Category Archives: Gov. Pat McCrory

Eastpointe Sues DHHS, Former Sec. Brajer, Nash County, and Trillium Claiming Conspiracy! (What It Means for Providers)

In HBO’s Game of Thrones, nine, noble, family houses of Westeros fight for the Iron Throne – either vying to claim the throne or fighting for independence from the throne.

Similarly, when NC moved to the managed care organizations for Medicaid behavioral health care services, we began with 12 MCOs (We actually started with 23 (39 if you count area authorities) LME/MCOs, but they quickly whittled down to 11). “The General Assembly enacted House Bill 916 (S.L. 2011-264) (“H.B. 916) to be effective June 23, 2011, which required the statewide expansion of the 1915(b)/(c) Medicaid Waiver Program to be completed within the State by July 1, 2013.” Compl. at 25. Now the General Assembly is pushing for more consolidation.

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game of thrones

Now we have seven (7) MCOs remaining, and the future is uncertain. With a firehose of money at issue and the General Assembly’s push for consolidation, it has become a bloody battle to remain standing in the end, because, after all, only one may claim the Iron Throne. And we all know that “Winter is coming.”

Seemingly, as an attempt to remain financially viable, last week, on Thursday, June 8, 2017, Eastpointe, one of our current MCOs, sued the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Nash County, Trillium Health Resources, another MCO, and former secretary Richard Brajer in his individual and former official capacity. Since the Complaint is a public record, you can find the Complaint filed in the Eastern District of NC, Western Division, Civil Action 5:17-CV-275. My citations within this blog correspond with the paragraphs in the Complaint, not page numbers.

Eastpointe’s Complaint wields a complex web of conspiracy, government interference, and questionable relationships that would even intrigue George R. R. Martin.

The core grievance in the lawsuit is Eastpointe alleges that DHHS, Trillium, Nash County, and Brajer unlawfully conspired and interfered with Eastpointe’s contract to manage behavioral health care services for its twelve (12) county catchment area, including Nash County.  In 2012, Nash County, as part of the The Beacon Center, signed a contract and became part of a merger with Eastpointe being the sole survivor (Beacon Center and Southeastern Regional Mental Health were swallowed by Eastpointe). At the heart of Eastpointe’s Complaint, Eastpointe is alleging that Nash County, Trillium, DHHS, and Brajer conspired to breach the contract between Eastpointe and Nash County and unlawfully allowed Nash County to join Trillium’s catchment area.

In June 2013, the General Assembly, pursuant to Senate Bill 208 (S.L. 2013-85 s. 4.(b)), appended N.C.G.S. § 122C-115 to include subparagraph (a3), permitting a county to disengage from one LME/MCO and align with another with the approval of the Secretary of the NCDHHS, who was required by law to promulgate “rules to establish a process for county disengagement.” N.C.G.S. § 122C-115(a3) (“Rules”) (10A N.C.A.C. 26C .0701-03).

Why does it matter whether Medicaid recipients receive behavioral health care services from providers within Trillium or Eastpointe’s catchment area?? As long as the medically necessary services are rendered – that should be what is important – right?

Wrong. First, I give my reason as a cynic (realist), then as a philanthropist (wishful thinker).

Cynical answer – The MCOs are prepaid. In general and giving a purposely abbreviated explanation, the way in which the amount is determined to pre-pay an MCO is based on how many Medicaid recipients reside within the catchment area who need behavioral health care services. The more people in need of Medicaid behavioral health care services in a catchment area, the more money the MCO receives to manage such services. With the removal of Nash County from Eastpointe’s catchment area, Eastpointe will lose approximately $4 million annually and Trillium will gain approximately $4 million annually, according to the Complaint. This lawsuit is a brawl over the capitated amount of money that Nash County represents, but it also is about the Iron Throne. If Eastpointe becomes less financially secure and Trillium becomes more financially secure, then it is more likely that Eastpointe would be chewed up and swallowed in any merger.

Philanthropic answer – Allowing Nash County to disengage from Eastpointe’s catchment area would inevitably disrupt behavioral health care services to our  most fragile and needy population. Medicaid recipients would be denied access to their chosen providers…providers that may have been treating them for years and created established trust. Allowing Nash County to disembark from Eastpointe would cause chaos for those least fortunate and in need of behavioral health care services.

Eastpointe also alleges that DHHS refused to approve a merger between Eastpointe and Cardinal purposefully and with the intent to sabotage Eastpointe’s financial viability.

Also in its Complaint, Eastpointe alleges a statewide, power-hungry, money-grubbing conspiracy in which Brajer and DHHS and Trillium are conspiring to pose Trillium as the final winner in the “MCO Scramble to Consolidate,” “Get Big or Die” MCO mentality arising out of the legislative push for MCO consolidation. Because, as with any consolidation, duplicate executives are cut.

