Category Archives: Reduction in Medicaid Payments

NC Medicaid Reimbursement Rates for Primary Care Physicians Slashed; Is a Potential NC Lawsuit Looming?

Here is my follow-up from yesterday’s blog post, “NC Docs Face Retroactive Medicaid Rate Cut.

Nearly one-third of physicians say they will not accept new Medicaid patients, according to a new study.  Is this shocking in light of the end of the ACA enhanced payments for primary physicians, NC’s implementation of a 3% reimbursement rate cut for primary care physicians, and the additional 1% reimbursement rate cut?  No, this is not shocking. It merely makes economic sense.

Want more physicians to accept Medicaid? Increase reimbursement rates!

Here, in NC, the Medicaid reimbursement rates for primary care physicians and pediatricians have spiraled downward from a trifecta resulting in an epically, low parlay. They say things happen in threes…

(1) With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Medicaid reimbursement rate for certain primary care services increased to reimburse 100% of Medicare Cost Share for services paid in 2013 and 2014.  This enhanced payment stopped on January 1, 2015.

(2) Concurrently on January 1, 2015, Medicaid reimbursement rates for evaluation and management and vaccination services were decreased by 3% due to enactments in the 2013 NC General Assembly session.

(3) Concurrently on January 1, 2015, Medicaid reimbursement rates for evaluation and management and vaccination services were decreased by 1% due to enactments in the 2014 NC General Assembly session.

The effect of the trifecta of Medicaid reimbursement rates for certain procedure codes for primary care physicians can be seen below.

CCNC

As a result, a physician currently receiving 100% of the Medicare rates will see a 16% to 24% reduction in certain E&M and vaccine procedure codes for Medicaid services rendered after January 1, 2015.

Are physicians (and all other types of health care providers) powerless against the slashing and gnashing of Medicaid reimbursement rates due to budgetary concerns?

No!  You are NOT powerless!  Be informed!!

Section 30(A) of the Medicaid Act states that:

“A state plan for medical assistance must –

Provide such methods and procedures relating to the utilization of, and the payment for, care and services available under the plan (including but not limited to utilization review plans as provided for in section 1396b(i)(4) of this title) as may be necessary to safeguard against unnecessary utilization of such care and services and 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.”

Notice those three key goals:

  • Quality of care
  • 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

Courts across the country have held that low Medicaid reimbursement rates which are set due to budgetary factors and fail to consider federally mandated factors, such as access to care or cost of care, are in violation of federal law.  Courts have further held that Medicaid reimbursement rates cannot be set based solely on budgetary reasons.

For example, U.S. District Court Judge Adalberto Jordan held in a 2014 Florida case that:

“I conclude that while reimbursement rates are not the only factor determining whether providers participate in Medicaid, they are by far the most important factor, and that a sufficient increase in reimbursement rates will lead to a substantial increase in provider participation and a corresponding increase to access to care.”

“Given the record, I conclude that plaintiffs have shown that achieving adequate provider enrollment in Medicaid – and for those providers to meaningfully open their practices to Medicaid children – requires compensation to be set at least at the Medicare level.

Judge Jordan is not alone.  Over the past two decades, similar cases have been filed in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Texas, and D.C. [Notice: Not in NC].  These lawsuits demanding higher reimbursement rates have largely succeeded.

There is also a pending Supreme Court case that I blogged about here.

Increasing the Medicaid reimbursement rates is vital for Medicaid recipients and access to care.  Low reimbursement rates cause physicians to cease accepting Medicaid patients.  Therefore, these lawsuits demanding increased reimbursement rates benefit both the Medicaid recipients and the physicians providing the services.

According to the above-mentioned study, in 2011, “96 percent of physicians accepted new patients in 2011, rates varied by payment source: 31 percent of physicians were unwilling to accept any new Medicaid patients; 17 percent would not accept new Medicare patients; and 18 percent of physicians would not accept new privately insured patients.”

It also found this obvious fact:  “Higher state Medicaid-to-Medicare fee ratios were correlated with greater acceptance of new Medicaid patients.”

Ever heard the phrase: “You get what you pay for.”?

A few months ago, my husband brought home a box of wine.  Yes, a box of wine.  Surely you have noticed those boxes of wine at Harris Teeter.  I tried a sip.  It was ok.  I’m no wine connoisseur.  But I woke the next morning with a terrible headache after only consuming a couple of glasses of wine.  I’m not sure whether the cheaper boxed wine has a higher level of tannins, or what, but I do not get headaches off of 2 glasses of wine when the wine bottle is, at least, $10.  You get what you pay for.

The same is true in service industries.  Want a cheap lawyer? You get what you pay for.  Want a cheap contractor? You get what you pay for.

So why do we expect physicians to provide the same quality of care in order to receive $10 versus $60?  Because physicians took the Hippocratic Oath?  Because physicians have an ethical duty to treat patients equally?

While it is correct that physicians take the Hippocratic Oath and have an ethical duty to their clients, it’s for these exact reasons that many doctors simply refuse to accept Medicaid.  It costs the doctor the same office rental, nurse salaries, and time devoted to patients to treat a person with Blue Cross Blue Shield as it does a person on Medicaid.  However, the compensation is vastly different.

Why?  Why the different rates if the cost of care is equal?

Budgetary reasons.

Unlike private insurance, Medicaid is paid with tax dollars.  Each year, the General Assembly determines our Medicaid budget.  Reducing Medicaid reimbursement rates, by even 1%, can affect the national Medicaid budget by billions of dollars.

But, remember, rates cannot be set for merely budgetary reasons…

Is a potential lawsuit looming in NC’s not so distant future???

NC Docs Face Retroactive Medicaid Rate Cut

This is a story from NC Health News by Rose Hoban…a follow up blog to come

In the 2014 state budget passed last August, state lawmakers inserted what could be considered a poison pill for Medicaid providers: a 3 percent pay cut that for specialists could be effective retroactively to January 2014.

Primary care providers such as pediatricians, internists and family doctors will see the same pay cut, effective back to Jan. 1, 2015.

