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Broken Promises Could Promise Disaster for Pediatricians! or “I Don’t Give a Damn” What the Law Is!

In 2013 and 2014, those of you who are primary health care physicians received a boost in Medicaid reimbursement rates up to the Medicare rates for E&M and vaccine administration CPT codes. Many of you self-attested to being primary care physicians. In other words, you determined that you act as a primary care physician. No official acting on behalf of the government reviewed your self-attestation and approved or denied your self-attestation.

What if the government decides, retroactively, that you did not qualify as a primary care physician and attempt to recoup the enhanced payments?? Is that allowed? “A retroactive take back?”

We all know that retroactive take backs occur in other types of audits!

This whole situation reminds me of my favorite movie of all time: Gone With the Wind…you know, Scarlett O’Hare, Rhett Butler, the Civil War…Over Thanksgiving, AMC had a Gone With the Wind marathon, and I must have watched it 4 times (I was sick, so I couldn’t do much else).

The plot is that Rhett is in love with Scarlett the entire movie, which spans over a fictious, “movie time” of two decades. And Scarlett is not in love with Rhett the entire movie until the very end.Once she finally realizes her love for Rhett, he is beyond frustrated and wants nothing to do with her.

She asks, “Rhett, oh, Rhett, what am I supposed to do?” To which he responds, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”

There are many themes found in Gone With the Wind, but the one most appropos is “You may think you understand reality, but, in the end, your reality may be a fictitious dream.”

Similarly, in 2013 and 2014, if you are a primary health care physician, you received a boost in Medicaid reimbursement rates up to the Medicare rates for E&M and vaccine administration CPT codes. You believed the rate hike to be reality.

This rate hike was a big deal for physicians, especially pediatricians. Pediatric practices rely heavily on Medicaid, usually from 20-100%. This rate hike took a reimbursement rate of approximately 78% of the Medicare rate, which, by the way, has been frozen by our legislature at the 2002 rate, plus an additional 3% reduction, followed by another 1% reduction to 100% of the Medicare rate. Quite an increase!

Well, that so blissful increase in Medicaid rates may come back to bite you!!! You thought that you were receiving higher Medicaid reimbursement rates, but, in the end, may you have to pay it back?

The reality of receiving higher Medicaid reimbursement rates may truly only have been a fictitious dream.

“Why,” you demand. “Why?” “Well,” says the government, “I don’t give a damn what the law is.”

Caveat lector: It is not 100% certain that you will be audited. This blog is only a warning as to a possibility. If, in fact, you are audited, then you have legal rights!

Let’s go over why there may be audits for those of you who self-attested to being primary care physicians…

In order to receive this increased rate hike, physicians had to self-attest that he/she :

  1. “Is Board certified as family medicine, general internal medicine, or pediatric medicine; and/or
  2. Has furnished evaluation and management services under codes described in paragraph (b) of this section that equal at least 60 percent of the Medicaid codes he or she has billed during the most recently completed CY or, for newly eligible physicians, the prior month.”

If you are Board certified in family medicine, general internal medicine, or pediatric medicine, there should not be a problem. There isn’t anything to argue. You are either Board certified or not.

However, if you are not Board certified, you will be relying on the government’s auditors to determine whether your practice comprises 60% of applicable Medicaid codes during the most recent calendar year.

Hmmmmmm…

Then, if the government’s auditors determine that your practice comprises of only 57% of applicable Medicaid codes, you may be charged with returning all the money you received as enhanced payments during 2013 and 2014.

And we all know how accurate some of our government’s auditors are…

So there you were, a physician, happy to self-attest to being a primary care provider, happy to receive higher reimbursements for two years, and with no thought of recoupments.

Then…BOOM…you are hit with the realization that you may be liable to the government for a recoupment of those enhanced reimbursements.

Because, frankly, my Dear, the government does not give a damn. Your reality was, in fact, a mere fictitious dream.

NC Medicaid Reimbursement Rates for Primary Care Physicians Slashed; Is a Potential NC Lawsuit Looming?

Here is my follow-up from yesterday’s blog post, “NC Docs Face Retroactive Medicaid Rate Cut.

Nearly one-third of physicians say they will not accept new Medicaid patients, according to a new study.  Is this shocking in light of the end of the ACA enhanced payments for primary physicians, NC’s implementation of a 3% reimbursement rate cut for primary care physicians, and the additional 1% reimbursement rate cut?  No, this is not shocking. It merely makes economic sense.

