Category Archives: Access to Care

Advocates Split on the Benefit of Banning Non-Compete Clauses!

The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) unilaterally issued a Proposed Rule to ban non-compete clauses in employment contracts. See blog. The first question is: Does the FTC have the legal authority to ban non-compete clauses? As a member of the American Society of Medical Association Counsel (“ASMAC”), the president, Greg Pepe, sent out an informal questionnaire to solicit comments by health care attorneys and heads of medical societies.

Greg said, “The respondents were split 50%/50% between medical society attorney members and private practice attorneys who are members.  In general, the most common threads were as follows:

  1. The most common comment was that non-compete provisions in physician employment contracts impede the physician/patient relationship.  This comment came up over and over in a number of ways.
  2. A few comments pointed out that rural areas were disproportionately harmed by non-competes, with physicians having to move away to comply.
  3. Hospital-based physician groups need non-competes to protect their arrangements.
  4. Exemptions for non-profits is a loophole that eviscerates the effort.
  5. ASMAC should be mindful of the divergent interests of its members and their client when considering this kind of commentary.

Very few people offered specific examples of the ways non-competes in physician contracts harmed physicians.  If your organization takes steps to comment please keep ASMAC advised.”

I decided that ASMAC’s findings, even if informal, were important enough to post here on my blog. So, thank you, Greg, for heading this up.

I would like to pay particular attention to #4. Because, a week or so ago, I presented on RACMoniter the story about the FTC banning non-compete clauses, but failed to acknowledge the exemptions for non-profits, which is a HUGE exception. There are 6093 hospitals in the U.S. 1228 of the 6093 hospitals are for profit. The vast majority of hospitals are either government run or non-profit. If you notice above, the “anti-banning comment of non-competes” came from hospital-based physician groups (#3). That makes sense.

Most people, when asked, touts that non-compete agreements impede physician-patient relationships. Personally, as an attorney, non-compete agreements represent requiring me not being able to work at another law firm if I decided Practus, LLP, did not work out. Similarly, if I had attended med school and was working at a hospital in Angier, NC, which was in close proximity to my home, and received a better offer at a nearby hospital, why should I be impeded from working? Obviously, families need to have an income, and what if the physician was the sole breadwinner? The non-compete agreement could really adversely affect a family.

Non-compete agreements, also called restrictive covenants, are an increasingly common requirement for employment in many sectors, including health care. Sometimes non-compete agreements appear as a clause within a contract. Other times, they are separate contracts in and of themselves. Though common, the terms of non-compete agreements vary greatly.

Most people, even physicians, when presented with a contract, “fake” review the contract, and sign without digesting – or even reading – the material. Many don’t even know that a non-compete clause exists in their contracts. Until it’s too late.

Will the FTC’s Proposed Rule become permanent? So far, there have been 4.91k comments. One anonymous person posted: “I am completely in favor of forbidding noncompete agreements.” A woman posted: “I am a veterinarian and have worked close to 40 years. I have been an associate and a practice owner. I see no justification for non-competes and in fact feel it harms the entire profession. Non-competes are pervasive and notoriously difficult to fight. For many years now I have worked for corporations and have watched colleagues both attempt to negotiate non-competes and bear the brunt of legal battles if they attempt to challenge the non-compete. Should you really have to move your entire family to acquire a job? How do I harm a company by working for their competitor?”

A guy wrote: “These should’ve been banned a long time ago. Job mobility is important if we “really” believe in our economic system. Ban NDAs.”

A physician wrote: “As a physician I have suffered significant financial and personal hardship relating to a non-compete agreement. As a result of a non-compete I had to move across the country (twice). I suffered significant loss of income as a result of this not withstanding the expense of relocating twice within a year. My self and my family also suffered significant psycho-social ramifications and de-stabilization. I now also face another non-compete agreement that will essentially render me unable to leave my next position without tremendous harm to my life-long earning potential, credibly rendering me an indentured servant. The presence of a non-compete also removes any leverage an employee such as myself might have to negotiate agains unacceptable working or wage conditions.”

Unlike the commenters from ASMAC, which was split 50-50, it appears that many comments support banning non-compete agreements, but, remember, the not-for-profit exception!! The comment period is open through Mar 10, 2023.

