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The (Recent) History of PCS Rates and Why There Is Parity of Rates Between Home Health and Long Term Care Facilities

Think of this blog as a history lesson…

As I was preparing my Power Point for speaking at the NC Association of Long Term Care Facilities (NCALTCF), I ran across a number of interesting issues on which I could blog. If you are attending the annual NCALTCF conference September 8-10, this will be a prelude to a portion of my presentation. I will be speaking on September 8th.

I am reviewing the history of personal care services (PCS) rates, and I realize that a few years ago, the parity of PCS rates for home health care providers and long-term care facilities (LTCF) occurred. The issue? Why the parity? I am curious. I remember vividly the parity change in 2012. But, I wonder, why did it occur?

Home health care companies provide PCS to people within their own homes (obviously a much-needed and growing service). Long term care facilities (LTCF) provide PCS within a facility.

But LTCFs have higher overhead due to mortgage/rent, 24-hour staff, monthly bills, more regulatory compliance issues, a cafeteria or kitchen, etc. Whereas, a home health care company does not incur these expenses. Why NOT pay LTCF a higher PCS reimbursement rate?

The answer is…we did, in North Carolina. And the federal government found that we violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Here is the percentage breakdown of people receiving home health, assisted living, nursing homes, hospice, and day service centers, on a national basis in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

LTCF pie chart

 

Notice the green, home health section. Home health has grown at a very rapid rate since 2000. But assisted living (blue) is still predominant.

Back before 2010 and in an attempt to help adult care homes that provide assistance with dementia patients, the General Assembly provided an enhanced Medicaid rate for those facilities.

For decades, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) warned us that the ADA requires that Medicaid reimbursements apply equally to all, including those living in institutional facilities and those who live with family. CMS informed us that we were in violation of Olmstead v. L.C., a Supreme Court decision decided in 1999. In Olmstead, the Supreme Court decided mental illness is a form of disability and that institutional isolation of a person with a disability is a form of discrimination under Title II of the ADA. See Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999) (Remember the Prince song?)

In 2010, Disability Rights filed a complaint with the federal government complaining about NC’s disparate PCS rates between LTCF and home health. In 2011, the US Department of Justice investigated and agreed with Disability Rights. NC was violating Olmstead by providing two different reimbursement rates.

The General Assembly (GA) tackled the issue in 2012. The GA decreased the LTCF’s enhanced PCS rate to the home health’s rate in order to comply with federal law. Although there was a limit as to the number of hours of PCS per month, the GA wrote in an extra 50 hours per month for people suffering from dementia.

Disability Rights originally made the 2010 complaint to the federal government with honest, well-meaning intentions. Disability Rights wanted better care for the mentally ill. And Olmstead had wonderful results for the mentally ill. Now people suffering from mental illness can remain in their homes, if desired (although sometimes a legal battle is required).

But the unknown, unintentional consequence of Olmstead for the owners of LTCFs is that the PCS rate became paired with the home health PCS rate, which keeps declining. For example, prior to October 1, 2013, the PCS rate was $15.52 (now it is $13.88).

The federal minimal wage is $7.25. People who are paid minimum wage, generally, are not licensed professionals.

Most members of a LTCF staff are licensed. Many are certified nurse assistants (CNAs). Most are required to attend yearly continuing education classes. Should these CNAs and licensed professionals make only $6.00 more than minimum wage? Are not professional licensees worth more?

Not to mention…let’s talk about what LTCF staff actually does on a day-to-day basis. My Grandma Carson resides in a LTCF. Thankfully, she still lives in her own independent living house on the LTCF grounds because she can maintain her independent living, but many residents of LTCF cannot. LTCF staff assists in activities of daily living (ADLs), such as toileting, eating, ambulating, and grooming. When my great-grandmother could no longer feed herself, the wonderful staff at Glenaire in Cary, NC fed her. Should a person feeding an elderly person (and bathing and helping go to the bathroom) NOT be paid well-over minimum wage?

Well…the reimbursement rate may be $13.88 (a tad over $6.00 above minimum wage), but a PCS worker for a home health agency AND a LTCF does not earn $13.88/hour, they earn less. Companies are created to earn a profit. There is nothing wrong with earning a profit.

