Category Archives: Sandhills
Provider Medicaid Contract Termination Reversed in Court!
First and foremost, important, health care news:
The Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) have full authority to renew post-payments reviews of dates of service (DOS) during the COVID pandemic. The COVID pause is entirely off. It is going to be a mess to wade through the thousands of exceptions. RAC audits of COVID DOS will be, at best, placing a finger on a piece of mercury. I hope that the auditors remember that everyone was scrambling to do their best during the past year and a half. In the upcoming weeks, I will keep you posted.
I am especially excited today. Last week, I won a permanent injunction for a health care facility that but for this injunction, the facility would be closed, its 300 staff unemployed, and its 600 Medicare and Medicaid consumers without access to their mental health and substance abuse providers, their primary care physicians, and the Suboxone clinic. The Judge’s clerk emailed us on Friday. The email was terse although the clerk signified that the email was important by clicking the little, red, exclamation point. It simply stated: After speaking with Judge X, she is dismissing the government’s MTD and granting Petitioner’s permanent injunction. Petitioner’s counsel can send a proposed decision within 10 days. Such a simple email affected so many lives!
We hear Ellen Fink-Samnick MSW, ACSW, LCSW, CCM, CRP, speak about social determinants of health (SDoH) on RACMonitor. Well, this company is minority-owned and the mass percentage of staff and consumers are minorities.
Why was this company on the brink of closing down? The managed care organization (MCO) terminated the company’s Medicaid contract. Medicaid comprised the majority of its revenue. The MCO’s reason was that the company violated 42 CFR §455.106, which states:
“Information that must be disclosed. Before the Medicaid agency enters into or renews a provider agreement, or at any time upon written request by the Medicaid agency, the provider must disclose to the Medicaid agency the identity of any person who:
(1) Has ownership or control interest in the provider, or is an agent or managing employee of the provider; and
(2) Has been convicted of a criminal offense related to that person‘s involvement in any program under Medicare, Medicaid, or the title XX services program since the inception of those programs.”
The former CEO – for years – he relied on professional tax accountants for the company’s taxes and his own personal family’s taxes. His wife, who is a physician, relied on her husband to do their personal taxes as one of his “honey-do” tasks. CEO relied on a sub-par accountant for a couple years and pled guilty to failing to pay personal taxes for two years. The plea ended up in the newspaper and the MCO terminated the facility.
We argued that the company, as an entity, was bigger than just the CEO. Quickly, we filed for a TRO to keep the company open. Concurrently, we transitioned the company from the CEO to Dr. wife. Dr became CEO in a seamless transition. A long-time executive stepped up as HR management.
Yet, according to testimony, the MCO terminated the company’s contract when the newspaper published the article about CEO’s guilty plea. The article was published in a local paper on April 9 and the termination notice was sent out April 19th. It was a quick decision.
We argued that 42 CFR §455.106 didn’t apply because CEO’s guilty plea was:
- Personal and not related to Medicare or Medicaid; and
- Not a conviction but a voluntary plea agreement.
The Judge agreed. We won the TRO for immediate relief. After a four-day hearing and 22 witnesses for Petitioner, we won the preliminary injunction. At this point, the MCO hired outside counsel with our tax dollars, which I did bring up in the final hearing on the merits.
New outside counsel was super excited to be involved. He immediately propounded a ton of discovery asking for things that he already had and for criminal documents that we had no access to because, by law, the government has possession of and CEO never had. Well, new lawyer was really excited, so he filed motions to compel us to produce these unobtainable documents. He filed for sanctions. We filed for sanctions back.
It grew more litigious as the final hearing on the merits approached.
Finally, we presented our case for a permanent injunction, emphasizing the importance of the company and the smooth transition to the new, Dr. CEO. We won! Because we won, the company is open and providing medically necessary services to our most needy population.
And…I get to draft the proposed decision.
Darkness Surrounds MCO Mergers: Are Closed Meetings for MCOs Legal?
Recently, Eastpointe Human Services’ board voted unanimously to consolidate with Cardinal Innovations Healthcare, which would make the merged entity the managed care organization (MCO) overseeing 1/3 of NC’s Medicaid, behavioral health services – 32 counties, in all.
The Board’s decision is subject to the approval of the Secretary, but Eastpointe hopes to consolidate by July 1st.
Whether a consolidation between Eastpointe and Cardinal is good for Medicaid recipients and/or our community, I have no opinion.
But the reason that I have no opinion is because the negotiations, which all deal with public funds, have occurred behind closed doors.
Generally, it is our public policy that public bodies’ actions are to be conducted openly. This is why you can stroll on over to our courthouse and watch, virtually, any case be conducted. There are rare cases in which the court will “seal” or close the record, such as to protect privileged health information or the identity of children. Our public policy that strongly encourages open sessions for public entities exists for good reason. As tax payers, we expect full disclosure and transparency as to how our tax dollars are being used. In a way, all tax paying NC residents are shareholders of NC. Those who spend our tax dollars owe us a fiduciary duty to manage our tax dollars in a reasonable and responsible manner, and we should be able to attend all board meetings and review all meeting minutes. The MCOs are the agents of the single state entity, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), charged with managing behavioral health care for the Medicaid and state-funded population suffering with mental health/developmentally disabled /substance abuse (MR/DD/SA) issues. As an agent of the state, MCOs are public entities.
But, as I am researching the internet in search of Eastpointe and Cardinal board meeting minutes, I realize that the MCOs are initiating closed meetings and quoting N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-318.11, ” Closed sessions” as the basis for being able to conduct closed sessions. And the number of closed sessions that I notice is not a small number.