Don’t Like the Reimbursement Rates? Maybe Litigation Is the Answer!

The Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates are a disgrace to health care providers nationwide. The low reimbursement rates are the reason why so many providers refuse to accept Medicare and/or Medicaid patients. Yet, with the pandemic, it is estimated that 100 million people will be on Medicaid by next year. Having a Medicaid card to wave around is useless if providers refuse to accept it.

Hospitals in Nebraska are not putting up with it – and they should not put up with it! Not only can hospitals NOT turn away any person; thus being forced to accept Medicaid and Medicare … and uninsured patients, but the overhead for a hospital is astronomical.

Saying more than half of the state’s hospitals are operating in the red, the Nebraska Hospital Association is calling for a 9.6% increase to Medicaid reimbursement rates this year, and 7.7% next year, after seeing a 2% bump each of the last two years.

The Hospital Association has never demanded this high of a rate increase. Inflation has significantly impacted the costs for Nebraska hospitals. The association says drug costs are up 35%, labor costs are up 20%, supplies are up 15-20%, and food and utilities are up 10%. Overall, it says inflation is up more than 20% per patient compared to the pre-pandemic level. The cost of labor has spiked, especially during the pandemic when emergency room nurses were in such short supply and such demand. Some hospitals were forced to pay nurses $10k a week! Traveling nurses became a “thing,” which allowed nurses to jump around hospitals for the best pay. In no way, I am not campaigning for lower salaries for nurses. Nurses are essential. However, the reimbursement rates are supposed to reflect society’s needs.

The Nebraska Hospital Association is completely in the right to sue for higher reimbursement rates. I commend them. I beseech more association groups to do the same. The dental, pediatric, primary care, home health, long term care facilities, behavioral health care, and other associations across the country should follow suit.

The legal argument is clear. Under §1902(a)(30)(A) of the Social Security Act, State Medicaid programs must ensure that provider payments are “consistent with efficiency, economy, and quality of care and are sufficient to enlist enough providers” to provide access to care and services comparable to those generally available. On November 2, 2015, CMS issued a regulation (42 CFR Part 447) under this authority requiring State Medicaid programs to demonstrate that their Medicaid fee-for-service (FFS) non-waiver payment rates ensure sufficient access to care. See blog.

Hospitals lose money on Medicare and Medicaid patients. Considering the legal requirement of reimbursement rates to be consistent with efficiency, economy, and quality of care, I am shocked that MORE associations haven’t litigated this issue. Perhaps the providers within these associations, who pay high yearly memberships, should demand that associations fund this type of litigation.

I have no doubt that the cost of litigation dissuades most associations from making the expensive decision to litigate for better rates. But isn’t litigating for higher reimbursement rates the job of the associations? The cost would be prohibitive for single provider facilities. And, aren’t we always more strong when we band together?

Medicare Auditors Fail to Follow the Jimmo Settlement

Auditors are not lawyers. Some auditors do not even possess the clinical background of the services they are auditing. In this blog, I am concentrating on the lack of legal licenses. Because the standards to which auditors need to hold providers to are not only found in the Medicare Provider Manuals, regulations, NCDs and LCDs. Oh, no… To add even more spice to the spice cabinet, common law court cases also create and amend Medicare and Medicaid policies.

For example, the Jimmo v. Selebius settlement agreement dictates the standards for skilled nursing and skilled therapy in skilled nursing facilities, home health, and outpatient therapy settings and importantly holds that coverage does not turn on the presence or absence of a beneficiary’s potential for improvement.

The Jimmo settlement dictates that:

“Specifically, in accordance with the settlement agreement, the manual revisions clarify that coverage of skilled nursing and skilled therapy services in the skilled nursing facility (SNF), home health (HH), and outpatient therapy (OPT) settings “…does not turn on the presence or absence of a beneficiary’s potential for improvement, but rather on the beneficiary’s need for skilled care.” Skilled care may be necessary to improve a patient’s current condition, to maintain the patient’s current condition, or to prevent or slow further deterioration of the patient’s condition.”

