Category Archives: Mental Health Problems
By: Edward M. Roche, the founder of Barraclough NY LLC, a litigation support firm that helps healthcare providers fight against statistical extrapolations.
In the first article in this series, we covered how a new governor of New Mexico recently came into power and shortly thereafter, all 15 of the state’s nonprofit providers for behavioral health services were accused of fraud and replaced with companies owned by UnitedHealthcare.
When a new team is brought in to take over a crisis situation, one might expect that things would improve. The replacement companies might be presumed to transfer to New Mexico newer and more efficient methods of working, and patient services would become better and more efficient. Out with the old, in with the new. The problem in New Mexico is that this didn’t happen – not at all.
The corporate structure in New Mexico is byzantine. UnitedHealth Group, Inc. is a Minnesota corporation that works through subsidiaries, operating companies and joint ventures to provide managed healthcare throughout the United States. In New Mexico, UnitedHealth worked through Optum Behavioral Health Solutions and United Behavioral Health, Inc. OptumHealth New Mexico is a joint venture between UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company and United Behavioral Health, according to the professional services contract signed with the State of New Mexico.
And that’s not all. OptumHealth is not the company providing the services. According to the contract, It was set up to act as a bridge between actual providers of health services and a legal entity called the State of New Mexico Interagency Behavioral Health Purchasing Collaborative. This Collaborative combines together 16 agencies within the state government.
OptumHealth works by using subcontractors to actually deliver healthcare under both Medicaid and Medicare. Its job is to make sure that all claims from the subcontractors are compliant with state and federal law. It takes payment for the claims submitted and then pays out to the subcontractors. But for this service, OptumHealth takes a 28-percent commission, according to court papers.
This is a nice margin. A complaint filed by whistleblower Karen Clark, an internal auditor with OptimumHealth, indicated that from October 2011 until April 2012, OptumHealth paid out about $88.25 million in Medicaid funds and got a commission of $24.7 million. The payments went out to nine subcontractors. Clark claimed that from Oct. 1, 2011 until April 22, 2013, the overall payouts were about $529.5 million, and the 28-percent commission was about $148.3 million.
In spite of the liberal flow of taxpayer money, things did not go well. Clark’s whistleblower suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, claimed that OptumHealth knew of massive fraud but refused to investigate. Clark says she was eventually fired after she uncovered the malfeasance. It appears that even after learning of problems, OptumHealth kept billing away, eager to continue collecting that 28-percent commission.
Clark’s complaint details a number of problems in New Mexico’s behavioral health sector. It is a list of horrors: there were falsified records, services provided by unlicensed providers, use of improper billing codes, claims for services that never were provided, and many other problems. Allegedly, many client files contained no treatment plans or treatment notes, or even records of what treatments had been provided and s services billed for times when offices were closed. The suit also claims that some services were provided by probationers instead of licensed providers, and a number of bills were submitted for a person who was outside the United States at the time.
The complaint further alleges that one provider received $300,000 in payments, but had submitted only $200,000 worth of claims. When Clark discovered this she allegedly was told by her supervisor at OptumHealth that it was “too small to be concerned about”. It also is alleged that a) insight-oriented psychotherapy was billed when actually the client was being taught how to brush their teeth; b) the same services were billed to the same patient several times per month, and files were falsified to satisfy Medicaid rules; c) interactive therapy sessions were billed for patients who were non-verbal and unable to participate; d) individual therapy was claimed when group therapy was given; e) apart from Medicaid, other sources allegedly were billed for exactly the same services; and f) developmentally disabled patients were used to bill for group therapy from which they had no capacity to benefit. Clark also stated that investigations of one provider for false billing were suspended because they were “a big player in the state”.
Other alleged abuse included a provider that submitted claims for 15-20 hours per day of group therapy for 20 to 40 children at a time, and for numerous psychotherapy services never provided. The complaint also describes one individual provider that supposedly worked three days per week, routinely billing Medicaid for twelve 30-minute individual psychotherapy sessions; 12 family psychotherapy sessions; 23 children in group therapy; and 32 children in group interactive psychotherapy each day.