Want more physicians to accept Medicaid? Increase reimbursement rates!

Here, in NC, the Medicaid reimbursement rates for primary care physicians and pediatricians have spiraled downward from a trifecta resulting in an epically, low parlay. They say things happen in threes…

(1) With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Medicaid reimbursement rate for certain primary care services increased to reimburse 100% of Medicare Cost Share for services paid in 2013 and 2014.  This enhanced payment stopped on January 1, 2015.

(2) Concurrently on January 1, 2015, Medicaid reimbursement rates for evaluation and management and vaccination services were decreased by 3% due to enactments in the 2013 NC General Assembly session.

(3) Concurrently on January 1, 2015, Medicaid reimbursement rates for evaluation and management and vaccination services were decreased by 1% due to enactments in the 2014 NC General Assembly session.

The effect of the trifecta of Medicaid reimbursement rates for certain procedure codes for primary care physicians can be seen below.

CCNC

As a result, a physician currently receiving 100% of the Medicare rates will see a 16% to 24% reduction in certain E&M and vaccine procedure codes for Medicaid services rendered after January 1, 2015.

Are physicians (and all other types of health care providers) powerless against the slashing and gnashing of Medicaid reimbursement rates due to budgetary concerns?

No!  You are NOT powerless!  Be informed!!

Section 30(A) of the Medicaid Act states that:

“A state plan for medical assistance must –

Provide such methods and procedures relating to the utilization of, and the payment for, care and services available under the plan (including but not limited to utilization review plans as provided for in section 1396b(i)(4) of this title) as may be necessary to safeguard against unnecessary utilization of such care and services and to assure that payments are consistent with efficiency, economy, and quality of care and are sufficient to enlist enough providers so that care and services are available under the plan at least to the extent that such care and services are available to the general population in the geographic area.”

Notice those three key goals:

  • Quality of care
  • Sufficient to enlist enough providers
  • So that care and services are available under the plan at least to the extent that such care and services are available to the general population in the geographic area

Courts across the country have held that low Medicaid reimbursement rates which are set due to budgetary factors and fail to consider federally mandated factors, such as access to care or cost of care, are in violation of federal law.  Courts have further held that Medicaid reimbursement rates cannot be set based solely on budgetary reasons.

For example, U.S. District Court Judge Adalberto Jordan held in a 2014 Florida case that:

“I conclude that while reimbursement rates are not the only factor determining whether providers participate in Medicaid, they are by far the most important factor, and that a sufficient increase in reimbursement rates will lead to a substantial increase in provider participation and a corresponding increase to access to care.”

“Given the record, I conclude that plaintiffs have shown that achieving adequate provider enrollment in Medicaid – and for those providers to meaningfully open their practices to Medicaid children – requires compensation to be set at least at the Medicare level.

Judge Jordan is not alone.  Over the past two decades, similar cases have been filed in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Texas, and D.C. [Notice: Not in NC].  These lawsuits demanding higher reimbursement rates have largely succeeded.

There is also a pending Supreme Court case that I blogged about here.

Increasing the Medicaid reimbursement rates is vital for Medicaid recipients and access to care.  Low reimbursement rates cause physicians to cease accepting Medicaid patients.  Therefore, these lawsuits demanding increased reimbursement rates benefit both the Medicaid recipients and the physicians providing the services.

According to the above-mentioned study, in 2011, “96 percent of physicians accepted new patients in 2011, rates varied by payment source: 31 percent of physicians were unwilling to accept any new Medicaid patients; 17 percent would not accept new Medicare patients; and 18 percent of physicians would not accept new privately insured patients.”

It also found this obvious fact:  “Higher state Medicaid-to-Medicare fee ratios were correlated with greater acceptance of new Medicaid patients.”

Ever heard the phrase: “You get what you pay for.”?

A few months ago, my husband brought home a box of wine.  Yes, a box of wine.  Surely you have noticed those boxes of wine at Harris Teeter.  I tried a sip.  It was ok.  I’m no wine connoisseur.  But I woke the next morning with a terrible headache after only consuming a couple of glasses of wine.  I’m not sure whether the cheaper boxed wine has a higher level of tannins, or what, but I do not get headaches off of 2 glasses of wine when the wine bottle is, at least, $10.  You get what you pay for.