But the cut is only now being implemented.

“All of us were optimistic that the cut wouldn’t happen,” said Karen Smith, a family doctor in Raeford who runs her own practice.

Smith said she and other physicians have been writing, calling and talking to legislators, working to convince them not to implement the cut.

But she and thousands of other primary care providers received notification late last week that on March 1 they would begin seeing the 3 percent cut.

And for specialists, the reduction will go back 14 months.

“It’s quite a hit,” said Elaine Ellis, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Medical Society.

Failed shared-savings plan behind the problem

The origin of the 3 percent cut goes back to the 2013 budget for Medicaid, the program that covers health care for low-income children, some of their parents, pregnant women and low-income seniors. In 2013, the federal government paid North Carolina 65.5 percent of every dollar billed for Medicaid-eligible care, while the state covered the other 34.5 percent (The rate, which changes annually, is 65.9 percent for 2015).
In 2013, the Medicaid budget had grown to close to $4 billion in state dollars, and lawmakers at the General Assembly were looking for ways to trim costs. So they devised a “shared-savings” program, in which Medicaid providers would take a 3 percent rate cut that would be collected by the state Department of Health and Human Services. If doctors and hospitals saved money by operating more efficiently, DHHS would share those savings back with the providers, effectively reducing the amount of the 3 percent cut.

But DHHS needed federal approval to initiate the program, which would have been complicated. The agency never submitted a plan to the federal government, so neither part of the program was initiated.

That created a problem for lawmakers, who had calculated the savings from the rate cut into their state budget. When lawmakers returned to Raleigh in 2014 to adjust the state’s biennial budget, they implemented the rate cut retroactively to Jan 1, 2014 for specialists. Primary care providers, such as Karen Smith, had their rate cut put off until the beginning of 2015.

Big bucks

Officials from the Medical Society have been gathering numbers from around the state and are finding that some specialty practices could owe tens of thousands of dollars that would need to be repaid to state coffers.

The need for retroactive payment is in part a logistical problem: The computerized Medicaid management information system, known as NCTracks, has not been able to process the cuts. NCTracks has had technical issues since it was rolled out in mid-2013; at that time, glitches in the system created months of delays and tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid services for providers.

“Requiring these [specialist] medical practices to pay back 3 percent of what the state has already paid them for the last 14 months would wreak havoc with the finances of these businesses – really, any business would struggle to recover from such a financial blow,” Robert Schaaf, a Raleigh radiologist and president of the Medical Society, wrote Monday in a press release.

And primary care doctors like Smith are also fretting over paying back 3 percent of what she earned from Medicaid for the past two months.

“Practices such as my own are functioning on an operating budget that’s month by month,” said Smith, who said that a great many of her patients are Medicaid recipients.

“We simply do not have that type of operating reserve to allow for that,” she said.

The cuts will be especially tough for rural providers, who have high numbers of Medicaid patients, said Greg Griggs from the N.C. Academy of Family Practitioners (The Academy of Family Practitioners is a North Carolina Health News sponsor).

“It’s one thing to make the cuts going forward, but to take money back, especially for that period of time, is pretty significant for people who’ve been willing to take care of our most needy citizens,” Griggs said.

“It’s pretty bad,” he said, “and its not like Medicaid pays extraordinarily well to begin with.”

Piling on

In addition to the state cut is a federal cut of 1 percent to Medicaid reimbursements for primary care providers that went into effect on Jan. 1.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, primary care providers like Smith got a bump in reimbursement last year, but that ran out with the new year. Smith said that legislators in other states found ways to keep paying that enhanced rate for primary care doctors.

“We were hoping our legislators would do the same,” she said.

Instead, Smith finds herself talking to her staff about possible reductions, and she’s hearing from providers in her area that they’re throwing in the towel.

“I already have colleagues who’ve left practice of medicine in this area,” she said. “My personal physician is no longer in this area. Another colleague who was a resident three years in front of me told me he cannot deal with the economics of practicing like this anymore.”

Smith acknowledged that North Carolina’s Medicaid program has a slightly higher reimbursement to physicians than surrounding states. But she said many of her patients are quite ill.

“We are in the stroke belt,” she said, referring to the high rate of strokes in eastern North Carolina. “When we look at how sick our patients are compared to other states, is it equivalent? Are we measuring apples to apples?

“The Times They Are a-Changin’”: A Look at Possible Ramifications on Medicaid by Senate Bill 744

I think of Bob Dylan’s raspy voice singing:

Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt took the presidency during a time of severe poverty. The Great Depression, which would last until the late 1930s or early 1940s, cast shadows and doubt over the future of America. People were starving. Unemployment and homelessness were at an all-time high.

FDR’s first 100 days in office were monumental. In fact, FDR’s first 100 days in office changed America forever. With bold legislation and a myriad of executive orders, he instituted the New Deal. The New Deal created government jobs for the homeless, banking reform, and emergency relief to states and cities. During those 100 days of lawmaking, Congress granted every major request Roosevelt asked. This is an example of what I call blending of the separation of powers. In a time of great national need, Congress took an expansive view of the president’s constitutional powers and cooperated with him to effect major change.

I am in no way comparing our General Assembly to Congress back in the 1930s nor am I comparing FDR to Gov. McCrory. In fact, there are vast differences. I am only making the point that rarely does the legislative body create such change.

But North Carolina’s current Senate Bill 744 may create this change. For example, if Senate Bill 744 passes the House, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) may no longer manage Medicaid. That’s right. A whole new state agency may manage Medicaid.

This past Friday, May 30, 2014, the state Senate passed a $21.2 billion budget, which is known as Senate Bill 744. On May 31, 2014, Senate Bill 744 passed its 3rd reading and will now go on to the House. So far, it has been revised 3 times, so we do not know whether the House will make substantial changes. But, as it stands today, it is shocking. Is it good? Bad? I don’t think we can know whether the changes are good or bad yet, and, quite honestly, I have not had time to digest all of the possible implications of Senate Bill 744. But, regardless, the changes are shocking.

