask for an explanation.  Actually read the pertinent federal and state statutes quoted in your participation agreements because, whether you know what the laws say or not, you signed that agreement and you will be held to the standards spelled out in the federal and state statutes.

  1. Call your liability insurance.

Be proactive.  Contact your liability insurance agent before you get the notice of an onsite review from PCG.  Have a frank, open discussion about these upcoming onsite reviews.  Explain that you want to know whether you policy covers attorneys’ fees and whether you can choose your attorney.  If your policy does not cover attorneys’ fees or does not allow you to choose your own lawyer, beef up your liability insurance plan to include both.  Believe me, the premiums will be cheaper than an attorney from your own pocket.

  1. Be confident.

Presentation matters.  If you whisper and cower before the PCG reviewers, you will come across as weak and/or trying to hide something.  Be polite and forthcoming, but provide the information that is asked of you; do not  supply more information than the reviewers do not request.

I always tell my clients before their deposition or a cross examination by the other side, “Answer the question that is asked.  No more.  If you are asked if your favorite color is blue, and you favorite color is red, the correct response is “No,” not “No, my favorite color is red.”  Do not over-answer.

If you do not believe that you can be confident, ask your attorney to be present.  I had someone tell me one time that he did not want an attorney present because he felt that the auditors would think he was hiding something and he did not want to appear litigious.  I say, this is your company, your career, and your life.  If you need the support of an attorney, get one.  Whenever I give this advice, I try to imagine that I am telling the same advice to my mother.  My mother, bless her heart, does not have the confidence to stand her ground in high pressure situations.  She would rather yield her position than be the least bit confrontational.  If that also describes you, have your attorney present.

  1. Know your rights.

What if you fail the onsite review?  Can you appeal?  You need to know your rights.  When you get a notice from PCG that an onsite review is scheduled, contact your attorney.  Make sure that BEFORE the onsite review, you understand all the possible consequences.  Knowing your rights will also help with #3, confidence.  If you know the worst case scenario, then you stop creating worse case scenarios in your mind and become more confident.

Ready or not, the PCG reviews are coming, so get ready!

Sebelius Out, Burwell In: A New Secretary to Lead the Department of Health and Human Services (Federal)

The following article is breaking news on the Health Care Policy Report:

The Senate June 5 voted 78-17 to confirm Sylvia Mathews Burwell as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Republicans who voted against the nomination included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who in an earlier floor statement compared voting for the nomination to appointing a “new captain for the Titanic.” Other Republicans who voted against the nomination included Roy Blunt (Mo.), Ted Cruz (Texas), John Cornyn (Texas), Pat Roberts (Kan.) and John Thune (S.D.).

In urging his colleagues to vote in favor of the nomination, Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said that Burwell enjoys bipartisan support and that Republicans and Democrats will need to work together to ensure the future of Medicare.

Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget, will replace Kathleen Sebelius, who announced her resignation in April but agreed to stay on until a successor is confirmed.
Burwell has sailed through Senate committee hearings and a committee vote, and easily passed a procedural vote June 4 when 14 Republicans voted with Democrats, 67-28, to end debate on the nomination.

Medicare Appeals to OMHA Reaches 15,000 Per Week, Yet Decisions Take Years; Hospital Association Sues Over Medicare Backlog

When you are a health care provider and make the business determination to accept Medicare or Medicaid, you are agreeing to deal with certain headaches.  Low reimbursement rates and more regulations than you can possibly count make accepting Medicare and Medicaid a daunting experience.  Throw in some pre- and post-payment review audits, some inept contractors, and dealing with the government, in general, and you have a trifecta of terrible to-dos.

But having to “pay back” (by reimbursement withholding) an alleged overpayment before an appeal decision is rendered is not a headache which hospitals have agreed to take, says the American Hospital Association.  And it said so very definitively, in the form of a Complaint in the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia

In both Medicaid and Medicare audits, if you get audited and are told to pay back XX dollars, you have a right to appeal that determination.  Obviously, with Medicare, you appeal on the federal level and with Medicaid, you appeal to the state level.  But the two roads to appeal (the state and federal) are not identical.  Robert Frost once said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”  However,the Medicare appeal route is NOT the route less traveled by.

As of February 12, 2014, over 480,000 Medicare appeals were pending for assignment to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), with 15,000 new appeals filed each week.  In December 2013, HHS Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA) announced a moratorium on assignment of provider appeals to ALJs for at least the next two years, and possibly longer.  The average wait-time for a hearing is approximately 24 months, but will undoubtedly increase quickly due to the moratorium.  A decision would not come until later.  And all the while the parties are waiting, the provider’s reimbursements will be withheld until the alleged overpayment amount is met.  Literally, a Medicare appeal could take 3-5 years.