A number of other abuses are detailed in the complaint: a) some providers had secretaries prescribing medication; b) one provider claimed that it saw 30 patients each 90 minutes per day for psychotherapeutic treatment; c) some individuals allegedly submitted claims for 30 hours per day of treatment; and d) some facilities had no credentialed psychotherapist at any of its facilities. Remember that all of these subcontractors are providing behavioral (psychiatric and psychological) services. Clark found that others submitted bills claiming the services were performed by a medical doctor, but there were none at their facility.
And in one of the most stunning abuses imaginable, one provider allegedly diagnosed all of their patients as having autism. Clark believes this was done because it allowed billing under both medical and mental health billing codes.
These are only a few of the apparent problems we see in New Mexico’s behavioral services.
You would think that once all of this had been brought to light, then public authorities such as the state’s Attorney General’s office would be eager to investigate and begin to root out the abusers. But that isn’t what happened.
James Hallinan, a spokesman for that office, stated that “based on its investigation, the Office of the Attorney General determined it would be in the best interest of the State to decline to intervene in the case.”
While it was making this decision, Clark’s allegations remained under court seal. But now they can be shown.
(*) Hallinan, James, spokesman for Attorney General’s office, quoted by Peters, J. and Lyman, A. Lawsuit: $14 million in new Medicaid fraud ignored in botched behavioral health audits, January 8, 2016, NM Political Report, URL: http://nmpoliticalreport.com/26519/lawsuit-optumhealth-botched-audits-of-nm-providers/ accessed March 22, 2016.
This article is based on US ex rel. Karen Clark and State of New Mexico ex rel. Karen Clark and Karen Clark, individually vs. UnitedHealth Group, Inc., United Healthcare Insurance Company, United Behavioral Health, Inc., and OptumHealth New Mexico, Complaint for Damages and Penalties, United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, No. 13-CV-372, April 22, 2013 held under court seal until a few weeks ago.
By: Ed Roche, founder of Barraclough NY LLC, a litigation support firm that helps healthcare providers fight against statistical extrapolations
It was published in RACMonitor.
Healthcare providers sometimes can get caught up in a political storm. When this happens, audits can be used as a weapon to help preferred providers muscle into a market. This appears to have happened recently in New Mexico.
Let’s go back in time.
On Sept. 14, 2010, Susana Martinez was in Washington, D.C. She was looking for campaign contributions to run for the governorship of New Mexico. She visited the office of the government lobbying division of UnitedHealth Group and picked up a check for $25,000.
The next day, Martinez published an editorial claiming that Bill Richardson’s administration in New Mexico was tolerating much “waste, fraud and abuse” in its Medicaid program. Eventually, she was elected as the 31st governor of New Mexico and took office Jan. 1, 2011.
According to an email trail, by the fall of 2012, Martinez’s administration was busy exchanging emails with members of the boards of directors of several healthcare companies in Arizona. During this same period, the Arizonans made a number of contributions to a political action committee (PAC) set up to support Martinez. At the same time, officers from New Mexico’s Human Services Department (HSD) made a number of unannounced visits to Arizona.
The lobbying continued in earnest. Hosted in part by UnitedHealth money, the head of HSD visited Utah’s premier ski resort, and the bill was paid for by an organization financed in part by UnitedHealth. The governor’s chief of staff was treated to dinner at an expensive steakhouse in Las Vegas. There is suspicion of other contacts, but these have not been identified. All of these meetings were confidential.
The governor continued to publicly criticize health services in New Mexico. She focused on 15 mental health providers who had been in business for 40 years. They were serving 87 percent of the mental health population in New Mexico and had developed an extensive delivery system that reached all corners of the state.
Martinez honed in on one mental health provider because the CEO used a private aircraft. He was accused of using Medicaid funds to finance a lavish lifestyle. None of this was true. It turned out that the owner had operations all over the state and used the plane for commuting, but it made for good sound bites to feed the press.
The state decided to raise the pressure against the providers. Public Consulting Group (PCG), a Boston-based contractor, was called in to perform an audit of mental health services. In addition to taking samples and performing analyses of claims, PCG was asked to look for “credible allegations of fraud.”