Over the last couple years, Eastpointe has discussed merging with Cardinal, Trillium, and Sandhills – none of which occurred. Comparably, Joffrey Lannister and Sansa Stark discussed merging. As did Viserys and Illyrio wed Daenerys to Khal Drogo to form an alliance between the Targaryens.

Some of the most noteworthy and scandalous accusations:

Against Trillium:

Leza Wainwright, CEO of Trillium and director of the NC Council of Community MH/DD/SA Programs (“NCCCP”) (now I know why I’ve never been invited to speak at NCCCP). Wainwright “brazenly took actions adverse to the interest of Eastpointe in violation of the NCCCP mission, conflicts of interest policy of the organization, and her fiduciary duty to the NCCCP and its members.” Compl. at 44.

Robinson, Governing Board Chair of Trillium, “further informed Brajer that he intended for Trillium to be the surviving entity in any merger with Eastpointe and that “any plan predicated on Trillium and Eastpointe being coequal is fundamentally flawed.”” Compl. at 61.

“On or about May 11, 2016, Denauvo Robinson (“Robinson”), Governing Board Chair of Trillium wrote Brajer, without copying Eastpointe, defaming Eastpointe’s reputation in such a way that undermined the potential merger of Eastpointe and Trillium.” Compl. at 59.

“Robinson, among other false statements, alleged the failure to consummate a merger between Eastpointe, CoastalCare, and East Carolina Behavioral Health LMEs was the result of Eastpointe’s steadfast desire to maintain control, and Eastpointe’s actions led those entities to break discussions with Eastpointe and instead merge to form Trillium.” Compl. at 60.

“Trillium, not Nash County, wrote Brajer on November 28, 2016 requesting approval to disengage from Eastpointe and to align with Trillium.” Compl. at 69.

Against DHHS:

Dave Richards, Deputy Secretary for Medical Assistance, maintains a “strong relationship with Wainwright” and “displayed unusual personal animus toward Kenneth Jones, Eastpointe’s former CEO.” Compl. at 47.

Brajer made numerous statements to Eastpointe staff regarding his animus toward Jones and Eastpointe. “Brajer continued to push for a merger between Eastpointe and Trillium.” Compl. at 53.

“On December 5, 2016, the same day that former Governor McCrory conceded the election to Governor Cooper, Brajer wrote a letter to Trillium indicating that he approved the disengagement and realignment of Nash County.” Compl. at 72.

“On March 17, 2016, however, Brajer released a memorandum containing a plan for consolidation of the LME/MCOs, in which NCDHHS proposed Eastpointe being merged with Trillium.” Compl. at 55.

Brajer’s actions were “deliberately premature, arbitrary, and capricious and not in compliance with statute and Rule, and with the intent to destabilize Eastpointe as an LME/MCO).” Compl. at 73.

“Brajer conspired with Nash County to cause Nash County to breach the Merger Agreement.” Compl. at 86.

Brajer “deliberately sought to block any merger between Eastpointe and other LME/MCOs except Trillium.” Compl. at 96.

“Brajer and NCDHHS’s ultra vires and unilateral approval of the Nash County disengagement request effective April 1, 2017 materially breached the contract between Eastpointe and NCDHHS. Equally brazen was Brajer’s calculated failure to give Eastpointe proper notice of the agency action taken or provide Eastpointe with any rights of appeal.” Compl. at 101.

Against Nash County

“To date, Nash County is Six Hundred Fifty Three Thousand Nine Hundred Fifty Nine Thousand and 16/100 ($653,959.16) in arrears on its Maintenance of Efforts to Eastpointe.” Compl. at 84.

“While serving on Eastpointe’s area board, Nash County Commissioner Lisa Barnes, in her capacity as a member of the Nash County Board of Commissioners, voted to adopt a resolution requesting permission for Nash County to disengage from Eastpointe and realign with Trillium. In so doing, Barnes violated her sworn oath to the determent of Eastpointe.” Compl. at 85.

What Eastpointe’s lawsuit could potentially mean to providers:

Eastpointe is asking the Judge in the federal court of our eastern district for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction prohibiting Nash County from withdrawing from Eastpointe’s catchment area and joining Trillium’s catchment area.  It is important to note that the behavioral health care providers in Eastpointe’s catchment area may not be the same behavioral health care providers in Trillium’s catchment area. There may be some overlap, but without question there are behavioral health care providers in Trillium’s catchment area that are not in Eastpointe’s catchment area and vice versa.

If Eastpointe is not successful in stopping Nash County from switching to Trillium’s catchment area, those providers who provide services in Nash County need to inquire – if you do not currently have a contract with Trillium, will Trillium accept you into its catchment area, because Trillium runs a closed network?!?! If Trillium refuses to include Nash County’s behavioral health care providers in its catchment area, those Nash County providers risk no longer being able to provide services to their consumers. If this is the case, these Nash County, non-Trillium providers may want to consider joining Eastpointe’s lawsuit as a third-party intervenor, as an interested, aggrieved person. Obviously, you would, legally, be on Eastpointe’s side, hoping to stay Nash County’s jump from Eastpointe to Trillium.

