Category Archives: Burden of Proof

Another Win for the Good Guys! Federal Preliminary Injunction Granted!!

I do not believe that I have been more excited to post a blog than I am right now. For the past two weeks, an associate DeeDee Murphy and I have been in trial in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For those of you who do not know about the Draconian, governmental upheaval of the 15 behavioral health care companies in New Mexico, see blog. And blog. And documentary.

Going back to what it is that I am so excited to share…

A federal preliminary injunction is rare. It is about as rare as rocking horse poo. But when I met Dr. B, I knew I had to try. Poo or not. Dr. B is a geneticist, who accepts Medicaid. Her services are essential to her patients, who receive ongoing, genetic counseling from her. 70% of her practice comprised of Medicaid recipients.

You see, when Dr. B came to me, she had been represented by legal counsel for over two years but had received no recourse at all. For two years she had retained counsel to fight for her Medicaid contract with the State of Indiana, and for two years, she had no Medicaid contract to render services. For the previous 2 years, Dr. B had been subject to prepayment review and paid nothing – or next to nothing…certainly not enough to pay expenses.

When I met Dr. B, she had not been paid for two years. She continued to render medically necessary services, but she received no reimbursement. She had exhausted all her loans, her credit limit, and even borrowed money from family. She had been forced to terminate staff. Dr. B was on the brink of financial and career ruin. She was about to lose the company and work that she had put over 40 years into. Since her company’s revenue consisted of over 70% Medicaid without Medicaid reimbursements, her company could not survive.

Yet, she continued to provide services to her patients. She is a saint. But she was about to be an unemployed, financially-ruined saint, whose sainthood could not continue.

On December 10, 2015, we filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction in the Northern District of Indiana requesting that the Court enjoin the Indiana Medicaid agency (“FSSA”) from terminating Dr. B from the Medicaid program and from continuing to suspend the money owed to her for the past two year period that she had been subject to prepayment review.

Senior counsel, Josh Urquhart, from our Denver office, and I attended and argued on behalf of Dr. B in a 5-day trial from January 19-25, 2016.

On April 14, 2016, in a 63-page opinion, our preliminary injunction enjoining Indiana from terminating Dr. B from Medicaid was GRANTED. Dr. B is back in the Medicaid program!!!!!

The rocking horse poo is rampant!

This is not just a win for Dr. B. This is a win for all her Medicaid patients, as well. Two mothers with children-patients of Dr. B testified as to the fact that their children rely heavily on Dr. B. Both testified that without Dr. B their children would be irreparably harmed.

When Dr. B informed her former attorneys that she was hiring me, an attorney from North Carolina, those attorneys told Dr. B that “anyone who tells that they can get a federal preliminary injunction is blowing smoke up your ass.” [Pardon the cuss word – their words, not mine]. To which I would like to say, “[insert raspberry], here’s your smoke!”
A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary and drastic remedy, which is why it is rare. However, rare objects exist. The plaintiff must show the court that he/she has a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits, no adequate remedy at law, and irreparable harm absent the injunction. I felt that we had these criteria covered in Dr. B’s case.

The Court agreed with our contention that FSSA’s without cause termination violates her patients’ freedom to choose their provider. This is a big deal!

In our arguments to the Court, we relied heavily on Planned Parenthood of Indiana. We argued that Indiana’s without cause termination was merely a “business decision” and was not germane to Dr. B’s qualifications. As her qualifications remained intact, to disallow Dr. B from providing medically necessary services violates the patients’ freedom to choose their providers.

The Court held that FSSA “must rescind its without cause termination of Dr. B and reinstate her Medicaid provider agreement until this Court reaches a final decision.”

Even rocking horses poo every now and then.

NCTracks, MPW, and Eligibility: The Three Billy Goats Gruff

The story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff tells a tale of 3 billy goats, one puny, one small, and one HUGE. The first two billy goats (the puny and small) independently try to cross the bridge to a green pasture. They are blocked by a mean troll, who wants to eat the billy goats. Both billy goats tell the troll that a bigger billy-goat is coming that would satisfy the troll’s hunger more than the puny and small goats. The troll waits for the HUGE billy-goat, which easily attacks the troll to his death.

The moral: “Don’t be greedy.”

My moral: “You don’t always have to be HUGE, the puny and small are equally as smart.” – (They didn’t even have to fight).

The majority of Medicaid cards do not have expiration dates. Though we have expiration dates on many of our other cards. For example, my drivers’ license expires January 7, 2018. My VISA expires April 18, 2018.

Most Medicaid cards are annually renewed, as well. Someone who is eligible for Medicaid one year may not be eligible the next.

medicaid card

Our Medicaid cards, generally, have an issuance date, but not an expiration date. The thought is that requiring people to “re-enroll” yearly is sufficient for eligibility status.

