Blog Archives

Medicaid Managed Care Organizations: They Ain’t No Jesus!

Many of my clients come to me because a managed care organization (MCO) terminated or refused to renew their Medicaid contracts. These actions by the MCOs cause great financial distress and, most of the time, put the health care provider out of business. My team and I file preliminary injunctions in order to maintain status quo (i.e., allow the provider to continue to bill for and receive reimbursement for services rendered) until an administrative law judge (ALJ) can determine whether the termination (or refusal to contract with) was arbitrary, capricious, or, even, authorized by law.

With so many behavioral health care providers receiving terminations, I wondered…Do Medicaid recipients have adequate access to care? Are there enough behavioral health care providers to meet the need? I only know of one person who could feed hundreds with one loaf of bread and one fish – and He never worked for the MCOs!

On April 25, 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released its massive Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) managed care final rule (“Final Rule”).

Network adequacy is addressed. States are required to develop and make publicly available time and distance network adequacy standards for primary care (adult and pediatric), OB/GYN, behavioral health, adult and pediatric specialist, hospital, pharmacy, and pediatric dental providers, and for additional provider types as determined by CMS.

Currently, 39 states and the District of Columbia contract with private managed care plans to furnish services to Medicaid beneficiaries, and almost two thirds of the 72 million Medicaid beneficiaries are enrolled in managed care.

Access to care has always been an issue. Our Code of Federal Regulations require adequate access to quality health care coverage for Medicaid/care recipients. See blog. And blog.

However, Section 30A of the Social Security Act, while important, delineates no repercussions for violating such access requirements. You could say that the section “has no teeth,” meaning there is no defined penalty for a violation. Even more “toothless” is Section 30A’s lack of definition of what IS an adequate network? There is no publication that states what ratio of provider to recipient is acceptable.

Enter stage right: Final Rule.

The Final Rule requires states to consider certain criteria when determining adequacy of networks in managed care. Notice – I did not write the MCOs are to consider certain criteria in determining network adequacy. I have high hopes that the Final Rule will instill accountability and responsibility on our single state entity to maintain constant supervision on the MCOs [insert sarcastic laughter].

The regulation lists factors states are to consider in setting standards, including the ability of providers to communicate with limited English proficient enrollees, accommodation of disabilities, and “the availability of triage lines or screening systems, as well as the use of telemedicine, e-visits, and/or other evolving and innovative technological solutions.” If states create exceptions from network adequacy standards, they must monitor enrollee access on an ongoing basis.

The Final Rule marks the first major overhaul of the Medicaid and CHIP programs in more than a decade. It requires states to establish network adequacy standards in Medicaid and CHIP managed care for providers. § 457.1230(a) states that “[t]he State must ensure that the services are available and accessible to enrollees as provided in § 438.206 of this chapter.” (emphasis added).

Perhaps now the MCOs will be audited! Amen!

RAC Audits: If It Walks Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck, It IS a RAC Audit

Recently, hundreds of dentists across North Carolina received Tentative Notices of Overpayment (TNOs) from Public Consulting Group (PCG) demanding recoupment for reimbursements made to dentists who rendered services on Medicaid for Pregnant Women (MPW) eligible recipients. There was no dispute at this hearing that these women were eligible for MPW according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) portal. There was also no dispute that these woman had delivered their babies prior to the date of dental service. So the question becomes: If DHHS informs a dentist that a woman is MPW eligible on the date of the service, does that dentist have an individual and separate burden to determine whether these women are pregnant. And if so, what is it? Have them pee in a cup prior to dental services?  See blog, and blog, and blog.

We do not have a definitive answer to the above-posed question, as the Judge has not rendered his decision. However, he did substantially limit these “nameless audits” or “non-RAC” audits to the RAC program limitations. In an Order on our Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that, even if the State does not agree that an audit is a RAC audit, if the audit conducted falls within the definition of a RAC audit, then the audit is a RAC audit.

The reason this is important is because RAC auditors yield such powerful and overwhelming tools against health care providers, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) limits the RAC auditors’ ability to look-back on older claims. For example, even though a provider is, generally, required to maintain records for six (6) years, the federal regulations only allow RAC auditors to look-back three (3) years, unless credible allegations of fraud exist.

Thus, when an auditor reviews documents over three-years-old, I always argue that the review of claims over 3-years-old violates the statute of limitations and federal law.

During hearings, inevitably, the state argues that this particular audit…the one at issue here…is not a RAC audit. The opposing side could no more identify which acronym this audit happens to be, but this audit is not a RAC. “I don’t know what it is, but I know what it’s not!”