Of the most shocking changes (should SB 744 get passed), consider the following:

1. DHHS must immediately cease all efforts to transition Medicaid to the affordable care organizations (ACOs) system that DHHS had touted would be in effect by July 2015;

2. DHHS’s DMA will no longer manage Medicaid. Instead, a new state entity will be formed to manage Medicaid. (A kind of…”scratch it all and start over” method);

3. All funds previously appropriated to DMA will be transferred to the Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) and will be used for Medicaid reform and may not be used for any other purpose such as funding any shortfalls in the Medicaid program.

4. Categorical coverage for recipients of the optional state supplemental program State County Special Assistance is eliminated.

5. Coverage for the medically needy is eliminated, except those categories that the State is prohibited from eliminating by the “maintenance of effort” requirement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Effective October 1, 2019, coverage for all medically needy categories is eliminated.

6. It is the intent of the General Assembly to reduce optional coverage for certain aged, blind, and disabled persons effective July 1, 2015, while meeting the State’s obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the United States Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring, 527 U.S. 581 (1999).

7. Repeal the shared savings program and just reduce the reimbursement rates by 3%.

8. DHHS shall implement a Medicaid assessment program for local management entities/managed care organizations (LME/MCOs) at a rate of three and one-half percent (3.5%).

9. For additional notices as to State Plan Amendments (SPAs), DHHS must post the proposed SPAs on its website at least 10 days prior to submitting the SPAs to the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

10. Reimbursement rate changes become effective when CMS approves the reimbursement rate changes.

11. The Department of Health and Human Services shall not enter into any contract involving the program integrity functions listed in subsection (a) of this section of SB 774 that would have a termination date after September 1, 2015.

12. The Medicaid PROVIDER will have the burden of proof in contested case actions against the Department.

13. The Department shall withhold payment to any Medicaid provider for whom the DMA, or its vendor, has identified an overpayment in a written notice to the provider. Withholding shall begin on the 75th day after the day the notice of overpayment is mailed and shall continue during the pendency of any appeal until the overpayment becomes a final overpayment (can we say injunction?).

Senate Bill 744 purports to make immense modifications to our Medicaid system. I wonder what Gov. McCrory and Secretary Wos think about Senate Bill 744. If SB 744 passes, McCrory and Wos can no longer continue down the ACO path. Does the General Assembly even have the authority to bind their hands from creating ACOs? It seems so.

As for the “new state agency” that will manage Medicaid, maybe the General Assembly is right and we do need to scratch out the current Medicaid management and start over…I doubt anyone would disagree that DHHS has had some “oops” moments in the past year or so. But (a) is this the way to start all over; and (b) does the General Assembly have the legal power to remove the management of Medicaid from Secretary Wos?

Going to the reduction of optional services for the “medically needy,” what services are considered optional? Here is a list of optional services, as defined by the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS):

• Case Management
• Mental Health
• Podiatry
• Intermediate Care Facilities (ICF-MR)
• Personal Care Services
• Prosthetics
• Respiratory Therapy
• Hospice
• Adult Dentures
• Prescription Drugs
• Community Alternative Programs (CAP)
• Private Duty Nursing
• Chiropractor
• Home Infusion Therapy
• Physical Therapy/Speech Therapy
• Transportation

I cannot comment on all the changes proposed by Senate Bill 744; I simply have not had enough time to review them in detail, because there are so many changes. I do not purport to know whether these modifications are ultimately for the good or for the bad.

All I know is that we better start swimming or we will sink like a stone, because the times they are a-changin’.

Medicaid, Medicare, Nursing Facilities, and Death and Taxes: Our Uncertain Future for Our Aged Population

There are few “knowns” in life. In 1789, Benjamin franklin penned a correspondence to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, in which he wrote, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Certainly the phrase “death and taxes” had existed prior to Franklin’s 1789 usage, but considering how famous Franklin became in history for our country, many people attribute the phrase to Franklin.

Think about it. Nothing is certain, but death and taxes. It is a rather bleak view of the world. Why not “nothing is certain except happiness and sadness?” Or “nothing is certain but you being alive and dying?” Why do both “certain” items have to be bleak?

For purposes of this blog, I am using my own phrase:

“Nothing is certain except old age, unless you die early.”

For one day, we will all be old (unless we die early). And when we age, as much as we would love to ignore the fact, the fact is that most of us will be placed in an assisted living facility (ALF) or a nursing home of some sort.

But what will the world of ALFs look like 20…30…40 years from now? With the low Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates for personal care services (PCS), how many nursing homes will exist in the future?

Already, in Massachusetts, nursing homes are dropping like flies due to low reimbursement rates. What does this mean to the aged population?

In NC, our PCS reimbursement rate continues to be slashed. What will this mean for our aged population?

In the past few years, with approval from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has lowered the reimbursement rates for non-medical PCS provided both in the home and in a facility.

In October 2013, DHHS officials proposed to CMS a cut in the Medicaid PCS hourly rate by $2.40 per hour, down to $13.12 per hour, retroactive to July 1 (At the time, the PCS hourly rate was $15.52 and allowed up to 130 hours of care per month or, roughly, 4 hours a day).

Interestingly, DHHS has the PCS reimbursement rate for facilities and for home health care providers the same. Yet, facilities face much higher overhead, staffing costs, and building and equipment costs than does a home care provider. So why do both different types of providers receive the same reimbursement rate?

Prior to 2010, DHHS had two separate PCS rates, one for facilities and one for home health care providers. Obviously, the reimbursement rate in facilities was higher than the PCS rate for home health care providers to account for the additional overhead costs.

However, Disability Rights of NC warned DHHS that paying lower reimbursement rates for people living in the home versus a facility violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed, and, in 2012, the General Assembly (GA) had to make a decision: (1) lower the reimbursement rate for PCS in facilities; (2) increase the reimbursement rates for PCS in the home; (3) or come up with some innovative way to not violate the ADA.

Feeling pinched, the GA passed legislation that made it more difficult for recipients to qualify for PCS and decreased the number of allowable hours of PCS to from 130 to 80 hours per month, although if a person suffered from dementia, the PCS provider could get an extra 50 hours/week.