Similar to my CostCo card. My Costco card expires annually, and I have to renew it every 12 months. But my CostCo card is not given to me based on my personal circumstances. I pay for the card every year, which means that I can use the card all year, regardless whether I move, get promoted, or decide that I never want to shop at CostCo again.

Medicaid cards, on the other hand, are based on a person’s or family’s personal circumstances.

A lot can happen in a year causing someone to no longer be eligible for Medicaid.

For example, a Medicaid recipient, Susan, could qualify for Medicaid on January 1, 2015, because Susan is a jobless and a single mother going through a divorce. She has a NC Medicaid card issued on January 1, 2015. She presents herself to your office on March 1, 2015. Unbeknownst to you, she obtained a job at a law office in February (Susan is a licensed attorney, but she was staying home with the kids when she was married. Now that she is divorced, she quickly obtained employment for $70,000/year, but does not contact Medicaid. Her firm offers health insurance, but only after she is employed over 60 days. Thus, Susan presents herself to you with her Medicaid card).

If Susan presents to your office on March 1, 2015, with a Medicaid card issued January 1, 2015, how many of you would double-check the patients eligibility in the NCTracks portal?

How many would rely on the existence of the Medicaid card as proof of eligibility?

How many of you would check eligibility in the NCTRacks portal and print screen shot showing eligibility for proof in the future.

The next question is who is liable for Susan receiving Medicaid services in March when she was no longer eligible for Medicaid, but held a Medicaid card and, according to the NCTracks portal, was Medicaid eligible??

  • Susan?
  • You, the provider?
  • DHHS?
  • NCTracks?

Do you really have to be the HUGE billy goat to avoid troll-ish recoupments?

Susan’s example is similar to dental services for pregnant women on Medicaid for Pregnant Women (MPW). MPW expires when the woman gives birth. However, the dentists do not report the birth of the child, the ob/gyn does. Dentists have no knowledge of whether a woman has or has not given birth. See blog.

MPW expires upon the birth of the child, and that due date is not printed on the MPW card.

I daresay that the dentists with whom I have spoken have assured me that every time a pregnant woman presents at the dental or orthodontic offices that an employee ensures that the consumer is eligible for dental services under MPW by checking the NCTracks portal. (Small billy-goat). Some dentists go so far to print out the screenshot on the NCTracks portal demonstrating MPW eligibility (HUGE billy-goat), but such overkill is not required by the DMA Clinical Coverage Policies.

If the clinical policies, rules, and regulations do not require such HUGE billy-goat nonsense, how can providers be held up to the HUGE billy-goat standard? Even the puny billy-goat is, arguably, reasonably compliant with rules, regulations, and policies.

NCTracks is not current; it is not “live time.” Apparently, even if the woman has delivered her baby, the NCTracks portal may still show that the woman is eligible for MPW. Maybe even for months…

Is the eligibility fallacy that is confirmed by NCTracks, the dentists’ fault?

Well, over three (3) years from its go-live date, July 1, 2013, NCTracks may have finally fixed this error.

In the October 2015 Medicaid Bulletin, DHHS published the following:

Attention: Dental Providers

New NCTracks Edits to Limit Dental and Orthodontic Services for Medicaid for Pregnant Women (MPW) Beneficiaries

On Aug. 2, 2015, NCTracks began to deny/recoup payment of dental and orthodontic services for beneficiaries covered under the Medicaid for Pregnant Women (MPW) program if the date of service is after the baby was delivered. This is a longstanding N.C. Medicaid policy that was previously monitored through post-payment review.

According to N.C. Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) clinical coverage policy 4A, Dental Services:

For pregnant Medicaid-eligible beneficiaries covered under the Medicaid for Pregnant Women program class ‘MPW,’ dental services as described in this policy are covered through the day of delivery.

Therefore, claims for dental services rendered after the date of delivery for beneficiaries under MPW eligibility are outside the policy limitation and are subject to denial/recoupment.

According to DMA clinical coverage policy 4B,Orthodontic Services:

Pregnant Medicaid-eligible beneficiaries covered under the Medicaid for Pregnant Women program class ‘MPW’ are not eligible for orthodontic services as described in this policy.

Therefore, claims for orthodontic records (D0150, D0330, D0340, and D0470) or orthodontic banding (D8070 or D8080) rendered for beneficiaries under MPW eligibility are outside of policy limitation and are subject to denial/recoupment.

Periodic orthodontic treatment visits (D8670) and orthodontic retention (D8680) will continue to be reimbursed regardless of the beneficiary’s eligibility status at the time of the visit so long as the beneficiary was eligible on the date of banding.