The deliberations of a merger between two MCOs are highly important to the public. The public needs to know whether the board members are concerned about improving quality and quantity of care. Whether the deliberations surround a more inclusive provider network and providing more services to those in need. Whether the deliberations consider using public funds to create playgrounds or to fund more services for the developmentally disabled. Or are the board members more concerned with which executives will remain employed and what salaried are to be compensated?
You’ve heard of the saying, “Give him an inch and he’ll take a mile?” This is what is going through my mind as I review the statute allowing public bodies to hold closed sessions. Is the statute too open-ended? Is the closed session statute a legal mishandling that unintentionally, and against public policy, allows public meetings to act privately? Or are the MCOs misusing the closed session statute?
So I ask myself the following:
1. Is N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-318.11 applicable to MCOs, or, in other words, can the MCOs conduct closed sessions? and, if the answer to #1 is yes, then
2. Are the MCOs overusing or misusing its ability to hold closed sessions? If the answer to #3 is yes, then
3. What can be done?
These are the three questions I will address in this blog.
Is N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-318.11 applicable to MCOs, or, in other words, can the MCOs conduct closed sessions?
According to the statute, “”public body” means any elected or appointed authority, board, commission, committee, council, or other body of the State, or of one or more counties, cities, school administrative units, constituent institutions of The University of North Carolina, or other political subdivisions or public corporations in the State that (i) is composed of two or more members and (ii) exercises or is authorized to exercise a legislative, policy-making, quasi-judicial, administrative, or advisory function.”
The MCOs are bodies or agents of the state that are composed of more than 2 members and exercises or is authorized to exercise administrative or advisory functions to the extent allowed by the Waivers.
I determine that, in my opinion, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-318.11 is applicable to the MCOs, so I move on to my next question…
Are the MCOs overusing or misusing its ability to hold closed sessions?
As public policy dictates that public bodies act openly, there are enumerated, statutory reasons that a public body may hold a closed session.
A public body may hold a closed session only when a closed session is required:
- “To prevent the disclosure of information that is privileged or confidential pursuant to the law of this State or of the United States, or not considered a public record within the meaning of Chapter 132 of the General Statutes.
- To prevent the premature disclosure of an honorary degree, scholarship, prize, or similar award.
- To consult with an attorney employed or retained by the public body in order to preserve the attorney-client privilege between the attorney and the public body, which privilege is hereby acknowledged. General policy matters may not be discussed in a closed session and nothing herein shall be construed to permit a public body to close a meeting that otherwise would be open merely because an attorney employed or retained by the public body is a participant. The public body may consider and give instructions to an attorney concerning the handling or settlement of a claim, judicial action, mediation, arbitration, or administrative procedure. If the public body has approved or considered a settlement, other than a malpractice settlement by or on behalf of a hospital, in closed session, the terms of that settlement shall be reported to the public body and entered into its minutes as soon as possible within a reasonable time after the settlement is concluded.
- To discuss matters relating to the location or expansion of industries or other businesses in the area served by the public body, including agreement on a tentative list of economic development incentives that may be offered by the public body in negotiations, or to discuss matters relating to military installation closure or realignment. Any action approving the signing of an economic development contract or commitment, or the action authorizing the payment of economic development expenditures, shall be taken in an open session.
- To establish, or to instruct the public body’s staff or negotiating agents concerning the position to be taken by or on behalf of the public body in negotiating (i) the price and other material terms of a contract or proposed contract for the acquisition of real property by purchase, option, exchange, or lease; or (ii) the amount of compensation and other material terms of an employment contract or proposed employment contract.
- To consider the qualifications, competence, performance, character, fitness, conditions of appointment, or conditions of initial employment of an individual public officer or employee or prospective public officer or employee; or to hear or investigate a complaint, charge, or grievance by or against an individual public officer or employee. General personnel policy issues may not be considered in a closed session. A public body may not consider the qualifications, competence, performance, character, fitness, appointment, or removal of a member of the public body or another body and may not consider or fill a vacancy among its own membership except in an open meeting. Final action making an appointment or discharge or removal by a public body having final authority for the appointment or discharge or removal shall be taken in an open meeting.
- To plan, conduct, or hear reports concerning investigations of alleged criminal misconduct.
- To formulate plans by a local board of education relating to emergency response to incidents of school violence or to formulate and adopt the school safety components of school improvement plans by a local board of education or a school improvement team.
- To discuss and take action regarding plans to protect public safety as it relates to existing or potential terrorist activity and to receive briefings by staff members, legal counsel, or law enforcement or emergency service officials concerning actions taken or to be taken to respond to such activity.”
Option 1 clearly applies, in part, to privileged health information (PHI) and such. So I would not expect that little Jimmy’s Medicaid ID would be part of the board meeting issues, and, thus, not included in the minutes, unless his Medicaid ID was discussed in a closed session.
I cannot fathom that Option 2 would ever be applicable, but who knows? Maybe Alliance will start giving out prizes…
I would assume that Option 3 is used most frequently. But notice:
“General policy matters may not be discussed in a closed session and nothing herein shall be construed to permit a public body to close a meeting that otherwise would be open merely because an attorney employed or retained by the public body is a participant.”
Which means that: (1) the closed session may only be used to talk about specific legal strategies and not general policies. For example, arguably, an MCO could hold a closed session to consult with its attorney whether to appeal a specific case, but not to discuss whether, generally, the MCO intends to appeal all unsuccessful cases.
(2) the MCO cannot call for a closed session “on the fly” and only because its attorney happens to be participating in the board meeting.
As I am rifling through random board meeting minutes, I notice the MCO’s attorney is always present. Now, I say “always,” but did not review all MCO meeting minutes. There may very well be board meetings at which the attorneys don’t attend. However, the attorney is present for the minutes that I reviewed.