In fact, starting January 1, 2014, PCS workers in home health are now eligible for minimum wage. “ARE NOW ELIGIBLE.” As in, last year, PCS workers could have earned LESS than minimal wage.

In the future, I hope that health care providers who provide PCS services are paid more; I also hope that, in the future, the PCS rate increases. Someday, I will be the recipient of a PCS worker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nursing facilities are facing financial distress.

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

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

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

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

Personal Care Services: Will the Fear of the “F” Word (Medicaid Fraud) Cause PCS in the Home to Be Eradicated???

In my career, I call it the “F” word:

Fraud.

Its existence and fear of existence drives Medicare and Medicaid policies.

It is without question that Medicare and Medicaid fraud needs to be eliminated.  In fact, for true Medicare and Medicaid fraud, I propose harsher penalties.  Think about what the fraudulent provider is doing…taking health care dollars from the elderly and poor without providing services.  Medicare and Medicaid recipients receive less medically necessary services because of fraudulent providers.

Just recently, in Charlotte, on April 9, 2014, V.F. Brewton, of Shelby, N.C., was sentenced to 111 months in prison, three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $7,070,426 in restitution to Medicaid and $573,392 to IRS. On April 8, 2014, co-defendant, R. S. Cannon, of Charlotte, was sentenced to 102 months in prison, three years court supervised release and ordered to pay $2,541,306 in restitution.  See press release.  Ouch!

On November 21, 2013, in Miami, Fla., Roberto Marrero, who ran Trust Care, was sentenced 120 months in prison.  From approximately March 2007 through at least October 2010, Trust Care submitted more than $20 million in claims for home health services. Medicare paid Trust Care more than $15 million for these fraudulent claims. Marrero and his co-conspirators have also acknowledged their involvement in similar fraudulent schemes at several other Miami health care agencies with estimated total losses of approximately $50 million. See article.  Ouch!

However, there are never the stories in the newspapers and media about all the services actually rendered to Medicare and Medicaid recipients by upstanding providers who do not commit fraud, but, instead, work very hard every day to stay up-to-date on regulations and policies and who do not reap much profit for the services provided.  I guess that doesn’t make good journalism.

I recently attended the Association for Home and Hospice Care (AHHC) conference in RTP, NC.  I met wonderful and non-fraudulent providers.  Each provider I met was passionate and compassionate about their job.  The only time money was brought up was to discuss the low reimbursement rates and the low profit margin for these providers.

In fact, one of the speakers even opined that, because of the alleged prevalence of fraud in home health care, the federal and state governments will continue to cut reimbursement rates for home health and hospice until over 50% of the agencies operate at a loss by 2017.  That is a dismal thought!  What happened to our right to pursue a career without intervention?

One provider informed me that, upon his or her information and belief, there is a chance that PCS, which is an optional program under Medicaid, may be wiped out in the near future by the General Assembly (PCS for home health and assisted living facilities, not the recipients covered by the Waiver).

What are personal care services (PCS)?

In the world of Medicaid and Medicare, there are a number of different types of PCS.  No, actually, I think it is more apropos to say there are a number of different PCS recipients in the world of Medicaid and Medicare.

First, the definition/eligibility requirements:

Personal Care Services (PCS) are available to individuals who have a medical condition, disability, or cognitive impairment and demonstrate unmet needs for, at a minimum three of the five qualifying activities of daily living (ADLs) with limited hands-on assistance; two ADLs, one of which requires extensive assistance; or two ADLs, one of which requires assistance at the full dependence level. The five qualifying ADLs are eating, dressing, bathing, toileting, and mobility.  See DMA website.

PCS are provided to developmentally disabled people under the 1915 b/c Waivers, people who reside in nursing homes and long-term assisted living facilities, and people who qualify to receive PCS in their homes.  For purposes of this blog, I am writing about the latter three types of recipients.  All 50 states allow PCS for qualified individuals, but the qualifications differ among the states.

In this day and age, the “F” word drives Medicaid and Medicare policies.  Without question Medicaid fraud exists.  Whether Medicaid fraud is as prevalent as some may believe, I am not sure.  I have certainly witnessed honest providers accused of Medicaid fraud.