In legal terms, the phrase “credible allegations of fraud” carries much weight. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, it can be used to justify punitive actions against a provider. It is surprising that only “allegations” are necessary, not demonstrated proof. The reality is that in practical terms, a provider can be shut down based on allegations alone.
In a letter regarding its work, PCG stated that “there are no credible allegations of fraud.” Evidently, that was the wrong answer. PCG was kicked out of New Mexico and not allowed to complete its audit. HSD took over.
The PCG letter had been supplied to HSD in a Microsoft Word format. In a stunning act, HSD removed the statement concluding that there were “no credible allegations of fraud.” HSD continued to use the PCG letter, but only in this altered form.
HSD continued to insist publicly that there were credible allegations of fraud. Since PCG had been kicked out before completing the audit, a HSD staff attorney took the liberty of performing several statistical extrapolations that generated a repayment demand of more than $36 million. During testimony, the attorney admitted that the extent of his experience with statistics was an introductory course he had taken years earlier in college.
Two years later, statistical experts from Barraclough NY LLC who are elected fellows of the American Statistical Association examined HSD’s work and concluded that it was faulty and unreliable. They concluded there was zero credibility in the extrapolations.
But for the time being, the extrapolations and audits were powerful tools. On June 24, 2013, all of the aforementioned 15 nonprofits were called into a meeting with HSD. All were accused of massive fraud. They were informed that their Medicaid payments were to be impounded. The money needed to service 87 percent of New Mexico’s mental health population was being cut off.
The next day, UnitedHealth announced a $22 million investment in Santa Fe. We have not been able to track down the direct beneficiaries of these investments. However, we do know that the governor’s office immediately issued a press release on their behalf.
The 15 New Mexico providers were being driven out of business. This had been planned well in advance. Shortly thereafter, the government of New Mexico, through HSD, [approved] issued $18 million in no-bid contracts to five Arizona-based providers affiliated with UnitedHealth. These are the same companies that had been contributing to the governor’s PAC.
These five Arizona companies then took over all mental health services for New Mexico. Their first step was to begin cutting back services. To give one example: patients with two hours therapy per week were cut back to 10 fifteen-minute sessions per year.It was the beginning of a mental health crisis in New Mexico.
As of today, two of the Arizona providers have abandoned their work in New Mexico. A third is in the process of leaving. What is the result? Thousands of New Mexico mental health patients have been left with no services. Entire communities have been completely shut [cut] off. The most vulnerable communities have been hit the hardest.
Through litigation, the 15 original providers forced the New Mexico Attorney General to examine the situation. It took a long time. All of the providers now are out of business. The Attorney General reported a few weeks ago that there were never any credible allegations of fraud.
This should mean that the impounded money would be returned to the 15 providers. After all, the legal reason why it was impounded in the first place has been shown to be false. One would think that the situation could return to normal.
The original 15 should be able to continue their business, and hire back the more than 1,500 persons they had been forced to lay off. Once the impounded monies are returned to the providers, they will be able to pay their legal bills, which now add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Unfortunately, that is not happening. HSD still is claiming that the $36 million extrapolation is due, and that actually, the providers owe the state money. The New Mexico government is not budging from its position. The litigation continues.
Meanwhile, New Mexico now is tied with Montana in having the highest suicide rate in the continental United States.
In one of the most audacious acts of governmental power, in 2013, New Mexico accused 15 behavioral health care provider agencies of credible allegations of fraud and immediately suspended all Medicaid reimbursements to these agencies. These behavioral health care agencies comprised 87.5% of all New Mexico’s behavioral health care. Hundreds of thousands Medicaid recipients were adversely affected; all of a sudden, their mental health care provider was gone. Most of the companies were devastated. (One company was allowed to stay open because it paid millions to the state). See blog for more. See documentary.
Now, over 2 1/2 years later, three days ago (February 8, 2016), the NM Attorney General cleared 10 of the 15 companies. Oops, sorry, there was never any fraud. Sorry about the devastation of your company.
