Category Archives: Smokey Mountain Center

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.

Number one:

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…

Number two:

 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:

  1. “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.
  2. To prevent the premature disclosure of an honorary degree, scholarship, prize, or similar award.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. To plan, conduct, or hear reports concerning investigations of alleged criminal misconduct.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

and

(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?

Number three:

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.

garlic minced-garlic

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.

newestmco

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!

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.

Cardinals budget

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.

Hence, Medicaid.

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.

panelpic2

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.

david and goliath

The Doctrine of Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies and Medicare/caid Providers

What is the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies?  And why is it important?

If you are a Medicaid or Medicare provider (which, most likely, you are if you are reading this blog), then knowing your administrative remedies is vital.  Specifically, you need to know your administrative remedies if you receive an “adverse determination” by the “Department.”  I have placed “adverse determination” and the “Department” in quotation marks because these are defined terms in the North Carolina statutes and federal regulations.

What are administrative remedies? If you have been damaged by a decision by a state agency then you have rights to recoup for the damages.

However, just like in the game of Chess, there are rules…procedures to follow…you cannot bring your castle out until the pawn in front of it has moved.

Similarly, you cannot jump to NC Supreme Court without beginning at the lowest court.

What is an adverse determination?

In Medicaid, NCGS 108C-2 defines “Adverse determination” as “a final decision by the Department to deny, terminate, suspend, reduce, or recoup a Medicaid payment or to deny, terminate, or suspend a provider’s or applicant’s participation in the Medical Assistance Program.”

In Medicare, sometimes the phrase “final adverse action” applies.  But, basically an adverse determination in Medicaid and Medicare is a decision by [whatever entity] that adversely affects you, your Medicare/caid contract or reimbursements.

What is the definition of the Department? 

NCGS 108C-2 defines the “Department,” as “The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, its legally authorized agents, contractors, or vendors who acting within the scope of their authorized activities, assess, authorize, manage, review, audit, monitor, or provide services pursuant to Title XIX or XXI of the Social Security Act, the North Carolina State Plan of Medical Assistance, the North Carolina State Plan of the Health Insurance Program for Children, or any waivers of the federal Medicaid Act granted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.”

On the federal level, the Department would be the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) and its agents, contractors and/or vendors.

So, an adverse decision is any final decision by DHHS….OR any of its vendors (Public Consulting Group (PCG), Carolinas Center for Medical Excellence (CCME), HMS, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), or any of the 10 managed care organizations (MCOs) (Alliance, Centerpointe, Smokey Mountain Center, Sandhills, East Carolina Behavioral Health, MeckLink, Cardinal Innovations, Eastpointe, CoastalCare, and Partners).

For example, PCG tells a dentist that he/she owes $500,000 in overpayments to the State.  The notice of overpayment is an adverse determination by the Department as defined in the general statutes.

For example, Smokey Mountain Center (SMC) tells a provider that it will no longer contract with the provider as of March 15, 2014.  SMC’s decision to not contract with the provider is an adverse determination by the Department as defined in the general statutes.

For example, CCME tells you that you are subject to prepayment review under NCGS 108C-7, which results in DHHS withholding Medicaid reimbursements.  The notice of suspension of payments is an adverse determination by the Department, as defined in the general statutes (not the fact that you were placed on prepayment review because the placement on prepayment review is not appealable, but the determination that Medicaid reimbursements will be withheld).

The doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies is, in essence,  a party must satisfy five conditions before turning to the courts: “(1) the person must be aggrieved; (2) there must be a contested case; (3) there must be a final agency decision; (4) administrative remedies must be exhausted; and (5) no other adequate procedure for judicial review can be provided by another statute.”  Huang v. N.C. State Univ., 107 N.C. App. 710, 713, 421 S.E.2d 812, 814 (1992) (citing Dyer v. Bradshaw, 54 N.C. App. 136, 138, 282 S.E.2d 548, 550 (1981)

Move your pawn before moving your castle.

Typically, if a party has not exhausted its administrative remedies, the party cannot bring a claim before the courts.  However, NC courts have recognized two exceptions that I will explain in a moment.

If you bring a lawsuit based on the adverse determination by the Department, do you go to state Superior Court?  No.