Which begs the question…Are the MCOs properly using the closed sessions?
Then I look at Options 4, and 5, and 6, and 7, and 8, and 9…and I realize, Geez, according to one’s interpretation, the statute may or may not allow almost everything behind closed doors. (Well, maybe not 9). But, seriously, depending on the way in which each Option is interpreted, there is an argument that almost anything can be a closed session.
Want to hold a closed session to discuss why the CEO should receive a salary of $400,000? N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-318.11(5)(ii).
Want hold a closed session to discuss the anonymous tip claim that provider X is committing Medicaid fraud? N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-318.11(7).
Want to hold a closed session to discuss how an MCO can position itself to take over the world? N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-318.11(4).
In an atmosphere in which there is little to no supervision of the actions of the MCOs, who is monitoring whether the MCOs are overusing or misusing closed sessions?
What can you do if you think that an MCO is holding closed sessions over and above what is allowed by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-318.11?
According to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-318.16A, “[a]ny person may institute a suit in the superior court requesting the entry of a judgment declaring that any action of a public body was taken, considered, discussed, or deliberated in violation of this Article. Upon such a finding, the court may declare any such action null and void. Any person may seek such a declaratory judgment, and the plaintiff need not allege or prove special damage different from that suffered by the public at large.”
Plus, according to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-318.16A, “[w]hen an action is brought pursuant to G.S. 143-318.16 or G.S. 143-318.16A, the court may make written findings specifying the prevailing party or parties, and may award the prevailing party or parties a reasonable attorney’s fee, to be taxed against the losing party or parties as part of the costs. The court may order that all or any portion of any fee as assessed be paid personally by any individual member or members of the public body found by the court to have knowingly or intentionally committed the violation; provided, that no order against any individual member shall issue in any case where the public body or that individual member seeks the advice of an attorney, and such advice is followed.”
In sum, if you believe that an MCO is conducting a closed session for a reason not enumerated above, then you can institute a lawsuit and request attorneys’ fees if you are successful in showing that the MCO knowingly or intentionally committed the violation.
We should also appeal to the General Assembly to revise, statutorily, more narrowly drafted closed session exceptions.
Managed Care – Eight Reasons Why MCOs Smell Like Pre-Minced Garlic
When it comes to the managed care organizations (MCOs) in NC, something smells rancid, like pre-minced garlic. When I first met my husband, Scott, I cooked with pre-minced garlic that comes in a jar. I figured it was easier than buying fresh garlic and dicing it myself. Scott bought fresh garlic and diced it. Then he asked me to smell the fresh garlic versus the pre-minced garlic. There was no contest. Next to the fresh garlic, the pre-minced garlic smelled rancid. That is the same odor I smell when I read information about the MCOs – pre-minced garlic in a jar.
In NC, MCOs are charged with managing Medicaid funds for behavioral health care, developmentally disabled, and substance abuse services. When the MCOs were initially created, we had 13. These are geographically situated, so providers and recipients have no choice with which MCO to interact. If you live in Sandhills’ catchment area, then you must go through Sandhills. If you provide services in Cardinal’s catchment area, then you must contract with Cardinal – even though you already have a provider participation agreement with the State of NC to provide Medicaid services in the State of NC.
Over the years, there has been consolidation, and now we have 7 MCOs.
From left to right: Smoky Mountain (Duke blue); Partners Behavioral Health (Wake Forest gold); Cardinal Innovations Healthcare (ECU purple); Sandhills (UNCC green); Alliance Behavioral Healthcare (mint green); Eastpointe (Gap Khaki); and Trillium (highlighter yellow/green).
Recently, Cardinal (ECU purple) and Eastpointe (Gap khaki) announced they will consolidate, pending authorization from the Secretary of DHHS. The 20-county Cardinal will morph into a 32-county, MCO giant.
Here is the source of the rancid, pre-minced, garlic smell (in my opinion):
One – MCOs are not private entities. MCOs are prepaid with our tax dollars. Therefore, unlike Blue Cross Blue Shield, the MCOs must answer to NC taxpayers. The MCOs owe a duty of financial responsibility to taxpayers, just like the state government, cities, and towns.
Two – Cardinal CEO, Richard Topping, is paid $635,000, plus he has a 0 to 30 percent bonus potential which could be roughly another $250,000, plus he has some sort of annuity or long-term package of $412,000 (with our tax dollars).
Three – Cardinal is selling or has sold the 26 properties it owns or owned (with our tax dollars) to lease office space in the NASCAR Plaza office tower in uptown Charlotte for $300 to $400 per square foot plus employee parking (with our tax dollars).
Four – Cardinal charges 8% of public funds for its administrative costs. (Does that include Topping’s salary and bonuses?) How many employees are salaried by Cardinal? (with our tax dollars).
Five – The MCOs are prepaid. Once the MCOs receive the funds, the funds are public funds and subject to fiscal scrutiny. However, the MCOs keep whatever funds that it has at the end of the fiscal year. In other words, the MCOs pocket any money that was NOT used to reimburse a provider for a service rendered to a Medicaid recipient. Cardinal – alone – handles around $2.8 billion in Medicaid funding per year for behavioral health services. The financial incentive for MCOs? Terminate providers and reduce/deny services.
Six – MCOs are terminating providers and limiting access to care. In my law practice, I am constantly defending behavioral health care providers that are terminated from an MCO catchment area without cause or with erroneous cause. For example, an agency was terminated from their MCO because the agency had switched administrative offices without telling the MCO. The agency continued to provide quality services to those in need. But, because of a technicality, not informing the MCO that the agency moved administrative offices, the MCO terminated the contract. Which,in turn, puts more money in the MCO’s pocket; one less provider to pay. Is a change of address really a material breach of a contract? Regardless – it is an excuse.
