Throughout the history of health care, payors and payees of Medicare/caid have existed in separate silos. In fact, the two have combated – the relationship has not always been stellar.
Looking into my crystal ball; however, all will not be as it is now [that’s clear as mud!].
Now, and in the upcoming years, there will be a massive shift to integrate payors and payees under the same roof. Competition drives this movement. So does the uncertainty in the health care market. This means that under one umbrella may be the providers and the paying entities.
Why is this a concern? First – Any healthcare entity that submits claims to the federal government, whether it be a provider or payor, must comply with the fraud and abuse statutes. As such, there is a potential to run afoul of federal and state regulations regulating the business of health care. Payors know their rules; providers know their rules…And those rules are dissimilar; and, at times, conflicting. The opportunity to screw up is endemic.
Second – With the new responsibilities mandated by the Yates Memo, these new relationships could create awkward situations in which the head of the payor department could have knowledge (or should have knowledge) of an [alleged] overpayment, but because of the politics at the company or self-interest in the preservation of his or her career, the head may not want to disclose such overpayment. With the 60-day rule, the head’s hesitation could cost the company.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) reinvented health care in so many ways. Remember, the ACA is supposed to be self-funding. Taxes were not to increase due to its inception. Instead, health care providers fund the ACA through post payment and prepayment audits, ZPIC audits, CERTs, MFCU, MICs, RACs, and PERMs.
The ACA also made a whole new commercially-insured population subject to the False Claims Act. False statements are now being investigated in connection with Medical Loss Ratios, justifications for rate increases, risk corridor calculations, or risk adjustment submissions.
CMS imposes a duty to detect fraud, waste, and abuse (FWA). But what if you’re looking at your own partners?
The chart above depicts “old school” Medicare payment options for physicians and other health care providers. In our Brave New World, the arrows will be criss-crossed (applesauce), because when the payors and the payees merge, the reimbursements, the billing, and the regulatory supervision will be underneath the same roof. It’ll be the game of “chicken” taken to a whole new level…with prison and financial penalties for the loser.
Since 2011, kickback issues have exponentially grown. The Anti-Kickback Statute makes it a criminal offense for a provider to give “remuneration” to a physician in order to compensate the physician for past referrals or to induce future referrals of patients to the provider for items or services that are reimbursed, in whole or in part, by Medicare or Medicaid.
Imagine when payors and payees are owned by the same entity! Plus, the ACA amended the kickback statutes to eliminate the prong requiring actual knowledge or intent. Now you can be convicted of anti kickback issues without any actual knowledge it was ever occurring!!
Now we have the “one purpose test,” which holds that a payment or offer of remuneration violates the Anti-Kickback Statute so long as part of the purpose of a payment to a physician or other referral source by a provider or supplier is an inducement for past or future referrals. United States v. Borrasi, 2011 WL 1663373 (7th Cir. May 4, 2011).
There are statutory exceptions. But these exceptions differ depending on whether you are a payor or payee – see the potential criss-cross applesauce?
And, BTW, which types of health care services are bound by the anti kickback statutes?
- Clinical laboratory services;
- Physical therapy services;
- Occupation therapy services;
- Radiology services (including MRIs, Ultrasounds, and CAT scans);
- Radiation therapy and supplies;
- Durable medical equipment and supplies;
- Parenteral and enteral nutrients, equipment, and supplies;
- Prosthetics, orthotics, and prosthetic devices and supplies;
- Home health services;
- Outpatient prescription drugs; and
- Inpatient and outpatient hospital services.
Imagine a building. Inside is a primary care physician (PCP), a pediatrician, a home health agency, and a psychiatrist. Can the PCP refer to the home health agency? Can a hospital refer to a home care agency? What if one of the Board of Directors sit on both entities?
The keys to avoiding the anti kickback pitfalls is threefold: (1) fair market value (FMV); (2) arm’s length transactions; and (3) money cannot be germane to referrals.
However, there is no one acceptable way to determine FMV. Hire an objective appraiser. While hiring an objective appraiser does not establish accuracy, it can demonstrate a good faith attempt.
Number One Rule for Merging/Acquiring/Creating New Partnerships in our new Brave New World of health care?
Your attorney should be your new BFF!! (Unless she already is).
The Yates memo? Sadly, we aren’t talking about William Butler Yates, who is one of my favorite poets:
TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand…Part of The Second Coming
Ok, so maybe it is a little melodramatic to compare the Yates memo from the Office of the Deputy Attorney General to the end of the world, the drowning of innocence, and The Second Coming, but I made analogies in past blogs that had stretched and, dare I say, hyberbolized the situation.
What is the Yates memo?