And home health care providers are viewed by some, generally, as the providers who can most easily commit Medicaid fraud (with which I do not agree, but must concede that home health care is more difficult to monitor).  For example, a home health care provider goes to a person’s home and provides services.  Who would know whether the home health care provider was billing for services on days he or she did not go to the recipient’s house? Not the recipient, because the recipient has no idea for what dates the provider is billing.  Unlike an assisted living facility or nursing home that is easier to monitor and would have the documentation to show that the recipient actually lived in the facility.

Because of the alleged prevalence of fraud in home health care, apparently, (and with no independent verification on my part) some in North Carolina are questioning whether we should continue to reimburse PCS with Medicaid dollars, particularly as to home health.  But if we stopped reimbursing for PCS in the homes, what would be the alternative?  How would it affect North Carolinians? Would eliminating PCS save tax dollar money? Stop fraud?

When we evaluate the effects of whether to continue to reimburse for PCS with Medicaid dollars, we aren’t only talking about those served by PCS, but also the companies and all employees providing the home health.  In 2012 in NC, approximately 40,000 were employed in home health.

Why is home health care important (or is it?)? Should we allow the “F” word to erase PCS  in home health?

What is the alternative to home health?  Answer: (1) Assisted living facilities?  (2) Nursing homes? (3) A dedicated, family caregiver?  (4) Nothing?

While there are, I am sure, many reasons that PCS in home health care is vital to our community, for the purposes of this blog, I am going to concentrate on cost savings to the taxpayers.  Home health costs us (taxpayers) less money than other alternatives to home health.

Also, understand please that I am not advocating that everyone should receive home health instead of entering nursing homes or assisted living facilities.  Quite the contrary, as both nursing homes and assisted living facilities are essential to NC.  I am merely pointing out that all the services (home health, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities) are important.

What is the difference between assisted living and nursing homes?

An assisted living community provides communal living, usually with social activities, a cafeteria, laundry service, etc.  I always think of my grandma at Glenaire in Cary, NC.  She plays bridge, attends a book club, and even takes a computer course!  She actually joined Facebook a couple of years ago!

A nursing home, on the other hand, provides 24-hour supervision by a licensed or registered nursing staff.  Generally, the folks eligible to be admitted into an assisted living facility will be eligible to receive PCS (see the above definition/eligibility requirements).  So, logically, the clientele in an assisted living facility receiving PCS could, in some cases, also be eligible to receive PCS in their home.  Obviously a number of factors come into play to determine whether a person goes into an assisted living facility versus staying at home and receiving home health care: eligibility, family issues, money, condition of your home, money, desire for independence, money, health issues, and money.

Because of the level of supervision and skill required in a nursing home, a nursing home will be much more expensive than an assisted living facility.  Insomuch as the assisted living facility will be less expensive than a nursing home, home health care, because you are paying for your own room and board, will be cheaper than both.

The average national cost for an assisted living facility in 2012 was $3,550/month.  That’s $42,600/year.  The average cost for an assisted living facility in 2012 in NC was $2900/month.

The average cost for a nursing home in NC for a semi-private room is $73,913 and $82,125 for a private room.  That’s $225/day for a private room.  For that price, you could get a room at a Ritz Carlton! (albeit not in a touristy area).

You think nursing homes are expensive in NC? Don’t move to NY!! In NY, for a semi-private room it costs $124,100/year and $130,670/year for a private room ($358/day!). Florida is a bit more expensive that NC too.  In Florida, on average, a semi-private room in a nursing home costs $83,950 and a private room is approximately $91,615.

On the flip side, the average cost for a homemaker is $38,896.  A home health aide costs, on average, $40,040.

If, in fact, NC ceases to reimburse PCS in home health, many of the people residing in their homes and relying on Medicaid-covered PCS will be forced to leave their homes for, in some case, more expensive alternatives.

Though the odd contrast may not be easily seen, there is an argument that erasing PCS in the home may actually cost the tax payers more.  Not to mention that erasing PCS in home health would drive agencies bankrupt and staff jobless.

Remember, I have no verification that our General Assembly would or would not eradicate PCS in the home environment.  It was mere speculation in a conversation.  But the conversation got me thinking about the delicate balance of Medicaid services in NC.  And how one abrupt and drastic change could change our health care system and capitalist ideas so quickly.

And, arguably, all because of the speculative “F” word.  What is that political phrase we heard so much in the last elections? Oh, yes, maybe we should use a scalpel, not an ax?