Even if Eastpointe is successful in stopping Nash County’s Benedict Arnold, then, as a provider in Eastpointe’s catchment area, you need to think ahead. How viable is Eastpointe? Eastpointe’s lawsuit is a powerful indication that Eastpointe itself is concerned about the future, although this lawsuit could be its saving grace. How fair (yet realistic) is it that whichever providers happen to have a contract with the biggest, most powerful MCO in the end get to continue to provide services and those providers with contracts with smaller, less viable MCOs are put out of business based on closed networks?

If Nash County is allowed to defect from Eastpointe and unite with Trillium, all providers need to stress. Allowing a county to abscond from its MCO on the whim of county leadership could create absolute havoc. Switching MCOs effects health care providers and Medicaid recipients. Each time a county decides to choose a new MCO the provider network is upended. Recipients are wrenched from the provider of their choice and forced to re-invent the psychological wheel to their detriment. Imagine Cherokee County being managed by Eastpointe…Brunswick County being managed by Vaya Health…or Randolph County being managed by Partners. Location-wise, it would be an administrative mess. Every election of a county leadership could determine the fate of a county’s Medicaid recipients.

Here is a map of the current 7 MCOs:

new mco map

All behavioral health care providers should be keeping a close watch on the MCO consolidations and this lawsuit. There is nothing that requires the merged entity to maintain or retain the swallowed up entities provider network. Make your alliances because…

“Winter is coming.”

BREAKING: House and Senate appear close to a Medicaid deal!!

In our last post on Medicaid reform, we updated you on the recent bill passed by the North Carolina Senate relating to the long-standing thorn in the side of the General Assembly, especially regarding the states’ budget – the Medicaid program. The Senate’s version of Medicaid reform is quite different from what we have previously seen and is a hodge-podge of managed care and a new idea: “provider-led entities.”

In a strong sign that this proposal is a compromise between competing sides that could end up getting passed, both House and Senate leaders are speaking positively on the record to news media about the prospects for a deal. Given how public the issue is and how big it is (an expected $14.2 billion in North Carolina in the coming year), that means they expect to get a deal done soon. The fact that the issue is so tied up with the budget that is overdue to be passed is a further headwind to passing a bill.

Right now, the bill is in a conference committee of negotiators from the House and Senate to work out an agreement, given the differences between the two chambers.

One major issue that the committee needs to look at is whether there will be a whole new state agency: the “Department of Medicaid.” The Senate endorsed that idea last week.

Our prediction: The legislators will chart a cautious course and not erect a whole new agency at the same time they are overhauling the system.

With Wos having (coincidentally?) just stepped down as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, perhaps the lack of a lightning rod for criticism of DHHS will let the air out of the proposal to remove Medicaid from DHHS’s hands.

Stay tuned.

By Robert Shaw

Robert

The Nine Habits of a Highly Effective Secretary for DHHS

With the recent passing of the torch from Aldona Wos to Rick Brajer (see blog), I’ve been thinking about…

What are the qualifications of a Secretary of DHHS?

What exactly are the qualities that would make a great Secretary of DHHS?  Remember, in Mary Poppins, when the children draft their requirements for a nanny?  Or, better yet, what are the “Seven Habits of a Highly Effective” Secretary for DHHS?  Or…in this case, the “Nine Habits”…

Here are my “Nine Habits of a Highly Effective Secretary of DHHS;” our Secretary of DHHS should have the following:

  1. A health care background
  2. A successful track record of his/her ability to manage large companies or agencies
  3. An understanding of the Medicaid system, and, maybe, even have first-hand knowledge of how the system affects recipients and providers
  4. A relationship with someone on Medicaid or a parent of someone on Medicaid
  5. A working knowledge of clinical coverage policies, reimbursement rates, and regulations surrounding Medicaid
  6. Both the capacity to listen and speak and do both eloquently and genuinely
  7. True empathy about the physical and mental health of Medicaid recipients and about providers, plus have the patience to handle all types of demographic differences
  8. An understanding that he/she is handling tax payers’ money, that redundancy in staff is excess administrative costs, and ability to trim the fat
  9. An ability to communicate with both the Senate and the House and to be frank with both

wosbrajer

Let us analyze the qualifications of Wos that we came to witness over the last few years, as well as, review the qualifications of soon-to-be Sec. Brajer with information to which we are privy.

Let’s see if both, either, or neither have these “Nine Habits of a Highly-Effective Secretary for DHHS.”

