Category Archives: Medicare Budget
Shockingly, not all new rules that emerge from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are actually compliant with the law. Wait! What? How can CMS publish Final Rules that are not compliant with the law?
This was an eye-opening discovery as a “baby lawyer” back 20 years ago. The government can and does publish and create Rules that, sometimes, exceed its legal authority. Of course, the Agency must follow appropriate rule-making procedure and allow for a comment period (etc.), but CMS does not have to listen to the comments. Theoretically, CMS could publish a Final Rule mandating that all Medicare providers provide 50 hours of free services a year or that the reimbursement rate for all services is $1. Both of my examples violate multiple rules, regulations, and laws, but until an aggrieved party with standing files a lawsuit declaring the Final Rule to be invalid or Congress passes a law that renders the Rule moot, the Rule exists and can be enforced by CMS and its agents.
The Rule-change (the “Site-Neutrality Rule”), which became effective January 1, 2019, reduced Medicare reimbursements to hospitals with outpatient facilities. Medicare will pay hospitals that have outpatient facilities “off campus” at a lower rate — equivalent to what it pays independent physicians for clinic visits. This decrease in Medicare reimbursements hits hard for most hospitals across the country, but, especially, rural hospitals. For the past 10+ years, hospitals have built outpatient facilities to serve more patients, and been reimbursed a higher Medicare reimbursement rate than independent physicians because the services at the hospital’s outpatient facility were connected to an outpatient facility affiliated with a hospital. Now the Site-Neutrality Rule leaves many hospitals trying to catch their breaths after the metaphoric punch to the belly. On the other hand, independent physicians claim that they have been providing the exact, same services as the hospital-affiliated outpatient facilities for years, but have received a lower reimbursement rate. I have no opinion (I do, but my opinion is not the topic in this blog) as to whether physicians and hospitals should be reimbursed equally – this blog is not pro-physician or pro-hospital. Rather, this blog is “pro-holding CMS liable to render Rules that follow the law.” Whether the hospitals or the physicians were receiving a cut in reimbursement rates, I am in favor of the those cuts (and future cuts) abiding by the law. Interestingly, should the AHA win this case, it could set solid, helpful, legal precedent for all types of providers and all types of decreased Medicare/caid reimbursements going forward.
Because of the Site-Neutrality Rule, in 2019, hospitals’ reimbursements will drop approximately $380 million and $760 million in 2020, according to CMS.
Before CMS brags on a decrease in the Medicare budget due to a proposed or Final Rule, it should remember that there is budget neutrality requirement when it comes to Rules implemented by CMS. 42 US.C. § 1395l. Yet, here, for the Site-Neutrality Rule, according to articles and journals, CMS is boasting its Site-Neutrality Rule as saving millions upon millions of dollars for Medicare. Can we say “Budget Non-Neutrality?”
The American Hospital Association filed a lawsuit December 2018 claiming that CMS exceeded its authority by implementing the Final Rule for “site neutral” Medicare reimbursements for hospitals with outpatient facilities. The lawsuit requests an injunction to stop the decrease and an order to repay any funds withheld thus far.
The claim, which, I believe has merit, argues that the Site-Neutrality Rule exceeds CMS’s statutory authority under the Medicare Act because of the budget neutrality mandate, in part – there are other arguments, but, for the sake of this blog, I am concentrating on the budget neutrality requirement. In my humble opinion, the budget neutrality requirement is overlooked by many attorneys and providers when it comes to challenging cuts to Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement rates.
On March 22, 2019, CMS filed a Motion to Dismiss or in the alternative, a Cross Motion for Summary Judgment. On April 5, 2019, AHA (and the rest of the Plaintiffs) responded in opposition. On April 19, 2019, CMS responded to AHA’s response in opposition. The Judge has not ruled on the Motions, as of today, April 25, 2019.