Well, an ALJ looked past the rhetoric and pleas by the State that “this is not a RAC” and held that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a RAC audit and, subsequently, the RAC audit limitations do apply.

In the case for this dentist, Public Consulting Group (PCG) audited claims going back as far as six years! The Department of Health and Human Services’ argument was that this audit is not a RAC audit. So what is it? What makes it NOT a RAC? Because you say so? We all know that PCG has a contract with DHHS to perform RAC audits. Is this audit somehow outside its contractual purview?

So I filed a Motion for Summary Judgment requesting the Judge to throw out all claims outside the three-year look-back period per the RAC limitations.

Lo, and behold, I was right!! (The good guys win again!)

To understand this fully, it is important to first understand what the RAC program is and its intention. (“It depends on what the definition of “is” is”).

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(a)(42):

the State shall—(i) establish a program under which the State contracts (consistent with State law and in the same manner as the Secretary enters into contracts with recovery audit contractors under section 1893(h), subject to such exceptions or requirements as the Secretary may require for purposes of this title or a particular State) with 1 or more recovery audit contractors for the purpose of identifying underpayments and overpayments and recouping overpayments under the State plan and under any waiver of the State plan with respect to all services for which payment is made to any entity under such plan or waiver[].

(emphasis added).

RAC is defined as an entity that “…will review claims submitted by providers of items and services or other individuals furnishing items and services for which payment has been made under section 1902(a) of the Act or under any waiver of the State Plan to identify underpayments and overpayment and recoup overpayments for the States.” 42 CFR § 455.506(a).

Under this definition, PCG is clearly a recovery audit contractor. And the Judge agreed. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, just because the duck protests it is a donkey, it is still a duck. (Hmmmm..wonder how this logic would carry over to the whole transgender bathroom issue…another topic for another blogger…)

RACs must follow certain limitations as outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations. For example, pursuant to 42 C.F.R. § 455.508(f), a Medicaid RAC “must not review claims that are older than 3 years from the date of the claim, unless it receives approval from the State.”

In this particular case, there were 15 claims at issue. Eleven (11) of those claims were outside the three-year look-back period!! With one fell swoop of an ALJ’s signature, we reduced the claims at issue from 15 to 4. Nice!

In DHHS’ Response to our Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, DHHS argued that, in this case, PCG was not acting as a RAC; therefore, the limitations do not apply. In support of such decision, DHHS supplied an affidavit of a DMA employee. She averred that the audit of this particular dentist was not per the RAC program. No rules were cited. No contract in support of her position was provided. Nothing except an affidavit of a DMA employee.

Obviously, it is my opinion that the ALJ was 100% accurate in ruling that this audit was a RAC audit and was limited in scope to a 3-year look-back period.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is not a donkey. No matter how much it pleads that it is, in fact, a donkey!

Remember the Super Bowl Ad of the Puppy, Baby, Monkey?:

superbowlpic

That is so NOT ok!

Broken Promises and the NC Waiver: You Do NOT Get Your Choice of Provider!!

“One can talk good and shower down roses, but it’s the receiver that
has to walk through the thorns, and all its false expectations.” –Anthony Liccione

In the 1968 Presidential campaign, Richard Nixon stated that “new leadership will end the war” in Vietnam. Also, in a 1968 interview, Nixon said he had “no magic formula” or “gimmick” for ending the Vietnam War. Then, in his memoirs, Nixon stated he never claimed to have such a plan. This is called a broken election promise.

Sadly, Richard Nixon’s broken election promise was not the first, nor would it be the last. We have become used to politicians making election promises and breaking those same promises which got them elected once they are in office.

“If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.”

“Read my lips: no new taxes.”

Over the last few years, I have written ad nausem about accountability and proper supervision when it comes to the Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) in North Carolina. The other day, I was reviewing some pertinent federal regulations and came across this:

§ 438.52 Choice of MCOs, PIHPs, PAHPs, and PCCMs.

• General rule. Except as specified in paragraphs (b) and (c) of this section, a State that requires Medicaid beneficiaries to enroll in an MCO, PIHP, PAHP, or PCCM must give those beneficiaries a choice of at least two entities.

Obviously, North Carolina is not adhering to the above-referenced requirement.

Pull up the Waiver. In order to offer Medicaid enrollees only one MCO or other such entity, North Carolina would have had to request a waiver of 42 CFR § 438.52.If you rely on Medicaid for behavioral health care and live in Wake County, you have no choice but to rely on the provider network of only entity, Alliance Behavioral Health (Alliance), to receive services. For example, you do not get to choose between Alliance’s provider network and Eastpointe Behavioral Healthcare’s (Eastpointe) provider network. Staying with the same theoretical hypothesis, if your provider was not anointed with the gift of being in Alliance’s network, then you do not get to stay with your provider.

