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Step Right Up! CMS Announces New Medicare-Medicaid ACO Model

Come one! Come all! Step right up to be one of the first 6 states to test the new Medicare-Medicaid Affordable Care Act (ACO) pilot program.

experiment

Let your elderly population be the guinea pigs for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Let your most needy population be the lab rats for CMS.

On December 15, 2016, CMS announced its intent to create Medicare/caid ACOs. Currently, Medicare ACOs exist, and if your physician has opted to participate in a Medicare ACO, then, most likely, you understand Medicare ACOs. Medicare ACOs are basically groups of physicians – of different service types – who voluntarily decide (but only after intense scrutiny by their lawyers of the ACO contract) to collaborate care with the intent of higher quality and lower cost care.  For example, if your primary care physician participates in a Medicare ACO and you suffer intestinal issues, your primary care doctor would coordinate with a GI specialist within the Medicare ACO to get you an appointment. Then the GI specialist and your physician would share medical records, including test results and medication management. The thought is that the coordination of care will decrease duplicative tests, ensure appointments are made and kept, and prevent losing medical records or reviewing older, moot records.

Importantly, the Medicare beneficiary retains all benefits of “normal” Medicare and can choose to see any physician who accepts Medicare. The ACO model is a shift from “fee-for-service” to a risk-based, capitated amount in which quality of care is rewarded.

On the federal level, there have not been ACOs specially created for dual-eligible recipients; i.e., those who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid…until now.

The CMS is requesting states to volunteer to participate in a pilot program instituting Medicare/Medicaid ACOs. CMS is looking for 6 brave states to participate. States may choose from three options for when the first 12-month performance period for the Medicare-Medicaid ACO Model will begin for ACOs in the state: January 1, 2018; January 1, 2019; or January 1, 2020.

Any state is eligible to apply, including the District of Columbia. But if the state wants to participate in the first round of pilot programs, intended to begin 2018, then that state must submit its letter of intent to participate by tomorrow by 11:59pm. See below.

dual-acos

I tried to research which states have applied, but was unsuccessful. If anyone has the information, I would appreciate it if you could forward it to me.

Participating in an ACO, whether it is only Medicare and Medicare/caid, can create a increase in revenue for your practices. Since you bear some risk, you also reap some benefit if you able to control costs. But, the decision to participate in an ACO should not be taken lightly. Federal law yields harsh penalties for violations of Anti-Kickback and Stark laws (which, on a very general level, prohibits referrals among physicians for any benefit). However, there are safe harbor laws and regulations specific to ACOs that allow exceptions. Regardless, do not ever sign a contract to participate in an ACO without an attorney reviewing it. 

Food for thought – CMS’ Medicare/caid ACO Model may exist only “here in this [Obama] world. Here may be the last ever to be seen of [healthcare.gov] and their [employee mandates]. Look for it only in [history] books, for it may be no more than a [Obamacare] remembered, a [health care policy] gone with the wind…”

As, tomorrow (January 20, 2017) is the presidential inauguration. The winds may be a’changing…

Look into My Crystal Ball: Who Is Going to Be Audited by the Government in 2017?

Happy New Year, readers!!! A whole new year means a whole new investigation plan for the government…

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) publishes what is called a “Work Plan” every year, usually around November of each year. 2017 was no different. These Work Plans offer rare insight into the upcoming plans of Medicare investigations, which is important to all health care providers who accept Medicare and Medicaid.

For those of you who do not know, OIG is an agency of the federal government that is charged with protecting the integrity of HHS, basically, investigating Medicare and Medicaid fraud, waste, and abuse.

So let me look into my crystal ball and let you know which health care professionals may be audited by the federal government…

crystal-ball

The 2017 Work Plan contains a multitude of new and revised topics related to durable medical equipment (DME), hospitals, nursing homes, hospice, laboratories.