Seven – Medicaid recipients are not receiving medically necessary services. Either the catchment areas do not have enough providers, the MCOs are denying and reducing medically necessary services, or both. Cardinal cut 11 of its state-funded services. Parents of disabled, adult children write to me, complaining that their services from their MCO have been slashed for no reason….But the MCOs are saving NC money!
Eight – The MCOs ended 2015 with a collective $842 million in the bank. Wonder how much money the MCOs have now…(with our tax dollars).
Rancid, I say. Rancid!
The Merger of the MCOs!
Breaking News: From DHHS
State health officials announced today that the state- and Medicaid-funded Local Management Entities/Managed Care Organizations providing mental health, intellectual and developmental disability and substance use services to North Carolina citizens will be consolidating into four service regions across the state.
Further consolidation will improve quality of services, accessibility, accountability and long-term sustainability.
“I’m a strong believer in LME/MCOs,” said Rick Brajer, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. “These populations deserve dedicated management.”
The newly consolidated service areas are:
- North Central Region: CenterPoint Human Services and Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions will be merging
- South Central Region: Sandhills Center and Alliance Behavioral Healthcare will be merging
- Eastern Region: Eastpointe and Trillium Health Resources will be merging
- Western Region: Partners Behavioral Health Management and Smoky Mountain LME/MCO will be merging
MCO CEO Compensated $400,000 Plus Bonuses with Our Tax Dollars!
On July 1, 2014, Cardinal Innovations, one of NC’s managed care organizations (MCOs) granted its former CEO, Ms. Pam Shipman, a 53% salary increase, raising her salary to $400,000/year. In addition to the raise, Cardinal issued Ms. Shipman a $65,000 bonus based on 2013-2014 performance.
$400,000 a year, plus bonuses. Apparently, I got into the wrong career; the public sector seems to pay substantially more.
Then in July 2015, according to the article in the Charlotte Observer, Cardinals paid Ms. Shipman an additional $424,975, as severance. Within one year, Ms. Shipman was paid by Cardinal a whopping $889,975. Almost one million dollars!!!! To manage 16 counties’ behavioral health care services for Medicaid recipients.
For comparison purposes, the President of the United States earns $400,000/year (to run the entire country). Does the CEO of Cardinal equate to the President of the United States? Like the President, the CEO of Cardinal, along with all the other MCOs’ CEOs, are compensated with tax dollars.
Remember that the entire purpose of the MCO system is to decrease the risk of Medicaid budget overspending by placing the financial risk of overspending on the MCO instead of the State. In theory, the MCOs would be apt to conservatively spend funds and more carefully monitor the behavioral health care services provided to consumers within its catchment area to ensure medically necessity and not wasteful, unnecessary services.
Also, in theory, if the mission of the MCOs were to provide top-quality, medically necessary, behavioral health care services for all Medicaid recipients in need within its catchment area, as the MCOs often tout, then, theoretically, the MCOs would decrease administrative costs in order to provide higher quality, beefier services, increase reimbursement rates to incentivize health care providers to accept Medicaid, and maybe, even, not build a brand, new, stand-alone facility with top-notch technology and a cafeteria that looks how I would imagine Googles’ to look.
Here is how Cardinal’s building was described in 2010:
This new three-story, 79,000-square-foot facility is divided into two separate structures joined by a connecting bridge. The 69,000-square-foot building houses the regional headquarters and includes Class A office space with conference rooms on each floor and a fully equipped corporate board room. This building also houses a consumer gallery and a staff cafe offering an outdoor dining area on a cantilevered balcony overlooking a landscaped ravine. The 10,000-square-foot connecting building houses a corporate training center. Computer access flooring is installed throughout the facility and is supported by a large server room to maintain redundancy of information flow.
The MCOs are not private companies. They do not sell products or services. Our tax dollars comprise the MCOs’ budget. Here is a breakdown of Cardinal’s budgetary sources from last year.
The so-called “revenues” are not revenues; they are tax dollars…our tax dollars.
78.1% of Cardinal’s budget, in 2014, came from our Medicaid budget. The remaining 21.7% came from state, federal, and county tax dollars, leaving .2% in the “other” category.
Because Cardinal’s budget is created with tax dollars, Cardinal is a public company working for all of us, tax paying, NC, residents.
When we hear that Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, received $9.22 million in compensation last year, we only contributed to his salary if we bought Apple products. If I never bought an Apple product, then his extraordinarily high salary is irrelevant to me. If I did buy an Apple product, then my purchase was a voluntary choice to increase Apple’s profits, or revenues.
When we hear that Cardinal Innovations paid $424,975 to ousted CEO, Pam Shipman, over and above her normal salary of $400,000 a year, we all contributed to Shipman’s compensation involuntarily. Similarly, the new CEO, Richard Toppings, received a raise when he became CEO to increase his salary to $400,000 a year. Again, we contributed to his salary.
A private company must answer to its Board of Directors. But an MCO, such as Cardinal, must answer to tax payers.
I work very hard, and I expect that my dollars be used intelligently and for the betterment of society as a whole. Isn’t that the purpose of taxes? I do not pay taxes in order for Cardinal to pay its CEO $400,000.
For better or for worse, a large percentage of our tax dollars, here in NC, go to the Medicaid budget. I would venture that most people would agree that, as a society, we have a moral responsibility to ensure that our most vulnerable population…our poorest citizens…have adequate health care. No one should be denied medical coverage and our physicians cannot be expected to dole out charity beyond their means.