Seriously? “Now I’m coming to gobble you up!!”

August 2, 2015, is over two years after NCTracks went live.

In essence, what DHHS is saying is that NCTracks was inept at catching whether a female Medicaid recipient gave birth. Either the computer system did not have a way for the ob/gyn to inform NCTracks that the baby was delivered, the ob/gyn did not timely submit such information, or NCTracks simply kept women as being eligible for MPW until, months later, someone caught the mistake. And, because of NCTracks’ folly, the dentists must pay.

How about, if the portal for NCTracks state that someone is eligible for MPW, then providers can actually believe that the portal is correct??? How about a little accountability, DHHS???

If you take MPW and want to avoid potential recoupments, you may need some pregnancy tests in your bathrooms.

DHHS is expecting all dentists to be the HUGE bill goat. Are these unreasonable expectations? I see no law, rules, regulations, or policies that require dentists to be the HUGE billy goat. In fact, the small and puny may also be compliant.

“You don’t always have to be HUGE, the puny and small are equally as smart.”

Have an Inkling of a Possible Overpayment, You Must Repay Within 60 Days, Says U.S. District Court!

You are a health care provider.  You own an agency.  An employee has a “hunch” that…

maybe…

perhaps….

your agency was overpaid for Medicare/caid reimbursements over the past two years to the tune of $1 million!

This employee has been your billing manager for years and you trust her…but…she’s not an attorney and doesn’t have knowledge of pertinent legal defenses. You are concerned about the possibility of overpayments, BUT….$1 million? What if she is wrong?  That’s a lot of money!

According to a recent U.S. District Court in New York, you have 60 days to notify and refund the government of this alleged $1 million overpayment, despite not having a concrete number or understanding whether, in fact, you actually owe the money.

Seem a bit harsh? It is.

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on March 23, 2010, many new regulations were implemented with burdensome requirements to which health care providers are required to adhere.  At first, the true magnitude of the ACA was unknown, as very few people actually read the voluminous Act and, even fewer, sat to contemplate the unintentional consequences the Act would present to providers. For example, I daresay that few, if any, legislators foresaw the Draconian effect from changing the word “may” in 42 CFR 455.23 to “must.” See blog and blog and blog.

Another boiling frog in the muck of the ACA is the 60-Day Refund Rule (informally the 60-day rule).

What is the 60-Day Refund Rule?

In 2012, CMS proposed the “60-day Refund Rule,” requiring Medicare providers and suppliers to repay Medicare overpayments within 60 days of the provider or supplier identifying the overpayment.  Meaning, if you perform a self audit and determine that you think that you were overpaid, then you must repay the amount within 60 days or face penalties.

If I had a nickel for each time a clients calls me and says, “Well, I THINK I may have been overpaid, but I’m not really sure,” and, subsequently, I explained how they did not owe the money, I’d be Kardashian rich.

It is easy to get confused. Some overpayment issues are esoteric, involving complex eligibility issues, questionable duplicity issues, and issues involving “grey areas” of “non”-covered services.  Sometimes a provider may think he/she owes an overpayment until he/she speaks to me and realizes that, by another interpretation of the same Clinical Coverage Policy that, in fact, no overpayment is owed. To know you owe an overpayment, generally, means that you hired someone like me to perform the self audit.  From my experience, billing folks are all too quick to believe an overpayment is owed without thinking of the legal defenses that could prevent repayment, and this “quick to find an overpayment without thinking of legal defenses” is represented in Kane ex rel. United States et al. v. Healthfirst et al., the lawsuit that I will be discussing in this blog.  And to the billings folks’ credit, you cannot blame them.  They don’t want to be accused of fraud. They would rather “do the right thing” and repay an overpayment, rather than try to argue that it is not due.  This “quick to find an overpayment without thinking of legal defenses” is merely the billing folks trying to conduct all work “above-board,” but can hurt the provider agency financially.

Nonetheless, the 60-day Refund Rule is apathetic as to whether you know what you owe or whether you hire someone like me.  The 60-Day Refund Rule demands repayment to the federal government upon 60-days after your “identification” of said alleged overpayment.

Section 1128(d)(2) of the Social Security Act states that:

“An overpayment must be reported and returned under paragraph (1) by the later of— (A) the date which is 60 days after the date on which the overpayment was identified; or (B) the date any corresponding cost report is due, if applicable.”

A recent case in the U.S. District Court of New York has forged new ground by denying a health care providers’ Motion to Dismiss the U.S. government’s and New York State’s complaints in intervention under the False Claims Act (FCA).  The providers argued that the 60-day rule cannot start without a precise understanding as to the actual amount of the overpayment. Surely, the 60-day rule does not begin to run on the day someone accuses the provider of a possible overpayment!