The American Hospital Association is fed up. And who can blame them?  On May 22, 2014, the American Hospital Association (AHA) filed a Complaint in the United States District Court in the District of Columbia against Kathleen Selebius, in her official capacity as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), complaining that HHS is noncompliant with federal statutory law because of the Medicare appeal backlog.  I am not surprised by AHA’s Complaint; I am only surprised that it took this long for a lawsuit.  I am also surprised that more providers, other than hospitals, are not taking action.

AHA is requesting relief under the Mandamus Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1361.  The Mandamus Act allows a court to compel an officer or employee of the United States or any agency thereof to perform a duty owed.  In this case, the AHA is saying that HHS has a statutory duty to resolve Medicare appeals within 90 days.  So, AHA is asking the district court to compel HHS to resolve Medicare appeals by not later than the end of the 90-day period beginning on the date a request for hearing has been timely filed.

And, here, I am obliged to insert a quick, two thumbs-up for our very own Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH)  in NC for its handling of Medicaid appeals.  If you file a contested case at OAH, it will not take 3-5 years.

AHA’s lawsuit is significant because AHA does not restrict the relief requested to only hospital Medicare appeals.  AHA requests that the District Court “enter a declaratory judgment that HHS’s delay in adjudication of Medicare appeals violates federal law.”  If granted, I would assume that this declaratory judgment would impact all Medicare providers.  The only way to ensure all providers are covered by this decision is for all providers to either (1) file a separate action (to include damages, which is not included in AHA’s action for some reason); or (2) to join AHA’s action (and forego damages), but its impact will be broad.  I am not sure why AHA did not seek damages; the time value of money is a real damage…the non-ability for the hospitals to invest in more beds because their money is stuck at HHS is a real damage…the loss of the interest on the withheld money, which is obviously benefiting the feds, is a real damage.

AHA’s request is not dissimilar to an arrested individual’s right to a speedy trial.  During a criminal trial, the defendant remains incarcerated.  Therefore, because we believe our liberty is so important, the defendant has a right to a speedy trial.  That way, if he or she is innocent, the defendant would have spent the least number of days imprisoned.

With a Medicare audit appeal, HHS begins immediately withholding reimbursements until the alleged overpayment amount is met, even though through the appeal, that overpayment will most likely be decreased quite substantially.  Apparently, across the nation, the percent of overturned Medicare audits through appeal is around 72%,  but I could not find out whether the 72% represents ANY amount overturned or the entire 100% of the audit being overturned.  Because, in my personal experience, 99.9% of Medicare appeals have SOME reduction in the alleged amount (I would have said 100%, but we are taught not to use definitive remarks as attorneys).

Because the provider’s Medicare money is withheld based on an allegation of an overpayment, the fact that the cases are backlogged at the ALJ level is financially distressing for any provider.Even without the backlog, Medicare appeals take longer than Medicaid appeals.  In Medicare, there is four-step appeal process.  Going before the ALJ is the 3rd level.

First, a Medicare appeal begins with the Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) for redetermination.  The MAC must render a redetermination decision within sixty days.

If unsuccessful, a provider can appeal the MAC’s decision to a Qualified Independent Contractor (“QIC”) for reconsideration. QICs must render a decision within sixty days.

Provided that the amount in controversy is greater than $140 (for calendar year 2014), the next level, and where the backlog begins, is at the level of appeal to an ALJ. The ALJ is required both to hold a hearing and to render a decision within ninety days, which is not happening.

Hence, AHA’s lawsuit.  Hopefully AHA will be successful, because a backlog of Medicare appeals at the ALJ level doesn’t help anyone.  And audits are not going away.

“The Times They Are a-Changin’”: A Look at Possible Ramifications on Medicaid by Senate Bill 744

I think of Bob Dylan’s raspy voice singing:

Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt took the presidency during a time of severe poverty. The Great Depression, which would last until the late 1930s or early 1940s, cast shadows and doubt over the future of America. People were starving. Unemployment and homelessness were at an all-time high.

FDR’s first 100 days in office were monumental. In fact, FDR’s first 100 days in office changed America forever. With bold legislation and a myriad of executive orders, he instituted the New Deal. The New Deal created government jobs for the homeless, banking reform, and emergency relief to states and cities. During those 100 days of lawmaking, Congress granted every major request Roosevelt asked. This is an example of what I call blending of the separation of powers. In a time of great national need, Congress took an expansive view of the president’s constitutional powers and cooperated with him to effect major change.