Obviously, I will be keeping a close eye on the progress of this case going forward. In the meantime, more reductions in reimbursement rates are on the horizon…
Recently, CMS recently proposed three new rules that would further update the Medicare payment rates and quality reporting programs for hospices, skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), and inpatient psychiatric facilities.
Happy third day of the government shutdown.
According to Twitter (which is not always correct – shocker), the government shutdown may be lifted momentarily. At least, according to Jamie Dupree’s Twitter account, “From the Senate hallways – it seems like there are enough votes now to fund the government & end the shutdown.”
But, as of now, the government shutdown remains in effect, after Senators failed to come to an agreement to end it, late Sunday night. A vote is is ongoing that could end the shutdown with a short-term, spending bill that would last three weeks. A short-term answer to a much bigger problem is like putting a band-aid on a broken leg. In other words, a shutdown can happen again in three weeks. So, even if the shutdown is thwarted today, it may not matter. For future government shutdowns, we need to explore the consequences of a shutdown as it pertains to health care.
If you are a health care provider who accepts Medicare and/or Medicaid, then you are probably worried about the consequences of a federal government shutdown. As in, will you get your reimbursements for services rendered? We are currently on Day 3.
Health Care Related Consequences
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will send home — or furlough — about half of its employees, or nearly 41,000 people, according to an HHS shutdown contingency plan released this past Friday.
According to the HHS plan, the CDC will suspend its flu-tracking program.
It depends. If the shutdown is short, medical providers will continue to receive reimbursements. If the shutdown is prolonged, reimbursements could be affected. As with Medicaid, Medicare has funding sources that don’t depend on Congress passing annual spending bills. Again, beneficiaries and providers should not be affected by a shutdown, unless it is prolonged.
States already have their funding for Medicaid through the second quarter, or the end of June, so no shortfall in coverage for enrollees or payments to providers is expected. Enrolling new Medicaid applicants is a State function, so that process should not be affected. Federal funding for the health insurance program for the low-income population is secure through the end of June.
States also handle much of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides coverage for lower-income children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. But federal funding for CHIP is running dry — its regular authorization expired on Oct. 1, and Congress has not agreed on a long-term funding solution. However, federal employees, who are necessary to make payments to states running low on funds will continue to work during a shutdown. The definition of “necessary?” Up in the air.
With a shutdown, there will be no new mental health or social services grants awarded and less monitoring of existing grants. The HHS departments most involved in issuing grants to health-care providers around the country would be particularly affected by the shutdown because more of their employees are furloughed. This includes the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Administration for Children and Families.
The FDA’s food-safety inspection program hits pause. “FDA will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition and cosmetics activities,” the HHS contingency plan says. The exception is meat and poultry inspections carried out by the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Not health care related, but NASA tweeted “Sorry, but we won’t be tweeting/responding to replies during the government shutdown. Also, all public NASA activities and events are cancelled or postponed until further notice. We’ll be back as soon as possible! Sorry for the inconvenience.”
Is this legal? Well, as it pertains to Medicare and Medicaid providers receiving reimbursements, the government is required to follow the law.
42 CFR 422.520 require that the contract between CMS and the MA organization must provide that the MA organization will pay 95 percent of the “clean claims” within 30 days of receipt if they are submitted by, or on behalf of, an enrollee of an MA private fee-for-service plan or are claims for services that are not furnished under a written agreement between the organization and the provider.
42 CFR 447.45 requires that the Medicaid agency must pay 90 percent of all clean claims from practitioners, who are in individual or group practice or who practice in shared health facilities, within 30 days of the date of receipt.
Part D has a similar regulation, as does all Medicare and Medicaid service types.
Theoretically, if a government shutdown causes the federal or state government to violate the regulations that instruct those agencies to pay providers within 30 days, then providers would have a legal cause of action against the federal and/or state governments for not following the regulations.