My colleague, Jennifer Forsyth, recently blogged about this very issue.  See Jennifer’s blog.

Basically, in Kane ex rel. United States et al. v. Healthfirst et al., three hospitals provided care to Medicaid patients. Due to a software glitch [cough, cough, NCTracks] and due to no fault of the hospitals, the hospitals received possible overpayments.  The single state entity for Medicaid in New York questioned the hospitals in 2010, and the hospitals took the proactive step of tasking an employee, Kane, who eventually became the whistleblower, to determine whether, if, in fact, the hospital did receive overpayments.

At this point, arguably, the hospitals were on notice of the possibility of overpayments, but had not “identified” such overpayments per the 60-day rule.  It was not until Kane made preliminary conclusions that the hospitals were held to have “identified” the alleged overpayments.  But very important is the fact that the Court held the hospitals liable for having “identified” the alleged overpayments prior to actually knowing the veracity of the preliminary findings.

Five months after being tasked with the job of determining any overpayment, Kane emails the hospital staff her findings that, in her opinion, the hospitals had received overpayments totaling over $1 million for over 900 claims.  In reality, Kane’s findings were largely inaccurate, as approximately one-half of her alleged findings of overpayments were actually paid accurately.  Despite the inaccurate findings, the Complaint that Kane filed as the whistleblower (she had been previously fired, which may or may not have contributed to her willingness to bring a whistleblower suit), alleged that the hospitals had a duty under the 60-day rule to report and refund the overpayments, even though there was no certainty as to whether the findings were accurate. And the Court agreed with Kane!

Even more astounding, Kane’s email to the hospitals’ management that contained the inaccurate findings contained phrases that would lead one to believe that the findings were only preliminary:

  • “further analysis would be needed to confirm his findings;” and
  • the spreadsheet provided “some insight to the magnitude of the problem” (emphasis added).

The above-mentioned comments would further the argument that the hospitals were not required to notify the Department and return the money 60 days from Kanes’ email because Kane’s own language within the email was so wishy-washy. Her language in her email certainly does not instill confidence that her findings are accurate and conclusive.

But…

The 60-day rule requires notification and return of the overpayments within 60 days of identification.  The definition of “identification” is the crux of Kane ex rel. United States et al. v. Healthfirst et al. [it depends on what the definition of “is” is].

The Complaint reads, that the hospitals “fraudulently delay[ed] its repayments for up to two years after the Health System knew” the extent of the overpayments” (emphasis added). According to the Complaint, the date that the hospitals “knew” of the overpayment was the date Kane emailed the inaccurate findings.

The hospitals filed a Motion to Dismiss based on the fact that Kane’s email and findings did not conclusively identify overpayments, instead, only provided a preliminary finding to which the hospitals would have needed to verify.

The issue in Kane ex rel. United States et al. v. Healthfirst et al. is the definition of “identify” under the 60-day rule. Does “identify” mean “possibly, maybe?” Or “I know I owe it?” Or somewhere in between?

The hospitals filed a Motion to Dismiss, claiming that the 60-day rule did not begin to run on the date that Kane sent his “preliminary findings.”  The U.S. District Court in New York denied the hospitals’ Motion to Dismiss and stated in the Order, “there is an established duty to pay money to the government, even if the precise amount due is yet to be determined.” (emphasis added).

Yet another heavy burden tossed upon health care providers in the ever-deepening, regulatory muck involved in the ACA.  As health care providers carry heavier burdens, they begin to sink into the muck.

Important take aways:

  • Caveat: Take precautions to avoid creating disgruntled, former employees.
  • Have an experienced attorney on speed dial.
  • Self audit, but self audit with someone highly experienced and knowledgeable.
  • Understand the ACA. If you do not, read it. Or hire someone to teach you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did this case come about?

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

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

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

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

What is the Supremacy Clause?

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

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

This is not a small matter.

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

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

Is that too much to ask?

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

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

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

Our Medicaid Budget Does More Than Allocate Money; It Places the Burden of Proof on Medicaid Providers!!!

Are you a health care provider in NC? Are you wonderful enough to help Medicaid patients but accept low Medicaid reimbursements? Are you dedicated to helping our most needy? Well, guess what???? YOU now have the burden of proof if you disagree with an adverse determination by the State.

That’s right. The newly-enacted state budget quietly changes the statutes and shifts the burden of proof from the Department to YOU. I am reminded of my Grandpa Carson. Whenever he couldn’t believe what he just heard, he would bellow, “Wooooo weee.” Growing up in the south, we have certain sayings, such as “Bless your heart,” “Y’all come back now, ya hear?” and “That food is so good I could slap my momma.” My Grandpa Carson, God rest his soul, was as southern as southern can get. If he were here and heard about the burden shift onto the providers, he would say, “Wooo weeeee.”