“If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.”

Similar to President Barack Obama’s contention quoted above, we made similar promises to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Our promises are found within our Waivers. We have two Waivers, one for the developmentally disabled population and one for the mentally ill/substance abuse population. Each Waiver waives certain federal exceptions. However, in lieu of the federal requirements, we make certain promises to CMS. In order to waive 42 CFR § 438.52, we made certain promises to CMS in order to circumvent the necessary provisions of 42 CFR § 438.52.

The State sought a waiver of section 1902(a)(4) of the Act:

“The State seeks a waiver of section 1902(a)(4) of the Act, which requires States to offer a choice of more than one PIHP or PAHP per 42 CFR 438.52. Please describe how the State will ensure this lack of choice of PIHP or PAHP is not detrimental to beneficiaries’ ability to access services.”

Here are our promises:

“Under these circumstances, the State does not believe that making only one plan available in each geographic area of the State will negatively impact recipients’ access to care.”

“The LMEs have decades of experience locating and developing services for consumers with MH/IDD/SAS needs, and over the years, have built strong and collaborative working relationships with the providers of these services.”

“These providers support this initiative and consumers have at least as much choice in individual providers as they had in the non-managed care environment.

“Enrollees will have free choice of providers within the PIHP serving their respective geographic area and may change providers as often as desired. If an individual joins the PIHP and is already established with a provider who is not a member of the network, the PIHP will make every effort to arrange for the consumer to continue with the same provider if the consumer so desires.

“If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.”

My two personal favorites among the State’s promises to CMS are: (1) “consumers have at least as much choice in individual providers as they had in the non-managed care environment;” and (2) the PIHP will make every effort to arrange for the consumer to continue with the same provider if the consumer so desires.”

These promises, in reality, are utter horsefeathers.

Over and over my provider clients come to me because one of the MCOs has terminated their Medicaid contract, usually for absolutely no valid reason. Over and over my provider clients tell me that their consumers are devastated by the news that they may lose their provider. I have had consumers contact me to beg me to help the provider. I have had consumers appear in court stating how much they want that particular provider. I have had provider clients cry in my office because their consumers are so upset and regressing because of the news that they may have to find another provider.

Yet, we have promised CMS that consumers have just as much choice in providers than when there was no managed care.

In the words of Dorothy from the Wizard of OZ, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Frightening him like that when he came to you for help.”

Similarly, our Medicaid recipients go to their providers for help. They create relationships…trust…bonds. And the MCOs are terminating these very providers, most for invalid and erroneous reasons, and, certainly, without the consideration of our promise to CMS.

But, remember, we are told the PIHPs will make every effort to keep the consumer with the chosen provider…

It would be interesting to do a public records request as to how many providers have been terminated by the MCOs in the last 2 years. Because, even if only 1 provider were terminated in the past 2 years and its consumers still wanted to go to that particular provider, then our State has broken its promise.

Apparently, due to my outspoken positions, DHHS will no longer honor my public records requests, which I think is absolutely preposterous. I am, still, a paying taxpayer last time I checked, which is every pay-day when I only get 60% of my wages. If any of you would submit this public records request, please forward it to me. I would be grateful for the information.

Haven’t Fixed Medicaid Yet…But I Haven’t Gotten Bucked Off Yet

There are a number of federal regulations that, if I were in charge, would be immediately amended. Obviously, I am not in charge, so despite my best blogging efforts, my blogs do not change federal law. Today, however, I had the honor and privilege to speak to someone who may have the clout and political pull to fix some of the calamities found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFRs) that are so detrimental to health care providers who accept Medicare and Medicaid across the country.

My husband, daughter, and I ride horses nearly every weekend. We ride Western and on trails all over North Carolina and Virginia, mostly on charity rides. And over the past few years, I have, sadly, gone through over 5 horses. Not because the horses have passed. But because each horse had an oddity or behavior issue that either (a) I didn’t want to deal with; or (2) terrified me.

For example, Twist of Luck (Twist) is a gorgeous pure, white horse with a yellow tail and mane and brilliant, blue eyes. But he was what you call, “proud cut.” Meaning that because he sired so many foals, even after he became a gelding he thought like a stallion. One weekend we were at Uwharrie National Park and when I saddled up Twist and mounted him, he decided that he did not want me on his back. My husband said Twist looked like a “poster horse” for a rodeo with his back completely rounded like an angry cat and all four of his hooves in the air. Needless to say, I found myself quite quickly on the ground with a sore tooshie, and Twist found himself sold.