For providers who accept Medicare Parts A and B, the following are areas of interest for 2017:

  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy services: provider reimbursement
  • Inpatient psychiatric facilities: outlier payments
  • Skilled nursing facilities: reimbursements
  • Inpatient rehabilitation hospital patients not suited for intensive therapy
  • Skilled nursing facilities: adverse event planning
  • Skilled nursing facilities: unreported incidents of abuse and neglect
  • Hospice: Medicare compliance
  • DME at nursing facilities
  • Hospice home care: frequency of on-site nurse visits to assess quality of care and services
  • Clinical Diagnostic Laboratories: Medicare payments
  • Chronic pain management: Medicare payments
  • Ambulance services: Compliance with Medicare

For providers who accept Medicare Parts C and D, the following are areas of interest for 2017:

  • Medicare Part C payments for individuals after the date of death
  • Denied care in Medicare Advantage
  • Compounded topical drugs: questionable billing
  • Rebates related to drugs dispensed by 340B pharmacies

For providers who accept Medicaid, the following are areas of interest for 2017:

  • States’ MCO Medicaid drug claims
  • Personal Care Services: compliance with Medicaid
  • Medicaid managed care organizations (MCO): compliance with hold harmless requirement
  • Hospice: compliance with Medicaid
  • Medicaid overpayment reporting and collections: all providers
  • Medicaid-only provider types: states’ risk assignments
  • Accountable care

Caveat: The above-referenced areas of interest represent the published list. Do not think that if your service type is not included on the list that you are safe from government audits. If we have learned nothing else over the past years, we do know that the government can audit anyone anytime.

If you are audited, contact an attorney as soon as you receive notice of the audit. Because regardless the outcome of an audit – you have appeal rights!!! And remember, government auditors are more wrong than right (in my experience).

Massive Medicaid Metamorphosis: Providers Beware! Be Proactive NOT Reactive!

Medicaid is ever-changing. But every 5 years or so, it seems, that a substantial section of Medicaid is completely revamped. Sometimes to the detriment of many uninformed, un-suspecting providers. For providers, it is imperative to stay above the curve…to foresee the changes in Medicaid, to plan for those changes, and to morph your own practice into one that will persevere despite the changes to come.

We are on the brink of a massive Medicaid metamorphosis.

Medicaid modifications have happened in the past. For example, a substantial shift in Medicaid occurred when DHHS switched from HP Enterprises to Computer Science Corporation (CSC) as its billing vendor. When the NCTracks system went live, the new NCTracks system forced office managers to re-learn how to bill for Medicaid. It was a rough start and many office managers spent countless hours inputting information into NCTracks, only to get erroneous denials and high blood pressure.

Another example of a Medicaid modification was the implementation of the managed care organizations (MCOs) which came on the heels of the new CABHA certification requirements. Only a couple of years after the shellshock of CABHA certification and thousands of providers going out of business because they could not meet the demands of the CABHA standards, behavioral health care providers were again put through the wringer with new standards created and maintained by the MCOs.

Think about it…Ten years ago, we never used the acronym MCO.

Enter [stage left]: A NEW ACRONYM!!

PLE

Don’t you love acronyms? My family has this game called Balderdash. It is one of my favorite games. The object of the game is to have the best fabricated answer. For example, if the category is “Acronym,” the “Dasher” will read the acronym, say, “PLE.” All the players draft their fake renditions of what “PLE” really means.

Plato Learning Environment; or
Panel of Legal Experts; or
Perinatal Lethality.

You get the point. In the game, the players vote on which answers they believe are correct (BTW: All of the above are real definitions for the acronym “PLE” (according to Google).)

In the Medicaid/care world, we play alphabet soup constantly. MCO, DD, SAIOP, DHHS, BWX, MID CPT….Throw out a few letters, and, most likely, you will have said some acronym that means something to someone. See my acronym page for a list of those pertinent to us (and it is ever-growing).

The most recent new acronym to the Medicaid arena here in North Carolina that I have seen is PLE, which is the crux of the new, upcoming massive Medicaid metamorphosis.

House Bill 372’s short title is “Medicaid Modernization” and has passed in the House.

On June 25, 2015, the Senate passed the House Bill on its first read!

I waited to blog about HB 327 until the Senate had an initial reaction to it. If you recall, the Senate and House has been on contradictory sides when it comes to Medicaid reform. However, it appears that HB 327 may have some traction.

House Bill 372 defines PLE as “[a]ny of the following:

a. A provider.
b. An entity with the primary purpose of owning or operating one or more providers.
c. A business entity in which providers hold a controlling ownership interest.”