Last week while I was on my first week-long vacation in 2 years, the North Carolina state budget, known as Session Law 2014-100, was signed into law by Governor McCrory.  (Which is why I missed a week of blogging…my vacation, not McCrory’s signature).  Since I was at my family reunion started by my Grandpa, I am dedicating this blog to my grandpa, Nat Carson, who created a family tradition that has lasted for over 40 years. Our (huge) extended family vacation together once a year at Emerald Isle for a family reunion. FOUR generations attend!

Going back to the budget…

An “adverse determination” in this case includes decisions by North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) under the Medicaid program such as the Department’s termination of a contract with the provider, a Managed Care Organization’s (MCO) termination of a provider contract, or the Department or one its many vendors determines that the providers owes an overpayment back to the state.

Not only does the state budget shift the burden of proof onto providers when they contest an adverse determination by the State, which we will discuss more below, but it also takes a lot of DHHS decision-making power away. It is apparent that the General Assembly does NOT think DHHS can do its job of managing Medicaid and creating Medicaid reform competently. The General Assembly (GA) has decided that, for whatever reason, it will be more hands-on regarding Medicaid decisions in the future.

Here are a few examples of the GA’s hands-on attitude found in the Session Law 2014-100 (with some emphasis I have made by putting some words in bold-faced type)

  • “Until the General Assembly enacts legislation authorizing a plan to reform Medicaid, the Department of Health and Human Services (i) shall continue to consult with stakeholder groups, study, and recommend options for Medicaid reform that will provide greater budget predictability for the Medicaid program and (ii) shall not commit the State to any particular course on Medicaid reform and shall not submit any reform-related State plan amendments, waivers, or grant applications nor enter into any contracts related to implementing Medicaid reform.”
  • “The Department may submit drafts of the waiver to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to solicit feedback but shall not submit the waiver for CMS approval until authorized by the General Assembly.”
  • “The Department of Health and Human Services shall make payments to the contractor hired by the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services from funds appropriated elsewhere in this budget for this contract…”
  • “The Department of Health and Human Services shall not make any other modifications to the portion of the Medicaid State Plan referenced in this section, except as provided herein.”
  • “The Department may submit drafts of the waivers to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to solicit feedback but shall not submit the waivers for CMS approval until authorized by the General Assembly.
  • “[T]he Division of Medical Assistance shall ensure that any Medicaid-related or NC Health Choice-related State contract entered into after the effective date of this section contains a clause that allows the Department or the Division to terminate the contract without cause upon 30 days’ notice.”
  • “No fewer than 10 days prior to submitting an amendment to the State Plan to the federal government, the Department shall post the amendment on its Web site and notify the members of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services and the Fiscal Research Division that the amendment has been posted.”

Basically, the GA has estopped DHHS from reforming Medicaid without the consent of the General Assembly.

Then, stuck in the middle of the state budget is the amendment to N.C. Gen. Stat. 108C…. “Woooo weeee!”

MODIFY MEDICAID APPEALS SECTION 12H.27.

(a) G.S. 108C-12(d) reads as rewritten: “(d) Burden of Proof. – The Department petitioner shall have the burden of proof in appeals of Medicaid providers or applicants concerning an adverse determination.”

Does anyone else understand what this teeny, tiny clause within Session Law 2014-100 means????

What is the importance of burden of proof? Enormous! And this clause changes the playing field for Medicaid providers. It may not have been a level field prior to Session Law 2014-100, but now it’s even more slanted.

The easiest way to explain “burden of proof” is that when a petitioning Medicaid provider challenges some adverse determination by DHHS, for example, the Department’s termination of a contract with the provider, the “burden of proof” decides which party must persuade the reviewing tribunal that the party’s assertions are correct. Up until this amendment of G.S.108C-12(d), the Department has had the burden to present evidence showing that its adverse determination was correct. The petitioner could then respond to that evidence, to try to show the contrary, but the burden of proving the correctness of the adverse determination still rested on the Department in cases filed by Medicaid providers under Chapter 108C.

In court, one of the first questions a judge will ask is, “Who carries the burden of proof?” Because the legal burden of proof is just that…a burden…that must be satisfactorily carried in order to win.

Health care providers who accept Medicaid have notoriously been given the short-end of the stick, i.e., low reimbursement rates, undergoing burdensome audits, but, at least, in NC, historically, the Department has had to prove the correctness of its allegations, whether it be an alleged overpayment, a termination of a Medicaid contract, or other allegations.

But now? DHHS’ allegations against a health care provider are true…unless the provider can prove DHHS wrong. The uphill fight of a provider seeking to correct a DHHS adverse determination, just became much steeper, and it was done with little or no fanfare.