  1. Health care background:

Wos: Yes. And, yet, maybe not.  She is an M.D. Although I do not know whether she ever practiced medicine in North Carolina.  According to Wikipedia, (which is never wrong) Wos “prides herself on her work in the field of preventing HIV and AIDS.”  However, I was unable to find a single clinic in which Wos provided services.  While, generally, an “M.D.” automatically bestows a certain aura of understanding health care, I question whether this “M.D.” automatically has a working knowledge of billing for and receiving reimbursements under Medicaid in North Carolina.

Brajer: Hmmmm.  This one is more tricky. The two companies that Brajer owned, Pro-nerve LLC and LipoScience Inc., are health care related, in that Pro-nerve was an intraoperative neuromonitoring (IONM) company and LipoScience sold a diagnostic tool to health care providers.  Arguably, both companies are health care related, at least, in an ancillary way.  However, Brajer is not a health care professional, and, to my knowledge, has never rendered health care services. Furthermore, neither of Brajer’s companies was successful; quite the opposite is true, in fact. From my understanding, one company declared bankruptcy and the other was not far behind.  Which brings us to the next category…

Answer: Both…kinda.

2. A successful track record of his/her ability to manage large entities:

Wos: Prior to acting as the Secretary to DHHS, Wos served as the Ambassador to Estonia until 2006.  What she did besides political functions between 2006 and 2012, I do not know. Acting as an Ambassador does not entail managing large entities.  The most managerial skills that I can find in her background, prior to being appointed Secretary, are related to political fund-raising. Since I would not call her brief reign as Secretary of DHHS a success, I give Wos a “two thumbs down” on this criterion.

Brajer: He managed two companies.  We can bicker as to whether these companies should be considered large…neither employed 17,000 employees.  Regardless, the “successful” criterion appears to be lacking.

Answer: Neither…pickles.

3. An understanding of the Medicaid system:

Wos: “You’re asking me without having all the data available to answer a question,” she told lawmakers on October 8, 2013.  In her defense, she responded as such when asked whether the State was moving toward privatization for Medicaid.  No one could know the answer, except, maybe, McCrory.

On the other hand, the implementation of NCTracks was nothing short of a catastrophe of epic proportion. See blog. See blog.  Anyone with nominal knowledge of the Medicaid system would have, at least, paused to consider keeping HP Enterprises under contract during the switch to NCTracks or pushed back the go-live date.

Brajer: Unknown

Answer: Here’s to hoping that Brajer does.  I’m cheering for you! Go! Fight! Win!

4. A relationship with someone on Medicaid or a parent of someone on Medicaid:

Wos: Unknown.  If I were shaking a proverbial “8 Ball,” it would read, “Doubtful.”

Brajer: Unknown. Perhaps one of his former employees at Pro-nerve, LLC and LipoScience, Inc. is on Medicaid.

Answer: Gimme a ‘B’! B! Gimme a ‘R’! R! Gimme a ‘A’! A! Gimme a ‘J’! J! Gimme a ‘E’! E! Gimme a ‘R’! R! Whats that spell? Brajer!!

5.  A working knowledge of clinical coverage policies, reimbursement rates, and regulations surrounding Medicaid.

Wos: Unknown. Whatever Wos’ knowledge of regulations and clinical coverage policies is or lacked, she, initially, made up for any knowledge lacked with the key hire and quick resignation of Carol Steckel.  Unfortunately, Steckel’s experience was never replaced.

January 2013: “I am pleased to say that we are already taking steps to address some of these issues,” Wos said. “Now, the most important of this is that we have hired Ms. Carol Steckel, a nationally recognized — nationally recognized — expert in Medicaid to run our Medicaid program for the state. Carol is already moving ahead with systemic reviews of operations in this division. She is reviewing and establishing new policies and procedures.”

September 27, 2013: Steckel resigns. And blog.

Brajer: Unknown.

Answer: B! R! A! J! E! R! Let’s go, Brajer!

6. Both the capacities to listen and speak and do both eloquently.

Wos: Wos brandished an ability to speak publicly with ease.  Listening, on the other hand….eh?

Brajer: Unknown

Answer: I think you can, I think you can, I think you can…

7. Genuine concern about the physical and mental health of Medicaid recipients AND about providers PLUS have the patience to handle all types of demographic differences

Wos: She seems to think so. Her country club does not discriminate.

Brajer: Unknown

Answer: Go! Go! Go! Go! Go, Brajer!!

8. An understanding that he/she is handling tax payers money and that redundancy in staff is excess administrative costs and trim the meat

Wos: “My obligation as secretary is to find the best possible team in order to get the job done.”  Les Merritt served as CFO of DMA on a $300,000-plus contract.  Joe Hauck was paid over $228,000 for 6 months of advise to Wos.  Matt McKillip was paid $87,500 to serve as chief policy maker without any health care background.  Ricky Diaz pulled in $85,000 as communications director. Id.  Wos has handed out $1.7 million in pay hikes to 280 staffers, many with “no career or educational experience for the jobs they hold.” Id. The implementation of the MCOs also fell under Wos’ watchful eye.  The MCO system has created thousands upon thousands of high-paying jobs with our Medicaid dollars.  I believe that in the “trim the fat” category, Sec. Wos scores a goose egg.