We know that Medicaid recipients have a difficult time finding physicians who will accept Medicaid. We know that a Medicaid card is inferior to a private payor card and limits provider choice and allowable services. We know that certain services for which our private insurances pay, simply, are not covered by Medicaid. Why should a Medicaid-insured person receive sub-par medical services or have more difficulty finding willing providers, while privately insured persons receive high quality medical care with little effort? See blog or blog.
Part of the trouble with Medicaid is the low reimbursements given to health care providers. Health-care consulting firm Merritt Hawkins conducted a study of Medicaid acceptance rates which found that just 45.7 percent of physicians are now accepting Medicaid patients in the U.S.’s largest 15 cities and the numbers worsen when you look at sub-specialties.
The reimbursement rates are so low for health care providers; the Medicaid services are inadequate, at best; and people in need of care have difficulty finding Medicaid physicians. Yet the CEO of Cardinal Innovations is compensated $400,000 per year.
Cardinal has 635 employees. Its five, top-paid executives are compensated $284,000-$400,000 with bonuses ranging $56,500-$122,000.
Richard Topping, Cardinal’s new CEO, told the Charlotte Observer that “it doesn’t cut into Medicaid services.”
He was also quoted as saying, “It’s a lot of money. It is. You’ve just got to look at the size and the scope and the scale.”
In contrast, Governor McCrory is compensated approximately $128,000. Is McCrory’s “size, scope, and scale” smaller than the CEO’s of Cardinal? Is the CEO of Cardinal “size and scope and scale,” more akin to the President of the US?
“We are a public entity that acts like a private company for a public purpose,” Toppings says. Each MCO’s Board of Directors approve salaries and bonuses.
Cardinal is not the only MCO in NC compensating its CEO very well. However, according to the Charlotte Observer, Cardinal’s CEO’s compensation takes the cake.
Smokey Mountain Center (SMC) pays its Chief Medical Officer Craig Martin $284,000 with a $6,789 longevity bonus.
Four years ago, before the initial 11 MCOs, the administrative cost of the MCOs was nonexistent (except for the pilot program, Piedmont Behavioral Health, which is Cardinal now). Implementing the MCO system increased administrative costs, without question. But by how much? How much additional administrative costs are acceptable?
Is it acceptable to pay $400,000+ for a CEO of a public entity with our tax dollars?
A Brave New World With Mergers and Acquisitions of Behavioral Health Care Providers: Not Always Happily Ever After!
Unintentionally, I misrepresented the Benchmark panel discussion on which I appeared last Thursday. See blog. I thought that I would be sitting on the panel along with MCO representatives. I honestly cannot tell you from where I got this idea. Maybe it was a subconscious desire. Regardless, the panel discussion was about merges and acquisitions among behavioral health care providers. While the subject of managed care organizations (MCOs) did come up, managed care was not the primary subject. And the only MCO representative that I saw was Smokey Mountain’s attorney.
Nevertheless, the panel discussion went fantastic and was informative for those who attended. I will summarize the panel discussion here for those who could not attend. First, if you are a behavioral health care provider in NC, joining an association, such as Benchmarks, is an asset. Not only do you get the benefit of attending educational programs, but you also have the opportunity to meet other behavioral health care providers across the state at the events. You never know the potential relationships that could be created by attending a Benchmark event.
Going back to the panel…
There were 5 people sitting on the panel. Besides myself, the panel consisted of Robert Shaw, Senior Counsel with me at Gordon & Rees, Frank Williams, a broker who facilitates mergers and acquisitions for health care providers, and two CEOs of health care providers who have undergone successful mergers and/or acquisitions.
The general consensus of the panel was that the future of behavioral health care will be larger companies which offer multiple services, instead of mom and pop shops that provide few types of services. The panel was intended to bring potential mergers/acquisitions together in one venue and to educate the providers on “Do’s and Don’ts of Merging/Acquiring,” which is summarized below.
This consensus is generally derived from the MCO atmosphere here in NC. Right or wrong, the MCOs are operating in closed networks and have the financial incentives to save money by contracting with fewer providers and decreasing authorizations for Medicaid services requested by Medicaid recipients. See blog. And blog. And blog.
The MCOs seem to be terminating or refusing to contract with smaller health care providers, which, in turn, incentivize small health care providers to join other providers in order to grow its footprint.
Merging or acquiring a company is similar to partnering with another person in marriage. Both parties have to familiarize themselves with the other’s habits, expectations, learn the other’s faults/liabilities, and, ultimately, have to work together on projects, issues and other matters. And as we can discern from today’s high divorce rate, not everyone lives happily ever after.
Some marriages, as well as mergers, simply do not work. Others live happily ever after.
The two provider panelists shared successful merger/acquisition stories. Both shared experiences in creating new and larger entities effectively. Both panelists were happy with the mergers/acquisitions and hopeful as to what the future will bring both new entities.
But all mergers and acquisitions do not have happy endings. The two entities do not always live happily ever after.
Robert and I shared a story of an acquisition from Hades. There is no other way to describe the outcome of the acquisition.
The story of these two companies begins with the fact that the companies leased space in the same building. One company was on floor 2 and the other was on floor 1. The staff knew each other in passing.
The problem with the merger of these companies stemmed from a difference in culture.
Theoretically, the two companies did everything right. The owner of the company getting acquired agreed to stay and work for the company buying it in order to ensure consistency. The buying company agreed to hire all the seller’s employees at their current salaries. The acquisition was to be seamless.