“Woooooooo weeeeeee!”

So can you do? Only options as far as I see it:

  1. Call and email your state representatives.
  2. Hire a lobbyist.
  3. Bring a lawsuit to change it.
  4. Do nothing.

Per L. Warren’s comment, I am adding #5.

5. Stop taking Medicaid clients.

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…

“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’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Court, however, disagreed.

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

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

Moral of the story? Disclose everything!

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

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

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

Regardless, Dr. Powell is a convicted sex offender.

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

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

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

Attention: All Medicaid Providers Whose Services Require Prior Authorization: A Way to Increase Revenue and Help Medicaid Recipients…Or…Killing Two Birds with One Stone

Attention: All Medicaid Providers Whose Services Require Prior Authorization

A Way to Increase Revenue and Help Medicaid Recipients

Have you heard the cliché: “Killing two birds with one stone….?”

The phrase is thought to have originated in the early 1600s when slingshots were primarily used for bird hunting.  (BTW: My husband, who is an expert bird hunter (with guns), I am sure, would be able to hit two birds with one stone…he is that good.  In fact, he may have already shot two birds with one bullet).  Anyway, Thomas Hobbs, an English political philosopher, is generally given credit for coining the phrase in 1656, although Ovid has a similar expression in Latin over 2000 years prior.  Killing two birds with one stone generally means achieving two objectives with one action. (Which, obviously, is a good thing).

For our purposes here, killing two birds with one stone means that by undergoing one action (appealing all Medicaid recipients’ denials, terminations, and reductions for services requiring prior authorization) two positive results are achieved:

1. The Medicaid recipients have their denials, terminations, and reductions appealed (or…people who need services may actually get those necessary services); and

2. Your provider company makes more money.

Not all Medicaid services require prior authorization.  But many do.  Many prescription drugs require prior approval.  Certain services during a pregnancy for a Medicaid pregnant woman require prior authorization. In behavioral health care, almost all services require prior authorizations (although there are some unmanaged visits in outpatient behavioral health (OBT) that do not require prior authorization).  Even though other Medicaid services require prior authorization, this blog and NCGS 108D only applies to behavioral health care (because NCGS 108D applies to MCOs and the MCOs only manage behavioral health care).  You should appeal all other denied, terminated, or reduced Medicaid services that require prior authorization, but the appeal process in this blog pertains to behavioral health care.

Why care about Medicaid recipient appeals?

It is indisputable that people start companies to make money (except 501(c) companies).  You’ve heard all the cliches…”Money makes the world go around…” “The lack of money is the root of all evil…” “Money: power at its most liquid…”

We’ve also heard all the cliches…”Money can’t buy happiness…” “I have no money, no resources, no hope. I am the happiest man alive….” “Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.”

Regardless whether you believe that money is a necessary evil or the key to happiness, it is without question that people need money to get by in life.  Therefore, when people create companies, it is, normally, with the intent to make money.

Medicaid providers are no exception.

True, Medicaid reimbursements are crappy.  But, despite the crappy/low Medicaid reimbursements, Medicaid providers still hope to make some profit…and do good. (2 birds…1 stone).

We all want to make money and help Medicaid recipients, right? (I know I do).

So with my “handy dandy” tips in this blog, you, too, can kill two birds with stone. You can do both: make more money and help Medicaid recipients.

Wait, I thought providers could not appeal on behalf of our clients? I have heard this incorrect statement over and over from multiple clients.  It simply is not true.

NCGS 108D(4)(b) states that “[e]nrollees, or network providers authorized in writing to act on behalf of enrollees, may file requests for grievances and LME/MCO level appeals orally or in writing. However, unless the enrollee or network provider requests an expedited appeal, the oral filing must be followed by a written, signed grievance or appeal.” (emphasis added).

You just need the Medicaid recipient’s consent in writing.

Increased Profit AND Providing Medicaid Services to Recipients: Two Birds…One Stone!

First, how would appealing all terminations, denials and reductions for Medicaid services increase profit for you, as a provider?

For terminations and reductions (not initial authorizations), if you appeal, the Medicaid recipients are required to receive maintenance of service (MOS).  This means that, at the very least (even if you lose), if you appeal, you are able to provide services and be reimbursed for services during the appeal process. 

For example, you have a developmentally disabled (DD) Medicaid client, who has received 8 hours/day personal care services (PCS) for the last 4 years.  You submit your yearly plan of care (POC) requesting 8 hours PCS/day per norm.  The managed care organization (MCO) reduces your client’s PCS to 6 hours/day.  If you timely appeal the reduction or termination, the MCO will be required to reimburse for 8 hours PCS/day throughout the appeal process.