In North Carolina, we are lucky to have the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).  OAH is fantastic because the judges at OAH, Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) have immense Medicaid experience.  OAH is a court of limited jurisdiction, meaning that only if a NC statute allows OAH to hear the case is OAH allowed to hear the case.  One facet of OAH’s jurisdiction is adverse determinations by DHHS, its agents, vendors or independent contractors.  Not all states have an administrative court system, and we are lucky to have an accomplished administrative court system.  Our ALJs are well-versed in Medicaid, so, most likely, your issue you bring to OAH will be one already heard by the court.

Another great thing about OAH, is that OAH publishes some opinions.  So you can review some published opinions prior to your hearing.  For the most part, the ALJs are quite consistent in rulings.  For the published opinions of OAH, click here.  And, BTW, if you want to review only cases involving the Department of Health and Human Services, scroll down to the cases with the acronym: DHR.  As you can see, OAH listens to cases involving many different state agencies.

So, let’s review:

If you receive an adverse determination by any state or federal agency, its contractors, vendors and/or independent contractors, you have the right to appeal the adverse determination.  However, you MAY need to exhaust your administrative remedies prior to bringing the action in OAH.  In other words, if the agency’s contractor, vendor, and/or independent contractor notifies you of an adverse determination, check with the contractor, vendor and/or independent contractor for informal appeals. 

There are, however, some small exceptions. (Remember the knights can jump over your pawns.  So can the Queen).

Number 1: Inadequacy.

If the informal administrative appeal process would be inadequate for your remedies then you are not required to exhaust the administrative remedies prior to going to the courts.

A remedy is inadequate “unless it is ‘calculated to give relief more or less commensurate with the claim.’”  Huang v. N.C. State Univ., 107 N.C. App. 710, 713, 421 S.E.2d 812, 814 (1992) (citing Dyer v. Bradshaw, 54 N.C. App. 136, 138, 282 S.E.2d 548, 550 (1981).

An example of inadequacy would be if you are seeking monetary damages and the agency is powerless to grant such relief.

The phrase “monetary damages” means that you are seeking money.  The agency owes you money and you are seeking the money.  Or if you were caused monetary damages because of the agencies actions.  For example, your Medicaid reimbursements were suspended. As a result, you fired staff and closed your doors.  You would want to sue for the money you lost as a result of the reimbursement suspension.  If the agency cannot give money damages or is powerless to give such money damages, then informal agency appeals would be in adequate to address you needs.

Number 2: Futility.

Futility refers to situations where an agency “has deliberately placed an impediment in the path of a party” or where agency policies “are so entrenched that it is unlikely that parties will obtain a fair hearing.”

For example, if by appealing informally within the administrative agency, you will not receive a fair hearing because no independent decision maker exists, you can make the argument that the informal appeal process would be futile.

Here’s the “small print:”

If you claim futility and/or inadequacy, then you must include the futility and/or inadequacy allegations in the Complaint; AND you bear the burden of proving futility and/or inadequacy.

If, however, you exhaust your adminastrative remedies, go to OAH.

Checkmate!

A Dose of Truth: If an MCO Decides Not to Contract With You, YOU DO HAVE RIGHTS!

It has come to my attention that the managed care organizations (MCOs) are spreading non-truths.  As to appeal rights and rights, in general, of a Medicaid provider.  You may not hear the truth elsewhere, but you will hear the truth here.

Supposedly, the truth shall set you free. If this is true, then why do so many people lie? I believe that people’s desire for money, power, status, greed and/or others to look at them with respect are the some of the catalysts of many lies.

Of course, our old friend Aesop told many tales of the virtue of honesty.  My favorite is the “Mercury and the Woodman.”