The Yates memo is a memorandum written by Sally Quillian Yates, Deputy Attorney General for the U.S. Dept. of Justice, dated September 9, 2015.
It basically outlines how federal investigations for corporate fraud or misconduct should be conducted and what will be expected from the corporation getting investigated. It was not written specifically about health care providers; it is a general memo outlining the investigations of corporate wrongdoing across the board. But it is germane to health care providers.
By far the most scary and daunting item discussed within the Yates memo is the DOJ’s interest in indicting individuals within corporations as well as the corporate entities itself, i.e., the executives…the management. Individual accountability.
No more Lehman Brothers fallout with former CEO Dick Fuld leaving the catastrophe with a mansion in Greenwich, Conn., a 40+ acre ranch in Sun Valley, Idaho, as well as a five-bedroom home in Jupiter Island, Fla. Fuld may have or may not have been a player in the downfall of Lehman Brothers. But the Yates Memo was not published back in 2008.
The Yates Memo outlines 6 steps to strengthen audits for corporate compliance:
- To be eligible for any cooperation credit, corporations must provide to the DOJ all relevant facts about individuals involved in corporate misconduct.
- Both criminal and civil corporate investigations should focus on individuals from the inception of the investigation.
- Criminal and civil attorneys handling corporate investigations should be in routine communication with one another.
- Absent extraordinary circumstances, no corporate resolution will provide protection from criminal or civil liability for any individuals.
- Corporate cases should not be resolved without a clear plan to resolve related individual cases before the statute of limitations expires and declinations as to individuals in such cases must be memorialized.
- Civil attorneys should consistently focus on individuals as well as the company and evaluate whether to bring suit against an individual based on considerations beyond that individual’s ability to pay.
So why write about now – over 6 months after it was disseminated?
First, since its dissemination, a few points have been clarified that were otherwise in question.
About a month after its publication, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell emphasized the Yates memo’s requirement that corporations must disclose all relevant facts regarding misconduct to receive cooperation credit. Caldwell went so far to say that companies must affirmatively seek relevant facts regarding misconduct.
For example, Hospital X is accused of Medicare fraud, waste, and abuse (FWA) in the amount of $15 million. The Yates memo dictates that management at the hospital proactively investigate the allegations and report its findings to the federal government. The memo mandates that the hospital “show all its cards” and turn itself in prior to making any defense.
The problem here is that FWA is such a subjective determination.
What if a hospital bills Medicare for inplantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD, for patients that had coronary bypass surgery or angioplasty within 90 days or a heart attack within 40 days? What if the heart attack was never documented? What if the heart attack was so minor that it lasted under 100 milliseconds?
The Medicare National Coverage Determinations are so esoteric that your average Medicare auditor could very well cite a hospital for billing for an ICD even when the patient’s heart attack lasted under 100 milliseconds.
Yet, according to the Yates memo, the hospital is required to present all relevant facts before any defense. What if the hospital’s billing person is over zealous in detecting mis-billings? The hospital could very well have a legal defense as to why the alleged mis-billing is actually compliant. What about a company’s right to seek counsel and defend itself? The Yates memo may require the company to turn over attorney-client privilege.
The second point that has been clarified since the Yates’ memo’s publication came from Yates herself.
Yates remarks that there will be a presumption that the company has access to identify culpable individuals unless they can make an affirmative showing that the company does not have access to it or are legally prohibited from producing it.
Why should this matter? It’s only a memo, right?
Since its publication, the DOJ codified it into the revised U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, including the two clarifying remarks. Since its inception, the heads of companies have been targeted.
A case was brought against David Bostwick, the founder, owner and chief executive officer of Bostwick Laboratories for allegedly provided incentives to treating physicians in exchange for referrals of patients who would then be subjected to these tests.
When the pharmaceutical company Warner Chilcott was investigated for health care fraud prosecutors also went after W. Carl Reichel, the former president, for his alleged involvement in the company’s kickback scheme.
Prior to the Yates’ memo, it was uncommon for health care fraud investigations to involve criminal charges or civil resolutions against individual executives.
The Second Coming?
It may feel that way to executives of health care companies accused of fraud, waste, and abuse.
Often we read in the news stories of hospitals or health care providers paying inordinate amounts to settle cases in which credible allegations of fraud or allegations of false claims preside. Many times the providers actually committed fraud, waste, or abuse. Maybe medical records were falsified, or maybe the documents were created for Medicaid/care recipients that do not exist. Maybe the services claimed to have been rendered were not. In these cases, the provider can be held liable criminally (fraud) and/or civilly (false claims). And these providers should be held accountable to the government and the taxpayers.