Our newly appointed DHHS Secretary comes with a fancy and distinguished curriculum vitae. Dr. Mandy Cohen, DHHS’ newly appointed Secretary by Gov. Roy Cooper, is trained as an internal medicine physician. She is 38 (younger than I am) and has no known ties to North Carolina. She grew up in New York; her mother was a nurse practitioner. She is also a sharp contrast from our former, appointed, DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos. See blog.
Prior to the appointment as our DHHS Secretary, Dr. Cohen was the Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Prior to acting as the COO of CMS, she was Principal Deputy Director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) at CMS where she oversaw the Health Insurance Marketplace and private insurance market regulation. Prior to her work at CCIIO, she served as a Senior Advisor to the Administrator coordinating Affordable Care Act implementation activities.
Did she ever practice medicine?
Prior to acting as Senior Advisor to the Administrator, Dr. Cohen was the Director of Stakeholder Engagement for the CMS Innovation Center, where she investigated new payment and care delivery models.
Dr. Cohen received her Bachelor’s degree in policy analysis and management from Cornell University, 2000. She obtained her Master’s degree in health administration from Harvard University School of Public Health, 2004, and her Medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine, 2005.
She started as a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital from 2005 through 2008, then was deputy director for comprehensive women’s health services at the Department of Veterans Affairs from July 2008 through July 2009. From 2009 through 2011, she was executive director of the Doctors for America, a group that promoted the idea that any federal health reform proposal ought to include a government-run “public option” health insurance program for the uninsured.
Again, I was perplexed. Did she ever practice medicine? Does she even have a current medical license?
This is what I found:
It appears that Dr. Cohen was issued a medical license in 2007, but allowed it to expire in 2012 – most likely, because she was no longer providing medical services and was climbing the regulatory and political ladder.
From what I could find, Dr. Cohen practiced medicine (with a fully-certified license) from June 20, 2007, through July 2009 (assuming that she practiced medicine while acting as the deputy director for comprehensive women’s health services at the Department of Veterans Affairs).
Let me be crystal clear: It is not my contention that Dr. Cohen is not qualified to act as our Secretary to DHHS because she seemingly only practiced medicine (fully-licensed) for two years. Her political and policy experience is impressive. I am only saying that, to the extent that Dr. Cohen is being touted as a perfect fit for our new Secretary because of her medical experience, let’s not make much ado of her practicing medicine for two years.
That said, regardless Dr. Cohen’s practical medical experience, anyone who has been the COO of CMS must have intricate knowledge of Medicare and Medicaid and the essential understanding of the relationship between NC DHHS and the federal government. In this regard, Cooper hit a homerun with this appointment.
Herein lies the conundrum with Dr. Cohen’s appointment as DHHS Secretary:
Is there a conflict of interest?
During Cooper’s first week in office, our new Governor sought permission, unilaterally, from the federal government to expand Medicaid as outlined in the Affordable Care Act. This was on January 6, 2017.
To which agency does Gov. Cooper’s request to expand Medicaid go? Answer: CMS. Who was the COO of CMS on January 6, 2017? Answer: Cohen. When did Cohen resign from CMS? January 12, 2017.
On January 14, 2017, a federal judge stayed any action to expand Medicaid pending a determination of Cooper’s legal authority to do so. But Gov. Cooper had already announced his appointment of Dr. Cohen as Secretary of DHHS, who is and has been a strong proponent of the ACA. You can read one of Dr. Cohen’s statements on the ACA here.
In fact, regardless your political stance on Medicaid expansion, Gov. Cooper’s unilateral request to expand Medicaid without the General Assembly is a violation of NC S.L. 2013-5, which states:
SECTION 3. The State will not expand the State’s Medicaid eligibility under the Medicaid expansion provided in the Affordable Care Act, P.L. 111-148, as amended, for which the enforcement was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in National Federation of Independent Business, et al. v. Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al., 132 S. Ct. 2566 (2012). No department, agency, or institution of this State shall attempt to expand the Medicaid eligibility standards provided in S.L. 2011-145, as amended, or elsewhere in State law, unless directed to do so by the General Assembly.