The problems arose when news of the acquisition passed to the employees. There was genuine discontentment with the arrangement. The employees from the seller reacted with hostility and resentment. Prior to the acquisition, the seller was fairly lax in regulatory compliance. For example, if a service note was not drafted and filed the date of services….eh?…not that big of a deal. Well, the buyer had strict document compliance rules for daily service notes. Anytime more stringent policies are enacted on employees, there is sure to be a negative reaction. The buyer also expected the seller’s employees to provide more services for the same salary received before the acquisition.
There was no legal or logical step omitted in the acquisition of the one company to the other. On paper, the acquisition should have been successful. But, then, personalities got in the way of happily ever after.
The other panelists offered great advice as to mergers and acquisitions, both from the providers’ view and a broker’s view. I have compiled the advice that I recall below. I have taken the liberty to provide analogous dating advice, as well, since marriages and mergers/acquisitions are so similar. Hope it helps!!
Do’s and Don’ts of Mergers/Acquisitions
- Do not let the secret out.
One provider panelist explained that if your employees learn of a possible merger/acquisition, they will kill the deal. Confide only in the CEO of the firm of which you are looking to merge, acquire, or sell. Those dating: Never tell other that you want to marry (until the appropriate time).
- Look outside your catchment area.
The reason companies merge/acquire is to grow. Think of potential companies outside your own catchment area to grow even more. For example, if you are in Alliance’s catchment area, think of merging with a company in ECBH/Eastpointe’s area. Those dating: Have you exhausted your resources? Think of others, such as church, Match.com, etc.
- Do your due diligence
This is a task as important as the oxygen you breath. The last thing that you want is to acquire or merge with a company that owes $500,000 in employment taxes or an alleged overpayment. Part of due diligence will be to check the credentials of every single staff member. If someone is acting in the role of a LCAS, ensure the person is appropriately licensed. Those dating: Is he/she employed? Have significant debt?
- Review the other company’s documentation policies
This could be lumped into the due diligence section, but I think its importance is worth emphasizing. Whatever service(s) the other company provides, what are its policies as to documentation? Does the provider have a computer program to maintain electronic health records (EHR)? Does it employ paper copies? Does the other company require the providers to submit daily service notes? Look at your own documentation policies. Contemplate whether your own documentation policies would mesh well with the other company’s policies. Those dating: How does your potential partner document spending, taxes, and calendared events?
- Analyze both company’s corporate culture
Merging or acquiring a company is difficult in many ways, but it’s also hard on staff. Imagine walking into work one day and you notice that the staff had doubled…or tripled. And you and your colleagues are being told what to do by someone you never met. This is not an uncommon occurrence with mergers and acquisitions. Sometimes accepting change of supervision or team members can be a bitter pill to swallow. How will you work through employee issues? Personality clashes? Ego fights? Those dating: Analyze both person’s personalities, dispute resolutions, religion and beliefs. Do you like his/her friends?
In addition to the potential conflicts with employees that stay with the merged entity, you also need to contemplate which employees, if any, may, potentially leave the new entity. Disgruntled employees are a liability. Those dating: How does he/she treat ex-partners?
- Research the company’s relationship with its MCO
In our current MCO atmosphere, it is imperative to know, before merging or acquiring, whether the company has a good relationship with its MCO. What if you acquire the company and its MCO refuses to continue to contract with the new entity. Knowing the company’s relationship with the MCO is not an absolute. As in, the company may believe it to have a good relationship with the MCO, while, in truth, it does not. Ask to review some correspondence between the company and the MCO to discern the tone of the communications. Those dating: How does he/she treat his/her mother/father?
- Surround yourself with knowledge
Have a broker and an attorney with expertise in Medicaid. Those dating: What do your friends think?
To watch the video of me speaking as a panelist for Benchmark, click here. Scroll down until you see the video with Robert and me.
Otherwise, I hope you live happily ever after!
Knicole Emanuel: Panel Discussion – David Is To Goliath As NC Behavioral Health Care Providers Are To MCOs
Isn’t that analogy apropos? (And it’s not mine…its Benchmarks’)
I will be sitting on a panel today in Raleigh, NC. See below.
A wonderful association, Benchmarks, is hosting a panel discussion for behavioral health care providers. While it is meant for smaller providers, in my own humble opinion, all behavioral health care providers would benefit from this panel discussion.
Senior Counsel, Robert Shaw, and I will be sitting on the panel…with managed care organizations (MCO) representatives. It is without question that I have not been a big fan of the MCOs. If I were to suggest otherwise, I believe that my blog followers would scoff. However, I am interested in hearing these MCO representatives’ side of the argument.
Will these MCO reps merely parrot? Or will they truly engage in worthwhile conversations to understand what it is like for a behavioral health care provider in NC today?
Feel free to join the discussion at 12:30-2:30. Below is the Evite: 3801 Hillsborough St.
NC MCOs and Consolidation: “When the Music Stops? Nobody Knows!”
Our General Assembly is pushing for the managed care organizations (MCOs) to consolidate and/or morph. Consolidating the MCOs makes fiscal sense for our state, but if I were executive management at an MCO, I would be be anxiously awaiting direction from our General Assembly. A metaphoric 3-4 chair game of”Musical Chairs” is proceeding with 9 (now 8) players. Five to six players will have no chairs when the music stops.
What are MCOs? See blog and blog.
Multiple bills have been proposed.
Senate Bill 703 proposes 3 statewide MCOs. Senate Bill 574 seems to incorporate provider-led capitated health plans, but is unclear as to the exact model. Senate Bill 696 seems to create a symphony of provider-led and nonprovider-led, risk-based entities. Senate Bill 568 contemplates licensed commercial health insurers offering health care plans.
No one really knows how many MCOs will remain in the end…if any. Regardless, what the number of existing MCOs in the future will be, there is little dispute that the number will be fewer than the number of MCOs that exist now.