Over the last couple years, the Senate and the House have stood divided over whether Medicaid should be managed by ACOs (House) or MCOs (Senate). It appears from the definition of a PLE, that a PLE could be a much simpler version of an ACO, which has had my vote since day 1. The whole concept of an ACO is a provider-run entity in which the providers make the decisions instead of utilization reviews, which have little to no contact with the patients, and, sometimes little health care experience, especially on the provider side.

From my cursory review of the proposed PLEs, it seems that a PLE would mimic an ACO, except, and, further federal research is needed, without some of the highly-regulated mandates that the federal government requires for MCOs (it will still be highly-regulated).

Is this just a question of semantics?  Is this just a question of changing its name?

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet.” Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II.

Let’s look again at the definition of a PLE, according to Version 3 of House Bill 372.

a. A provider.
b. An entity with the primary purpose of owning or operating one or more providers.
c. A business entity in which providers hold a controlling ownership interest.”

A provider?

Any provider? Does that provider need to ask to become a PLE or is it automatic? Does being a PLE give enhanced benefits other than being just a provider?

The answer is that all providers are not PLEs and providers will need to undertake significant legal and administrative steps to become a PLE.

“PLEs shall implement full-risk capitated health plans to manage and coordinate the care for enough program aid categories to cover at least ninety percent (90%) of Medicaid recipients to be phased in over five years from the date this act becomes law.”

What is “full risk?”

“Full risk” is not defined in HB 372, although, I believe that the definition is self-evident.

Capitation payment is defined by reference to 42 CFR 438.2:

“Capitation payment means a payment the State agency makes periodically to a contractor on behalf of each beneficiary enrolled under a contract for the provision of medical services under the State plan. The State agency makes the payment regardless of whether the particular beneficiary receives services during the period covered by the payment.”

Interestingly, this definition for “capitation payment” is found in the same section of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) as all the managed care regulations. Part 438 of the CFR applies to managed care.

We have managed care organizations in our state now managing the behavioral health care aspect of Medicaid. Will the same provisions apply to MCOs…to ACOs…to PLEs?

A rose by any other name…

What else does House Bill 372 purport to do?

• Within 12 months, the Department shall request a waiver from CMS to implement the components of this act.
• Within 24 months, the Department will issue an RFP for provider-led entities to bid on contracts required under this act.
• Within 5 years, 90% of all Medicaid services must be provided from a PLE, except those services managed by the MCOs , dental services, pharmaceutical products and dispensing fees. The Department may implement a pilot within 3 years.

As a provider, if you want to continue to serve the Medicaid population, then you may want to insert your company or agency into the creation of the PLEs, whether you sell, merge, acquire, or create a conglomerate.

It is my prediction that those providers who are reactive, instead of proactive, will lose business, consumers, and, potentially, a lot of cash. It is my “predictive recommendation” [as you are aware, we do not have an attorney/client relationship, so no recommendation of mine is tailored for you] that those providers who proactively seek mergers, acquisitions, and/or business agreements with other providers to morph into PLEs will be more successful, both financially and in serving their consumers better.

What you need to know about the future PLEs:

  • Must cover at least 30,000 recipients
  • Must provide all health benefits and administrative services, including physical, long-term services and supports, and other medical services generally considered physical care
  • Must meet solvency requirements
  • Must provide for appeal processes
  • Will cover 100% of the NC counties

The PLEs will, effectively, absorb the Medicaid dollars for recipients across the entire state and provide care for all physical health needs of Medicaid recipients.

In this environment, providers need to be proactive, not reactive!

If House Bill 327 passes into law, our next Medicaid metamorphosis will be monumental!  And the state will issue an RFP for providers within 2 years!

NC MCOs and Consolidation: “When the Music Stops? Nobody Knows!”

Our General Assembly is pushing for the managed care organizations (MCOs) to consolidate and/or morph.  Consolidating the MCOs makes fiscal sense for our state, but if I were executive management at an MCO, I would be be anxiously awaiting direction from our General Assembly.  A metaphoric 3-4 chair game of”Musical Chairs” is proceeding with 9 (now 8) players.  Five to six players will have no chairs when the music stops.

What are MCOs?  See blog and blog.

Multiple bills have been proposed.

Senate Bill 703 proposes 3 statewide MCOs. Senate Bill 574 seems to incorporate provider-led capitated health plans, but is unclear as to the exact model. Senate Bill 696 seems to create a symphony of provider-led and nonprovider-led, risk-based entities. Senate Bill 568 contemplates licensed commercial health insurers offering health care plans.