It appears that this is not the case for an Ohio hospital that settled a False Claims Act case for $4.1 million last month. Do not get me wrong: The False Claims Act is no joke. Possible penalties imposed by the False Claims Act can be up to $10,000 per claim “plus 3 times the amount of damages which the Government sustains because of the act of that person.” 37 USC §3729. See blog for more explanation.
In the Ohio hospital’s case, the penalty derived from Dr. Abubakar Atiq Durrani, a spinal surgeon, performing spinal surgeries that, allegedly, were not medically necessary.
According to what I’ve read, there is no question that Dr. Durrani actually performed these surgeries. He did. On actual people who exist. Instead, the allegation is that the surgeries were not medically necessary.
I have blogged about medical necessity in the past. Medical necessity is a subjective standard. Medical necessity is defined as reasonable, necessary, and/or appropriate, based on evidence-based clinical standards of care.
But it is still a subjective standard. When you receive news that you suffer from a debilitating disease, what do you do? You get a second opinion. If one doctor recommends brain surgery, what do you do? You get a second opinion.
After that, you grab a handy, dandy Magic 8 Ball and give it a shake. Kidding. Kinda.
My point is that 2 physicians can recommend two different courses of treatment. One physician may practice more defensive medicine, while another may be more cautious. Surgeons will, generally, recommend surgery, more than non-surgeons; it’s what they do.
Going back to Dr. Durrani, who was arrested in 2013 for allegedly “convinc[ing] [patients] they needed spine and neck surgery. However, other doctors later determined those surgeries as unnecessary and damaging to the patient’s health.”
I find two points striking about this case: (1) The allegation that this physician “convinced” people to undergo spine surgery; and (2) The fact that the hospital settled for $4.1 million when no fraud existed or was alleged, only questions as to medical necessity, which is subjective.
As to the first, I am imagining my doctor. I am imagining that I have horrible, chronic back pain. My doctor recommends spinal surgery. There is no way, at all, ever, in this universe, that any doctor would be able to convince me to undergo surgery if I did not want surgery. Period. Who allows themselves to be peer pressured into surgery? Not to knock on my own profession, but I have a sneaky suspicion that this allegation was concocted by the plaintiffs’ attorney(s) and the plaintiffs responded, “Oh, you are right. I was persuaded.”
As to the second…Why did the hospital settle for such a high amount? Couldn’t the hospital have gone to trial and convinced a jury that Dr. Durrani’s surgeries were, in fact, reasonable and/or appropriate, based on evidence-based clinical standards of care?
According to the Magic 8 Ball, “signs point to yes.” Why cave at such a large number where no fraud was alleged?
Whatever happened to Dr. Durrani because of this whole mess? “Following his arraignment, Durrani allegedly fled the United States and remains a fugitive.”
In sum, based on allegations of questionable medical necessity, not fraud, a hospital paid $4.1 million and a U.S. physician fled into hiding…allegedly.
I question this outcome. I even question whether these types of allegations fall within the False Claims Act.
The False Claims Act holds providers liable for (abridged version):
- knowingly presenting a fraudulent claim to the Government;
- knowingly making a fraudulent record or statement to the Government;
- conspiring to do any of the referenced bullet points;
- having possession of Government money and knowingly delivering less than the amount;
- delivering a certified document intending to defraud the Government without completely knowing whether the information was true;
- knowingly buying or receiving as a pledge of debt, public property from the an employee of the Government who does not have the right to pledge that property;
- knowingly making, using, or causing to be made or used, a false record material to an obligation to pay the Government, or knowingly concealing or decreasing an obligation to pay the Government.
I see nothing in the False Claims Act punishing a provider for rendering services that, perhaps, may not be medically necessary.
I actually find questions of medical necessity to be easily defensible. After all, who do we look to for determinations of what are reasonable and/or appropriate services, based on evidence-based clinical standards of care?
Sure, some physicians may have conflicting views as to what is medically necessary. I see it all the time in court. One expert witness physician testifies that the service was medically necessary and another, equally as qualified, physician testifies to the contrary.
Unless I’m missing something (here, folks, is my “CYA”), I just do not understand why allegations of questionable medical necessity caused an U.S. physician to become a fugitive and a hospital to settle for $4.1 million.
It’s as if the hospital shook the Magic 8 Ball and asked whether it would be able to defend itself and received:
A new CMS proposal could transform durable medical equipment (DME) Medicare reimbursements to hospitals. The proposal, if adopted, would implement a mandatory bundled Medicare reimbursement for hip and knee replacements or lower extremity joint replacements (LEJRs).