NCGS 108D-6(c) states: “Continuation of Benefits. – An LME/MCO shall continue the enrollee’s benefits during the pendency of a LME/MCO level appeal to the same extent required under 42 C.F.R. § 438.420.”

42 C.F.R. 438.420 states that:

“Continuation of benefits. The MCO or PIHP must continue the enrollee’s benefits if—

(1) The enrollee or the provider files the appeal timely;
(2) The appeal involves the termination, suspension, or reduction of a previously authorized course of treatment;
(3) The services were ordered by an authorized provider;
(4) The original period covered by the original authorization has not expired; and
(5) The enrollee requests extension of benefits.

Pay particular attention to subsection (5)…the enrollee must request MOS.  Don’t forget to add that little phrase into the form that you have the enrollee sign to consent to appeal.

MOS allows you to be paid during the appeal AND the Medicaid recipient to receive the medically necessary services during the pendency of the appeal.

Two birds…one stone.

For terminations and reductions, there is no need to ask for an expedited hearing (will discuss momentarily), because with MOS, there is no hurry (the recipient is receiving the needed services and you are getting paid).

So, let’s turn to an initial denial for a Medicaid service that requires prior authorization and the appeal process:

If the MCO denies an initial authorization, the Medicaid recipient is not entitled to MOS.  However, appealing these initial denials are just as important to (a) the recipients; and (b) your profit as appealing the terminations and denials.

But an appeal can takes months and the recipient (assuming medical necessity truly exists) needs the behavioral health care services in order to not decompensate. So how can the appeal help?

Answer: Request an expedited appeal.

NCGS 108D-7 states:

“When the time limits for completing a standard appeal could seriously jeopardize the enrollee’s life or health or ability to attain, maintain, or regain maximum function, an enrollee, or a network provider authorized in writing to act on behalf of an enrollee, has the right to file a request for an expedited appeal of a managed care action no later than 30 days after the mailing date of the notice of managed care action. For expedited appeal requests made by enrollees, the LME/MCO shall determine if the enrollee qualifies for an expedited appeal. For expedited appeal requests made by network providers on behalf of enrollees, the LME/MCO shall presume an expedited appeal is necessary.”

Important: You still have 30 days to appeal.

Even more important: The MCO is required, by statute, to PRESUME an expedited appeal is necessary.

True the General Assembly really gave mentally ill, developmentally disabled, and substance abuse population the shaft when they passed, and McCrory signed, Senate Bill 553, now Session Law 2013-397, by placing the legal burden of proof on the Medicaid recipient in all circumstances (really??), but the small ray of hope is that, at least as it pertains to expedited appeals, the MCO must presume that an expedited appeal is necessary for the well-being of the recipient.

Going back to expedited appeals, the MCO must make “reasonable efforts” (yes, there is too much wiggle room there) to notify the Medicaid recipient/provider of a denial of an expedited appeal within 2 days.  I also believe that is in the best interest of an MCO to authorize expedited appeals, because….could you imagine the implications and legal liability on the MCO if the MCO denies an appeal to be expedited and something horrible happens to the Medicaid recipient as a direct result of the MCO’s refusal to expedite the appeal????  Or, even worse, the recipient harms others as a  result of the appeal not being expedited??? WHOOO HOOOO….talk about bad PR!!!

So, two days to determine whether the MCO will accept the request for an expedited appeal.  How long for a decision?

According to NCGS 108D-7(d), “[i]f the LME/MCO grants a request for an expedited LME/MCO level appeal, the LME/MCO shall resolve the appeal as expeditiously as the enrollee’s health condition requires, and no later than three working days after receiving the request for an expedited appeal. The LME/MCO shall provide the enrollee and all other affected parties with a written notice of resolution by United States mail within this three-day period.”  (emphasis added).

So, basically, if the MCO takes 2 days to decide to accept the expedited appeal, then there is only 1 additional day to determine the results of the appeal.  That is fast…I don’t care who you are!!

If the MCO denies the expedited appeal, then the MCO has 45 days to provide a decision.

Very Important:  Any adverse decision from an MCO is appealable to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).

Ok, recap:  You, as a provider, want to appeal all Medicaid recipient denials, terminations, and reductions for the following two reasons:

1. Increase profitability for your company; and

2. Help the Medicaid recipients by appealing denials, terminations or reductions, and, hopefully, obtaining the medically necessary services for your clients.

Win…win.

2 birds…1 stone.

Starting Monday, Without a Veto, the Legal Burden of Proof Will ALWAYS Be on the Medicaid Recipients

I am not sure whether you have noticed, but Medicaid recipients have very little pull in North Carolina government.  Medicaid recipients have very little voice in our society.  Obviously, Medicaid recipients are indigent, so they do not have the money to hire lawyers and lobbyists. 