Obviously, if Gov. Cooper’s tactic were to somehow circumvent S.L. 2013-5 and reach CMS before January 20, 2017, when the Trump administration took over, the federal judge blockaded that from happening with its stay on January 14, 2017.
But is it a bit sticky that Gov. Cooper appointed the COO of CMS, while she was still COO of CMS, to act as our Secretary of DHHS, and requested CMS for Medicaid expansion (in violation of NC law) while Cohen was acting COO?
You tell me.
I did find an uplifting quotation from Dr. Cohen from a 2009 interview with a National Journal reporter:
“There’s a lot of uncompensated work going on, so there has to be a component that goes beyond just fee-for service… But you don’t want a situation where doctors have to be the one to take on all the risk of taking care of a patient. Asking someone to take on financial risk in a small practice is very concerning.” -Dr. Mandy Cohen
A new CMS proposal could transform durable medical equipment (DME) Medicare reimbursements to hospitals. The proposal, if adopted, would implement a mandatory bundled Medicare reimbursement for hip and knee replacements or lower extremity joint replacements (LEJRs).
CMS has proposed this change to be piloted in 75 metropolitan areas prior to being implemented nationwide.
This mandatory bundled Medicare reimbursement will be unprecedented, as, thus far, CMS has only implemented voluntary bundled reimbursement rates. However, CMS has stated that its goal is to have at least 50% of all Medicare fee-for-service reimbursement to be paid under an alternative payment model by 2018, and, in order to meet this objective, CMS will need to implement more mandatory alternative payment models.
Another first is that CMS proposes that hospitals bear the brunt of the financial risk. To date, CMS has not targeted a type of health care provider as being a Guinea pig for new ideas, unlike the other proposed and implemented Bundled Payments for Care Improvement (BPCI) initiative where there are many types of providers that can participate and bear risks.
Will this affect NC hospitals?
Of the 75 metropolitan areas chosen as “test sites” for the new bundled payment plan, 3 are located in NC.
3. Durham-Chapel Hill
Apparently, CMS believes that Durham and Chapel Hill are one city, but you got to give it to them…by hyphenating Durham and Chapel Hill, CMS gets both Duke and UNC health systems to participate in the mandatory trial. Other large metro areas included in the trial are Los Angeles, New York City, and Miami.
LEJRs are the most frequent surgeries in the Medicare population. The average Medicare expenditures for LEJRs, including surgery, hospitalization, and recovery, can range from $16,500 to $33,000.
The mandatory bundled reimbursement will become effective January 2, 2016; however, the hospitals will not carry the financial risk until January 1, 2017. So, hospitals, you got a year and a half to figure it out!!
What exactly will this bundled reimbursement rate include?
Answer: Everything from an inpatient admission billed under MS DRG 469 or 470 until 90 days following discharge.
And we are talking about everything.
Thus, you will be reimbursed per “Episode of Care,” which includes:
“All related items and services paid under Medicare Part A and Part B for all Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries, including physicians’ services, inpatient hospital service, readmissions (subject to limited exceptions), skilled nursing facility services, durable medical equipment, and Part B drugs.”
What should you do if you are a hospital so graciously selected to participate?
1. Assess your protocol as to discharging patients. Where do your patients go after being discharged?
2. Determine whether you want to partner with any critical care facilities, skilled nursing agencies, or home health agencies.
3. Assess your current reimbursement rates and analyze what current delivery patterns must be revamped in order to maintain profitability.
4. Determine future care management and clinical reprogram needs.
5. Analyze ways to provide more efficient delivery components.
6. Communicate with your DME vendors. Discuss ways to decrease spending and increase efficiency.
7. Plan all ways in which you will follow the patient after discharge through the 90 day period.
8. Consult your attorney.
If you would like to comment on the proposed rule, you have until September 8, 2015 at 5:00pm.
News Alert: Medicare Chief Tavenner stepping down!!!!