No one really knows how many MCOs will remain in the end…if any. Regardless, what the number of existing MCOs in the future will be, there is little dispute that the number will be fewer than the number of MCOs that exist now.

In an atmosphere where there is supposition that there are too many people or companies and that only a few will remain, competition brews. People/companies are forced to strategize if they want to survive.

Think about the childhood game, “Musical Chairs.” You start with a large group of people, but with one less chair than the number of people. The music plays and the players meander around at a relatively slow pace, around and around, until the music stops. And what happens when the music stops? The people scramble for a chair.  The person left standing is “out” and must sit on the sideline.

We have 9, soon to be 8, MCOs in NC right now. And the music is playing. But which MCOs will be left standing when the music stops?

Here is a map of our current MCOs:

2014 mco

 

As of July 1, CoastalCare and East Carolina Behavioral Healthcare (ECBH) will be merged. We will be down to 8 MCOs. Which means that the light blue on the bottom right hand side of the map will merge with the bright yellow on top right hand side of the map.

Mecklenburg county, which houses most of the Charlotte area, was not always light purple. It recently merged with Cardinal Innovations.

Partners (light yellow) and Smokey Mountain (dark blue) had serious discussions of a merger until, recently, when both walked away from negotiations of merger.

Why should it matter which MCOs are in existence or how many? Theoretically, it shouldn’t. These MCOs are created in order to manage behavioral health care (Medicaid services for those suffering from substance abuse, mental illness, and developmentally disabled), not to make a profit, right? The only issue of importance should be that medically necessary behavioral health care services are rendered to Medicaid recipients in the most efficient and most effective manner.

Yet competing interests come into play.

Think about it…each MCO employs hundreds of people. Each MCO has a CEO, who is not working for free. Generally, unless other arrangements have been negotiated, there can only be one CEO per MCO. When there are 2+ MCOs merging with 2 CEOs and only 1 “chair” for 1 CEO, it can seem like “Musical Chairs.” Multiple people are vying for one “chair.”

The money at issue for behavioral health care in NC is not a small amount. It is likened to a fire hose spouting money. We have a Medicaid budget in NC of approximately 14 billion dollars. To put it in perspective, with $14 billion dollars, you could purchase the LA Lakers 14 times. This is how much money we spend on Medicaid every year. It is really quite staggering when you think about it.

As every North Carolinian learns in the 6th grade, North Carolina is composed of 100 counties. The estimated Medicaid budget of $14 billion is allocated across 100 counties and among approximately 1.9 million Medicaid recipients.

When it was decided to implement the MCOs across the state, about 2012-ish (we actually obtained permission from CMS for the waiver years prior to 2012, but we began with a pilot and did not implement the MCOs statewide until 2012-13), we found ourselves, initially, with eleven MCOs, and now we have 9…soon to be 8.

The newly merged entity of CoastalCare and ECBH (CC+ECBH) will manage state funds and Medicaid dollars for behavioral health services across 24 counties in eastern North Carolina. In other words almost ¼ of the Medicaid budget will be handed to CC+ECBH, leaving approximately ¾ of the Medicaid budget for 7 other MCOs (the budget is determined by number of recipients, so I am assuming, for the purpose of this blog, that more counties mean more people).

The amount of counties controlled by the remaining 7 MCOs are as follows:

Smokey: 23
Partners: 8
Centerpointe: 4
Cardinal: 16
Sandhills: 9
Eastpointe: 12
Alliance: 4

chart for mcos

Looking at the chart above, it would appear that Smoky and CC+ECBH will manage almost 1/2 the state’s behavioral health care for Medicaid.

Prior to the 1915 b/c Waiver allowing the MCOs to manage behavioral services for Medicaid recipients in NC, DHHS managed it. (Obviously ValueOptions and other vendors had a part in it, but not with actual management).  As the single state agency for Medicaid, DHHS cannot delegate administrative duties to contracted parties without a “Waiver,” or permission for an exception from the federal government, or, more specifically, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Prior to the 1915 b/c Waiver, we did not have 9 companies with hundreds of employees managing behavioral health care for Medicaid recipients. We had DHHS, which employs approximately 18,000 employees.  To my knowledge DHHS did not terminate those employees who were in charge of behavioral health care issues in order to compensate the creation of new companies/employees.  In other words, say 1000 people at DHHS devoted their time to issues arising our of behavioral health care. Once we had an additional 9 (well, 11, at first), those 1000 employees were not asked to join the MCOs. Maybe some did, but, to my knowledge, there was no suggestion or incentive or requirement to leave DHHS and go to an MCO (to shift the administrative burden).