Brajer: Unknown.

Answer: Please, Brajer! For the love of Pete!

9. Ability to communicate with both the Senate and the House and to be frank with both.

Wos: “Separation pay” v. “Severance pay?

In April 2013: “I think the word transparency can get pretty dangerous,” Wos said. “Because what does transparency mean? If transparency means that we’re in a planning process and you’re asking us, ‘Tell us all the things you’re planning,’ well, my goodness, allow us to work, and then we’ll give you everything that you want.”

Brajer: Unknown

Answer: Brajer, Brajer, He’s our man! If he can’t do it…[gulp].

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It concerns me that so many of future Sec. Brajer’s core abilities/habits to run and manage DHHS and the Medicaid program in a highly effective manner are unknown.  Nothing like placing all your money on red!  But we have HIGH hopes for Brajer!!!  Don’t let us down!!

The whole point of this blog is to pause and really contemplate what characteristics would comprise a great Secretary for DHHS. Obviously, the Governor has the full authority to appoint the Secretary, meaning that we taxpayers have little to no input as to whether we deem a person qualified, except in the indirect method of voting or not voting for the Governor.

Call this blog an exercise in examining what habits, if in existence, would make the most highly effective Secretary of DHHS and an opinion as to whether these habits exist in our former and future Secretaries.

We are cheering for Brajer!  But…

One fact about the future is that it is unknown.

North Carolina Medicaid Reform Update – Round and Round She Goes

Given how long the Medicaid reform discussions have been going on at the legislature, you may be glazed over by now. Give me the memo when they pass something, right? Fair enough, let’s keep it brief. Where do things stand right now?

Last Wednesday, the Senate staked out its position in the ongoing debate between the House and the McCrory administration.

The Senate’s newest proposal is an unusual mix of different systems and new ideas. Not willing to commit to one model for the whole Medicaid program, the latest version of the bill includes something new called Provider Led Entities, or “PLEs.” PLEs are yet the latest in the alphabet soup of different alternatives to straight fee-for-service billing for Medicare/Medicaid. You’ve all heard of HMOs, PPOs, MCOs, and ACOs. PLEs appear to be similar to ACOs, but perhaps for political reasons the Senate bill sponsors saw the need to call the idea something different.  See Knicole Emanuel’s blog.

In any event, as the name suggests, such organizations would be provider-led and would be operated through a capitated system for managing the costs of the Medicaid program. The Senate bill would result in up to twelve PLEs being awarded contracts on a regional basis.

PLEs are not the only addition to the Medicaid alphabet soup that the Senate is proposing in its version of HB 372. The Senate has also renewed its interest in taking Medicaid out of the hands of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services entirely and creating a new state agency, the Department of Medicaid (“DOM”).

(One wonders whether the continual interest in creating a new Department of Medicaid independent of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services had anything to do with embattled DHHS Secretary Wos stepping down recently.)

The Senate also proposes creating a Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Medicaid (“LOC on Medicaid”).

But creating the DOM and using new PLEs to handle the provision of Medicaid services is not the whole story. Perhaps unwilling to jump entirely into a new delivery system managed by a wholly new state agency, the Senate bill would keep LME/MCOs for mental health services in place for at least another five years. Private contractor MCOs would also operate alongside the PLEs. The North Carolina Medicaid Choice coalition, a group which represents commercial MCOs in connection with the Medicaid reform process, is pleased.

One very interesting item that the Senate has included in its proposed legislation is the following requirement: “Small providers shall have an equal opportunity to participate in the provider networks established by commercial insurers and PLEs, and commercial insurers and PLEs shall apply economic and quality standards equally regardless of provider size or ownership.” You can thank Senator Joel Ford of Mecklenburg County for having sponsored this amendment to the Senate version of House Bill 372.

By pulling the Medicaid reform proposal out of the budget bill, the matter appears headed for further negotiation between the House and the Senate to see if the two can agree this year, unlike last year.

By legislative standards, that counts as forward progress… Here come the legislative discussion committees to hash it out more between the two chambers. We will keep a close eye on the proposals as they continue to evolve.

By Robert Shaw

Lawyer photo

 

Passing the Torch: Wos Resigns!! Brajer Appointed!

Aldona Wos resigned today after two years and seven months as Secretary of NC DHHS.  Wos’ last day will be Aug. 14.

McCrory named Rick Brajer, a former medical technology executive, as the new Secretary of DHHS.