Here is the article:
WASHINGTON — Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner — who oversaw the rocky rollout of the president’s health care law — says she’s stepping down at the end of February.
In an email Friday to staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Tavenner, a former Virginia health secretary and hospital executive, said she’s leaving with “sadness and mixed emotions.”
Tavenner survived the 2013 technology meltdown of HealthCare.gov, but was embarrassed last fall when she testified to Congress that 7.3 million people were enrolled for coverage. That turned out to be an overcount that exaggerated the total by about 400,000.
Calling Tavenner “one of our most esteemed and accomplished colleagues,” Health and Human Services Secrerary Sylvia M. Burwell said the decision to leave was Tavenner’s.
Principal deputy administrator Andy Slavitt will take over as acting administrator.
Williams Mullen is hosting a free panel discussion on “The State of the State of Health Care.” Please see below!
The panelists will be Rep. Nelson Dollar, Steven Keene, General Counsel to the NC Medical Society, Barbara Burke, from BCBS, and me. The panel discussion will begin at 4:00. Then from 5:00-6:30 we will have free drinks and appetizers.
Please feel free to come and bring others. But we do request that you register here by October 10th in order for us to have a correct head count.
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.
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…
Personal Care Services: Will the Fear of the “F” Word (Medicaid Fraud) Cause PCS in the Home to Be Eradicated???
In my career, I call it the “F” word:
Its existence and fear of existence drives Medicare and Medicaid policies.
It is without question that Medicare and Medicaid fraud needs to be eliminated. In fact, for true Medicare and Medicaid fraud, I propose harsher penalties. Think about what the fraudulent provider is doing…taking health care dollars from the elderly and poor without providing services. Medicare and Medicaid recipients receive less medically necessary services because of fraudulent providers.
Just recently, in Charlotte, on April 9, 2014, V.F. Brewton, of Shelby, N.C., was sentenced to 111 months in prison, three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $7,070,426 in restitution to Medicaid and $573,392 to IRS. On April 8, 2014, co-defendant, R. S. Cannon, of Charlotte, was sentenced to 102 months in prison, three years court supervised release and ordered to pay $2,541,306 in restitution. See press release. Ouch!
On November 21, 2013, in Miami, Fla., Roberto Marrero, who ran Trust Care, was sentenced 120 months in prison. From approximately March 2007 through at least October 2010, Trust Care submitted more than $20 million in claims for home health services. Medicare paid Trust Care more than $15 million for these fraudulent claims. Marrero and his co-conspirators have also acknowledged their involvement in similar fraudulent schemes at several other Miami health care agencies with estimated total losses of approximately $50 million. See article. Ouch!
However, there are never the stories in the newspapers and media about all the services actually rendered to Medicare and Medicaid recipients by upstanding providers who do not commit fraud, but, instead, work very hard every day to stay up-to-date on regulations and policies and who do not reap much profit for the services provided. I guess that doesn’t make good journalism.
I recently attended the Association for Home and Hospice Care (AHHC) conference in RTP, NC. I met wonderful and non-fraudulent providers. Each provider I met was passionate and compassionate about their job. The only time money was brought up was to discuss the low reimbursement rates and the low profit margin for these providers.
In fact, one of the speakers even opined that, because of the alleged prevalence of fraud in home health care, the federal and state governments will continue to cut reimbursement rates for home health and hospice until over 50% of the agencies operate at a loss by 2017. That is a dismal thought! What happened to our right to pursue a career without intervention?
One provider informed me that, upon his or her information and belief, there is a chance that PCS, which is an optional program under Medicaid, may be wiped out in the near future by the General Assembly (PCS for home health and assisted living facilities, not the recipients covered by the Waiver).
What are personal care services (PCS)?
In the world of Medicaid and Medicare, there are a number of different types of PCS. No, actually, I think it is more apropos to say there are a number of different PCS recipients in the world of Medicaid and Medicare.
