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NC Medicaid MCOs: You Cannot Prove a Negative!

In philosophy, you learn about “evidence of absence.” It’s kind of like a logical assumption based on the LACK of evidence. Such as: P implies Q is false, but Q is false, therefore P is false.  Or Knicole takes a break from blogging on the weekends.  Knicole did not blog today, therefore it must be a weekend.

There is also some who say you cannot prove a negative.  You cannot prove that flying reindeer do not exist; it is up to the flying reindeer to prove they do exist.  Personally, I think this way of thinking is pessimistic and leaves little room for faith.  But, in some circumstances, such as…how are my tax dollars being used for Medicaid recipients, I do not want a non-proven negative.  I want proof.

Recently, WFAE, Charlotte’s NPR News station, ran a piece entitled, “Frustrations with MeckLINK Grows as Denials for Care Increase.”

The point of the article was the drastic decrease in behavioral health service authorizations within MeckLINK’s catchment area (Mecklenburg county) for Medicaid services since MeckLINK went live.

Here is the chart WFAE provided in its article:

MeckLINK_June_Slide

If this graph is correct, MeckLINK has some serious questions to answer to taxpayers. Within 4 months, the number of mental health Medicaid consumers in Mecklenburg county decreased OVER HALF??!!!  From 1,518 to 689!

Did the 829 people, who were receiving mental health services back in February/March 2013, move from Mecklenburg county/die/heal (in order to not need the mental health services in June)? Or has MeckLINK (and other MCOs) simply begun to deny medically necessary mental health services???

If it is the latter and not the former, I ask, as a taxpayer, where did my Medicaid tax dollars go? To MeckLINK salaries?  And, if it is the latter and not the former, as a person concerned with mental services, especially for Medicaid recipients, I ask, what has happened to the 829 Medicaid recipients no longer receiving mental health services??  Hospitalization? Incarceration? Homelessness? Or just sitting at home depressed…unable to function as they could when they did receive services?

Well, Ben Bradford, of WFAE, asked MeckLINK’s chief financial officer, Ken O’Neil, this question.

O’Neil’s answer? The evidence of absence.

O’Neil revealed that MeckLINK is on tenuous financial footing. It ran a deficit in May and June at a rate that would put it out of business in less than a year.  He also argues those deficits are proof that MeckLINK isn’t sacrificing care for profit.

See Article.

O’Neil argues that MeckLINK’s deficits are proof that MeckLINK is not sacrificing care for profit.  Proof that flying reindeer do not exist!

O’Neil contends that MeckLINK’s deficit proves that MeckLINK is not denying medically necessary services to mentally ill Medicaid recipients. BTW: O’Neil contends this non-proven negative despite the graph showing that more than half of recipients in Mecklenburg county are no longer receiving services.

O’Neil’s contention (that a deficit proves MeckLINK is not sacrificing care for profit) has a gaping, logistic flaw.

Remember my blog, published June 10, 2013? “Higher Medicaid Administrative Costs = Less Medicaid Money for Providers to Service Recipients

In this blog, I wrote about CenterPoint’s “hefty salaries to its top-executives.  In addition to these hefty salaries, CenterPoint pays for all employees’ health insurance, as well as the health insurance for all employees’ families!!”

I estimated (and probably underestimated) that CenterPoint, by paying for its employees and employees’ families’ health premiums, was spending approximately $1.5 million in health care premiums…money that should have gone to Medicaid recipients.

So MeckLINK’s (O’Neil’s) contention that MeckLINK’s deficits are proof that MeckLINK is not sacrificing care for profit is flawed.  Where is the proof that MeckLINK is not over-paying its top executives? Where is the proof that MeckLINK is not over-spending on its employees, i.e., paying for employees’ health care premiums…as well as the families of employees?

Well, I found a few graphs published by DMA that caused me more reason to believe that O’Neil’s “proof of a negative” is flawed.

DMA issues reports on the MCOs.  A recent dashboard report cites that, in its “Trends to Watch,”

1. Behavioral health related claims (e.g., Inpt MH, ICF/MR, CAP-MR and non-physician practitioners) continue to decline with the implementation of BH MCOs. Please note that several of the BH-related types of service have volatile costs per service unit and service units per recipient. This is a consequence of the drastic drop in utilization due to the implementation of MCOs and does not reflect a widespread trend. We will likely remove several of these types of service from the report soon.

I have SO many issues with this “trend.”  Such as: “Continue to decline.” “With the implementation of BH (behavioral health) MCOs.”  “Drastic drop in utilization.”  “Due to the implementation of BH MCOS.”  “Not reflect a widespread???”  (Aren’t the MCOs statewide?).  “We will…remove?… several of these services from the report”….WHY? We don’t want to track the fact that the mentally ill are not receiving Medicaid services?