Soon-to-be Sec. Brajer, 54, was the chief executive of ProNerve and LipoScience.  LipoScience was sold to LabCorp in 2014, and ProNerve was sold to Specialty Care in April.

Brajer is not a doctor, as Wos was.  Instead, Brajer touts an MBA from Stanford.

I do not have any information as to why Wos resigned now, especially in light of the recent resignation of the Secretary of Transportation, but will keep you apprised.

More to come….

MCO CEO Compensated $400,000 Plus Bonuses with Our Tax Dollars!

On July 1, 2014, Cardinal Innovations, one of NC’s managed care organizations (MCOs) granted its former CEO, Ms. Pam Shipman, a 53% salary increase, raising her salary to $400,000/year. In addition to the raise, Cardinal issued Ms. Shipman a $65,000 bonus based on 2013-2014 performance.

$400,000 a year, plus bonuses.  Apparently, I got into the wrong career; the public sector seems to pay substantially more.

Then in July 2015, according to the article in the Charlotte Observer, Cardinals paid Ms. Shipman an additional $424,975, as severance. Within one year, Ms. Shipman was paid by Cardinal a whopping $889,975. Almost one million dollars!!!! To manage 16 counties’ behavioral health care services for Medicaid recipients.

For comparison purposes, the President of the United States earns $400,000/year (to run the entire country). Does the CEO of Cardinal equate to the President of the United States? Like the President, the CEO of Cardinal, along with all the other MCOs’ CEOs, are compensated with tax dollars.

Remember that the entire purpose of the MCO system is to decrease the risk of Medicaid budget overspending by placing the financial risk of overspending on the MCO instead of the State. In theory, the MCOs would be apt to conservatively spend funds and more carefully monitor the behavioral health care services provided to consumers within its catchment area to ensure medically necessity and not wasteful, unnecessary services.

Also, in theory, if the mission of the MCOs were to provide top-quality, medically necessary, behavioral health care services for all Medicaid recipients in need within its catchment area, as the MCOs often tout, then, theoretically, the MCOs would decrease administrative costs in order to provide higher quality, beefier services, increase reimbursement rates to incentivize health care providers to accept Medicaid, and maybe, even, not build a brand, new, stand-alone facility with top-notch technology and a cafeteria that looks how I would imagine Googles’ to look.

Here is how Cardinal’s building was described in 2010:

This new three-story, 79,000-square-foot facility is divided into two separate structures joined by a connecting bridge.  The 69,000-square-foot building houses the regional headquarters and includes Class A office space with conference rooms on each floor and a fully equipped corporate board room.  This building also houses a consumer gallery and a staff cafe offering an outdoor dining area on a cantilevered balcony overlooking a landscaped ravine.  The 10,000-square-foot connecting building houses a corporate training center. Computer access flooring is installed throughout the facility and is supported by a large server room to maintain redundancy of information flow.

The MCOs are not private companies. They do not sell products or services. Our tax dollars comprise the MCOs’ budget. Here is a breakdown of Cardinal’s budgetary sources from last year.

Cardinals budget

The so-called “revenues” are not revenues; they are tax dollars…our tax dollars.

78.1% of Cardinal’s budget, in 2014, came from our Medicaid budget. The remaining 21.7% came from state, federal, and county tax dollars, leaving .2% in the “other” category.

Because Cardinal’s budget is created with tax dollars, Cardinal is a public company working for all of us, tax paying, NC, residents.

When we hear that Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, received $9.22 million in compensation last year, we only contributed to his salary if we bought Apple products. If I never bought an Apple product, then his extraordinarily high salary is irrelevant to me. If I did buy an Apple product, then my purchase was a voluntary choice to increase Apple’s profits, or revenues.

When we hear that Cardinal Innovations paid $424,975 to ousted CEO, Pam Shipman, over and above her normal salary of $400,000 a year, we all contributed to Shipman’s compensation involuntarily. Similarly, the new CEO, Richard Toppings, received a raise when he became CEO to increase his salary to $400,000 a year. Again, we contributed to his salary.

A private company must answer to its Board of Directors. But an MCO, such as Cardinal, must answer to tax payers.

I work very hard, and I expect that my dollars be used intelligently and for the betterment of society as a whole. Isn’t that the purpose of taxes? I do not pay taxes in order for Cardinal to pay its CEO $400,000.

For better or for worse, a large percentage of our tax dollars, here in NC, go to the Medicaid budget. I would venture that most people would agree that, as a society, we have a moral responsibility to ensure that our most vulnerable population…our poorest citizens…have adequate health care. No one should be denied medical coverage and our physicians cannot be expected to dole out charity beyond their means.

Hence, Medicaid.