First, the definition/eligibility requirements:
Personal Care Services (PCS) are available to individuals who have a medical condition, disability, or cognitive impairment and demonstrate 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 DMA website.
PCS are provided to developmentally disabled people under the 1915 b/c Waivers, people who reside in nursing homes and long-term assisted living facilities, and people who qualify to receive PCS in their homes. For purposes of this blog, I am writing about the latter three types of recipients. All 50 states allow PCS for qualified individuals, but the qualifications differ among the states.
In this day and age, the “F” word drives Medicaid and Medicare policies. Without question Medicaid fraud exists. Whether Medicaid fraud is as prevalent as some may believe, I am not sure. I have certainly witnessed honest providers accused of Medicaid fraud.
And home health care providers are viewed by some, generally, as the providers who can most easily commit Medicaid fraud (with which I do not agree, but must concede that home health care is more difficult to monitor). For example, a home health care provider goes to a person’s home and provides services. Who would know whether the home health care provider was billing for services on days he or she did not go to the recipient’s house? Not the recipient, because the recipient has no idea for what dates the provider is billing. Unlike an assisted living facility or nursing home that is easier to monitor and would have the documentation to show that the recipient actually lived in the facility.
Because of the alleged prevalence of fraud in home health care, apparently, (and with no independent verification on my part) some in North Carolina are questioning whether we should continue to reimburse PCS with Medicaid dollars, particularly as to home health. But if we stopped reimbursing for PCS in the homes, what would be the alternative? How would it affect North Carolinians? Would eliminating PCS save tax dollar money? Stop fraud?
When we evaluate the effects of whether to continue to reimburse for PCS with Medicaid dollars, we aren’t only talking about those served by PCS, but also the companies and all employees providing the home health. In 2012 in NC, approximately 40,000 were employed in home health.
Why is home health care important (or is it?)? Should we allow the “F” word to erase PCS in home health?
What is the alternative to home health? Answer: (1) Assisted living facilities? (2) Nursing homes? (3) A dedicated, family caregiver? (4) Nothing?
While there are, I am sure, many reasons that PCS in home health care is vital to our community, for the purposes of this blog, I am going to concentrate on cost savings to the taxpayers. Home health costs us (taxpayers) less money than other alternatives to home health.
Also, understand please that I am not advocating that everyone should receive home health instead of entering nursing homes or assisted living facilities. Quite the contrary, as both nursing homes and assisted living facilities are essential to NC. I am merely pointing out that all the services (home health, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities) are important.
What is the difference between assisted living and nursing homes?
An assisted living community provides communal living, usually with social activities, a cafeteria, laundry service, etc. I always think of my grandma at Glenaire in Cary, NC. She plays bridge, attends a book club, and even takes a computer course! She actually joined Facebook a couple of years ago!
A nursing home, on the other hand, provides 24-hour supervision by a licensed or registered nursing staff. Generally, the folks eligible to be admitted into an assisted living facility will be eligible to receive PCS (see the above definition/eligibility requirements). So, logically, the clientele in an assisted living facility receiving PCS could, in some cases, also be eligible to receive PCS in their home. Obviously a number of factors come into play to determine whether a person goes into an assisted living facility versus staying at home and receiving home health care: eligibility, family issues, money, condition of your home, money, desire for independence, money, health issues, and money.
Because of the level of supervision and skill required in a nursing home, a nursing home will be much more expensive than an assisted living facility. Insomuch as the assisted living facility will be less expensive than a nursing home, home health care, because you are paying for your own room and board, will be cheaper than both.
The average national cost for an assisted living facility in 2012 was $3,550/month. That’s $42,600/year. The average cost for an assisted living facility in 2012 in NC was $2900/month.
The average cost for a nursing home in NC for a semi-private room is $73,913 and $82,125 for a private room. That’s $225/day for a private room. For that price, you could get a room at a Ritz Carlton! (albeit not in a touristy area).