Since I do not have the time to actually train my horse, I need a trained horse.

With my hobby of horseback riding, a well-trained horse is imperative…not only for safety, but for my enjoyment as well.

In the area of Medicare and Medicaid, it is imperative for enough physicians, dentists, and other health care providers to accept Medicare and Medicaid. You see, health care providers choose to accept Medicare and Medicaid. And not all health care providers agree to accept Medicare or Medicaid. But it is important for enough health care providers to accept Medicare and Medicaid patients otherwise the Medicare or Medicaid card in a person’s hand is worthless. Same as Twist was worthless to me that day in Uwharrie. If you can’t ride a horse, what is the point of owning it? If you can’t find a health care provider, what is the use of having coverage?

Here in North Carolina, we decided to not expand Medicaid. This blog is not going to address the ever-growing discontent in the media as to the decision, although you can see my blog: “Medicaid Expansion: Bad for the Poor.”

Instead, this blog will address my idea that I pitched to Congresswoman Renee Ellmers over lunch last week and discussed today with her legislative counsel today as to how it can be implemented.

Here’s my idea:

According to most data, not expanding Medicaid in North Carolina is affecting approximately 1.6 million uninsured North Carolinians. But to my point of the shortage of health care providers accepting Medicaid, what is the point of having an insurance card that no health care provider accepts? Therefore, I propose a pilot program here in NC…a pilot program to help the approximate 1.6 million uninsured in NC. Besides the moral issue that everyone deserves quality health care, fiscally, it is sound to provide the uninsured with quality health care (notice that I did not say to provide the uninsured with Medicaid). When the uninsured go to emergency rooms it costs the taxpayers more than if the uninsured had an insurance policy that would allow primary care and specialty doctor appointments. But with Medicaid…you can count out most specialty care, even some basic necessary care like dental care.

Most of the uninsured in NC are non-disabled men. I say this because it is usually easier to get a child on Medicaid with the Early, Periodic, Screening, Diagnostic, Testing (EPSDT) laws. See my blog: “How EPSDT Allows Medicaid Recipients Under the Age of 21 To Receive More Services Than Covered by the State Plan” for an explanation of EPSDT. Many women receive Medicaid based on having dependent children. “In most states, adults without dependent children are ineligible for Medicaid, regardless of their income, and income limits for parents were very low—often below half the poverty level.” See Kaiser Foundation. Which means, generally, many of our uninsured are men without dependents. However, that does not mean they are not fathers. Many of the uninsured are fathers.

Two-thirds of the uninsured live in families where there is at least one full-time worker. However, the percentage of uninsured who live in families with no workers, part-time workers and only one full-time worker has increased 12 percentage points over 5 years. See Demographics.

So how do we help the uninsured without merely handing all uninsured a Medicaid card that will not give them quality health care because not enough trained health care providers accept Medicaid patients?

By giving the uninsured health care insurance, of course! But not Medicaid coverage…oh, no! By giving the uninsured private insurance that will be accepted by all health care providers, all specialists, all durable medical equipment companies, all dentists…

We could partner up with a larger insurer like Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) and create a premium health care insurance on which the insured would pay no premiums or co-pays. Instead, federal grant money would cover the premiums. All that money that NC did not receive based on our decision to not expand Medicaid…can go toward this pilot program to purchase the private insurance for the uninsured.

In order to qualify for this premium, free, private insurance the person must:

1. Be a legal resident;
2. NOT qualify for Medicaid; and
3. Maintain a part time job.

The reasoning behind the criterion of maintaining a part-time job is simple.

It is indisputable that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has motivated employers across America to decrease the number of full-time jobs due to the mandatory expense of employers providing health care to full-time employees.

Obviously, part-time work does not pay well. It is difficult to even maintain a living on part-time work’s low hourly wages. Many people are forced to hold down two-part time jobs in order to survive. If you can not work and receive more government hand outs, what is the incentive to work?

If my idea comes to fruition and many of our uninsured carry a private insurance card and receive quality health care from the providers of their choice, we could create a whole new group of North Carolinians not only contributing to the community by working, but also contributing to their own homes, and improving themselves and those around them.

I don’t want to provide anyone a useless piece of paper that does not provide quality health care. We may as well give everyone a “proud cut” horse that no one could ride.

Thank you, Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, for being willing to listen to me regarding the uninsured and actually follow-up with the intent to implement.

Quality health care is imperative. Necessary. Needed. We need to fix this system.