The same is true in service industries.  Want a cheap lawyer? You get what you pay for.  Want a cheap contractor? You get what you pay for.

So why do we expect physicians to provide the same quality of care in order to receive $10 versus $60?  Because physicians took the Hippocratic Oath?  Because physicians have an ethical duty to treat patients equally?

While it is correct that physicians take the Hippocratic Oath and have an ethical duty to their clients, it’s for these exact reasons that many doctors simply refuse to accept Medicaid.  It costs the doctor the same office rental, nurse salaries, and time devoted to patients to treat a person with Blue Cross Blue Shield as it does a person on Medicaid.  However, the compensation is vastly different.

Why?  Why the different rates if the cost of care is equal?

Budgetary reasons.

Unlike private insurance, Medicaid is paid with tax dollars.  Each year, the General Assembly determines our Medicaid budget.  Reducing Medicaid reimbursement rates, by even 1%, can affect the national Medicaid budget by billions of dollars.

But, remember, rates cannot be set for merely budgetary reasons…

Is a potential lawsuit looming in NC’s not so distant future???

“Doctor still waiting for NC Tracks payment,” Reports Star News Online

Happy New Year, everyone!!! Hope your New Year’s celebrations were safe and surrounded by friends and family! According to a journalist, the new year did not ring in the Medicaid reimbursements owed by NCTracks.  (Obviously I cannot comment on NCTracks’ current status due to the lawsuit we filed on behalf of all physicians in NC).

Here is the following article by Mike Voorheis…

A year after a Wilmington doctor filed a lawsuit, the state still owes his practice more than $100,000 in unpaid or underpaid Medicaid and Medicare services, he says.

Dr. S. Albert Abrons, a family physician, is the first of seven plaintiffs listed in Abrons vs. N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, a class-action suit, (filed by Williams Mullen), that seeks unspecified damages from the state and three other defendants responsible for the development and implementation of NC Tracks, the software that disburses Medicare and Medicaid payments to health care providers.

Problems with the software began immediately in January 2013 and continued for about 14 months, Abrons said. During that time, Abrons and his staff treated thousands of Medicaid patients. Instead of being reimbursed at the higher Medicare rate for primary care services – a provision of the Affordable Care Act – Abrons was reimbursed at the lower Medicaid rate.

That amounted to about $20 per visit, his office manager said, eventually leading to a six-figure deficit.

Abrons said that meant he had to take out loans and couldn’t give raises to his employees when he wanted to.

“The state still owes me and every provider, I presume, enhanced payments for 2013,” Abrons said.

Abrons fought the state to correct numerous errors beyond the reimbursement rates, he said. The harder he pushed, the less receptive DHHS became.

“There was a complete lack of courtesy,” Abrons said. “Those people have no humanity.”

N.C. Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, was also very critical of DHHS’ response.

“The problem clearly starts at the top,” Hamilton said, referring to DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos.

“There is an unwillingness to admit that there are problems. We’ve left several messages and were unable to get a response.”

The state filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in July and did not wish to comment further, spokesman Kevin Howell said.

Some organizations have had success in receiving their backlogged reimbursements. Wilmington Health CEO Jeff James said the state does not have extraordinary unpaid bills with his organization.

Elderhaus PACE’s Rick Richards said the state owes the Wilmington organization about $350,000. A plan is in place, he said, to have the debt cleared in the next 90 days.

The lawsuit argues that more than 70,000 providers in North Carolina may have had a claim against the state.

“It’s systemic,” Hamilton said. “It’s not about one physician’s profit margin or bottom line. The more we delay payment for services, the more reluctant the private sector is to provide services to Medicaid or Medicare patients. That’s not acceptable.”

Hamilton said that after 14 months of frustration that she’s grown more optimistic over the past 10 days, since speaker-elect Tim Moore has added his voice to the cause.

But even if Abrons recoups the money that is owed him, Hamilton said, his practice has still been a victim of the state’s mismanagement. Every paper that is resubmitted and every phone call that is made to the state costs money. And that doesn’t include the time and money invested in the lawsuit.

“Time is money,” Hamilton said. “They have experienced a tremendous loss even if they are reimbursed at 100 percent.”