Politicians (while they are campaigning) always protest that they believe that Medicaid recipients are important…that Medicaid is important…but, most importantly, that it is important that Medicaid recipients receive quality health care….right?

We’ve heard the rhetoric over and over.

But then what happens when the politician takes office?

I can tell you what does NOT happen. Medicaid recipients do not band together, hire a lobbyist and begin influencing government policies.

Per norm, the Medicaid recipients remain invisible.  And mute.

I have a client with a daughter.  This daughter, we will call her Jennifer, is in her 30s, but with mentality of an 18-month old.  Jennifer is diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (“TSC”), a rare, multi-system genetic disease.  She is nonverbal and requires 24 hours/day supervision for health and safety and total care for activities of daily living and incidental activities of daily living, just as an 18-month old would require.

The Managed Care Organization (MCO), where Jennifer resides, is Smokey Mountain Center (SMC).  For the last 4 years in North Carolina (five years ago Jennifer resided in California), Jennifer has received 16 hours/day Medicaid. Once SMC went live and Jennifer’s yearly authorization was up for renewal, SMC reduced Jennifer’s services to 12 hours/day, thereby leaving a 4-hour gap in which Jennifer would be  unsupervised. (Shocking that the MCO did not want to foot the bill for the extra 4 hours, right?)

I will spare you the details of the legal arguments on both sides, as, today, my husband made a comment that my blogs were “too long.”

So, we are in the administrative hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) with the attorneys for SMC and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) present.  The ALJ asks me, “Counselor, who has the burden of proof, the Petitioner [us] or the Respondents [them]?”

To which I had to think back to my days during which I worked as an Assistant Attorney General (AG) for NC  (yes, I used to work on the other side…where do you think I learned this stuff?? At law school?)

For those of you without law degrees, the burden of proof (onus probandi, in Latin) is the obligation (hence the Latin word “onus“) on the party in a trial, who must prove [something] in court in order for the burden to shift to the other party to dispute.

Sometimes people will explain the burden of proof as “the necessity of proof always lies with the person who lays charges.”  As in, if you claim that I stole your watch, you must prove I stole it.  I do not have to prove that I did NOT steal it.

This may seem like ridiculous semantics to you, but, legally, who bears the burden of proof is huge.

In Jennifer’s example, the ALJ was asking me whether we (Jennifer) had to prove that she medically needed 16 hours/day Medicaid services or whether the State had to prove why Jennifer did NOT need the 16-hours/day Medicaid services.

If we (Jennifer) put on compelling evidence that she needed 16-hours/day services, and Respondents SMC and DHHS put on equally, compelling evidence that she did NOT need 16-hours/day services, then the Judge would have to rule against the party bearing the legal burden of proof.

As of today, here is the law as to burden of proof for Medicaid recipients:

(d) Burden of Proof. – The recipient has the burden of proof to show entitlement to a requested benefit or the propriety of requested agency action when the agency has denied the benefit or refused to take the particular action. The agency has the burden of proof when the appeal is from an agency determination to impose a penalty or to reduce, terminate, or suspend a previously granted benefit. The party with the burden of proof on any issue has the burden of going forward, and the administrative law judge shall not make any ruling on the preponderance of evidence until the close of all evidence.

(emphasis added). 

Senate Bill 553 will change all this.

Senate Bill 553 states that, “The enrollee has the burden of proof on all issues submitted to OAH for a contested case hearing under this section and has the burden of going forward. The administrative law judge shall not make any ruling on the preponderance of evidence until the close of all evidence in the case.”

The enrollee = the Medicaid recipient.

Therefore, even if the MCO terminates an enrollee’s services (and even if the termination is arbitrary and without merit), the Medicaid RECIPIENT bears the legal burden to prove this.

Really?  Let’s make it even harder for Medicaid recipients to appeal denials or reductions in services.  They can handle it!  They can hire a lawyer!  Right?

Who does this change benefit? Who benefits from the Medicaid recipients bearing the burden of proof in a legal action?

Answer? The MCOs.  And guess what?  The MCOs have lobbyists.  The MCOs have lawyers.

Senate Bill 553 was ratified July 26, 2013.  Which means that SB 553 will be law beginning Monday unless Governor McCrory vetoes the bill by Sunday.  On Sunday (August 25, 2013), McCrory can choose to sign SB 553, allow SB 553 to pass without his signature, or veto the bill.

If McCrory does NOT veto the bill, Medicaid recipients will bear the burden of proof in all contested cases. 

I ask you, why would we as a society place the legal burden of proof on the party LEAST likely to be able to afford a lawyer?

Send Gov. McCrory an email. Veto SB 553!!!