Plus, starting January 1, 2014, the shared savings plan went into effect, which decreased reimbursement rates by 3% across the board.

What does all this mean? It points to a couple of things.

Nursing facilities are facing financial distress.

In Massachusetts nursing facilities have already begun to close down. As of May 19, 2014, within 5 months, 4 nursing homes have gone out of business. According to The Boston Globe, the 4 nursing homes closed because they were “unable to make ends meet with the money they get from Medicaid because reimbursement rates have not increased in nearly a decade, according to the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, the industry trade group. Scores more are on the edge of shutting down.”

Scores more are on the verge of shutting down? For those of you who do not recall Lincoln’s speech, “Four scores and seven years ago…,” a score equals 20. According to the Boston Globe scores are on the verge of shutting down??? 40? 60?

With our aged population growing by the day, what does the future look like for nursing homes and the aged population?

Nothing may be certain except death and taxes, but I think it is certain that you will grow old, unless you die early.

The Future of Medicaid, a POPPED Balloon, and Proposals

There are more people on Medicaid than Medicare.

Think about that.  There are more people in America who qualify for Medicaid than Medicare.  Yet, as a nation, we spend more on Medicare than Medicaid.  (I assume because the older population requires more expensive services).  58 million people relied on Medicaid in 2012 as their insurance.

And Medicaid is growing.  There is no question that Medicaid is growing.  When I say Medicaid is growing, I mean the population dependent on Medicaid is growing, the demand for services covered is growing, and the amount of money required to satisfy the demand is growing.  This means that every year we will spend more and more on Medicaid.  Logically, at some point, at its current growth pattern, there will come a point at which we can no longer afford to sustain the Medicaid budget.

If you think of the Medicaid budget as a super, large balloon, imagine trying to inflate the balloon more and more.  At some point, the balloon cannot withstand the amount of air being put into it and it…POPS.

Will Medicaid eventually POP if we keep cramming more people into it, demanding more services, and demanding more money to pay for the increased services?

First, let’s look at the amount of money spent on Medicaid last year.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) just released the 2013 Actuarial Report on the Financial Outlook on Medicaid and its report considers the effect of Obamacare.

The CMS report found that total Medicaid outlays in 2012 were $431.9 billion.

The feds put in $250.5 billion or 58%.  States paid $181.4 billion or 42%.  In 2011, the federal government’s percentage of the whole Medicaid expenditure was 64%.

The CMS report also made future projections.

“We estimate that the [Affordable Care] Act will increase the number of Medicaid enrollees by about 18 million in 2022 and that Medicaid costs will grow significantly as a result of these changes starting in 2014.”

The 10 year projection, according to the report, is an increase in expenditures at an annual rate of 7.1%.  By 2022, the expenditures on Medicaid will be $853.6 billion.

Just for some perspective…a billion is a thousand million.

If you sat down to count from one to one billion, you would be counting for 95 years (go ahead…try it!).

If I gave you $1000 per day (not counting interest), how long would it take you to receive one billion dollars?  Answer: 2,737.85 years (2,737 years, 10 months, 7 days).  Now multiply 2,737.85 years by 853.6.

That’s a lot of years!!

In the next ten years, average enrollment is projected to reach 80.9 million in 2022.  It is estimated that, currently, 316 million people live in America.

So the question becomes, how can we reform, change, alter (whatever verb you want to use) Medicaid so that we can ensure that the future of Medicaid is not a POPPED balloon?  While I do not have the answer to this, I do have some ideas.

According to the CMS report, per enrollee spending for health goods and services was estimated to be $6,641 in 2012.  I find this number interesting because, theoretically, each enrollee could use $6,641 to purchase private insurance.

Remember my blog: “A Modest Proposal?” For that blog, I used the number $7777.78 per enrollee to purchase private insurance, which would require an increase in Medicaid spending assuming we give $7,777.78 to each enrollee.  But think of this…the amount would be a known amount.  Not a variable.

My health care, along with health care for my husband, costs $9,000/year.  My cost includes two people.  If I wanted individual insurance it would only have cost $228/month or $2,736/year.

What are other options to decrease the future Medicaid budgets and to avoid the big POP:

  • Decrease Medicaid reimbursements (really? Let’s make LESS providers accept Medicaid);
  • Decrease covered services (I would hope this idea is obviously stupid);
  • Decrease the number of recipients (I believe the ACA shot this one out of the water);
  • Create a hard cap on Medicaid spending and refuse to allow services over the cap regardless of the medical necessity (Again, I would hope this idea is obviously stupid);
  • Decrease administrative costs (this is apparently an impossible feat);
  • Create more difficult standards for medical necessity (I believe the ADA would have something to say about that); or
  • Print more money (Hmmmm…can we say inflation?).

Please, if anyone else has a good idea, let me, or, better yet, your General Assembly, know.

Because without question the future of Medicaid is larger and more expensive than today.  We want to avoid that…

POP!!

The NC State Plan, Its Importance, and How Can We Keep Up With All the Changes??

I am constantly amazed at the amount of knowledge that I do not know.  And how quickly the knowledge I have becomes obsolete due to changes.  To quote Lewis Carroll’s “Alice and Wonderland,” “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” My other favorite quote series from Lewis Carroll is the following scene:

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, or you wouldn’t have come here.”

So too, must I be mad, I think, at times, for dealing with Medicaid and Medicare law.  The statutes and regulations are vast and ever-changing.  You can easily miss a policy change that was disseminated by an update posted on the web.  But, I am a lawyer…I read a lot.  But providers are held accountable as well for every revision and every update.

Just when you think you understand the State Plan, the Department of Health and Human Service (DHHS) asks the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for an amendment.

In this blog, I am going to discuss 2 issues.  (1) What is the State Plan and why is it important; and (2) how can providers stay abreast of the ever-changing Medicare/caid world and policies.

(1) Our State Plan

What is our State Plan in Medicaid? Is it law? Guidance? Does NC have to follow the State Plan? Can NC amend the State Plan?