In an atmosphere where there is supposition that there are too many people or companies and that only a few will remain, competition brews. People/companies are forced to strategize if they want to survive.
Think about the childhood game, “Musical Chairs.” You start with a large group of people, but with one less chair than the number of people. The music plays and the players meander around at a relatively slow pace, around and around, until the music stops. And what happens when the music stops? The people scramble for a chair. The person left standing is “out” and must sit on the sideline.
We have 9, soon to be 8, MCOs in NC right now. And the music is playing. But which MCOs will be left standing when the music stops?
Here is a map of our current MCOs:
As of July 1, CoastalCare and East Carolina Behavioral Healthcare (ECBH) will be merged. We will be down to 8 MCOs. Which means that the light blue on the bottom right hand side of the map will merge with the bright yellow on top right hand side of the map.
Mecklenburg county, which houses most of the Charlotte area, was not always light purple. It recently merged with Cardinal Innovations.
Partners (light yellow) and Smokey Mountain (dark blue) had serious discussions of a merger until, recently, when both walked away from negotiations of merger.
Why should it matter which MCOs are in existence or how many? Theoretically, it shouldn’t. These MCOs are created in order to manage behavioral health care (Medicaid services for those suffering from substance abuse, mental illness, and developmentally disabled), not to make a profit, right? The only issue of importance should be that medically necessary behavioral health care services are rendered to Medicaid recipients in the most efficient and most effective manner.
Yet competing interests come into play.
Think about it…each MCO employs hundreds of people. Each MCO has a CEO, who is not working for free. Generally, unless other arrangements have been negotiated, there can only be one CEO per MCO. When there are 2+ MCOs merging with 2 CEOs and only 1 “chair” for 1 CEO, it can seem like “Musical Chairs.” Multiple people are vying for one “chair.”
The money at issue for behavioral health care in NC is not a small amount. It is likened to a fire hose spouting money. We have a Medicaid budget in NC of approximately 14 billion dollars. To put it in perspective, with $14 billion dollars, you could purchase the LA Lakers 14 times. This is how much money we spend on Medicaid every year. It is really quite staggering when you think about it.
As every North Carolinian learns in the 6th grade, North Carolina is composed of 100 counties. The estimated Medicaid budget of $14 billion is allocated across 100 counties and among approximately 1.9 million Medicaid recipients.
When it was decided to implement the MCOs across the state, about 2012-ish (we actually obtained permission from CMS for the waiver years prior to 2012, but we began with a pilot and did not implement the MCOs statewide until 2012-13), we found ourselves, initially, with eleven MCOs, and now we have 9…soon to be 8.
The newly merged entity of CoastalCare and ECBH (CC+ECBH) will manage state funds and Medicaid dollars for behavioral health services across 24 counties in eastern North Carolina. In other words almost ¼ of the Medicaid budget will be handed to CC+ECBH, leaving approximately ¾ of the Medicaid budget for 7 other MCOs (the budget is determined by number of recipients, so I am assuming, for the purpose of this blog, that more counties mean more people).
The amount of counties controlled by the remaining 7 MCOs are as follows:
Looking at the chart above, it would appear that Smoky and CC+ECBH will manage almost 1/2 the state’s behavioral health care for Medicaid.
Prior to the 1915 b/c Waiver allowing the MCOs to manage behavioral services for Medicaid recipients in NC, DHHS managed it. (Obviously ValueOptions and other vendors had a part in it, but not with actual management). As the single state agency for Medicaid, DHHS cannot delegate administrative duties to contracted parties without a “Waiver,” or permission for an exception from the federal government, or, more specifically, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
Prior to the 1915 b/c Waiver, we did not have 9 companies with hundreds of employees managing behavioral health care for Medicaid recipients. We had DHHS, which employs approximately 18,000 employees. To my knowledge DHHS did not terminate those employees who were in charge of behavioral health care issues in order to compensate the creation of new companies/employees. In other words, say 1000 people at DHHS devoted their time to issues arising our of behavioral health care. Once we had an additional 9 (well, 11, at first), those 1000 employees were not asked to join the MCOs. Maybe some did, but, to my knowledge, there was no suggestion or incentive or requirement to leave DHHS and go to an MCO (to shift the administrative burden).
When we created an additional 9 (well, 11 at first) companies to, essentially, take over behavioral health care…
We created more administrative costs, in order to lift the risk of overspending the Medicaid budget off the state. It is estimated that America wastes $190 billion in excess administrative costs per year.
In theory, consolidating the MCOs would decrease administrative costs by having fewer paid employees, not dissimilar to why MCOs want a closed network. See blog. Again, in theory, having fewer MCOs may create a more consistent statewide manner in managing behavioral health care.
Assume for the purpose of this blog that each MCO employs 100 people (which is a very low number) and each employee is paid $50,000, then the administrative cost associated with delegating behavioral health care to MCOs equals $500,000, counting only employee salaries. Multiple that number by 9 (number of current MCOs) and you get an increased administrative cost of approximately $4.5 million dollars per year, not counting the additional overhead each MCO bears (rent/mortgage, equipment, salary benefits, health care benefits, etc.). Plus you have to include the top management’s salaries, because you know the executives are receiving more than $50,000/year.
What motivated us to implement a MCOs system? With an MCO system, the General Assembly is able to allocate funds for Medicaid and place the risk of going over the budget on the MCOs, not the state. This is a completely understandable and reasonable objective. It is without question that the Medicaid budget is swelling to the point of unsustainability.