We know that Medicaid recipients have a difficult time finding physicians who will accept Medicaid. We know that a Medicaid card is inferior to a private payor card and limits provider choice and allowable services. We know that certain services for which our private insurances pay, simply, are not covered by Medicaid. Why should a Medicaid-insured person receive sub-par medical services or have more difficulty finding willing providers, while privately insured persons receive high quality medical care with little effort?  See blog or blog.

Part of the trouble with Medicaid is the low reimbursements given to health care providers. Health-care consulting firm Merritt Hawkins conducted a study of Medicaid acceptance rates which found that just 45.7 percent of physicians are now accepting Medicaid patients in the U.S.’s largest 15 cities and the numbers worsen when you look at sub-specialties.

The reimbursement rates are so low for health care providers; the Medicaid services are inadequate, at best; and people in need of care have difficulty finding Medicaid physicians. Yet the CEO of Cardinal Innovations is compensated $400,000 per year.

Cardinal has 635 employees. Its five, top-paid executives are compensated $284,000-$400,000 with bonuses ranging $56,500-$122,000.

Richard Topping, Cardinal’s new CEO, told the Charlotte Observer that “it doesn’t cut into Medicaid services.”

He was also quoted as saying, “It’s a lot of money. It is. You’ve just got to look at the size and the scope and the scale.”

In contrast, Governor McCrory is compensated approximately $128,000.  Is McCrory’s “size, scope, and scale” smaller than the CEO’s of Cardinal?  Is the CEO of Cardinal “size and scope and scale,” more akin to the President of the US?

“We are a public entity that acts like a private company for a public purpose,” Toppings says.  Each MCO’s Board of Directors approve salaries and bonuses.

Cardinal is not the only MCO in NC compensating its CEO very well.  However, according to the Charlotte Observer, Cardinal’s CEO’s compensation takes the cake.

Smokey Mountain Center (SMC) pays its Chief Medical Officer Craig Martin $284,000 with a $6,789 longevity bonus.

Four years ago, before the initial 11 MCOs, the administrative cost of the MCOs was nonexistent (except for the pilot program, Piedmont Behavioral Health, which is Cardinal now).  Implementing the MCO system increased administrative costs, without question.  But by how much?  How much additional administrative costs are acceptable?

Is it acceptable to pay $400,000+ for a CEO of a public entity with our tax dollars?

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?

Medicaid Reform in a House Divided and MCO, ACO…Who Cares?

We are living in the most polarized society in recent American history. A recent study shows that the feeling of political partisanship has more than doubled over the past 2 decades. So since 1995, politically, America has parted the Red Sea with voters increasingly ebbing away from the middle.

Even more interesting is that, according to the same 2014 study, political animosity is at an all-time, recent high. I say “recent” because I cannot fathom a more polarized society than the society in the 1850s-1860s leading up to the Civil War. So, when I say “recent,” I mean post-invention of the telephone.

According to the Pew Research Center, “[i]n each party, the share with a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994. Most of these intense partisans believe the opposing party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.””

partisanship

If BOTH parties express this identical sentiment, someone is wrong.

So, now, here, in this extremely polarized society, our NC General Assembly is tackling one of our most important and most divisive issues…Medicaid Reform.

But, you say, “Knicole, our General Assembly is an overwhelming Republican majority.  Our Governor is Republican.  How can this vast and deep political polarization prevent NC from creating a new, better, non-broken Medicaid system?”

In NC, even the Republicans are polarized, at least as to the issue of Medicaid reform.  The two differing opinions as to Medicaid reform can be found in our separate houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives (House).  As for our executive branch, Governor McCrory sides with the House.

The houses are divided by acronyms: ACOs (House) versus MCOs (Senate).

The House plan for Medicaid reform involves accountable care organizations (ACOs).  The ACO plan includes physicians, hospitals and other health care providers collaborating to serve Medicaid recipients and assuming the monetary risks.  For example, one ACO may be liable for 6000 Medicaid recipients.  The ACO would be given X dollars per Medicaid recipient to cover the person’s overall health care.  Say the ACO, via its health professionals, conducts a preventative breast exam on a woman and discovers a lump.  The ACO would pay to remove the lump and, hopefully, the woman is ok.  If the ACO fails to practice preventative medicine and the woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, then the ACO must finance the more expensive surgery and chemotherapy required.  The ACO’s incentive would be to provide the best, proactive health care because, regardless, the ACO will be liable for that individual’s care.  With ACOs, there is a financial incentive to keep people healthy and the profit is shared with the state.

The Senate plan for Medicaid reform involves managed care organizations (MCOs).  Unlike ACOs, MCOs will not be comprised of health care providers.  The MCOs will be large companies that will be charged with managing Medicaid by contracting with a network of providers.  Many Medicaid services require prior authorization, which would be in the hands of the utilization review team employed by the MCO.  Similar to the ACO, the MCO would be given an amount of money based on the number of Medicaid recipients within its network.  The profit for the MCO is the money remaining at the end of the fiscal quarter that was not spent on services for Medicaid recipients.