When we created an additional 9 (well, 11 at first) companies to, essentially, take over behavioral health care…

We created more administrative costs, in order to lift the risk of overspending the Medicaid budget off the state.  It is estimated that America wastes $190 billion in excess administrative costs per year.

Waste in health care

In theory, consolidating the MCOs would decrease administrative costs by having fewer paid employees, not dissimilar to why MCOs want a closed network.  See blog. Again, in theory, having fewer MCOs may create a more consistent statewide manner in managing behavioral health care.

Assume for the purpose of this blog that each MCO employs 100 people (which is a very low number) and each employee is paid $50,000, then the administrative cost associated with delegating behavioral health care to MCOs equals $500,000, counting only employee salaries. Multiple that number by 9 (number of current MCOs) and you get an increased administrative cost of approximately $4.5 million dollars per year, not counting the additional overhead each MCO bears (rent/mortgage, equipment, salary benefits, health care benefits, etc.). Plus you have to include the top management’s salaries, because you know the executives are receiving more than $50,000/year.

What motivated us to implement a MCOs system? With an MCO system, the General Assembly is able to allocate funds for Medicaid and place the risk of going over the budget on the MCOs, not the state. This is a completely understandable and reasonable objective. It is without question that the Medicaid budget is swelling to the point of unsustainability.

However, are we trading “control/supervision” for “knowability?” Are we also trading “risk” for “higher administrative costs,” which, in turn, equals less Medicaid dollars for providers and Medicaid recipients? Every dollar paid to an MCO employee is a dollar not going to a health care provider to reimburse for services.

For these reasons, the government’s push for consolidation of the MCOs is astute. Fewer MCOs = less administrative costs. Fewer MCOs = easier supervision by DHHS.

Less administrative costs = more Medicaid dollars going to providers…to serve our most needy. Because, at the end of the day, the most important issue when it comes to Medicaid is providing quality care for recipients.

It is no matter which entity controls/manages behavioral health care for Medicaid, because regardless the entity, that entity should be managing our tax dollars in the most efficient way that provides the best quality to services to those in need.

“Around and around we go, when we stop? Nobody knows…”  But we do know this…when the music stops, there will be scrambling!

New NC Senate Bill Proposes 4-6 MCOs!! And the Creation of ARPLOs!!

Senate Bill 568 was filed today!!! It is a bill that you should follow!

SB 568 reads: “It is the intent of the General Assembly to transform the State’s health care purchasing methods from a traditional fee-for-service system into a value-based system that provides budget predictability for the taxpayers of this State while ensuring quality care to those in need.”

It proposes, among other things, a consolidation of the 9 current managed care organizations (MCO) here in North Carolina to “not more than 6” and “no less than 4” MCOs.

It further establishes another acronym: ARPLOs.

“At-Risk Provider-Led Organizations (ARPLOs). ARPLOs are capitated health plans administered by North Carolina’s provider-led Accountable Care Organizations that will manage and coordinate the care for the Patient Population, outside of the PCMHs, pending waiver approval where appropriate for this transformation by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services.”

Remember, the House has pushed for ACOs and the Senate has pushed for MCOs.  See blog.

Is the Senate bending toward the House??????

More to come…

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.

Medicaid Mishaps Cause Tempers to Flare

Here is an interesting article…

Article from Carolina Journal Online by Dan Way:

RALEIGH — With $2 billion in cost overruns the past four years, Medicaid continues to be North Carolina’s most volatile political conundrum, and now unanswered questions about its spending and growth threaten to delay passage of 2014-15 state budget adjustments before next Monday’s deadline.

Things got nasty in a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting last week, and one is left to wonder whether Gov. Pat McCrory and the state Department of Health and Human Services squandered political capital by snubbing budget writers struggling with alarming lapses in vital Medicaid data.

Medicaid “is the linchpin” to writing the 2014-15 budget, said an irritated Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg. “Would someone explain to me why we don’t have [Office of State Budget and Management] or staff people from DHHS here to help us get to an answer so that we can move this budget forward?”