These are all good questions.

The State Plan is a contract between North Carolina and the federal government describing how NC will administer its State Plan, i.e., Medicaid program.  The State Plan describes who can be covered by Medicaid, what services are available, and, basically, assures the federal government that we will abide by certain rules and regulations.  NC must follow the State Plan or risk losing federal funding for Medicaid, which would be BAD.

Quite often, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will issue a State Plan Amendment (SPA) to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  DHHS has to post all proposed amendments on its website “10 Day Posting for Submission to CMS.”  This internet site should be in your “favorites,” and you should check it regularly.

For example, February 27th, DHHS asked to reduce Medicaid reimbursements methodologies for Chiropractic Services, Podiatry Services and Optometry Services to 97% of the July 1, 2013, rate, effective January 1, 2014 (yes, retroactively).

Just in 2014, there have been approximately 10 SPA requests.  So, these SPAs are relatively common.

So, question #2…how can you keep up?

(2) Keeping abreast of all changes

As much as I would love to throw my computer out the window (I am on the 16th floor) and watch it crash, computers and technology can be very helpful.  And technology makes it easy for everyone, even busy health care providers, to stay current on changes, amendments, and revisions to Medicaid/care policies and law.

Here is the secret: (shhhhhhhhh!!)

Google Alerts.

If you want to keep current on NCTracks, all you have to do is set a Google alert with the search term “NCTracks,” and you will receive daily email alerts on all internet articles on NCTracks.  It is that easy.

So how do you set up a Google Alert?  I have drafted a set by step process, otherwise entitled “Google Alerts for Dummies.”

1. Go to Google.

2. At the top of the page you will see the words: “You,” “Search,” “Images,” “Maps,” “Play,” “Youtube,” “News,” “Gmail,” and “More.”  Click on “More.”

3. When the box drops, at the very bottom, you will see “even more.”  Click on “even more.”

4. Scroll down to specialized search and click on “Alerts.”

5. Type in whatever search term you like, such as “Medicaid,” or “Knicole Emanuel.”

6. Decide how often you want to be alerted and your email address.

You will now be alerted about your topic.  See? Easy!!

Now, because of this blog, you have learned two or more impossible things before lunch.

Black and Blue Medicaid Budgets, the ACA, and the Fear of the Unknown…

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”  H.P. Lovecraft, “Supernatural Horror in Literature.”  I completely agree.  The unknown scares me way more than the known.

The unknown is what creates fear, right?  For example, my husband is scared of heights.  It is not the “heights” per se that scare him.  He says that when he is high up, he gets an abnormal and understandably disturbing sense to throw himself off the ledge.  He is scared, not of heights, but of his reaction to heights.  Similarly, remember when I had an anxiety attack while I repelled (fell without any control) down the 22-story Wells Fargo building to raise money for the Special Olympics?  To see my disastrous descend off of the Wells Fargo building, see my blog: “The Future of Managed Care in Medicaid and the Fear of the Unknown.”

But unknowns to a Medicaid budget can be disastrous.

For those of you who live in North Carolina, you probably got some snow last Wednesday.  I live in Raleigh, and we got about 3 inches.  My law firm was actually closed Wednesday. While I have to say that it takes a lot of snow to close a law firm (I mean, come on, think of how much money we lost by having a non-productive day.  Luckily, I work for a firm that cares more about the safety of its employees than the bottom line), I do live in the South.  And snow scares us (actually, not snow per se (we aren’t actually scared of the little white flakes), but the fear of the unknown…what can happen because of snow?)

A few weeks ago snow was in the forecast (not on the ground) and my daughter’s school closed.  Seriously, there was no snow, yet my daughter’s school was cancelled..  And Tuesday evening, the night before the Great Blizzard of 2014, the grocery store was slammed with people buying milk and bread (just in case we are stuck in our homes for weeks and could be on the brink of starvation due to the 3 inches of snow).  My husband, being the good southerner that he is, keeps our water running all night to prevent freezing pipes.  He also covers the vents outside with towels.

Needless to say our house was prepared for the snow.

But there are always unknowns.  Especially when it comes to Medicaid budgets.

Our unknowns regarding the Great Blizzard of 2014?  (1) No sled; and (2) Skinny, unpadded sleds = a bruised body.

We woke up Wednesday to 3 inches of snow and no sled.  And our 8-year-old was aching to sled.  How do we not have a sled? Hello…we are from the south.  It snows here maybe every 3 years.  So we run to Ace Hardware, because, according to my husband, it is family owned and run.  Ace had 4 sleds left (obviously other southerners were quicker to think of sleds than we).  Three of the sleds were very thin.  Almost like a towel, but more stiff and made of plastic.  One of the remaining sleds was thicker…a tad thicker than a boogey board with two yellow handles on each side.  Of course, my daughter chose the thicker one, leaving me with the skinny, unpadded sled.

We drove to Shelley Lake at which there is a VERY steep, almost, straight-down hill.  Seriously, I had to climb up on my knees because I couldn’t stand without sliding backward.  And, due to the skinny, unpadded sled, as I shot down the hill, I felt every bump…every jolt…every drop….on my knees, elbows and belly.  But it was fun, so we kept at it!  My daughter yelled, “Best day ever!” (Which made me smile ear to ear).

My other unknown?  Skinny, unpadded sleds equal a sore body with black and blue knees and elbows after 4-5 hours  of sledding (and climbing up the steep hill).  Again, chalk it up to me being a southerner.  Literally, the last time I sledded was when Madison was 4…the Great Blizzard of 2010….and I didn’t have a skinny, unpadded sled then.

So here I am today, writing this, but unable to cross my legs or wear skirts above my knees or people would think that….hmmmm…..what would people think if they saw my swollen, bruised knees?  That I jumped up and down on my knees?  That something fell on my knees?  That I fell on my knees?  That someone beat me up…but only my knees?  It is an odd thing to have bruised knees.  They are very difficult to explain.

So too are Medicaid budgets.  And Medicaid expenditures.  Something always comes up.  There is always grey (or black and blue).  And they are very difficult to explain.