This Jimmo standard – not requiring a potential for improvement – is essential for diseases that are lifelong and debilitating, like Multiple Sclerosis (“MS”). For beneficiaries suffering from MS, skilled therapy is essential to prevent regression.

I have reviewed numerous audits by UPICs, in particular, which have failed to follow the Jimmo settlement standard and denied 100% of my provider-client’s claims. 100%. All for failure to demonstrate potential for improvement for MS patients. It’s ludicrous until you stop and remember that auditors are not lawyers. This Jimmo standard is found in a settlement agreement from January 2013. While we will win on appeal, it costs providers money valuable money when auditors apply the wrong standards.

The amounts in controversy are generally high due to extrapolations, which is when the UPIC samples a low number of claims, determines an error rate and extrapolates that error rate across the universe. When the error rate is falsely 100%, the extrapolation tends to be high.

While an expectation of improvement could be a reasonable criterion to consider when evaluating, for example, a claim in which the goal of treatment is restoring a prior capability, Medicare policy has long recognized that there may also be specific instances where no improvement is expected but skilled care is, nevertheless, required in order to prevent or slow deterioration and maintain a beneficiary at the maximum practicable level of function. For example, in the regulations at 42 CFR 409.32(c), the level of care criteria for SNF coverage specify that the “. . . restoration potential of a patient is not the deciding factor in determining whether skilled services are needed. Even if full recovery or medical improvement is not possible, a patient may need skilled services to prevent further deterioration or preserve current capabilities.” The auditors should understand this and be trained on the proper standards. The Medicare statute and regulations have never supported the imposition of an “Improvement Standard” rule-of-thumb in determining whether skilled care is required to prevent or slow deterioration in a patient’s condition.

When you are audited by an auditor whether it be a RAC, MAC or UPIC, make sure the auditors are applying the correct standards. Remember, the auditors aren’t attorneys or doctors.

Medicare and Medicaid Reimbursement Rates Suck: Is Litigation the Answer?

One way to raise Medicaid reimbursement rates would be to bring litigation against the State Medicaid agency in charge of managing Medicaid under §30(A) of the Social Security Act (“SSA”).

That’s what the pharmacy associations in the State of Washington did in April 2021. The associations alleged that, per a 2016 CMS Rule, State Medicaid agencies must consider two types of costs when it comes to reimbursement rates; i.e., (1) the ingredient costs; and (2) the professional dispensing fee, when creating a Medicaid reimbursement rate. They argued that Washington’s Medicaid reimbursement rates were less than half of the surrounding States.

The case never went to trial. In July 2021, the parties filed a Joint Motion for Voluntary Remand and Dismissal Without Prejudice. It was so ordered that this matter was remanded back to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”). It was further ordered that this matter was dismissed without prejudice with the parties to bear their own costs and fees. The Order was signed by Judge Ricardo S. Martinez. National Association of Chain Drug Stores et al v. Becerra et al, 2:21CV00576. I have no idea what has happened since leaving the court system. If anyone knows, I would love to know. Has Washington’s Medicaid reimbursement rates increased for pharmacies?

Section 30(A) of the Social Security Act (“SSA”) describes reimbursement rates as being high enough “to assure that payments are consistent with efficiency, economy, and quality of care and are sufficient to enlist enough providers so that care and services are available under the plan at least to the extent that such care and services are available to the general population in the geographic area.” Yet, statistics show that only 70% of health care providers accept Medicaid or Medicare. In mental health, in particular, there is a shortage of providers, especially minority providers. In other words, government health is failing its providers and consumers. See blog.

Exactly what Section 30(A) requires of States in terms of payments to Medicaid providers has been the subject of considerable litigation. There is little consistency in the Courts’ interpretation of §30(A). While some Courts have held that provider costs should be considered, other Courts disagree.

Providers have reasonable complaints about the Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates. The reimbursement rates are wholly inadequate; in fact, the reimbursement rates, in some cases, do not even cover the cost of rendering the services. Yet “quality of care” and “equality of access” are promised in Section 1902(a)(30)(A) of the SSA. For example, in 2020 hospitals received only 88 cents for every dollar spent caring for Medicaid patients. This amounted to a $24.8 billion underpayment. Low reimbursement rates limit access to quality care and contribute to poor health outcomes for Medicaid beneficiaries, who are disproportionately minority. Research suggests that increasing Medicaid primary care rates by $45 per service would reduce access-to-care inequities by at least 70%.