A Woodman was felling a tree on the bank of a river, when his axe,
glancing off the trunk, flew out of his hands and fell into the water.
As he stood by the water’s edge lamenting his loss, Mercury appeared
and asked him the reason for his grief. On learning what had happened,
out of pity for his distress, Mercury dived into the river and,
bringing up a golden axe, asked him if that was the one he had lost.
The Woodman replied that it was not, and Mercury then dived a second
time, and, bringing up a silver axe, asked if that was his. “No,
that is not mine either,” said the Woodman. Once more Mercury dived
into the river, and brought up the missing axe. The Woodman was
overjoyed at recovering his property, and thanked his benefactor
warmly; and the latter was so pleased with his honesty that he made
him a present of the other two axes. When the Woodman told the story
to his companions, one of these was filled with envy of his good
fortune and determined to try his luck for himself. So he went and
began to fell a tree at the edge of the river, and presently contrived
to let his axe drop into the water. Mercury appeared as before, and,
on learning that his axe had fallen in, he dived and brought up a
golden axe, as he had done on the previous occasion. Without waiting
to be asked whether it was his or not, the fellow cried, “That’s mine,
that’s mine,” and stretched out his hand eagerly for the prize: but
Mercury was so disgusted at his dishonesty that he not only declined
to give him the golden axe, but also refused to recover for him the
one he had let fall into the stream.

The moral of the story is “Honesty is the best policy.”

But is it?  In our world, we do not have fairies, Roman gods, good witches, fairy godmothers, wood sprites, or wizards to hold us accountable for our lies.  If George Washington never admitted that he chopped down the cherry tree, no wood nymph would have appeared, angered by his lie, only to throw his ax into the Potomac.

So who holds us accountable for lies?

As a Christian, I believe that I will be held accountable in my afterlife.  But, without getting too profound and soapbox-ish, I mean who…NOW…presently…in our lives…holds us accountable for lies?

Obviously, when we were children, our parents held us accountable.  Oh boy…the worst thing for me to hear growing up was for my father to say, “I am so disappointed in you.” 

What about the MCOs? Who or what holds the MCOs accountable? And what is this non-truth that the MCOs may or may not be telling providers that has spurred me to write this blog?

Recently, many MCOs have (1) terminated contracts with providers; (2) refused to renew contracts with providers; and (3) conducted desk reviews and interviews of providers only to decide to not contract with many providers; thus leaving many small businesses to bankruptcy and closure…not to mention severing the relationships between the Medicaid recipients and their providers.

It has come to my attention that, when the MCO is asked by a provider whether the provider can have a reconsideration review or whether the provider has any appeal rights as to the MCO’s adverse decision, that the MCOs are telling providers, “No.”  As in, you have no appeal rights as to the MCOs decision to not contract with you. 

This is simply not true.

There are so few providers in NC willing to accept Medicaid because of the administrative burden of Medicaid regulations and the already low reimbursement rates.  To then have the audacity to “willy nilly” or at its own whim subjectively decide that it [the MCO] does not want to contract with you and then tell you that its “willy nilly” or subjective whim cannot be challenged legally eats at the heart of this country’s core values.  Do we not applaud small business owners?  Do we not applaud those small business owners dedicated to serving the population’s most needy?  Do we not promote due process?  Do we not promote truth, justice and the American way?

Or are those promotions clouded when it comes to money, power, status, greed, and desire for respect?

So, I say to you [providers who have been denied a Medicaid contract with an MCO despite having a contract with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to provide Medicaid services throughout the state of North Carolina], YOU HAVE RIGHTS

You do not need to merely accept the decision of the MCO.  You do not need to simply close up shop…fire your staff…and try a new career.  You have a choice to fight…legally.

But you DO need to know a few things.

First, lawyers are expensive. Period and without question.  So whatever law firm you hire, understand that the cost will more than you ever expected.  (Please understand that I am not advocating you to hire my firm.  Parker Poe and Poyner Spruill both have fantastic attorneys in this area.  Just hire someone knowledgable.)  It’s even a good idea to have consultations with more than one firm.  Find an attorney you trust.

Second, call your liability insurance.  There is a chance that your liability insurance will cover all, or a portion of, your attorneys’ fees.  But do not allow your insurance company tell you whom to hire.  Because this area is specialized there are few attorneys well-versed.  Again, go to the firms I mentioned above.

Thirdly, you may not win.  While the success rate is extremely high, there are some clients who are simply not going to win.  For example, if your documentation is so poor.  Or, for example, you really are not a great provider.  Remember, the MCOs do have a point to try to only contract with great providers.  I only disagree with the way in which the MCOs are deciding to not contract with providers.  It seems “willy nilly” and subjectively arbitrary.  But, depending on your exact circumstances, you do have a chance of success.

Fourth, you will have to testify.  I know it is scary, but I can think of very few circumstances during which the provider would not testify.  The judge needs to hear your story….why you should be allowed to continue to provide Medicaid services.

