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Medicare Advantage: “Termination At Will” Clauses Legal?

Providers who contract with Medicare Advantage Organizations (“MAO”) need to know that even though the MAO is a private company, because it manages federal Medicare money, the Medicare regulations are applicable – and, possibly, not the contract that you were forced to sign. When any entity accepts the responsibility of getting tax dollars – a firehose of tax dollars, no less – prepaid – then that entity answers to all tax payers for their actions and that entity must follow the Medicare regulations.

Medicare Advantage Plans, sometimes called “Part C” or “MA Plans,” are offered by MAOs that must follow rules set by Medicare. Most Medicare Advantage Plans include drug coverage (Part D). Health care providers can contract to be in the plan’s network. MAOs include BCBS, Humana, Anthem, UnitedHealthcare, Cigna, and Aetna.

Just for an example, I pulled up the provider agreement for BCBS. Section 6.2 allows termination by either party with 60 days notice; this is the “termination at will” clause. Theoretically, BCBS or any MAO could terminate contracts with small providers and decide to contract only with larger providers. Or contract with only African-American providers. Or contract with only female-owned companies. Or contract with the providers that the CEO likes. I disagree with a termination at will clause that allows a company with so much Medicare money at its fingertips the authority to only contract with whom it wants or likes. In fact, I believe a termination at will clause violates the law.

The Courts are split on this issue. See blog.

42 CFR Section 422, et al, outlines the regulations for Medicare Advantage.

According to CMS, in order for a MAO to “Suspend, Terminate, or Not-renew Physician Contracts” specific requirements for an MA organization that operates a coordinated care plan or network MSA plan providing benefits through contracting physicians and that suspends, terminates, or non-renews a physician’s contract are as follows:

  1. The MA organization must give the affected physician written notice of the reasons for the action, including, if relevant, the standards and profiling data used to evaluate the physician and the numbers and mix of physicians needed by the MA organization.
  2. The MA organization must allow the physician to appeal the action, and give the physician written notice of his/her right to a hearing and the process and timing for requesting a hearing.
  3. The MA organization must ensure that the majority of the hearing panel members are peers of the affected physician.

42 CFR 422.202(c) and (d) and preamble of February 17, 1999, rule.

In sum, MAOs are required to provide appeal rights for any Medicare contract that is terminated. But, doesn’t that contradict with a “termination at will” clause?

NC Medicaid Reform … Part 5,439-ish

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah! As 2023 approaches, NC Medicaid is being overhauled…again! Medicaid reform is never smooth, despite the State. NC is no different. When NC Medicaid reformed in 2013, I brought a class action lawsuit against Computer Science Corporation, which created NCTracks, and DHHS, NC’s “single state entity” charged with managing Medicaid. See blog.

The new start date for NC Medicaid Tailored Plans is April 1, 2023. Tailored Plans, originally scheduled to launch Dec. 1, 2022, will provide the same services as Standard Plans in Medicaid Managed Care and will also provide additional specialized services for individuals with significant behavioral health conditions, Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities and traumatic brain injury.

While the start of Tailored Plans will be delayed, specific new services did go live Dec. 1, 2022.

The following organizations will serve as regional Behavioral Health I/DD Tailored Plans beginning April 1, 2023:

Aetna is a managed-care provider, one of eight entities who submitted proposals for Medicaid managed-care services. The Committee issued its recommendations on January 24, 2019, which identified four statewide contracts for Medicaid managed care services to be awarded. On February 4, 2019, DHHS awarded contracts to WellCare of North Carolina, Inc. (“Wellcare”), Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (“BCBS”), AmeriHealth Caritas of North Carolina (“AmeriHealth”), and UnitedHealthcare of North Carolina, Inc. (“United Healthcare”). DHHS also awarded a regional contract to Carolina Complete Health, Inc.

See below:

However, two private insurance failed to get awarded NC contracts.

Aetna, along with the two other entities who were not awarded contracts, protested DHHS’ contract by filing contested case petitions in the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”). Aetna filed its contested case petition and motion for preliminary injunction on April 16, 2019. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied Aetna’s motion for preliminary injunction on June 26, 2019. The ALJ consolidated all three petitions on July 26, 2019. It rose to the Court of Appeals, where it was thrown out on a technicality; i.e., failure to timely serve Defendants. Aetna Better Health of N. Carolina, Inc. v. N. Carolina Dep’t of Health & Hum. Servs., 2021-NCCOA-486, ¶ 4, 279 N.C. App. 261, 263, 866 S.E.2d 265, 267.

The Court stated, “Here, Aetna failed to timely serve DHHS or any other party within the “10 days after the petition is filed” as is mandated by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 150B-46. Prior to serving DHHS, Aetna amended its Petition on 12 October 2020 and served its amended Petition the same day. Aetna argues “the relation-back provision of Rule 15(c) allows the service of an amended pleading where the original pleading was not properly served.” What a silly and mundane reason to have their Complaint dismissed due to the oversight of an attorney or paralegal…and a great law firm at that. Just goes to show you that technical, legal mistakes are easily done. This career in law in the Medicare/Medicaid realm is not simple.

The upcoming transformation in Medicaid will probably not be smooth; it never is. But we shall see if Medicaid reform 2023 works better than 2013 reform. We can hope!