Medicaid reimbursement rates suck. Medicare reimbursement rates suck. Plus, providers must succumb to tedious audits. There is little upside to accepting Medicare and Medicaid, except charity.

I do not believe that the reason “why” matters when it comes to reimbursement rates. If the government chooses to regulate health care, the health care the government regulates should be adequate.

Other service types should choose to litigate over the low reimbursement rates.

The State of Florida recently looked into its Medicaid reimbursement rates. “According to the latest Physician Workforce Annual Report published by the Florida Department of Health, the most common reason that physicians do not accept Medicaid is low reimbursement.” In total, the report found that 44% of physicians who do not accept Medicaid patients do so due to the unacceptably low reimbursement offered by the program.

Other associations have likewise filed litigation in hopes of increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates. I highly encourage providers to discuss bringing litigation to increase Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates to their respective associations Litigation, unlike lobbying, is swifter to change. Public opinion has weight.

CMS: Broaden the Definition of “Medically Necessary” Germane to Dental Services!

Dental services do not, historically, “gel-well” with Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, most dentists do not accept Medicare and Medicaid, and, quite frankly, I do not blame them. Accepting Medicare and/or Medicaid comes with accepting the fact that your dental practice can – and will – be audited by CMS or your State government at-will, at any time, for any reason. Your dental practice can be raided at any time by any federal agency, including the FBI, DOJ, OIG, alleging civil and criminal violations when you, as a dentist, had no clue that your medical records could be used against you, if not up to snuff…according to the governmental auditor. Perhaps more dentists would accept Medicare and/or Medicaid patients if the definition of “medically necessary” is broadened. More incentive to accept government programs is always good.

Dental benefits are covered by Medicare only in limited circumstances, and many people on Medicare do not have any dental coverage at all unless they pay for a Medicare Advantage (“MA”) plan. However, Medicare and Medicaid could cover more dental services if Congress or CMS broadens the definition of “medical necessity.” But, even with MA, the scope of dental benefits, when covered, varies widely and is often quite limited, which can result in high out-of-pocket costs among those with expensive dental needs.

Medicare and/or Medicaid will determine whether a dental service is essential – or “medically necessary” – for a beneficiary’s exasperating, primary medical condition. Congress has fallen short on expanding the legal definition of “medical necessary” regarding dental services for Medicare and Medicaid recipients.

In a June 29, 2022, letter to CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, more than 100 members of the U.S. House of Representatives pled with CMS to expand its definition of “medically necessary” dental care. Lawmakers highlighted the serious issues stemming from the lack of access to affordable dental care. I do not know if you recall, but, in 2013-ish, I blogged about a young, African American boy, named Deamonte, who died in the emergency room from an abscessed tooth that ruptured, when that abscessed tooth could have been remedied by a dentist for a few hundred dollars. See blog.

Nearly half of Medicare beneficiaries (47%), or 24 million people, do not have dental coverage, as of 2019.

Almost half of all Medicare beneficiaries did not have a dental visit within the past year (47%), with higher rates among those who are Black (68%) or Hispanic (61%), have low incomes (73%), or who are in fair or poor health (63%), as of 2018.

In 2021, 94% of Medicare Advantage enrollees in individual plans (plans open for general enrollment), or 16.6 million enrollees, are in a plan that offers access to some dental coverage.

To those dentists or dental surgeons who do accept Medicare and/or Medicaid – THANK YOU!

Medicare and/or Medicaid audits for dental services, while not fun to deal with, are easily defensible…most of the time. A few years ago Medicaid sought to recoup money from dentists who provided services to women believed to be pregnant when the pregnancy was over. See blog. I thought it was absolutely ridiculous that your dentist has the burden to ensure a woman is or is not pregnant. I feel as though many dentists could be slapped by asking. Plus, the services were rendered, so a dentist should not have to pay to provide services.

NC Medicaid OVERHAULED!