Imagine losing your job, your reputation, all your money, getting accused of a crime…then let two years pass. You walk into the grocery store (and everywhere else you go) and people stare at you, thinking that you are guilty of the crime for which you are accused. (Ever read “The Count of Monte Cristo?”)
Then you are exonerated. Are you happy or angry?
Here’s the issue: The government has a lot of power. Legally, the government has the authority to accuse you of a crime, seize your home, seize your property, take away your children, to put you in jail, to put you to death, etc.; the only barrier between the government carrying out these drastic measures and you is due process.
So, readers, if you are understanding my logic thus far, you understand the importance of due process.
However, for you who accept Medicare and Medicaid, due process is nonexistent. Since the inception of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), when it comes to accusations of fraud, due process has been suspended.
Hence the situation in New Mexico. Without substantial evidence supporting its decision (remember the Public Consulting Group (PCG) audit in this case actually found no credible allegations of fraud), the State of New Mexico accused 15 companies of fraud, suspended all their reimbursements, and put most of the companies out of business.
With a mere waving of the wand.
And an apology too little too late.
Here is the article (my opinions will be forthcoming):
SANTA FE – The Attorney General’s Office has cleared a third behavioral health agency of Medicaid fraud, and it’s reaching out to audit firms for help in investigating the remaining dozen referred by the Human Services Department two years ago.
Attorney General Hector Balderas said Wednesday that he has issued requests for proposals from audit firms to help with the investigations, to speed up the process.
A spokesman for Balderas, meanwhile, said the AG’s Office has completed its investigation into Raton-based Service Organization for Youth and found no Medicaid fraud on the part of the agency, although there was overbilling.
The AG’s Office referred the case back to the Human Services Department to pursue the overbilling, according to spokesman James Hallinan. The alleged amount was not immediately available.
As an outgrowth of the SOY investigation, a former therapist for the agency was charged six weeks ago by the AG’s Office with Medicaid fraud. She allegedly provided false billing information to SOY.
The Human Services Department in 2013 referred to the attorney general 15 nonprofits that provided services to the mentally ill and addicted, saying an audit it commissioned had found $36 million in overbilling, mismanagement and possible fraud.
Two of the providers – The Counseling Center of Alamogordo and Santa Fe-based Easter Seals El Mirador – had previously been cleared of fraud by the AG’s Office and are in disputes with HSD about what, if anything, they owe for alleged overbilling.
Former Attorney General Gary King, who left office at the end of December, had said it could take up to six years to complete the probes. Balderas said that was too long and got approval from the Legislature during the regular session to shift $1.8 million out of a consumer protection fund to hire extra help.
The request for proposals “is a critical infusion of resources to expedite the behavioral health Medicaid fraud investigations,” Balderas said Wednesday in a statement. He said expanding the pool of experts to work with his staff “will allow our investigation to proceed even more quickly and efficiently, which has always been my priority.”
The request for proposals, issued last week, requires that bidders respond by June 30.
After the Human Services Department cut off Medicaid funding to the providers and referred them to the AG’s Office, it brought in five Arizona companies to take over a dozen of them. SOY, however, had its Medicaid funding restored by HSD and continued to operate, with technical assistance from one of the Arizona firms.
The report on the SOY investigation was not immediately available from Balderas’ office. Hallinan said it was being reviewed before release to ensure that it didn’t affect the criminal proceedings against the former SOY therapist.
Last week I traveled to Houston, Dallas, and Denver to meet with other health care attorneys of Gordon & Rees. It was a great trip and I met some wonderful colleagues. But I was happy to get home to my family, including our new addition of 9 peacock eggs.
Yes, 9 peacock eggs!!
Here is a pic:
(I know that there are 10 eggs in the picture, but we will not talk about the 10th. Just know that we have high hopes that the other 9 are viable and survive!! As of today, at 1:00 pm, all 9 eggs are chirping, but no cracks yet!!)
Oh, and, before I forget…Watch ABC news tonight. I was interviewed for a story about one of my clients.
Anyway, while I was gone, I was unable to post a blog regarding the State Auditor’s most recent audit report regarding Eastpointe. So here it is…
As the managed care organizations (MCOs) continue to accuse health care providers of fraud, waste, and abuse (FWA), it seems from a recent State Auditor report that, at least, one of the MCOs itself is guilty of the very accusation that they are alleging against providers. See blog. And blog.