What is better?  Does better mean the most cost-savings?  Does better mean the best quality of care for Medicaid recipients?

In order to determine whether the MCO-model or ACO-model is better and what exactly “better” means, you have to follow the money.  For both models, you have to ask, “If the actual medical services provided cost double the anticipated amount, who bears the burden?” And, conversely, “If the actual medical services provided cost half the anticipated amount, who pockets the profit?”

There are numerous ways for an insurer to be paid.  At one end of the spectrum, you have capitation; while at the other end of the spectrum you have a more typical financial relationship in which the insurer simply pays the health care provider its reasonable and usual amount.

Capitation is how we currently have our MCOs set up for behavioral health care in North Carolina.  As we currently use capitation for our MCOs, I would assume that the Senate-model MCOs would also be capitated.  Capitation places the risk on the MCO because the MCO receives a fixed amount regardless of actual cost.  However, there is concern (or should be) that the MCOs will provide patients less care than needed in order to pocket a profit.

On the other hand, ACOs typically do not rely on full capitation.  The ACOs may share the risk, and, therefore, the profit, with the state.

Another HUGE difference between ACOs and MCOs is that, with MCOs, the insurer in effect dictates what a health care provider is allowed to do.  For example, say a dentist believes that a person is in need of dentures.  Maybe 4-5 teeth have already fallen out and the remaining teeth are suffering more mild rot.  The dentist requests prior authorization from the MCO to extract teeth, create a mold of the mouth, and order dentures to be custom-created.  The MCO denies the requests saying, for example, not enough teeth have fallen out or not enough rot is present in the remaining teeth.  The dentist’s hands are tied to the decision of the MCO, unless the patient can fork over the cost of care that the MCO refuses to authorize.  And, BTW, the person who denied the request may have graduated from college with a BA in History . . . or in any event something else other than a field of medical or dental care

An ACO, on the other hand, is run by physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers. Theoretically, the decisions to authorize services would be made by those same people who swore the Hippocratic Oath.

With regard to healing the sick, I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means; and I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage.

(I doubt a History major ever swore to heal the sick).

There has also been contemplation as to whether the General Assembly should remove the responsibility of managing Medicaid from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) completely.  Obviously, this suggestion is extreme and would require a Waiver from the federal government to transfer the “single state agency” requirement from DHHS to another entity.

Regardless of what decisions are made…whether the GA requires a private Medicaid panel to usurp Medicaid responsibilities from DHHS….whether NC adopts an MCO-model or an ACO-model for Medicaid reform….as it currently stands, our houses are divided.  No bills pass a divided legislature.

The Senate and House both indicate that Medicaid reform is a forefront issue during this long session, but, so far, there has been no indication of a Great Compromise.

Williams Mullen Hosts “The State of the State of Health Care” Panel Discussion

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.

panel

 

 

DHHS reviews options for Medicaid expansion

From the News & Observer:

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s health secretary said Wednesday her agency is collecting information for Gov. Pat McCrory to offer him possible ways to expand Medicaid coverage to more people under the federal health care overhaul.

The Republican-led General Assembly and McCrory declined to accept expansion last year because they said the state Medicaid office consistently faced shortfalls in the hundreds of millions of dollars. A state audit and other troubled operations led McCrory to call the $13 billion program “broken.”

But Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos told a legislative committee the agency’s financial and structural improvements make offering credible options doable.

“We are at a point …. where we have an ability to evaluate options for the state and will be presenting those options to the governor,” Wos told the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee. Last week, Wos trumpeted to another General Assembly panel how the Division of Medical Assistance held a $64 million cash balance at the end of the last fiscal year.

Wos stressed it would be up to others to decide on expansion, most of which would be paid by the federal government for the near future. Expansion is designed for hundreds of thousands of uninsured North Carolina residents who make too much for traditional Medicaid but not enough for subsidized insurance exchange plans. Medicaid currently enrolls more than 1.8 million state residents — mostly poor children, older adults and the disabled.

Wos gave no timetable for offering McCrory those options but said it would be more than just determining whether it would make financial sense. For example, she said, there needs to be enough health care providers to oversee any wave of new enrollees.

McCrory said in July he would be willing to revisit Medicaid expansion if cost overruns were repaired and provided the federal government in part gave the state flexibility to target any coverage increase based on North Carolina’s needs.

Earlier Wednesday, DHHS also announced plans for a retooled organizational structure for the division, the first of its kind in 36 years. It shifts from two division sections to what the agency calls five clearly defined functions. An outside consultant has been helping with organizational, finance and budget forecasting within Medicaid.

Again Wednesday, Wos rejected arguments from the legislature, particularly the Senate, to remove Medicaid from DHHS, saying it would undo recent progress.