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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!

DHHS’ Robotic Certification of MCOs…So Stepford-ish!

Senate Bill 208, Session Law 2013-85, requires the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to conduct certifications to ensure the effectiveness of the managed care organizations (MCOs), and the first certification was to be before August 1, 2013.  N.C. Gen. Stat. 122C-124.2 was added as a new section by Session Law 2013-85 and states:

“In order to ensure accurate evaluation of administrative, operational, actuarial and financial components, and overall performance of the LME/MCO, the Secretary’s certification shall be based upon an internal and external assessment made by an independent external review agency in accordance with applicable federal and State laws and regulations.”

In order to comply with the statute, Secretary Wos conducted the first certification and published the findings July 31, 2013.  Well, actually Carol Steckel signed the certification and sent it to Sec. Wos (technically Wos did not conduct the certification, but she certified the content).

Steckel’s certification states that “DMA is attesting that all ten [MCOs] are appropriate for certification.”

Strong language!

Attest means to provide or service as clear evidence of.  See Google.  Clear evidence?  That the MCOs are compliant?

One of the areas that was certified was that the MCOs are timely paying providers, that the MCOs are accurately processing claims, and that the MCOs are financially accurate (whatever that means).

Here is the chart depicting those results:

Compliance chart2

Wow.  Who would have guessed that East Carolina Behavioral Healthcare (ECBH) is 100% compliant as to timely payments to providers, 100% compliant as to accuracy of claim processing, and 100% compliant as to financial accuracy.  ONE HUNDRED PERCENT!! As in, zero noncompliance!!

I mean…Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow!

Have you ever read “The Stepford Wives?” The book was published in 1972 by Ira Levine. 

Basically, the main character, Joanna Eberhart and her husband move to Stepford, Connecticut (a fictional place).  Upon arrival, Joanna and spouse (I can’t remember his name, so we will call him Ed) notice that all the woman are gorgeous, the homes are immaculate, and the woman are all perfectly submissive to their husbands (how boring would that be??). As time passes, Joanna becomes suspicious of the zombie-like actions of all the wives.

She and her friend Bobbie (until Bobbie turns zombie-like) research the past of the Stepford citizens and discover that most of the wives were past, successful business women and feminists, yet become zombie-like.  At one point, they even write to the EPA inquiring as to possible contamination in Stepford.

After Bobbie turns zombie-like, Joanna fears that the women are changed into robots.  She decides to flee Stepford, but is caught and is changed into a robot.  The books concludes with Joanna happily and submissively walking the grocery store with a large smile and robotic movements, and another wife moving into Stepford.

That book coined the word “Stepford” to mean someone acting as a robot, submissive, or blissfully following orders.

I am not saying that the DMA certification was conducted as a Stepword wife…I am merely explaining that I was reminded of “The Stepford Wives” when I read the certification.  Maybe there is no analogy to be made…you decide.

Upon quick review of the certification, a number of questions arise in my mind.  Such as…didn’t anyone proofread this??? Under each graph, it states “Data is based on a statistical sample of Medicaid claims processed between February and May of 2013 for each LME-MCO.”  Data is???

Hello!…It is data ARE, not data is!!  Data are; datum is.

Besides the obvious grammar issue, I am concerned with the actual substance of the certification. 

Nothing is defined. (Not surprising for an entity that doesn’t know data are plural).  Except “compliant” is defined on the last page as “A finding of  “compliant” means that HMS found that the LME-MCO was compliant with the requirements set forth in SB 208.”  That is like saying, “Beautiful is hereby defined as whatever I say is beautiful.”  That is not a definition.

And HMS? HMS, as in, the company North Carolina hired as a Medicaid recovery audit contractor (RAC)?  I do not know if HMS the RAC and HMS the credentialing company is the same company…but the names sure are similar.

Speaking of RACs, going back to the basis of the data…”a statistical sample?” (Which is not defined?)  What is a statistical sample?  Is this a statistical sample like Public Consulting Group’s (PCG) in extrapolation audits?  From where does the sample come?

Looking at the timeliness of provider payments, the lowest percentage is CoastalCare.  At 93.06%.  But what does that mean?  That CoastalCare takes longer than 30 days to pay providers in 6.94% of cases?  And what is noncompliance?  80%? 20%?  Because where I went to school, a 93% is a ‘B.’ Yet 93%, here, is “compliant.”  Does “compliant” mean not failing?

What is “claims processing accuracy?”  Does that mean that ECBH was 100% correct in processing (or not processing) claims based on medical necessity (or failure to meet medical necessity)?  or, merely, that the process by which ECBH processes claims (regardless of whether the process abides by clinical policy), does not deviate; therefore ECBH is 100% compliant?

How does one determine 100% compliance?  Does this certification mean that between February and May 2013, Sandhills paid 100% providers timely.  That for 4 months, Sandhills was not late for even one provider?  Because Sandhills had 100% in relation to timely provider payments.  (Personally, I would be extremely hesitant to attest for any entity achieving 100% compliance.  How easy would that be to disprove?? A journalist finds one mistake and the certification loses all credibility).

The next chart demonstrates the MCO’s solvency.

Solvency

I have to admit…this chart makes very little sense to me.  The only information we get is that greater than 1.0 equals compliance.  If you ask me, being greater than 1 seems like a very low bar.

But, if greater than 1 equals compliance, then, applying Logic 101, the higher the number the more solvent.  I could be wrong, but this makes sense to me.

Using that logic, in February MeckLINK was N/A (not “live” yet).  March: 1.32.  April: 1.54. May: 1.80.  Tell if I’m wrong, folks, but it appears to me that MeckLINK, according to HMS and unknown data, that MeckLINK is becoming more solvent as the months pass.

And this is the same MCO that WFAE cited was using accounting tricks to remain in the black????

And the same MCO that, come March 1, 2014, must be acquired by another MCO?  And then there were 9

Under the chart demonstrating the “Solvency Review,” it states, “Data is (sic) base don financial information…”  Duh!! I thought we’d review employee personnel records to determine solvency!! (Although…that could be helpful because we could see employee salaries…I’m just saying…).

What the certification does not say is financial information from whom?  The MCOs? 

Secretary Wos: “Hey, Alliance, are you solvent?”
Alliance: “Yes, Secretary.”
Secretary Wos:  “Oh, thank goodness! I wouldn’t know what to do if you were not!!”

Going back to the finding of compliance means HMS determined compliance…Does that mean that HMS compiled all the data?  What about the intradepartmental monitoring team?  Does the intradepartmental monitoring team just authorize whatever HMS says it finds?  Almost…Stepford-like.

The letter from Steckel showing DMA’s attestation of all 10 MCOs being appropriate for certification says just that…DMA is attesting that all 10 MCOs are appropriate for certification.  No analysis.  No individual thinking.  Almost…Stepford-like.

Then the letter from Sec. Wos to Louis Pate, Nelson Dollar, and Justin Burr (legislatures) regurgitates Steckel’s letter.  Except Wos’ letter says “I hereby certify that the following LME-MCOs are in compliance with the requirements of NC Gen. Stat 122C-124.2(b).”

Again, no analysis.  No independent thinking.  Steckel’s letter is dated July 31, 2013; Sec. Wos’ letter is dated July 31, 2013.  Wos did not even take ONE DAY to verify Steckel’s letter.

Zombie-like.

Stepford-like.

What good is a statute requiring DHHS to certify the MCOs every 6 months if each certification is attested to by a Stepford??