NC Medicaid is getting a complete overhaul. Politically, everyone is lost and has no idea how this will work. Back in 2010-ish, when NC went to the MCO model, which we have now, hundreds of providers were not paid or had trouble getting paid until the “dust” settled, and the MCOs were familiar with their jobs. Providers continue to suffer nonpayment from MCOs.

The new model consists of two, separate models: (1) the Standard Plan; and (2) the Tailored Plan models.

What’s the difference?

The Tailored Plan

Applies to:

  • People who get Innovations Waiver services
  • People who get Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Waiver services
  • People who may have a mental health disorder,substance use disorder, intellectual /developmental disability (I/DD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI).

The Standard Plan

Applies to everyone else. It is normal, physical Medicaid.

December 1, 2022, is the “go-live” date for the Tailored Plans.

Unlike the MCO model, the Tailored Plan offers physical health, pharmacy, care management and behavioral health services. It is for members who may have significant mental health needs, severe substance use disorders, intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DDs) or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Tailored Plans offer added services for members who qualify. DHHS is trying to distance itself from any Medicaid administration by hiring all these private companies to manage Medicaid for DHHS. DHHS has to get federal Waivers to do this.

The MCOs are taking on a new function. Starting December 1, 2022, the MCOs will be managing physical care, as well as mental health and substance abuse.

I see this HUGE change as good and bad (isn’t everything?). The good side effect of this transition is that Medicaid recipients who suffer mental health and/or substance abuse will have their physical health taken care of by the same MCO that manage their mental health and/or substance abuse services. Despite, this positive side effect, we all know that whenever NC Medicaid is OVERHAULED, consumers fall between cracks on a large scale. Let’s just hope that this transition will be easier than past transitions.

Dave Richard, Deputy Secretary NC Medicaid, NCDHHS, gave a presentation today for the NCSHCA. He said that the transition to MCOs was rocky. What does he think will happen when we transfer to the Tailored Plan?

I think I may ask him whether he thinks whether the MCOs are doing a good job, presently.

He’s a great presenter.

He said that the hospitals have come together in the last 4 weeks. He said that we will see something in the media on Monday.

He wants to expand Medicaid because his agency DHHS would be awarded $1.5 Billion over the course of 2 years. Of course, he wants to expand. He has no idea that the MCOs are “terminating at will” providers within the catchment areas in a disproportionate and discriminatory way.

We are close to expansion, he said. 80%, he guessed. “Expansion is really important.”

Not if there are not enough providers.

I did not ask him my question.

Today Mr. Richard had to get a bunch of data from the “new plans.” We are 2 1/2 months away, and he said they are not prepared yet, but hopes to be prepared by December 1, 2022. They still have the discretion to “pull the plug.” He’s worried about a lot of providers who have invested a lot of money to get compliant and ready for the transformation – that they won’t get paid.

“We have 5 really, strong Standard Plans,” he said. Most Medicaid recipients will choose the 5 Standard Plans,

Attorney from the audience: “We have to raise reimbursement rates.” There is a staffing crisis, the attorney, emphasized.

Mr. Richard stated that there will be a raise, but no indication of how much.

Finally, I did ask him his opinion as to whether he thinks the MCOs are doing better now than when the transformation happened (back in 2010-ish).

He said, that nothing is perfect. And that other Medicaid Deputy Secretaries think very highly of NC’s program. I wonder if he’ll run for office. He would win.

The guy next to me asked, “What is the future of the Tailored Plans when they go out of business in 4 years?”

Mr. Richards said that there needed to be competition for being the “big dogs.”

NC Medicaid: Are MCOs Biased?

Since the inception of the Medicaid MCOs in North Carolina, we have discussed that the MCO terminations of providers’ Medicaid contracts have consistently and disproportionately been African American-owned, behavioral health care providers. Normally the MCOs terminate for “purported various reasons,” which was usually in error. However, these provider companies had one thing in common; they were all African American-owned. On this blog, I have generally reported that MCO terminations were just based on inaccurate allegations against the providers. The truth may be more bias. – Knicole Emanuel

George Floyd; Breyonna Taylor; Eric Garner; Tamir Rice; Jordan Davis, these are all names that we know, all-too-well, for such horrendous reasons.  Not for the brilliance, that these young African-American men and women possessed; nor for the accolades they had accumulated throughout their short-lived experiences on this earth.  We recognize these names through a disastrous realization that brought communities and our nation together for a singular purpose; to fight racism. 