Fifth, the lawsuit will not shield you from future issues with the MCO.  Until DHHS decides to actually supervise the MCOs properly (or maybe even after that), the MCOs seem to wield the power.

So why even fight legally?  You certainly aren’t guaranteed success.  It will certainly cost you a pretty penny. 

Maybe the answer for you is to not fight.  Only you can make that decision.  But I hope someone holds the MCOs accountable for telling providers that the providers have no recourse…no appeal rights…for the MCOs simply not contracting with the provider.

Because if honesty is the best policy, the MCOs’ policies leave much to be desired. Someone needs to throw their axes into the Potomac!

NC Medicaid: Freedom of Choice of Providers? Why Bother? Providers Are Fungible!…Right?

I found some interesting language in the 1915(b) Waiver last week (well, interesting to me).

What is the 1915(b) Waiver? In the simplest of terms, with the 1915(b) Waiver, NC has asked the federal government for an exception to certain mandatory statutes.  In order to request the exception or “waiver” of certain federal statutes, NC had to draft our 1915(b) Waiver and promise the federal government that, despite the fact that NC is not following certain federal statutes, that certain things about Medicaid will not change.  Even though we may have waived the federal statute requiring it.

For example, in our 1915(b) Waiver, NC asks to waive Medicaid recipients’ “freedom of choice of provider” provision.  As in, federal statute requires the states to allow a Medicaid recipient to have the freedom to choose whatever or whomever provider that recipient desires.  (Kind of like…”You like your doctor? You can keep your doctor!”)

Well, NC had to waive the freedom of choice of provider because the MCOs in NC are jurisdictional.  For example, if Dr. Norwood provides Medicaid services in Durham, there is no reason that she should have to contract with Smokey Mountain Center (SMC).  And because Dr. Norwood does not contract with SMC, a Medicaid recipient cannot choose to receive services from Dr. Norwood, which, obviously, limits Medicaid recipients’ freedom of choice of provider.

The thinking behind the waiver of Medicaid recipients’ freedom of choice of provider is that (in my opinion), realistically, even if we did not waive the provision mandating the freedom of choice of provider, how likely is it that a Medicaid recipient residing in Asheville would choose to receive services from a Medicaid provider in Durham, NC? Most likely, the Medicaid recipients in Asheville have never heard of the Medicaid providers in Durham.  So…waive the freedom of choice….it’s harmless.

However, in order for the feds to allow this waiver of the freedom of choice of provider, NC had to promise something.

Our promise is found in the 1915(b) Waiver.  The language of our promise reads, ”

1915(b)

Why is this important?

Because it is not true.  Our promise that we made to the federal government in order for the federal government to allow us to implement our managed care system for our mental health, substance abuse, and developmentally disabled population is not true.

“These providers support this initiative and consumers have at least as much choice in individual providers as they had in the pre-reform non-managed care environment.”

If the Waiver were Pinocchio, its nose would be circling the earth.

It reminds me of my grandma.  Grandma is the sweetest, most wonderful grandma in the world.  She and my grandpa lived in a home in Cary, NC for over five decades.  When grandpa passed and grandma’s health began to decline, grandma decided to sell her home and move into an assisted living facility.  Well, grandma’s home was near and dear to all 5 children’s hearts, as well as all 15+ grandchildren’s hearts (I know…I have a huge family).  I, personally, had so many wonderful memories there (fishing in the lake behind the house, playing pool and ping-pong in the basement, climbing up and down the laundry chute acting as if it were a secret passage way, and grandpa’s amazing tomato sandwiches, gumbo and cornbread).

Anyway, the point is that when grandma sold the house, there was a stipulation in the contract.  The buyer promised to not bulldoze the house and build a new home.  You see, this neighborhood was old…one of the oldest in Cary.  So the homes were built in the 70s.  It had become “posh” to buy an older home in this neighborhood because the lots were so large and the location was so great and to simply flatten the old house for a new one.

Well, grandma wouldn’t have it.  There was too much nostalgia in the home for some buyer to bulldoze the home.  So the contract to sell the house stipulated that the buyer would not bulldoze the house.  So grandma sold the home.

And the buyer bulldozed the home.

Of all the low-down, dirty tricks!!! To lie in a contract to my grandma! Needless to say, grandma was very upset.  She felt that a piece of her life vanished, which, obviously, it did.