Think about it…we expect our legislature to come up with how much we will spend the future year based on the past.  The General Assembly does not have a crystal ball (that I know of).  Yet we expect the budget to be correct, and we expect to not exceed the budget.  Otherwise we are over the budget.  And bruised.

Last year, 2013, State Auditor Beth Wood stated that we had exceeded the State Medicaid budget by hundreds of millions of dollars for at least three years running.  She estimated that going over the Medicaid budget by so much money cost the tax payers $1.2 billion.  But how can you budget medical necessity for Medicaid recipients?

Well, NC is asking the feds for permission to decrease Medicaid spending by freezing Medicaid reimbursement rates.  We have approximately 10 or more requests to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to freeze the Medicaid reimbursement rates for a range of Medicaid services. 

How else do we try to decrease Medicaid spending?  By hiring some managed care organizations (MCOs) to manage behavioral health and placing the risk of going over budget on the MCOs.  Hello, people, rationally, how do you think that the risk-based model will be implemented by the MCOs.  Surely the MCOs will be happy to have lots of providers in their catchment areas and happy to have lots of recipients so the MCO can pay out lots of money and receive little-to-no profit.  And we live in Disneyland, and all the animals help us clean our homes!

The concept of MCOs managing behavioral health is not inherently bad.  The WAY in which NC implemented MCOs and the pay-structure IS inherently bad.  Even CMS agrees with me.  See my blog: “CMS Declares the Payment Structure for the MCOs Violates A-87…”So what Happens Now?”

So, besides freezing reimbursement rates and outsourcing risk, how else could we manage Medicaid costs?

DECREASE ADMINISTRATIVE COSTS.

Medically necessary Medicaid services should not be decreased.  Reimbursement rates should be raised, not slashed.  Medicaid providers should have the incentive to accept Medicaid, not the converse.

Decreasing administrative costs accomplishes decreasing Medicaid expenditures without harming the medically necessary Medicaid services to Medicaid recipients.

On the national level, between 2010 and 2011, total Medicaid expenditures increased by 6.4%.  However, in 2012, the federal Health and Human Services Department (HHS) estimates that Medicaid expenditures will increase only 1.1%.  HHS opines that the slower growth of Medicaid expenditures is because of States’ efforts to limit growth in light of budget constraints and the knowledge that the States will be liable for more Medicaid recipients (if such state expands) after the temporary federal matching reimbursement under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  In other words, we are spending less on Medicaid services.

Just to  get perspective on how important Medicaid is to our overall budget and tax dollars, total Medicaid spending in 2011 was $432.4 billion with the feds paying $275.1 billion or 64% and the states paying $157.3 billion or 36%.  That is a lot of tax dollars!

In 2011, nationally, administration costs increased from 2010 by 8.7%.  This increase in the highest percentage increase in administrative costs since 2003.

And North Carolina’s administrative spending is abnormally high.

Back in October 2013, our State Auditor Beth Wood was quoted saying, “The administrative spending for the state’s Medicaid program is 38 percent higher than the average of nine states with similarly sized Medicaid programs,” Wood maintained. “While those states on average have administrative costs of 4.5 percent, the state of North Carolina spent over 6 percent of its total budget on administrative cost. In real dollars that means that the state is spending $180 million more than the average of our peer states.”

$180 million more than peer states spent on administrative costs…not services to Medicaid recipients…not reimbusements to providers accepting Medicaid….just for administrative costs.

On a national level, Medicaid administrative costs are only expected to increase.

Over the next 10 years, Medicaid expenditures are projected to increase at an average annual rate of 6.4% and to reach $795.0 billion by 2021.  Average enrollment is projected to increase at an average annual rate of 3.4% over the next 10 years and to reach 77.9 million in 2021.  See CMS report.

 Because of the ACA , Medicaid expenditures are expected to increase by a total of $514 billion from 2012 through 2021.  See id.

Nationally, Medicaid spending on program administration totaled $20.2 billion in 2011—$11.4 billion in Federal expenditures and $8.9 billion in State spending.  See id.

Total Medicaid expenditures grew slightly faster in 2011 than in 2010, at a rate of 6.4 percent. Expenditures on benefits grew somewhat more slowly (6.3 percent) than in 2010, but administration expenditures increased at the fastest rate since 2003 (8.7 percent).  See id.

The point?

Each year we have more citizens who qualify for Medicaid.  Because of the ACA, we have the largest increase in the number of Medicaid recipients, quite possibly, ever in the history of Medicaid, except maybe during its inception.

Yet, the number of providers willing to accept Medicaid is not rising.  “The average rate of acceptance among family physicians, dermatologists, cardiologists, orthopedic surgeons and obstetrician/gynecologists in all 15 markets surveyed was 45.7 percent last year, according to data gathered from nearly 1,400 medical offices last year.”  “The 2014 survey showed a drop from 55.4 percent acceptance in 2009.”  See 2014 Survey by Merritt Hawkins.

Here is the formula:

More Medicaid recipients + Higher administrative costs + Fewer providers accepting Medicaid = Catastrophe? Medicaid recipients not receiving the medically necessary services? The cost of administrating Medicaid takes away from medically necessary services to Medicaid recipients?

Black and blue Medicaid budgets?

Here in NC, we have opted to not expand Medicaid.  However, not expanding does not equal less Medicaid recipients (obviously it means less than had we expanded), but regardless of expansion, the number of Medicaid recipients increase every year.  Just like our general population grows.

While NC has not expanded, NC has not cut Medicaid administrative costs.  Instead, we are freezing reimbursement rates and allowing the MCOs to cut mental health services and terminate providers.  Yet, our Medicaid population continues to grow, despite not expanding Medicaid.  More and more providers are opting to not accept Medicaid.

“North Carolina spent over 6 percent of its total budget on administrative cost. In real dollars that means that the state is spending $180 million more than the average of our peer states.”  Beth Wood.

“We exceeded the State Medicaid budget by hundreds of millions of dollars for at least three years running.”