There is an old story:
A wolf, passing by, saw some shepherds in a hut eating for their dinner a haunch of mutton. Approaching them, he said: What a clamor you would raise, if I were to do as you are doing!
Men are too apt to condemn in others the very things they practice themselves
The audit findings beg the questions…Is it only Eastpointe? Or all 9 MCOs? How much Medicaid money is lining the pockets of MCO executives, instead of paying for medically necessary services for Medicaid recipients? Beth Wood only audited Eastpointe. Is this only the tip of the iceberg?
According to our State Auditor, Eastpointe former executive has lined his pockets with $547,595+…
Here are the key findings from the NC State Auditor’s report regarding Eastpointe:
- Former CFO facilitated apparent kickbacks totaling $547,595 from two Eastpointe contractors
- Former CFO purchased three vehicles totaling $143,041 without a documented business purpose
- Former CFO purchased $18,600 of equipment for personal use
- Former CFO, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and other employees used Eastpointe credit cards to make $157,565 of questionable purchases
- Inadequate CEO and area board oversight contributed to operational failures
Eastpointe is one of 9 MCOs in NC charged with managing and supervising Medicaid behavioral health care services. So what do we do when the entity IN CHARGE of managing Medicaid money is mismanaging tax dollars???
Where is the supervision??
Over the last few years, since the MCOs went live across the state, I have seen the MCOs terminate Medicaid providers for no cause, claim providers owed money, penalties, plans of corrections (POC), and/or refuse to contract with providers for reasons as silly as:
- Failing to put shoes on a paraplegic (no feet), because the assessment included that the patient required help dressing;
- Using green ink (a personal favorite) on a service note;
- Having signatures on service notes that are difficult to read (so the auditors assume that the person doesn’t have the correct licenses).
Here, we have the State Auditor finding that Eastpointe’s former CFO unilaterally hired two contractors to improve Eastpointe’s building (paid for with Eastpointe’s funding), but the former CFO accepting over half a million dollars. This is no green ink! This is no insignificant finding!!
What is Eastpointe’s funding?
As you can see, 72.7% of Eastpointe’s funding is pure Medicaid money. When Eastpointe’s former CFO received $547,595 in kickbacks, 72%, or $394,268.40, should have been used to provide Medicaid behavioral health care services.
These are our tax dollars, people!! These are our tax dollars budgeted to aid our most needy population with behavioral health care services!! These are our tax dollars budgeted to provide psychiatric services, substance abuse services, and services for those with developmental disabilities!!!!
Our State Auditor states in her report, “The former CFO may have violated several state laws including fraud, misrepresentation, and obtaining property by false pretenses.”
Let’s look at a couple of those statutes that may have been violated:
42 U.S. Code § 1320a–7b imposes criminal penalties for acts involving Federal health care programs, and federal dollars pay a portion of our Medicaid program.
North Carolina General Statute § 14-234 states: “No public officer or employee who is involved in making or administering a contract on behalf of a public agency may derive a direct benefit from the contract except as provided in this section, or as otherwise allowed by law.”
The question becomes was the former CFO of Eastpointe, at the time of the receipt of kickbacks a “public officer” or “employee who is involved in making or administrating a contract on behalf of a public agency?” I believe the answer is yes, at least as to the latter.
Here is the point in this blog that my personal views will be aired. I find the former CFO’s behavior significantly opprobrious and reprehensible.
Here we have an MCO which is in charge of behavioral health care for our most vulnerable and needy populations…not just those in poverty, but those in poverty suffering from mental illness, substance abuse, and/or developmental disabilities (MH/SA/DD). Obviously, those Medicaid recipients suffering from MH/SA/DD will not have the means to hire a private attorney to defend their interests. When they receive denials for authorizations or reductions in services, they are defenseless. Sure, some children have strong advocate parents, but, on the whole, those suffering from MH/SA/DD have little to no advocates.
Juxtapose someone sitting in the role of a CFO…a chief financial officer of a company. Think he or she can hire a private attorney?? Think he or she has advocates or means to hire advocates??