A global non-profit organization, United Way, recognizes four types of racism.

  1. Internalized Racism—a set of privately held beliefs, prejudices, and ideas about the superiority of whites and the inferiority of people of color.
  2. Interpersonal Racism—the expression of racism between individuals.  Occurring when individuals interact and their private beliefs affecting their interactions.
  3. Institutional Racism—the discriminatory treatment, unfair policies and practices, and inequitable opportunities and impacts within organizations and institutions, all based on race, that routinely produce racially inequitable outcomes for people of color and advantages for white people.
  4. Structural Racism—a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations and other norms work in various, often reinforcing, ways to perpetuate racial group inequality.

These various types of racism can be witnessed in every state, city, county, suburb, and community, although it isn’t always facially obvious. Racism can even be witnessed in the health care community.  Recently in 2020, NC Governor Roy Cooper signed executive order 143 to address the social,  environmental, economic, and health disparities in communities of color that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Machelle Sanders, NC Department of Administration Secretary,  was quoted stating that “Health inequities are the result of more than one individual choice or random occurrence—they are the result of the historic and ongoing interplay of inequitable structures, policies, and norms that shape lives.”  Governor Cooper went on to include that there is a scarcity of African-American healthcare providers, namely behavioral healthcare providers, available to the public. 

Noting this statement from the Governor of our great state, its troublesome to know that entities that provide federal funding to these healthcare providers have been doing their absolute best to rid the remaining African-American behavioral healthcare providers.  For years, Managed Care Organizations (“MCOs”) have contracted with these providers to fund the expenses pursuant Medicaid billing.  MCOs have repeatedly attempted to terminate these contracts with African-American providers without cause, unsuccessfully; until recently.  In the past few years, Federal Administrative Law Judges (“ALJ’s”) have been upholding “termination without cause” contracts between MCOs and providers.  This is nothing less of an escape route for MCOs, allowing them to keep the federal funds, that they receive each year based upon the number of contracts they have with providers, as profit.  This is an obvious incentive to terminate contracts after receiving these funds. Some may refer to this as a business loophole, while most Americans would label this an unconstitutional form of structural racism.  It has been estimated that 99% of behavioral healthcare providers in NC that have been terminated have ONE thing in common.  You guessed it.  They are African-American owned. Once terminated, most healthcare providers cannot operate without these Federal Medicaid Funds and, ultimately, are forced to close their respective practices.

Why is this not talked about? The answer is simple.  Most Americans who are on Medicaid don’t even understand the processes and intricate considerations that go into Medicaid, let alone the general public.  And what’s the craziest thing? The craziest thing is the fact that these Americans on Medicaid don’t know that the acts of racism instituted against their providers, trickle down and limit their ability to obtain healthcare services.  Think about it.  If I live in a rural town and have a healthcare provider that I know and love is terminated and forced to close, I lose access to said healthcare provider and must potentially go to an out-of-town provider.  The unfortunate fact is that most healthcare providers who operate with a “specific” specialty, such as autistic therapy, can have waitlists up to 12 months! The ramifications of these financially-greedy, racist acts of the MCOs ultimately affect the general population. 

Audit the Medicare Payors…It’s Not Always the Providers That Commit Fraud

Today, I am going to write about America’s managed care problem. We always talk about providers getting audited. It is about time that the payors get audited. In particular, for Medicaid, States contract with managed care organizations, which are prepaid, and, for Medicare, Medicare Advantage companies, which are prepaid.

Managed care in Medicare is MA organizations. Managed care in Medicaid is MCOs. These MCOs and MAs need to be held accountable for the misuse of funds.

Today, capitated, managed care is the dominant way in which states deliver services to Medicaid enrollees. And MA is becoming the dominant way to receive Medicare.

Under these prepaid programs, these private companies are paid a flat fee per month depending on the number of consumers to provide whatever care is required for patients based on age, gender, geography and health risk factors. The more diagnoses a person has, the more the company is prepaid. To compensate plans and providers for potential costs of care for individual patients with long-term conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer, Medicare boosts the monthly payment to Medicare Advantage plans under a “risk adjustment” for each additional condition. The system differs from the traditional “fee for service” payment, in which Medicare pays hospitals and doctors directly each time they provide a service.