This “Dag On,” Esoteric Medicaid! What is the LAW?

What is the “law” of North Carolina Medicaid? I mean, as a health care provider in North Carolina accepting Medicaid, you are expected to know EVERYTHING.  You must follow ALL laws/regulations/policies to a tee. Yet you have:

1.  The State; i.e., the  Division of Medical Assistance (DMA);

2.  The Managed Care Organizations (MCOs); i.e.; Alliance Behavioral Health (Alliance), Cardinal Innovations (Cardinal), East Carolina Behavioral Health (East Carolina), or whatever MCO is in charge of your county; not to mention,

3.  The Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs); i.e., Carolinas Center of Medical Excellence (CCME), Public Consulting Group (PCG), and HP Enterprises (HP);

all telling you that you are NOT following the (fill in the blank) (a) the law; (b) NC Medicaid rules and regulations; (c) the DMA Clinical Policies; (d) the Implementation Updates; (d) the Basic Medicaid Billing Guide; or (e) all of the above.

Let’s break it down.

First, in the world of Medicaid, because federal dollars are used, the federal law is supreme.

Therefore, if any state, whether North Carolina or Alaska, states that you must abide by “_____” and “_____” is specifically not allowed by federal law, “_____” violates federal law and is not “law.” So many people just assume that if North Carolina states “____”…”____”  must be “law.”  Forgive me for being the naysayer, but the U.S. federal government is supreme.  As in, if North Carolina and the U.S. government got in a fight, NC would be the underdog. Yet, despite the fact, most people read a NC general statute and act as a Stepford Wife….”Yes,  sir, it must be true.”

So let’s put the Medicaid laws in a hierarchy, most important to least important:

1. Federal law.  Most of the federal Medicaid regulations are found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). (Please understand that this blog is NOT comprehensive; I am merely trying to simplify a system that is not easily simplified.  Please contact an attorney if you have any questions (not necessarily me:) ).  There is also the Social Security Act.

2.  Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  I know, CMS is a federal agency. Why would I denote CMS as the second most important in the genre of Medicaid law? CMS does not make law.  CMS must follow federal law.  But, in reality, let me assure you, if CMS says its ok, it is ok.  So it is important to note CMS.

CMS issues guidance in the form of letters to State Medicaid Directors and letters to State Health Officials. CMS also issues federal regulations. Issue. Not draft. Regardless, CMS is important.

3.  North Carolina laws.  Here’s where it gets sticky…

People make good money on arguing as to which NC laws/policies/manuals are most important.

In my humble opinion, only promulgated policies are mandatory.

What does promulgated mean?

Definition of PROMULGATE

1: to make (as a doctrine) known by open declaration : proclaim
a : to make known or public the terms of (a proposed law)

b : to put (a law) into action or force
Obviously, the NC General Statutes are law.  Each bill has been passed by the House and Senate in the General Assembly and signed by the Governor.  However, let me be the first to warn you: Just because NC has passed anything into statutory law, does not mean that the statute is NOT in violation of federal law.
Remember, recently, in Wos v. E.M.A., the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a NC law that would have allowed the state of North Carolina to seize one-third of a family’s $2.8 million medical malpractice settlement.  However, the Supreme Court concluded that the North Carolina statute was unreasonable and arbitrary, possibly much like the Medicaid statutes found in N.C. Gen. Stat. 108C.
So even promulgated Medicaid statutes can be stricken.
Therein lies so many questions.
In my humble opinion, the DMA Clinical Policies need to be followed.  Also, the Implementation Updates need to be followed (despite the fact that these Implementation Updates are drafted so frequently and are not necessarily promulgated…that’s another issue).
So we have the N.C. Gen. Stats. (although not necessarily in compliance with federal law), the DMA Clinical Policies, and Implementation Updates.
Yet, recently, in a hearing, a DMA representative testified that the Basic Medicaid Billing Guide was also “law.” Law? A Manual? Hmmmm….interesting.  I think everyone would agree that the Basic Medicaid Billing Guide is amazing guidance. But…law?
We shall see. We have lawsuits exploring these issues. But, for now, in my opinion, these are great unknowns.
So, health care providers, what laws/regulations/policies are you supposed to follow? In the opinion of the State, EVERYTHING. Even if some random person writes an email with no authority to write, “All health care providers must list the Medicaid recipients’ alphabetically and also alphabetically by the guardian with handwritten lines corresponding the recipient to the guardian;” the State believes the email must be adhered to.
My opinion? Only adhere to federal law and state laws that comply with federal laws. Which are those? We will see in the upcoming litigation…