Well, grandma has a number of attorneys in the family (including me).  So grandma’s kids began to talk about a lawsuit.  But grandma said that even if she sued the buyer that it would not bring back the house.  Money could not replace the memories at grandma’s house.

If I am remembering correctly, this new house was built 5-6 years ago. Maybe more.  I pass the neighborhood all the time.  To date, I still have not driven to see the house that replaced grandma’s house.  I don’t think I could take it.

What is worse than lying to a grandmother about her home?

In my opinion? Lying to the feds about the freedom of choice of Medicaid provider that our Medicaid recipients have here in NC.  Talk about a vulnerable population…our most needy citizens, but add to the vulnerability mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and/or developmentally disablement.  And, now, let’s lie about their freedom of choice.

So where am I getting my allegation that Medicaid recipients do not have “at least enough choice in individual providers as they had in pre-reform non-managed care?”

Normally I only blog as to facts that I can corroborate with some research.  However, this blog may not be corroborated by any independent research.  My allegation is based on my own experience as a Medicaid attorney, conversations with my clients, emails that I have received from providers across the state, memos I have read from the MCOs, and the very real fact that the MCOs are terminating (or not renewing) hundreds of provider contracts across the state.

For the sake of argument, let’s say I am right.  That Medicaid recipients do not have at least the same freedom of choice of provider as pre-MCOs.  What then?

If I am right, this is the situation in which we find ourselves today.  So what is happening today?

As the MCOs determine that fewer providers are needed within a catchment area, the MCOs are refusing to contract with “redundant and unnecessary” providers.  But are these providers really unnecessary?  Really redundant?  Are we to believe that mental health providers are fungible?  Meaning that one provider is just as good as the next…that nothing makes some provider “stick out?”  Are providers fungible like beach balls are fungible?

Let’s test that theory.

Abby is a suicidal teenager.  She has suffered from schizophrenia with auditory hallucinations since she was a child.  For the last six years, Abby has seen Dr. Norwood.  It took some time, but, eventually, Abby began to trust Dr. Norwood.  Dr. Norwood has developed a close relationship with Abby, even telling Abby to call her 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if she is in crisis.  Dr. Norwood resides in Durham, so Alliance Behavioral Healthcare (Alliance) is her MCO, and Dr. Norwood provides Abby with outpatient behavioral therapy (OBT).  But, in addition to the weekly therapy, Dr. Norwood also provides Abby with a sense of security.  Abby knows that, if needed, Dr. Norwood would be there for here under any circumstances.  In addition, Abby trusts Dr. Norwood because she is a female.  Abby has an intense distrust of males.  When Abby was 9, her step-father raped her over and over until child protective services stepped in, but not before Abby suffered 8 broken bones and has lost the ability to reproduce forever.

Then, Alliance held its RFPs a couple of months ago.  It’s “tryout.”

And Dr. Norwood was not awarded a contract with Alliance.  Dr. Norwood has no idea why Alliance did not award her a contract.  Only that, according to Alliance, Alliance has sufficient number of providers providing OBT within its catchment area and Dr. Norwood’s services are no longer needed.

Because mental health care providers are fungible, right?

Who cares whether Abby receives services from Dr. Norwood? She can get the same exact services from a large corporation…we will call it “Triangle Counseling.” (BTW: If a Triangle Counseling really exists, I apologize.  This is a fictitious company made up for my example).  Triangle Counseling employs 25+ psychiatrists and 30+ counselors.  When a Medicaid recipient is referred to Triangle, Triangle assigns a psychiatrist and a counselor to the recipient.  Oh, and if, for some reason, the Medicaid recipients needs crisis help outside business hours, Triangle provides “tele-care” so the Medicaid recipient can speak to a computer screen on which a person can be seen by a counselor.

Abby is now hospitalized.  Dr. Norwood filed bankruptcy, lost her 30 year+ career, and is receiving monetary support from the state.

I ask you, if Alliance (or any other MCO) has terminated even one provider, hasn’t that MCO restricted Medicaid recipients’ freedom of choice of provider beyond what was contemplated by the Waiver?  Is the clause in our Waiver that “freedom of choice of provider will be the same as before the implementation of MCOs?,” truthful?  What if the MCO has terminated 10 provider contracts?  50?  100? 