If not a prairie fire, the meeting at least exposed the slow burn of senators handcuffed by a dearth of crucial budget numbers from DHHS. Capital press corps reporters instinctively asked one of their most oft-repeated questions: Is DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos to blame for yet another major Medicaid predicament?

Due to significant backlogs, DHHS cannot provide accurate Medicaid enrollment numbers, valid claims data, and categories into which new enrollees are entered. Without precise, up-to-date information for this fiscal year, drafting an accurate budget for 2014-15 is impossible.

That’s a tough corner to be backed into for McCrory and Wos, who have made Medicaid budget predictability a holy grail.

The exasperation of Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, typified the level of lawmaker frustration.

“If push comes to shove,” he said, “we can always issue subpoenas and have the numbers come to us. So let’s not take that off the table.”

The irritability in Senate Appropriations was bipartisan.

“Will we ever know what we need to know?” Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, asked incredulously. “Do we have to be completely at the mercy of executive branch agencies on an issue like this that is so critical to what we do?”

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, explained, in measured but heart-attack serious tones, why there is an elevated sense of urgency, and why he had wanted someone from the budget office at the Appropriations Committee meeting to explain Medicaid numbers that have swung from wildly varying to unaccounted for.

“Our feeling is we need to reach some understanding on the Medicaid number before we can realistically start talking about most of the other things,” including teacher pay raises and pay hikes for state workers, Berger said.

And then there was this jaw-dropping exchange between Sen. Joel Ford, D-Mecklenburg, and Susan Jacobs of the legislative Fiscal Research Division.

“Based upon the uncertainty and the lack of data, how can we say for certain that people are not being overpaid or underpaid?” Ford asked.

“We probably can’t say that,” responded Jacobs. She also dropped a bombshell that it could be “probably late next year” before all necessary numbers are completely and accurately obtained.

“To me that is a very disturbing scenario where we are taking taxpayer money with good intentions, but with no verification that we’re doing the right thing because of a broken system,” Ford said.

Whether he realized it, Ford’s characterization of Medicaid as a broken system oozed irony.

In one of their first official acts upon assuming office in January 2013, McCrory and Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos lambasted the state’s Medicaid program as a chaotic, broken system. Eighteen months later and holding Swiss-cheese Medicaid reports, state senators are grumbling that the agency’s disarray persists.

Pressed by reporters, Berger stopped short of saying he has lost confidence in Wos’ leadership.

“I’ll leave it to others as to why they’re not able to provide that information,” he said, but he insisted this budgeting fiasco shows the need to remove Medicaid from Wos’ control and make it a standalone agency.

The Senate budget calls for $88 million more in Medicaid spending in 2014-15 than the House version. Berger said the Senate used higher, worst-case-scenario numbers.

Berger and his counterparts rightly expressed no appetite for once again using rosy projections only to find out halfway through the budget year that there is a whopping shortfall.

To make matters worse, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said Fiscal Research staff isn’t even confident the worst-case numbers are sufficiently high. “I think that’s important to make sure everyone understands it.”

Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, co-chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, agreed with frustrated Fiscal Research staff that much of the problem with missing data stems from NC Tracks, the new but deeply flawed Medicaid billing system.

But he was quick to note that Republicans inherited the woefully underperforming computer system that was in development for years under Democratic administrations.

“I don’t know if they made up-to-date adjustments as they went along, and we don’t know if it was tested properly before it went live,” Pate said. Others, including State Auditor Beth Wood, warned last year that the nearly half-billion-dollar system was not ready to launch.

Wos lost control and never regained the upper hand in messaging after she defiantly promised she was going to drag the long-beleaguered NC Tracks over the July 1 finish line, and declared it sound when she did.

The bravado and exuberant can-do proclamations might have seemed politically appropriate for a new administration seeking to position itself as an intrepid change agent.

But Wos would have been wise to have tempered her rookie remarks with caveats about the huge challenges left behind by previous Democratic administrations, downplayed expectations, and more candidly acknowledged what IT skeptics already knew — the system was going to encounter plenty of rollout problems that would require a long time to correct.

Pate was among those declaring that the current Medicaid budgeting calamity further demonstrates the “critical necessity for reorganization” of the agency. But restructuring has been hampered by the unsteadiness of tectonic policy shifts.