So what will become of our Medicaid state budget?  Will our budget get black and blue from unexpected bumps in the road?  Do we have a sled that is too skinny and unpadded?

The worst fear is the fear of the unknown.

Possible Hospital RAC Audits in 2014: Pow! Right in the Kisser!

Muhammad Ali said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

Whew…it’s a new year.  While I thoroughly enjoyed 2013, I am excited and hopeful for 2014.  Work is so busy that it seems like I’ve barely had time to breathe this January….that’s a good thing, right?  Hey, anyone see me on TV? 🙂  Check out WRAL.

Hospitals, on the other hand, may be anxious and doubtful about their 2014s.  Hospitals have good reason to wonder about the future.  Our NC General Assembly was fairly harsh on hospitals in the last session, passing numerous session laws that directly or indirectly negatively affect hospitals.

But to be fair, the 2013 NC General Assembly didn’t ONLY affect hospitals…see Stephen Kobert’s report on North Carolina legislature.  Kobert’s graphic simulation is hilarious!

Senate Bill 4 entitled “No NC Exchange/No Medicaid Expansion,” was one of the first bills out of the gate.  While I am not necessary an advocate for expanding Medicaid (see my blog “Medicaid Expansion: Bad for the Poor“), I understand that Medicaid expansion would greatly benefit the hospitals, as well as Medicaid recipients. 

Here is an interesting scenario:

Bradford Regional Medical Center and Olean General Hospital sit only 20 miles apart on opposite sides of the Pennsylvania/New York border. (See “Hospitals Facing Big Divide In Pro- and Anti- ACA States” by Beth Kutscher).  New York expanded Medicaid and Pennsylvania did not.  New York also opted to set up its own health exchange, which is working.  Pennsylvania is floundering with healthcare.gov.  Olean projects billions in lost revenue due to non-Medicaid expansion.  I bet Olean wishes it could move the border of New York!  Or its hospital!

House Bill 998 capped the sales tax refund that non-profit organizations, which was largely aimed at non-profit hospitals. 

House Bill 834 and Senate Bill 473 require certain hospitals and health care facilities to publicize the costs many health care procedures.  So when you need a CAT scan, you can see what UNC’s costs are for a CAT scan versus WakeMed’s and make an individual choice as to which hospital to present yourself.  Sounds like a fair and reasonable request, but imagine the administrative cost for the hospitals to abide by the requirements.

Furthermore, the budget reduced hospital outpatient payments from 80% to 70% of costs. The budget further instituted a 3% Medicaid reimbursement “withhold” that the states calls a “shared savings plan.” The budget changed the hospital provider assessment state retention formula.  Now the state can collect 25.9% of total assessment, instead of the cap of $43 million.

Not just the NC General Assembly affects hospitals.  On the federal level, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services CMS) also took a stab.  A new CMS rule converts the current Medicare 5-level, intensity-based payment system for clinic visits to one, single outpatient visit code.  Prior to this change, a hospital could be reimbursed for a Medicare patient visit anywhere from $56.77 for a level 1 new patient to $175.79 for a level 5 new patient.  Now all Medicare clinic visits are reimbursed at $88.31.  You can see that some hospitals would not like this change.

But, as Ali said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the nose.”

The possible punch to NC Hospitals?

Medicaid RAC audits…

For two years, we have been required to sign up Medicaid recovery audit contractors (RACs).  But we have been slow.  HMS, the RAC with contracts in 28 states, including North Carolina says that it has been slow getting started with Medicaid RACs because the state-by-state data have been scant and the procedural hurdles were difficult.  But, according to “Report on Medicare Compliance,” Medicaid RAC audits will be in full swing for hospitals this year.

According to the same article, in North Carolina, two targets are tonsillectomies/adenoidectomies and ambulance services.  Also, at issue in NC, are the DRGs and the medical necessity of inpatient admissions vs. outpatient services.  While RACs are only to audit going back 3 years, the RACs can get permission to go back 5 years.

Medicaid RACs collect contingency fees anywhere between 9.5% to 12.5%, so they have the incentive to find problems. 

HMS boasts that in two mid-Atlantic states, the Medicaid RAC recovered over $12.5 million through credit balance audits of inpatient facilities.

Pow!! Right in the kisser!

Hello, 2014! And Hello 3% Decrease in Medicaid Reimbursements (But Call the Decrease “Shared Savings”)

Tomorrow is the first Medicaid checkwrite for 2014 (and its my birthday too).  Happy New Year! Happy birthday!! (I’m turning 29 for the 10th year).  For New Years, my husband and I had a very quiet evening eating crab legs at home. Yum! I am sure many of you made New Years resolutions…work harder…lose weight…get paid 3% less….WHAT?

With the first Medicaid checkwrite tomorrow, due to Session Law 2013-360, many health care providers will receive 3% less in Medicaid reimbursements.  You will receive a 3% cut if you are the following types of providers:

  • Inpatient hospital.
  • Physician, excluding primary care until January 1, 2015.
  • Dental.
  • Optical services and supplies.
  • Podiatry.
  • Chiropractors.
  • Hearing aids.
  • Personal care services.
  • Nursing homes.
  • Adult care homes.
  • Dispensing drugs.

(This is the exact list as found in Session Law 2013-360.  I am well aware that the list is grammatically-challenged, but I did not write it).  Both the federal government and NC are calling this 3% withholding “Shared Savings Plan with Provider.” 

How is this “shared savings with providers” when the government is withholding money from providers??? Sure, supposedly, there will  be a “pay for performance payment” to some providers, but most providers will just be reimbursed 3% less.

How is this fair?  How is this “shared savings?” 

Here’s an example:

Say I work at Harris Teeter and my manager comes up to me and says, “Hey, Knicole, Harris Teeter is really concerned with our overhead costs.  Salaries seem to be a big cost, and we want to “share the savings” with you.  So we are going to cut your pay by 3%.  If we, subjectively, determine, at the end of the year, that you are working hard and saving us money, then we will give you a performance reward.  It will not be all the money we retained, but it will be some amount.  This way Harris Teeter profits off the interest of the 3% we retain all year, plus the amount we never give you.”