Yet, in order to implement the MCO system, we promised the federal government in our 1915(b) Waiver that “consumers have at least as much choice in individual providers as they had in the pre-reform non-managed care environment.”

Fact or fiction?

Are providers fungible?  Because my grandma knows from experience, houses sure are not.

MCOs Terminating Providers and Restricting the Freedom of Choice of Providers for Medicaid Recipients: Going To Far?

Who remembers Dennis Kozlowski?  He is the former CEO of Tyco International, and his net worth is estimated at $600 million.  However, his residence? A mansion? On his own island?

Nope.  He is currently serving 8.33 to 25 years at the Mid-State Correctional Facility in Marcy, New York.

In 2005 he was convicted of crimes related to $81 million in unauthorized bonuses and the payment by Tyco of a $20 million investment banking fee to Frank Walsh, a former Tyco director.  See Wikipedia.

So here you have this “rich-as-crap,” millionaire…going about his business, no doubt believing that he is smarter than anyone else and that he will never get caught.  Then all Hades breaks lose and he goes from Armani $10,000 suits to an orange, cotton jumpsuit.  Talk about riches to rags!

Now, I am by no means comparing Kozlowski’s criminal actions to NC managed care organizations (MCO).  By no means.  I am merely demonstrating that it is easy to continue doing the wrong thing…UNTIL you get caught.

Here’s a less dramatic example:

My eight-year-old has a hard time with food.  She eats slowly and we constantly have to tell her to eat.  (We think she has sinus problems and can’t taste the food…which we are looking into).  Anyway, last week when we cleaned her room, I found a stack of bags of carrots.  Like 10 bags of carrots.  I had been putting bags of carrots in her lunch and each day, she was hiding the carrots under the bed.  She didn’t want me to know that she wasn’t eating her carrots.  Again, she thought she wouldn’t get caught, so she kept doing the wrong thing….UNTIL she got caught.

Here in North Carolina, we have now set up this MCO system for Medicaid recipients needing behavioral health care services.

These MCOs have only gone live this past year.  These are new entities.  Our 1915 b/c Waiver (Waiver), which gives the MCOs the authority to do certain things is new. 

But, what if, these new entities are NOT following the Waiver?

Won’t they just keep not following the Waiver until they get caught?

That’s what Kozlowski did.  That’s what my 8-year-old did.

If you know Medicaid, you understand that federal law requires a “single state entity” to manage Medicaid.  In North Carolina the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) is our “single state entity.” 

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is the federal agency that has to “ok” our State Plan and all Waivers.  The State Plan outlines the organization and function of DMA.  CMS has to authorize our State Plan, including each and every amendment to our State Plan.  Our State Plan is basically “The Law of Medicaid in NC.”  NC is required to follow the State Plan or risk losing federal funding for our Medicaid system.

Our Waivers, on the other hand, are our allowable exceptions to “The Law of Medicaid in NC.”  Think of the State Plan as the general rule and the Waivers as the exceptions.  Generally, all cars must stop at a red light.  The exceptions are police cars, ambulances and fire trucks with the sirens blaring and lights flashing.

Our State Plan states, generally, DHHS, DMA is the single state entity for Medicaid and must make all administrative and managerial decisions for the program.  The 1915 (b)/(c) Waiver says…well, the exception is that the local management entities (LMEs) or managed care organizations (MCOs) have SOME responsibilities. 

BTW: People in NC keep calling the MCOs:”LME/MCOs.”  In fact, I was at a meeting during which a a representative from DHHS called the MCOs “LME/MCOs.”  The woman asking the question with the microphone asked, “Why don’t we just drop the “LME” portion and call them “MCOs,” not “LME/MCOs?”  To which the gentleman answered, “Old habits are hard to break.”

Our 1915 b/c Waiver “waives” Section 1902(a)(4) of the Social Security Act, the freedom of choice of providers.  Generally, a Medicaid recipient has the freedom to choose a provider from whom he or she wants to receive services.  Our Waiver says, “Ok, Medicaid recipient, you can choose from any provider within your MCO’s catchment area.”  Meaning, if Sally the Medicaid recipient lives in Wake county, Sally could choose any provider within Alliance’s catchment area, Cumberland, Durham, Wake and Johnson counties.