If companies add more risk adjustment codes to a Medicare Advantage beneficiary’s medical record to receive higher payment — but don’t spend money on the additional care — they make more money. Same as MCOs denying care or terminating providers, the tax dollars line the executive pockets instead of reimbursing providers for providing medically necessary care.

Maybe the answer is remaining with the fee-for service model. Prepaying entities creates a financial incentive to bolster beneficiaries’ health problems then cross your fingers that the health problems never come to fruition either because the beneficiary remains healthy or the health problem was fabricated.

MCOs and MA companies must be supervised by the single agency. These companies cannot have the ability to refuse medically necessary services or terminate provider at will for whatever reason with no repercussions. It’s not fair to the recipients or providers. Maybe it’s time to switch our telescopic lens from auditing providers to auditing MCOs and MAs.  Let’s get these RAC, ZPIC, and TPE auditors focused on the stewards of our tax dollars, the prepaid entities.

42 CFR §431.10 dictates a single state agency for Medicaid, which is the Department in each State. CMS is the single agency in Medicare. CMS and State Departments are ultimately responsible for the private MCOs and MAs, but really are allowing these companies autonomy to the deficit of our tax dollars.

If you recall, earlier this year, The American Hospital Association urged the Justice Department to use its authority under the False Claims Act to create a fraud task force to investigate commercial insurers that routinely deny patients access to services. This was due to the April 2022 OIG report that “Some Medicare Advantage Organization Denials of Prior Authorization Requests Raise Concerns about Beneficiary Access to Medically Necessary Care.”

Instead of audits of providers or concurrently in audits of providers, we need to audit the payors. Both MCOs and MAs. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Medicare Appeals: When It Comes To Appealing, Beneficiaries May Be Key!

Today I want to discuss the Medicare appeal process and its faults. Upon undergoing a Medicare audit by Safeguard or whichever auditor contracted by CMS, a provider usually receives a notice of overpayment. The 5-level appeal process is flawed as the first two levels rubber-stamp the findings. After the second level of appeal – the QIC level to the ALJ – recoupment occurs unless the provider set up an extended repayment schedule (ERS) or files for an injunction in federal court based on a taking of a property right; i.e., the right to reimbursement for services rendered.

Everyone deserves to be paid for medically necessary services rendered. The conundrum here is that the circuit courts are split as to the protections a provider deserves.

Whenever a federal injunction is filed, the Defendant auditor files a Motion to Dismiss based on (1) failure to exhaust administrative remedies and that the Medicare Act requires the administrative process; therefore, the federal court has no jurisdiction. The provider will argue that the federal action is ancillary to the substantive issue of whether the overpayment was in error and that its protected property right is being taken without due process.

A new case rendered October 1, 2021, Integrity Social Work Services, LCSW, LLC. V. Azar, 2021 WL 4502620 (E.D.N.Y 2021) straddles the fence on the issues. The EDNY falls within the 2nd circuit, which is undecidedly split. The 5th Circuit is, as well, split. District courts across the country are split on whether Medicare providers have a protected property interest in Medicare payments subject to recoupment. Several courts have found that the Medicare Act does create such a property right, including NC, 4th Circuit, Texas, Florida, Ohio, and Illinois, to name a few.

This provider was accused of an alleged overpayment of about 1 million. It argued that because it will not receive a prompt ALJ hearing that it will be driven out of business. This is a harsh and unacceptable outcome that readily occurs in about half the states. Providers should be aware of which State in which it resides and whether that State upholds a providers’ property interest in reimbursements for services rendered.

The Integrity Social Work Court found that, yes, jurisdiction in federal court was proper because the claims were ancillary to the substantive claims that would be heard by the ALJ. The provider was asking for a temporary stay of the recoupments until an ALJ hearing was concluded. As you read the case, you get false hope on the ruling. In the end, Judge Peggy Kuo found “Nor is the process to contest an overpayment or a recoupment decision arbitrary, outrageous, or even inadequate.”