CMS has proposed this change to be piloted in 75 metropolitan areas prior to being implemented nationwide.
This mandatory bundled Medicare reimbursement will be unprecedented, as, thus far, CMS has only implemented voluntary bundled reimbursement rates. However, CMS has stated that its goal is to have at least 50% of all Medicare fee-for-service reimbursement to be paid under an alternative payment model by 2018, and, in order to meet this objective, CMS will need to implement more mandatory alternative payment models.
Another first is that CMS proposes that hospitals bear the brunt of the financial risk. To date, CMS has not targeted a type of health care provider as being a Guinea pig for new ideas, unlike the other proposed and implemented Bundled Payments for Care Improvement (BPCI) initiative where there are many types of providers that can participate and bear risks.
Will this affect NC hospitals?
Of the 75 metropolitan areas chosen as “test sites” for the new bundled payment plan, 3 are located in NC.
3. Durham-Chapel Hill
Apparently, CMS believes that Durham and Chapel Hill are one city, but you got to give it to them…by hyphenating Durham and Chapel Hill, CMS gets both Duke and UNC health systems to participate in the mandatory trial. Other large metro areas included in the trial are Los Angeles, New York City, and Miami.
LEJRs are the most frequent surgeries in the Medicare population. The average Medicare expenditures for LEJRs, including surgery, hospitalization, and recovery, can range from $16,500 to $33,000.
The mandatory bundled reimbursement will become effective January 2, 2016; however, the hospitals will not carry the financial risk until January 1, 2017. So, hospitals, you got a year and a half to figure it out!!
What exactly will this bundled reimbursement rate include?
Answer: Everything from an inpatient admission billed under MS DRG 469 or 470 until 90 days following discharge.
And we are talking about everything.
Thus, you will be reimbursed per “Episode of Care,” which includes:
“All related items and services paid under Medicare Part A and Part B for all Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries, including physicians’ services, inpatient hospital service, readmissions (subject to limited exceptions), skilled nursing facility services, durable medical equipment, and Part B drugs.”
What should you do if you are a hospital so graciously selected to participate?
1. Assess your protocol as to discharging patients. Where do your patients go after being discharged?
2. Determine whether you want to partner with any critical care facilities, skilled nursing agencies, or home health agencies.
3. Assess your current reimbursement rates and analyze what current delivery patterns must be revamped in order to maintain profitability.
4. Determine future care management and clinical reprogram needs.
5. Analyze ways to provide more efficient delivery components.
6. Communicate with your DME vendors. Discuss ways to decrease spending and increase efficiency.
7. Plan all ways in which you will follow the patient after discharge through the 90 day period.
8. Consult your attorney.
If you would like to comment on the proposed rule, you have until September 8, 2015 at 5:00pm.
AZ Supreme Court Holds AZ Legislators Have Standing to Challenge AZ Law, But Media Mischaracterizing the Lawsuit
You know the old adage, “Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see?” –Benjamin Franklin.
Well the old adage still holds true, especially when it comes to journalists and the media interpreting and reporting on lawsuits that deal with Medicaid laws, and which, perhaps, only an infinitesimal, ancillary aspect may touch the issue of Medicaid expansion.
Even if the lawsuit will not impact Medicaid expansion, journalists and the media hype the lawsuits as “conservatives challenging Obamacare yet again,” which mischaracterizes the actual lawsuit.
It seems that the media have become so accustomed to polarizing the topic of Medicaid expansion that reporters seem incapable of truly assessing the issues objectively and reporting accordingly. This has happened recently when the AZ Supreme Court rendered a decision December 31, 2014, regarding legal standing, not the constitutionality of Medicaid expansion as many journalists report. Biggs, et al. v. Hon. Cooper, et al.
The Arizona Supreme Court only decided that 36 legislators have the legal standing to challenge the passage of House Bill 2010, which was signed into law as A.R.S. § 36-2901.08.
What is A.R.S. § 36-2901.08?
For starters, A.R.S. stands for Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS). For those of you who missed “Schoolhouse Rock” as a child, a statute is a law that is enacted by the legislative body and which governs the state. Statutes are considered “black letter law” and should be interpreted on their face value and plain meaning.
The content of 36-2901.08 allows the State of Arizona to expand Medicaid. In addition to expanding Medicaid, 35-2901.08 assesses a levy on hospitals to aid in funding the expansion of Medicaid.
36 Arizona legislators voted against 36-2901.08. It passed by a simple majority and was signed into law. The 36 legislators, who voted against the bill, brought a lawsuit to enjoin the statute from being applied or enacted. The State of Arizona’s position is that the 36 legislators lack the legal standing to bring the lawsuit.