Pate is among senators who continue to oppose the latest reform plan favored by McCrory and Wos, and now in bill form in the House. He said the proposal only tinkers around the edges of budget predictability and restraint.

This latest iteration is an accountable care model comprising networks of doctors and hospitals. It was rolled out after the administration’s stunning U-turn from months of championing full-risk managed care, and scoring a coup in recruiting Carol Steckel, a highly sought, nationally renowned expert on Medicaid managed care.

Steckel, former head of the National Association of State Medicaid Directors, left her $210,000-a-year job in North Carolina last September after only eight months working for Wos.

Whether there was a back-story to the swift departure of a highly heralded Medicaid reformer, much like what this year’s Medicaid numbers are, remains a guessing game.

Right Wing, Left Wing: Does It Equal a More Balanced Senate Bill 744?

Our Senate put forth Senate Bill 744 with radical and shocking changes to our Medicaid system. However, one section of our General Assembly cannot create law. Both sides,the Senate and the House, much agree on a Bill in order to create law.

Senate sent SB 744 to the House on May 31, 2014. Between May 31 through June 13, 2014, the House revised, omitted, and added language to SB 744, making SB 744 a much different document than what the Senate had fashioned. Today, SB 744 is back in the Senate for more revisions. The end result will be a law that appears nothing like the initial SB 744 brought to the Senate on May 15, 2014.

The “ping pong” revision system between the Senate and the House that our founding fathers installed in order to generate actual laws is a well-crafted, finely-tuned balancing machine. It is an effort to keep all ideological agendas in-check. When one side dips too low, the other side counters in an effort to maintain balance. It reminds me of a bird in flight.

Our nation’s symbol is the bald eagle. I am sure everyone knows that, right? But did you also know that the bald eagle is not named the bald eagle because its white head gives the appearance that it is bald? No, bald eagle, in Latin, is haliaeetus leucocephalus (from Greek hali-, which means sea; aiētos , which means eagle; leuco-, which means white, and cephalos, which means head). So, literally its name means “sea eagle with white head.”

Even more important about the bald eagle is its set of wings. A bald eagle has a right wing and a left wing, and without both, the bald eagle would not be able to fly.

We need both the right and the left wings in order to maintain balance in our government. Both sides are necessary, and, yet, it seems that nowadays the left and right sides are at war with each other. Politics has become so polarized that the right wing and the left wing forget the attributes of the other.

The result of the ping pong revision system, in theory, is that, by the time a bill is brought into final shape and enacted into law, all polarized ideations have been balanced out in order to move forward. It does not always work that way, and it becomes increasingly difficult to balance the sides when the sides become more and more divided.

The Senate created SB 744, the House has made its alterations…and, if SB 744 passes, it will pass after many more modifications, no doubt.

When our state Senate passed Senate Bill 744 and sent it to the House, I blogged about the shocking ramifications to Medicaid had that bill been passed.

I listed the most shocking changes included within SB 744:

1. DHHS must immediately cease all efforts to transition Medicaid to the affordable care organizations (ACOs) system that DHHS had touted would be in effect by July 2015;
2. DHHS, DMA will no longer manage Medicaid. Instead a new state entity will be formed to manage Medicaid. (A kind of…scratch it all and start over method);
3. All funds previously appropriated to DHHS, DMA will be transferred to Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) and will be used for Medicaid reform and may not be used for any other purpose such as funding any shortfalls in the Medicaid program.
4. Categorical coverage for recipients of the optional state supplemental program State County Special Assistance is eliminated.
5. Coverage for the medically needy is eliminated, except those categories that the State is prohibited from eliminating by the maintenance of effort requirement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Effective October 1, 2019, coverage for all medically needy categories is eliminated.
6. It is the intent of the General Assembly to reduce optional coverage for certain aged, blind, and disabled persons effective July 1, 2015, while meeting the State’s obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the United States Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring, 527 U.S. 581 (1999).
7. Repeal the shared savings program and just reduce the reimbursement rates by 3%.
8. DHHS shall implement a Medicaid assessment program for local management entities/managed care organizations (LME/MCOs) at a rate of three and one-half percent (3.5%).
9. Additional notices as to State Plan Amendments (SPAs), DHHS must post the proposed SPAs on its website at least 10 days prior to submitting the SPAs to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
10. Reimbursement rate changes become effective when CMS approves the reimbursement rate changes.
11. The Department of Health and Human Services shall not enter into any contract involving the program integrity functions listed in subsection (a) of this section that would have a termination date after September 1, 2015.
12. The Medicaid PROVIDER will have the burden of proof in contested case actions against the Department.
13. The Department shall withhold payment to any Medicaid provider for whom the DMA, or its vendor, has identified an overpayment in a written notice to the provider. Withholding shall begin on the 75th day after the day the notice of overpayment is mailed and shall continue during the pendency of any appeal until the overpayment becomes a final overpayment (can we say injunction?).