However, are we trading “control/supervision” for “knowability?” Are we also trading “risk” for “higher administrative costs,” which, in turn, equals less Medicaid dollars for providers and Medicaid recipients? Every dollar paid to an MCO employee is a dollar not going to a health care provider to reimburse for services.
For these reasons, the government’s push for consolidation of the MCOs is astute. Fewer MCOs = less administrative costs. Fewer MCOs = easier supervision by DHHS.
Less administrative costs = more Medicaid dollars going to providers…to serve our most needy. Because, at the end of the day, the most important issue when it comes to Medicaid is providing quality care for recipients.
It is no matter which entity controls/manages behavioral health care for Medicaid, because regardless the entity, that entity should be managing our tax dollars in the most efficient way that provides the best quality to services to those in need.
“Around and around we go, when we stop? Nobody knows…” But we do know this…when the music stops, there will be scrambling!
Broken Promises and the NC Waiver: You Do NOT Get Your Choice of Provider!!
In the 1968 Presidential campaign, Richard Nixon stated that “new leadership will end the war” in Vietnam. Also, in a 1968 interview, Nixon said he had “no magic formula” or “gimmick” for ending the Vietnam War. Then, in his memoirs, Nixon stated he never claimed to have such a plan. This is called a broken election promise.
Sadly, Richard Nixon’s broken election promise was not the first, nor would it be the last. We have become used to politicians making election promises and breaking those same promises which got them elected once they are in office.
“If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.”
“Read my lips: no new taxes.”
Over the last few years, I have written ad nausem about accountability and proper supervision when it comes to the Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) in North Carolina. The other day, I was reviewing some pertinent federal regulations and came across this:
§ 438.52 Choice of MCOs, PIHPs, PAHPs, and PCCMs.
• General rule. Except as specified in paragraphs (b) and (c) of this section, a State that requires Medicaid beneficiaries to enroll in an MCO, PIHP, PAHP, or PCCM must give those beneficiaries a choice of at least two entities.
Obviously, North Carolina is not adhering to the above-referenced requirement.
Pull up the Waiver. In order to offer Medicaid enrollees only one MCO or other such entity, North Carolina would have had to request a waiver of 42 CFR § 438.52.If you rely on Medicaid for behavioral health care and live in Wake County, you have no choice but to rely on the provider network of only entity, Alliance Behavioral Health (Alliance), to receive services. For example, you do not get to choose between Alliance’s provider network and Eastpointe Behavioral Healthcare’s (Eastpointe) provider network. Staying with the same theoretical hypothesis, if your provider was not anointed with the gift of being in Alliance’s network, then you do not get to stay with your provider.
“If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.”
Similar to President Barack Obama’s contention quoted above, we made similar promises to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Our promises are found within our Waivers. We have two Waivers, one for the developmentally disabled population and one for the mentally ill/substance abuse population. Each Waiver waives certain federal exceptions. However, in lieu of the federal requirements, we make certain promises to CMS. In order to waive 42 CFR § 438.52, we made certain promises to CMS in order to circumvent the necessary provisions of 42 CFR § 438.52.
The State sought a waiver of section 1902(a)(4) of the Act:
“The State seeks a waiver of section 1902(a)(4) of the Act, which requires States to offer a choice of more than one PIHP or PAHP per 42 CFR 438.52. Please describe how the State will ensure this lack of choice of PIHP or PAHP is not detrimental to beneficiaries’ ability to access services.”
Here are our promises:
“Under these circumstances, the State does not believe that making only one plan available in each geographic area of the State will negatively impact recipients’ access to care.”
“The LMEs have decades of experience locating and developing services for consumers with MH/IDD/SAS needs, and over the years, have built strong and collaborative working relationships with the providers of these services.”
“These providers support this initiative and consumers have at least as much choice in individual providers as they had in the non-managed care environment.”
“Enrollees will have free choice of providers within the PIHP serving their respective geographic area and may change providers as often as desired. If an individual joins the PIHP and is already established with a provider who is not a member of the network, the PIHP will make every effort to arrange for the consumer to continue with the same provider if the consumer so desires.”
“If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.”
My two personal favorites among the State’s promises to CMS are: (1) “consumers have at least as much choice in individual providers as they had in the non-managed care environment;” and (2) the PIHP will make every effort to arrange for the consumer to continue with the same provider if the consumer so desires.”
These promises, in reality, are utter horsefeathers.
Over and over my provider clients come to me because one of the MCOs has terminated their Medicaid contract, usually for absolutely no valid reason. Over and over my provider clients tell me that their consumers are devastated by the news that they may lose their provider. I have had consumers contact me to beg me to help the provider. I have had consumers appear in court stating how much they want that particular provider. I have had provider clients cry in my office because their consumers are so upset and regressing because of the news that they may have to find another provider.
Yet, we have promised CMS that consumers have just as much choice in providers than when there was no managed care.
In the words of Dorothy from the Wizard of OZ, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Frightening him like that when he came to you for help.”
Similarly, our Medicaid recipients go to their providers for help. They create relationships…trust…bonds. And the MCOs are terminating these very providers, most for invalid and erroneous reasons, and, certainly, without the consideration of our promise to CMS.
But, remember, we are told the PIHPs will make every effort to keep the consumer with the chosen provider…
It would be interesting to do a public records request as to how many providers have been terminated by the MCOs in the last 2 years. Because, even if only 1 provider were terminated in the past 2 years and its consumers still wanted to go to that particular provider, then our State has broken its promise.
Apparently, due to my outspoken positions, DHHS will no longer honor my public records requests, which I think is absolutely preposterous. I am, still, a paying taxpayer last time I checked, which is every pay-day when I only get 60% of my wages. If any of you would submit this public records request, please forward it to me. I would be grateful for the information.