You think nursing homes are expensive in NC? Don’t move to NY!! In NY, for a semi-private room it costs $124,100/year and $130,670/year for a private room ($358/day!). Florida is a bit more expensive that NC too. In Florida, on average, a semi-private room in a nursing home costs $83,950 and a private room is approximately $91,615.
On the flip side, the average cost for a homemaker is $38,896. A home health aide costs, on average, $40,040.
If, in fact, NC ceases to reimburse PCS in home health, many of the people residing in their homes and relying on Medicaid-covered PCS will be forced to leave their homes for, in some case, more expensive alternatives.
Though the odd contrast may not be easily seen, there is an argument that erasing PCS in the home may actually cost the tax payers more. Not to mention that erasing PCS in home health would drive agencies bankrupt and staff jobless.
Remember, I have no verification that our General Assembly would or would not eradicate PCS in the home environment. It was mere speculation in a conversation. But the conversation got me thinking about the delicate balance of Medicaid services in NC. And how one abrupt and drastic change could change our health care system and capitalist ideas so quickly.
And, arguably, all because of the speculative “F” word. What is that political phrase we heard so much in the last elections? Oh, yes, maybe we should use a scalpel, not an ax?
Who would want state Medicaid dollars paying for services that are not medically necessary? What about services getting paid out for services rendered to dead people?
I mean, I am no doctor, but I fail to see why someone who is deceased would need dentures, dialysis, or a wheelchair.
Yet, the state of Illinois recently identified that it paid overpayments for Medicaid services to roughly 2,900 people after the date of their deaths, equaling approximately $12 million. See AP story.
How do state agencies verify eligibility for the multi-million number of Medicaid recipients within a state? Or, for that matter, how does the federal government determines eligibility for the nation’s Medicare population? Determining eligibility for Medicaid and Medicare is a large-scale, daunting task for both the federal government and the state government.
A key component of Medicaid and Medicare eligibility is that the person receiving the services is alive. Yet Illinois failed to check on the status of Medicaid recipients’ lives.
Improper payments of $12 million for Medicaid services delivered to the deceased are, obviously, disconcerting for taxpayers. We want Medicaid services to be provided to those people who need the services, and I cannot fathom what Medicaid services a deceased person would need.
Apparently, who determines Medicaid eligibility in Illinois has been a hotly, disputed and ideologically polarized debate. Illinois had hired Maximus Health Services, a private company, to verify Medicaid eligibility, including determining which recipients passed away. The company was said to be achieving a Medicaid eligibility-removal rate of 40 percent. Last year the contract between the state of Illinois and Maximus ended and the work was transferred into the hands of state employees.
The question remains in my mind, however, who has the duty to inform the state that a Medicaid recipient has passed away? Is the burden on the state employees to discover the deaths, as it appears to be in Illinois? Are Medicaid providers continuing to bill for deceased recipients? Obviously the deceased person does not have the burden to inform the state of his or her passing. Where should the responsibility lie? And where does it lie?
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn blamed the managed care companies. He stated that, in most of the cases that managed care insurance companies incorrectly billed for Medicaid services for deceased people.
This brings up another entity on which the burden of discovering the deaths of Medicaid recipients may lie.
We, in North Carolina, have a messy, unsupervised managed care organization (MCO) system for those suffering with mental health issues, are developmentally disabled and suffer from substance abuse. We currently have 10 MCOs, which are all in the process of merging to form only 3-4. Are the MCOs responsible for knowing when Medicaid recipients die?
Our State Auditor, Beth Wood, has not conducted a similar audit in North Carolina, to my knowledge, but it would not surprise me if NC is also providing Medicaid services to the deceased.
To my knowledge, the federal government has not conducted an audit of the Medicare services to determine whether Medicare funds are being spent on the deceased. Again, I would not be surprised to discover that Medicare funding is being spent on those whom have passed.
This is yet again another example of how the failure of the state government to supervise itself and its contractors costs taxpayers money.