But the Waiver does not stop there.

In order for the federal government to allow NC to place this restriction on Medicaid recipients, because it is a restriction, NC had to make some promises.

We promised in our Waiver to the feds:

“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.”

Hmmmmmm.

I do not have exact numbers, but I would wager that Alliance has terminated, refused to contract with, or denied a contract to at least 100 providers.  Considering in the recent RFP Alliance chose so few providers to serve its catchment area, I can only imagine how many providers no longer can provider services within Alliance’s catchment area.  100? 200?  See my blog: “An Ominous Cloud Looms Over NC’s Mental Health System! And Radix Malorum Est Cupiditas!”

Is terminating providers giving the consumers as much choice as they had in the non-managed care environment?

I think not.

 But who is going to stop them from continuing down this path of eliminating choice of providers within the catchment areas?

Obviously, DHHS has proved itself to be incapable of such a feat.

So the MCOs are going about their businesses…thinking no one will ever catch them…that they are free to do whatever they want…just like Kozlowski (without the criminal behavior…we hope)…just like my daughter hiding the carrots….

It’s human nature.

We just keep doing the same things over and over…UNTIL someone tells us we have to change. 

Who will tell the MCOs to follow the Waiver?  Will it take a judge?

An Ominous Cloud Looms Over NC’s Mental Health System! And Radix Malorum Est Cupiditas!

“There is an ominous cloud over North Carolina’s mental health care system that many fear is limiting access to care and treatment by those who need it the most,” wrote Jason deBruyn in Friday’s Triangle Business Journal article titled, “Mental Health Block.”

TBJ Pic

(Thanks, Jason, for the nice spread:) )

Two phrases that can never be good when linked together: “an ominous cloud” and “mental health care system.”  Upon reading “ominous cloud,” I get this dark (dare I say ominous?), dreary outlook on whatever the “ominous cloud” is  over.  Then to discover that the “ominous cloud” is over our mental health system here in NC, I get goosebumps and a pit in my stomach (and a bit of disgust at the sheer ineptness of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)).

What is causing that “ominous cloud” over our mental health system? Well, according to Jason, the managed care organizations (MCOs) that were implemented across the state only this past year.

What are these MCOs you talk of?

The MCOs were established to manage the Medicaid mental health, developmentally disabled, and substance abuse services in NC.  If you want mental health services or are attempting to get prior authorization on behalf of a Medicaid recipient, then the buck stops with the MCO.  See my blog: “NC MCOs: The Judge, Jury and Executioner.” Or “NC MCOs: Accountability Must Be Somewhere!”

Here is a list of the MCOs along with the “correct toll free number” in case you wanted it:

LME-MCO CORRECT TOLL FREE NUMBER
Alliance Behavioral Health 1-800-510-9132
Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions 1-800-939-5911
CenterPoint Human Services 1-888-581-9988
CoastalCare 1-855-250-1539
East Carolina Behavioral Health (ECBH) 1-877-685-2415
EastPointe 1-800-513-4002
MeckLINK 1-877-700-3001
Partners Behavioral Health Management 1-888-235-4673
Sandhills Center 1-800-256-2452
Smoky Mountain Center 1-800-849-6127
Western Highlands Network 1-800-951-3792

Going back to the “ominous cloud…”

Jason writes further that “under the state’s new payment system, MCOs have the unbridled authority to terminate providers in an attempt to keep costs down – with little accountability for the process.”

The only word I would change is “little” to “no.” But, then, maybe Jason was referring to the little accountability as arising from advocates such as myself who are fighting for the providers.

Have I not been saying this all along?  The MCOs can terminate providers with little (or no) accountability!! To save money!!

And who suffers?? The providers, yes.  And the Medicaid recipients!!   “Patients aren’t going to know where to go to access services,” Goldston says. “Those patients are going to suffer.”

Why? Why are these MCOs terminating providers and denying services to our most-needy population??  Have they no heart? No conscience?

One word answers all these questions:

Money

Radix malorum est cupiditas, meaning, in Latin, greed is the root of all evil.  In the Bible, 1 Timothy 6:10, starts “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil…”

“MCOs register as not-for-profit organizations and receive fixed amounts of money from the state, called their “capitation.” Unlike physical health care providers, when Medicaid patients receive mental health services, their providers bill these MCOs instead of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. If an MCO doesn’t spend up to its capitation level, it keeps the remainder. And therein lies the problem, say provider advocates,” writes Jason. (emphasis added).