How can someone in power abuse that power to the detriment of the under-privileged and sleep at night? I find the State Auditor’s audit findings repugnant beyond comprehension.
We are left with a former CFO who may or may not have committed criminal activity, but, who, at least according to the State Auditor, has received kickbacks. We are left with questions.
Is it only Eastpointe? Or all 9 MCOs? How much Medicaid money is lining the pockets of MCO executives, instead of paying for medically necessary services for Medicaid recipients? Will there be justice?
We can only hope that this audit is a catalyst to consequences.
Knicole Emanuel: Panel Discussion – David Is To Goliath As NC Behavioral Health Care Providers Are To MCOs
Isn’t that analogy apropos? (And it’s not mine…its Benchmarks’)
I will be sitting on a panel today in Raleigh, NC. See below.
A wonderful association, Benchmarks, is hosting a panel discussion for behavioral health care providers. While it is meant for smaller providers, in my own humble opinion, all behavioral health care providers would benefit from this panel discussion.
Senior Counsel, Robert Shaw, and I will be sitting on the panel…with managed care organizations (MCO) representatives. It is without question that I have not been a big fan of the MCOs. If I were to suggest otherwise, I believe that my blog followers would scoff. However, I am interested in hearing these MCO representatives’ side of the argument.
Will these MCO reps merely parrot? Or will they truly engage in worthwhile conversations to understand what it is like for a behavioral health care provider in NC today?
Feel free to join the discussion at 12:30-2:30. Below is the Evite: 3801 Hillsborough St.
“Gov. Susana Martinez’s controversial Human Services Department Secretary Sidonie Squier resigned on Thursday, sources inside the department confirmed,” according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Patsy Romero, COO of Easter Seals El Mirador wrote to me, “post on your blog and say thank God that this woman is out after she falsely accused innocent people of being criminal and specifically targeted individuals without any evidence to support her allegations.”
According to a member of legislature, Squier had stated to the member that she was “after Patsy and Roque.” (Roque is the CEO of the Rio Grande Behavioral Health).
See the documentary about the events in New Mexico leading up to the accusations of fraud against 15 behavioral healthcare providers here.
Obviously, I cannot comment or have an opinion, so here is the rest of the article from the Santa Fe New Mexican:
“In a state that ranks at or near the bottom of the nation in childhood hunger, poverty and unemployment, Squier has been a target of criticisms from groups that advocate for the poor, beginning with a statement in an email last year from her office that no evidence of hunger in the state exists in New Mexico.
Squier later backed off the statement, but came under fire again last year over the sudden removal of 15 behavioral health providers accused of fraud and their replacement with Arizona companies. The Human Services Department’s suspicions have yet to be proven. See my blog: “Because of PCG Audit, New Mexico Freezes Mental Health Services!”
Democrats in the New Mexico Senate this year targeted Squier with a “no confidence” resolution over her remarks about hunger in the state and the behavioral health shakeup.
Since then, a federal judge chided the Human Services Department when he ordered it to immediately eliminate a backlog of thousands of applications for food and health benefits from poor New Mexicans that were months overdue for processing. The department has since satisfied the court that the backlog for those most desperately in need of food assistance has been eliminated, but advocates for impoverished residents of the state say problems in other areas continue to deny eligible applicants much needed benefits.
While working to satisfy the court order over the benefit delays, Squier announced plans to restore a requirement that some food benefit recipients work, receive job training or perform community service in order to keep receiving assistance. A state district judge in Santa Fe delayed the launch of the regulatory change last week in a lawsuit that challenged whether the Human Services Department fully disclosed all the relevant details of the requirement before adopting it.
On Wednesday, the department announced it will start the hearing process for the work requirement anew, further delaying its implementation.
As election results came in Tuesday night and Martinez was swept into office for a second term by a large margin, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-New Mexico, said she planned to apply pressure on the governor to dump Squier based on the volume of complaints Lujan Grisham’s office has received about human services in the state.
“I don’t think that Sidonie Squier is the right leadership for the Human Services Department,” Lujan Grisham told The New Mexican.”