Since my last blog about Senate Bill 744 (the Appropriations Bill), Senate Bill 744 has reached its 7th revision.

The House took it upon itself to delete many of the shocking changes in the Senate Bill. Just like the bald eagle using its right and left wings to balance out.

First, the General Assembly’s proposed cease and desist order that would have stopped Gov. McCrory and Sec. Wos from implementing Medicaid reform and the accountable care organizations (ACOs), is deleted from the current version of the bill. Gone too is the “new state agency” created to manage Medicaid. Medicaid services are no longer eliminated. The Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) is no longer receiving all funds appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Medical Assistance (DMA).

On June 13, 2014, the House finished its revisions to SB 744 and sent the revised bill back to the Senate. On June 18, 2014, the conference committee for SB 744 was formed and includes:

  • Sen. Harry Brown, Chair
  • Sen. Andrew C. Brock
  • Sen. Kathy Harrington
  • Sen. Tom Apodaca
  • Sen. Ralph Hise
  • Sen. Neal Hunt
  • Sen. Phil Berger
  • Sen. Brent Jackson
  • Sen. Wesley Meredith
  • Sen. Louis Pate
  • Sen. Bill Rabon
  • Sen. Shirley B. Randleman
  • Sen. Bob Rucho
  • Sen. Dan Soucek
  • Sen. Jerry W. Tillman
  • Sen. Tommy Tucker

SB 744 is still not law. It takes both the House and Senate to pass the bill, and then the Governor has to sign the bill. So we have a ways to go. We need the agreement of the right wing and the left wing.

The two main political parties were not always so polarized.

A couple of our founding fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were fierce political adversaries. Imagine the political distance between Barack Obama and Ted Cruz. Despite their political differences, both Adams and Jefferson believed in the importance of funding public education. Rather than defaming the other’s point of view, Adams and Jefferson collaborated and compromised. “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it,” wrote Adams. “There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.” Adams and Jefferson were able to balance out the right wing and the left wing in order to fly a straight path.

Back when our founding fathers squabbled and debated key issues, both sides worked together, instead of running mudslinging commercials and scoffing at the other side’s position on the media. During one of the biggest debates in history, the creation of our government, the lawmakers convened together for about 4 months. The Constitutional Convention lasted from May 25 to September 17, 1787 (the first one). The delegates were within close proximity of one another, which led to more conversations and more compromises. Until the Constitution was drafted, the delegates continued to meet together. I imagine they ate lunch together and shared whiskey and cigars in the evenings.

Maybe our lawmakers should schedule a new constitutional convention, both on the state and federal level. At least, both sides need to realize that the right wing and the left wing are necessary. Otherwise we would just fly in circles.

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

I think of Bob Dylan’s raspy voice singing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knicole Emanuel to Appear on UNC-TV Tonight! Tune In at 7:30pm!

Heather Burgiss, a UNC-TV journalist, created a 3-part television series called, “Mental Health Services in NC.” Part 1 will air tonight on UNC-TC at 7:30, and I will be discussing the important topic of the current status of our mental health system in NC.  So tune in to watch!!!!

The three-part series is intended to educate North Carolinians on the current state of mental health in NC, as well as discuss the upcoming Medicaid reform consisting of the Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) for physical health services.

P.S. It is intimidating how UNC-TV interviews you, so forgive any bad grammar, etc. 🙂  During the interview, they cut off all the lights and shine a bright light on you.  It creates a strange environment in which you can hear the person asking you questions, but you cannot see him or her.  Plus, the light is super hot.

But, we will see, Heather was very nice in dealing with my novice handling of the interview.

And, BTW, when you see the scene during which I am walking down the hall of my law firm, I had a strange sensation to start doing the MC Hammer.  But I did not succumb.