And he is absolutely correct!

What was the MCOs’ response?

“The myth that we are trying to eliminate every provider in our network is not an accurate statement,” says Rob Robinson, chief operating officer for Alliance Behavioral Healthcare, the MCO that covers Wake, Durham, Johnston and Cumberland counties.

Mr. Robinson’s comment, however, is incorrect on, at least, two fronts: (1) the “myth” is not that the MCOs are trying to eliminate every provider; and (2) it is no myth.  The MCOs are, without question, terminating as many providers from the networks as possible without the appearance that services will not get rendered.  The MCOs need a certain number…just to appear that services are not getting cut.

So what is that magic number?

A client informed me a couple of months ago that Smokey Mountain Center (SMC) told him that SMC wants two providers per service per county.  If correct, hundreds and hundreds of providers will be put out of business.  And, hello…I thought the current Republican administration was pro small business!

Alliance has chopped its provider network recently.

Just recently, Alliance called for Requests for Proposals (RFPs) from all contracted providers within its catchment area.  Kinda like a tryout.  When I was in college at NCSU, I was on the cheerleading team.  I will never forget being a freshman and learning these routines that I would have to perform in front of a judge’s panel.  Literally hundreds of young men and women were all learning the same routine…all to perform for the tryouts.  In the middle of learning the routine with hundreds of people, I looked around and realized that only 8 girls and 8 guys would be chosen.  Which meant 90% of the people there would not be on the team.  I tried to remove the thought from my head.

When the D-Day arrived, there was simply a white piece of paper taped to the gymnasium’s window on the outside for anyone to see.  I had to walk up to the piece of paper, shuffle through the small crowd surrounding it, ignore others’ tears and congratulations, and look for my name.

Holding my breath, I searched for “Knicole Carson” (my maiden name). And I did not see it.  For a moment, I was crushed.  Then I saw “Nicole Carson.”  My name was on there, just misspelled.

What does college cheerleading tryouts have to do with NC Medicaid?

Alliance’s RFPs created a provider tryout.  Hundreds submitted.  Only a few were chosen.  Those few chosen were written on a piece of paper for all to see, and providers had to scan the list to see if they were chosen.

For Wake county, Alliance decided to award a 1 year contract for community support team (CST) to only 6 companies.  For the entire county of Wake, Alliance has determined that only 6 companies may provide CST to Medicaid recipients (with a 1 year contract).  Only 6 names were on the list.

For Durham county, Alliance decided to award a 1 year contract for CST to only 5 companies.  For the entire county of Durham, Alliance has determined that only 5 companies may provide CST (with a 1 year contract).  Only 5 names were on the list.

Now let’s go back to Mr. Robinson’s comment:

“The myth that we are trying to eliminate every provider in our network is not an accurate statement,” says Rob Robinson, chief operating officer for Alliance Behavioral Healthcare, the MCO that covers Wake, Durham, Johnston and Cumberland counties.

You are right, Mr. Robinson, you aren’t trying to eliminate “every provider.”  Just the ones that Alliance, in its subjective discretion, doesn’t want to deal with (I don’t care that I ended the sentence in a preposition).

Oh, and what about our State Plan?

Our State of North Carolina MH/DD/SA  Health Plan Renewal, states, in pertinent part, as an answer regarding concerns as to provider choice with MCOs, “network capacity studies and gap analyses were conducted by Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions (CIHS) annually and prior to expansion the coverage area, and by the new PIHPs prior to start-up, as required. Access and provider choice appear to be as good as or better than it was prior to waiver implementation, although there is room for improvement in several areas.” (emphasis added).

Obviously, that was written a while ago and Cardinal, an MCO, was the entity conducting the study (cough, cough…bias…cough).  Regardless, we told the federal government that “provider choice appears to be as good or better than it was prior implementation.”  Are you kidding me???

How many providers didn’t make Alliance’s cut?

How many providers have MeckLINK terminated? Smokey Mountain?

Jason deBruyn was dead on when he said, “There is an ominous cloud over North Carolina’s mental health care system that many fear is limiting access to care and treatment by those who need it the most.”