I am in no way comparing our General Assembly to Congress back in the 1930s nor am I comparing FDR to Gov. McCrory. In fact, there are vast differences. I am only making the point that rarely does the legislative body create such change.

But North Carolina’s current Senate Bill 744 may create this change. For example, if Senate Bill 744 passes the House, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) may no longer manage Medicaid. That’s right. A whole new state agency may manage Medicaid.

This past Friday, May 30, 2014, the state Senate passed a $21.2 billion budget, which is known as Senate Bill 744. On May 31, 2014, Senate Bill 744 passed its 3rd reading and will now go on to the House. So far, it has been revised 3 times, so we do not know whether the House will make substantial changes. But, as it stands today, it is shocking. Is it good? Bad? I don’t think we can know whether the changes are good or bad yet, and, quite honestly, I have not had time to digest all of the possible implications of Senate Bill 744. But, regardless, the changes are shocking.

Of the most shocking changes (should SB 744 get passed), consider the following:

1. DHHS must immediately cease all efforts to transition Medicaid to the affordable care organizations (ACOs) system that DHHS had touted would be in effect by July 2015;

2. DHHS’s DMA will no longer manage Medicaid. Instead, a new state entity will be formed to manage Medicaid. (A kind of…”scratch it all and start over” method);

3. All funds previously appropriated to DMA will be transferred to the Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) and will be used for Medicaid reform and may not be used for any other purpose such as funding any shortfalls in the Medicaid program.

4. Categorical coverage for recipients of the optional state supplemental program State County Special Assistance is eliminated.

5. Coverage for the medically needy is eliminated, except those categories that the State is prohibited from eliminating by the “maintenance of effort” requirement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Effective October 1, 2019, coverage for all medically needy categories is eliminated.

6. It is the intent of the General Assembly to reduce optional coverage for certain aged, blind, and disabled persons effective July 1, 2015, while meeting the State’s obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the United States Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring, 527 U.S. 581 (1999).

7. Repeal the shared savings program and just reduce the reimbursement rates by 3%.

8. DHHS shall implement a Medicaid assessment program for local management entities/managed care organizations (LME/MCOs) at a rate of three and one-half percent (3.5%).

9. For additional notices as to State Plan Amendments (SPAs), DHHS must post the proposed SPAs on its website at least 10 days prior to submitting the SPAs to the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

10. Reimbursement rate changes become effective when CMS approves the reimbursement rate changes.

11. The Department of Health and Human Services shall not enter into any contract involving the program integrity functions listed in subsection (a) of this section of SB 774 that would have a termination date after September 1, 2015.

12. The Medicaid PROVIDER will have the burden of proof in contested case actions against the Department.

13. The Department shall withhold payment to any Medicaid provider for whom the DMA, or its vendor, has identified an overpayment in a written notice to the provider. Withholding shall begin on the 75th day after the day the notice of overpayment is mailed and shall continue during the pendency of any appeal until the overpayment becomes a final overpayment (can we say injunction?).

Senate Bill 744 purports to make immense modifications to our Medicaid system. I wonder what Gov. McCrory and Secretary Wos think about Senate Bill 744. If SB 744 passes, McCrory and Wos can no longer continue down the ACO path. Does the General Assembly even have the authority to bind their hands from creating ACOs? It seems so.

As for the “new state agency” that will manage Medicaid, maybe the General Assembly is right and we do need to scratch out the current Medicaid management and start over…I doubt anyone would disagree that DHHS has had some “oops” moments in the past year or so. But (a) is this the way to start all over; and (b) does the General Assembly have the legal power to remove the management of Medicaid from Secretary Wos?

Going to the reduction of optional services for the “medically needy,” what services are considered optional? Here is a list of optional services, as defined by the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS):

• Case Management
• Mental Health
• Podiatry
• Intermediate Care Facilities (ICF-MR)
• Personal Care Services
• Prosthetics
• Respiratory Therapy
• Hospice
• Adult Dentures
• Prescription Drugs
• Community Alternative Programs (CAP)
• Private Duty Nursing
• Chiropractor
• Home Infusion Therapy
• Physical Therapy/Speech Therapy
• Transportation

I cannot comment on all the changes proposed by Senate Bill 744; I simply have not had enough time to review them in detail, because there are so many changes. I do not purport to know whether these modifications are ultimately for the good or for the bad.

All I know is that we better start swimming or we will sink like a stone, because the times they are a-changin’.