Respectfully, I disagree. As does half the other courts. See, e.g.Accident, Injury & Rehab., PC v. Azar, No. 4:18-CV-2173 (DCC), 2018 WL 4625791, at *7 (D.S.C. Sept. 27, 2018); Adams EMS, Inc. v. Azar, No. H-18-1443, 2018 WL 3377787, at *4 (S.D. Tex. July 11, 2018); Family Rehab., Inc. v. Azar, No. 3:17-CV-3008-K, 2018 WL 3155911, at *4-5 (N.D. Tex. June 28, 2018). Juxtapose other courts have found that no such property interest exists. See, e.g.Alpha Home Health Solutions, LLC v. Sec’y of United States Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., 340 F. Supp. 3d 1291, 1303 (M.D. Fla. 2018); Sahara Health Care, Inc. v. Azar, 349 F. Supp. 3d 555, 572 (S.D. Tex. 2018); PHHC, LLC v. Azar, No. 1:18-CV-1824, 2018 WL 5754393, at *10 (N.D. Ohio Nov. 2, 2018); In Touch Home Health Agency, Inc. v. Azar, 414 F. Supp. 3d 1177, 1189-90 (N.D. Ill. 2019).

Providers – If you bring a claim to cease the recoupment, also sue on behalf of your Medicare beneficiaries’ property rights to freedom of choice of provider and access to care. Their rights are even stronger than the providers’ rights. I did this in Bader in Indiana and won based on the recipients’ rights.

Managed Care Ruins Medicaid and Terminates Providers at Whim!

If you receive a letter from CMS or your State Department terminating your Medicare or Medicaid contract, would that affect you financially? I ask this rhetorical question because providers’ rights to a Medicare or Medicaid contract or to reimbursements for services rendered is a split in the Circuit Courts. Thankfully, I reside in the 4th Circuit, which has unambiguously held that providers and recipients have a property right in reimbursements for services rendered, a Medicare/caid contract and the right to the freedom of choice of provider. If you live in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, I am sorry. You have no rights.

Usually when there is split decision among the Circuit Courts, the Supreme Court weighs in. But, it has not. In fact, it declined to opine. Timing is everything. A 4th Circuit court of Decision giving providers property rights requested the Supreme Court to weigh in and finally end this rift amongst the Circuits. But, sadly, Justice Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020. The Supreme Court declined to review the Fourth Circuit decision on October 13, 2020.  Justice Barrett was confirmed by the Senate on October 26, 2020 and was sworn in on October 27, 2020. So, the certiorari was denied – I assume – due to the vacant seat at the time.

In 40 States, managed care manages Medicaid. The contracts they write are Draconian, saying that either party may terminate at will for no cause but for convenience. Termination at will is all fine and good in the private sector. However, Medicare and Medicaid are highly regulated, and when tax dollars and access to care are at issue, property rights are created.

In NC State Court, against the judgment of the 4th Circuit, a November 5, 2021, unpublished case determined that providers have no property rights to a Medicaid contract and an MCO can terminate at whim. Family Innovations v. Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions, No. COA20-681 (June 1, 2021). Unpublished decisions are supposed to carry no weight. Unpublished decisions are not supposed to be controlling. Citation is disfavored.

Yet, in a strange turn of events, our State administrative courts have rendered, in the last week and in violation of 4th Circuit and administrative case law, that the termination-at-will clause in the MCO contract that a provider is forced to sign stands and is enforceable. These were new Judges and obviously were not well-versed in Medicaid law. Both came from employment law backgrounds, which is completely different than the health care world. But their rash and uneducated decisions bankrupt companies and shut down access to care for medically necessary behavioral health care services.

The upshot? If you have managed care companies in charge of your Medicaid or Medicare contracts, review your contracts now. Is there a termination-at-will clause? Because if there is, you too could lose your contract at any time. Depending on where you reside, you may or may not have property rights in the Medicare Medicaid contract. This is an issue that the Supreme Court must decide. Too many providers are getting erroneously and discriminatorily terminated for no reason and given no due process.

We must bring litigation to thwart the Courts that uphold termination-at-will clauses. Especially, in the era of COVID, we need our health care providers. We certainly do not need the MCOs, which kill access to care.