Folks, the above example is called a decrease in pay and a swift kick in the bottom.  It is not “shared savings.”

In DHHS’ shared savings scheme, the money will go to:

“The Department of Health and Human Services shall use funds withheld from payments for drugs to develop with Community Care of North Carolina (CCNC) a program for Medicaid and Health Choice recipients based on the ChecKmeds NC program. The program shall include the following:

  1. At least 50 community pharmacies by June 30, 2015.
  2. At least 500 community pharmacies in at least 70 counties by June 30, 2016.
  3. A per member per month (PMPM) payment for care coordination and population health services provided in conjunction with CCNC.
  4. A pay for performance payment.”

Session Law 2013-360.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), “[a] shared savings methodology typically comprises four important concepts: a total cost of care benchmark, provider payment incentives to improve care quality and lower total cost of care, a performance period that tests the changes, and an evaluation to determine the program cost savings during the performance period compared to the benchmark cost of care and to identify the improvements in care quality.”

Employers chop salaries all the time in order to maximize profit.  Back in 2011, Sony proposed 11% salary cuts for executives due to such a terrible fiscal year.  But guess what is different between Sony’s 11% cut and Medicaid’s 3%?  I know…I know…a lot….but what difference am I thinking about?

Sony sought shareholder approval.

I guess you can make the argument that the General Assembly sought voter approval because our citizens voted for all the legislators in the General Assembly.  But I think that argument is weak.  No legislator ran his or her campaign on: “Vote for Me! If you are a Medicaid provider, I plan to decrease your salary by 3%!”

Better yet, with the Sony salary cut, executives had the option to seek employment elsewhere.  What is a Medicaid provider’s option? Move?  Not take Medicaid? (Sadly, I see this as a more viable option).

On a legal note, I question the constitutionality of our new shared savings plan.  Wouldn’t the decrease of 3% in Medicaid reimbursements be considered an unlawful taking without due process.  In essence, could one argue that the decrease of 3% in Medicaid reimbursements is just a way for the State to decrease Medicaid reimbursements without going through the proper lawful process?

Then again, maybe we won’t need to worry about the 3% decrease at all…given NCTracks’ track record, it is plausible that NCTracks will not be able to adjust the Medicaid reimbursements by 3%.

Attention Medicaid Providers: Potential SPA Decreases PCS Rates By 60 Cents Per 15 Minutes

The North Carolina State Medicaid Plan (State Plan) is constantly revised.  The result of its constant revisions make for an 1800+ page, jumbled mess of plans, rules, amendments, and effective dates that make the State Plan as much fun to read as reading every volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica in Japanese with the aid of a Japanese translation dictionary.

First of all, what the heck is the State Plan?  Basically, a State Plan is a contract between a state and the Federal Government describing how that state administers its Medicaid program.  It “assures” the federal government that we, here in NC, will follow the State Plan because the federal government has “blessed” our State Plan.  Whenever we need to change the State Plan, we file an amendment.  In circumstances that call for much greater deviation from the State Plan, we can apply for a Waiver…or an exception.

On or about August 15, 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued a Public Notice providing notice of its intent to amend the Medicaid State Plan for the purpose of defining the reimbursement methodology of Personal Care Services as directed by Section 10.9F of Session Law 2013-306 (House Bill 492). “

Personal Care Services (PCS) are Medicaid-covered, in-home services to recipients “who have a medical condition, disability, or cognitive impairment and demonstrates unmet needs for, at a minimum three of the five qualifying activities of daily living (ADLs) with limited hands-on assistance; two ADLs, one of which requires extensive assistance; or two ADLs, one of which requires assistance at the full dependence level. The five qualifying ADLs are eating, dressing, bathing, toileting, and mobility.”  See DHHS Website.

In a letter dated September 30, 2013, and signed by Sec. Aldona Wos, DHHS sent what is called a SPA or a State Plan Amendment to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), in part, asking to be allowed to change the PCS unit rate from $3.88 to $3.28.

$3.88 to $3.28…

It may not sound like a huge decrease in pay to you, but a 60 cent drop per unit will be extremely harmful to providers who provide PCS services and, ultimately Medicaid recipients because less providers will be willing to serve the population.

One PCS unit is 15 minutes.  There are 4 units in an hour.  A 60 cent/unit cut to the rate will result in a $2.40 hourly cut.

Providers who employ staff who provide PCS are not paying staff upwards of $20/hour.  Oh, no, most PCS providers make, maybe, $7-9. 

Think about it…a small business provider of PCS (Let’s call it ABC Provider) employs 5-10 staff to provide PCS to recipients.  ABC Provider has to pay its overhead (lease, office supplies, salaries of execs) plus pay the hourly wages of the PCS staff, and, supposedly, still make a profit…otherwise why even work?

For one hour of PCS, prior to a rate reduction, ABC Provider grosses $15.52/hour.  Obviously, a portion of the $15.52 must go to overhead.  ABC Provider pays her staff $9.00/hour. So ABC Provider nets $6.52/hour to pay for overhead.  After 1000 man-hours, maybe ABC Provider can pays its rent and its utility bill.  BTW: In order to reach 1000 man hours, it would take a person to work 41.66 days, 24 hours/day.  Or it could take 10 staff working 10 hours/day for 2 weeks…just for the provider to make $6520 to pay bills…we aren’t even talking about profit…

After the rate reduction?

$2.40 has to be recouped somehow.  Does the provider’s profit margin shrink or does the employee’s hourly rate decrease?  Maybe a little of both.

According to the September 30, 2013, Sec. Wos letter, NC DHHS requested a retroactive date for the PCS rate reduction to July 1, 2013, or, in the alternative, October 1, 2013.

What? Retroactive reduced rates?  Would DHHS recoup payments already made?

As of the day of this blog, I have not found out whether CMS approved the SPA sent to CMS September 30, 2013.  I looked on CMS’ website.  So if anyone reading has information as to whether CMS approved, is approving, denied, or is denying the rate reduction, I, as well as other people, would be much obliged for the information.