The DMA Dashboard Report also depicts numerous graphs.  Many of the graphs depict last fiscal years’ Medicaid services’ dollars spent (with a blue line) and this years’ Medicaid services’ dollars spent (with the red line).

Most years, both last fiscal year and this fiscal year, are fairly similar.

Such as Medicaid physicians’ office visits:

Example pic

Notice the interplay between the red and blue lines.  The expenditures for physicians’ office visits from last fiscal year to this fiscal year is, relatively, similar.

Now let’s look at a behavioral health service (ICF/MR):

Chart DMA

See the difference?

The blue line depicts last fiscal year.  The red line depicts the current fiscal year.  The left side of the graph shows dollars, while the bottom side shows months.

As you can see, the blue line (last fiscal year) shows a semi-constant, horizontal line with a small down tick in April 2012.  The red line, however, (this fiscal year) begins where the blue line left off, but, then, in January-ish 2013, a massive decrease in dollars spent.

So….a massive decrease….surely the MCOs were not paid the same…oh, and surely not more!!!???

Because, remember, if an MCO has a deficit, that means that the MCO is “not sacrificing care for profit.”

Here is DMA’s graph on MCO capitation payments per 1000 eligibles:

Capitation Pic

Now, mind you, I am no math expert, but this chart, to me, appears to show a 700% plus uptick in MCO capitation payments.

So, according to O’Neil, MeckLINK is running at a deficit, at least for a couple of months.  Yet, DMA’s graphs demonstrate a decrease in mental health services and an increase in payments to MCOs.

Hmmmm.

Here are proofs of negatives:

The fact that Knicole did not blog today proves that it is a weekend. (Surely, Knicole was not just too busy on a weekday to get out a blog).

MeckLINK’s deficits are proof that MeckLINK is not sacrificing care for profit.  (Surely, MeckLINK did not pay hefty salaries to top executives or all health care premiums for employees and families). 

You cannot prove a negative.  But you CAN show proof.

ECBH Questioned at Town Hall Meeting: Why Are You Denying So Many Services??

East Carolina Behavioral Health (ECBH), one of North Carolina’s 10 MCOs had to defend itself at a local Mental Health Town Hall Meeting in Greenville, NC.

Amy Brown, who works at Arc of North Carolina, which is a company-advocate for people suffering from mental illness and/or developmental disabilities, finally asked what so many providers and recipients have been asking for months:

WHY ARE SERVICES GETTING DENIED????

For the news video, click here.

“It appears that there is a growing trend of families being denied services,” Brown, who works at the Arc of North Carolina, told the panel.

Brown, like other families who have shared their story with 9 On Your Side, is frustrated with East Carolina Behavioral Health – the organization that manages local providers.

She says the processes ECBH requires to approve services for the mentally ill is long, tedious and ineffective.

“For those families that are willing to fight it out and go through the appeals process, it’s very frustrating, it’s very long,” Brown says.

ECBH, or any MCO, that denies medically necessary services, are denying Medicaid services for the most needy. 

But, believe me, this is NOT isolated to ECBH.  ECBH serves Beaufort, Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Craven, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hertford, Hyde, Jones, Martin, Northampton, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Pitt, Tyrrell & Washington counties.  But medically necessary services are being denied outside the above-mentioned counties. 

Not only are medically necessary services being denied, but quality, competent health care providers are being DENIED Medicaid contracts or the Medicaid contracts are being rescinded.

People, listen, if a health care provider resides in Beaufort county, NC, that health care provider, in order to provide mental health services to the Medicaid population must contract with ECBH in order to provide services.  There is no other option.  The provider cannot, for example, just contract with a different MCO, to provide mental health services within Beaufort county.  ECBH is  the only option in Beaufort county for a Medicaid contract in behavioral health.  So, if ECBH, arbitrarily decides that it does not want to contract with Provider X, for whatever reason, Provider X cannot provide mental health services to Medicaid recipients within Beaufort county and be reimbursed for services rendered. Period.

And this is happening. Providers, who have been providing mental health services to Medicaid recipients for, sometimes, years and years, and who have, some, hundreds of Medicaid recipients, are being denied a Medicaid contract with ECBH, and other MCOs, are not receiving the reimbursement for services rendered for themselves and their staff, and are being forced to close their doors or no longer accept Medicaid patients.

The MCOs, including ECBH, seem to be pushing mental health care providers away from Medicaid, resulting in Medicaid recipients not receiving desperately-needed mental health services.

And here I thought mental health is such an important topic…

It’s easy to proclaim that you care about providers and recipients and you want Medicaid recipients to receive quality health care, but it’s a whole other thing to actually determine if the WAY the system is IMPLEMENTED is broken.  Maybe it’s not the Medicaid system that is broken; maybe it is the implementation of the system.

George Bernard Shaw said, “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”