Here are the issues in the legislators’ case, BIGGS ET AL. v. HON. COOPER ET AL.:
1. Do the 36 legislators have the standing to bring an injunctive action enjoining Arizona from carrying out 36-2901.08?
2. If the answer to #1 is yes, then have the 36 legislators proven that 36-2901.08 was passed in violation of the AZ Constitution?
I’ve read a number of articles from journalists covering this matter who mischaracterize the Biggs lawsuit as a lawsuit brought by the Arizona legislators, predominantly Republicans, asking the Arizona Supreme Court to strike statute 36-2901.08 because the expansion of Medicaid is unconstitutional, or “challenging Governor Jan Brewer’s Medicaid expansion plan,” or “challenging the legality of the state’s Medicaid expansion…”
These journalists are mischaracterizing the Arizona Supreme Court’s opinion. And I am not talking about journalists for small, local papers are making these mistakes…the above quotations are from “The New York Times” and “The Associated Press.”
So, let’s discuss the true, correct ramifications of the Arizona Supreme Court opinion in Biggs…
First, the Biggs opinion does not hold that Medicaid expansion in Arizona or elsewhere is unconstitutional…nor does it decide whether Medicaid expansion in Arizona is invalid on its face.
The opinion, rendered December 31, 2014, only holds that the 36 legislators have the legal standing to bring the lawsuit…there is no holding as to constitutionality of Medicaid expansion, despite so many journalists across America stating it so.
What is standing?
Standing, or locus standi, is the capacity of a party to bring suit in court. This is not a question of whether a person is physically capable of bringing a lawsuit, but whether the person prove that he or she has sustained or will sustain a direct injury or harm and that the harm is redressable (or can be fixed or set right by the lawsuit).
The issue on the Supreme Court level in Arizona is only the narrow issue of whether the 36 legislators have standing. Period.
The Arizona Supreme Court held that the 36 legislators do possess the requisite legal standing in order to bring the lawsuit.
Now, the case will be remanded (sent to a lower court), in this instance, to the Superior Court, for a new fact-finding trial now that the issue of standing has been resolved. In other words, at the lower superior court level, the ref (judge) made a call that the football players on the team (36 legislators) were ineligible to play NCAA football (poor grades, were red-shirted last year), and the alleged ineligible players appealed the decision all the way up. Now the NCAA (AZ Supreme Court) has determined that the players are eligible and the game will resume.
Again, despite the rhetoric put forth by numerous widespread journalists, the 36 legislators are not merely challenging Arizona Medicaid expansion on its face.
Instead, the Arizona Constitution requires that certain Acts that increase state revenues must pass the legislature by a supermajority vote. See Ariz. Const. art. 9, § 22(A).
Remember from the beginning of this blog that 36-2901.08 was passed by a simple majority.
The 36 legislators argue that the assessment of a levy on Arizona hospitals constitute an Act that requires a supermajority vote, which, obviously would require more than a straight 50% approval.
So the 36 legislators’ lawsuit in AZ is about whether 36-2901.08 needs a supermajority or simple majority to vote it into law.
Not whether Medicaid expansion is constitutional.
Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see…especially when it comes to journalists and media reporting on lawsuits regarding Medicaid rules and regulations.
Proposed Federal Legislation Will Provide Relief to Hospitals and Medicare Patients in Need of Post-Acute Care
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) announced that the new RAC contracts in North Carolina should be ready by the end of the year. This means that, next year, RAC audits on hospitals and other providers will significantly increase in number. Get prepared, providers!!
However, there is proposed federal legislation that could protect hospitals and Medicare patients if passed.
Hypothetical: You present yourself to a hospital. The hospital keeps you in observation for 1 day. You are then formally admitted to the hospital as an inpatient for 2 more days. Under Medicare rules, will Medicare now cover your post-acute care in a skilled nursing facility (SNF)?
Answer: No. Observation days in hospitals do not count toward the Medicare 3-day requirement.
On November 19, 2014, Congressman Kevin Brady introduced draft legislation that would allow hospital observation stays to count toward establishing Medicare eligibility for post-acute services, as well as improve and supervise the RAC program.
You are probably wondering…Why would a hospital keep me in observation for a full day without admitting me as an inpatient when hospitals are reimbursed at a significantly higher rate for inpatient versus outpatient?
Answer: To avoid RAC recoupments.
In recent years, recovery audit contractors (RACs) have been exceedingly aggressive in post payment review audits in challenging hospital claims for short, inpatient stays. The RACs are motivated by money, and all of the RACs are compensated on a contingency basis, which leads to overzealous, sometimes, inaccurate audits. Here in North Carolina, Public Consulting Group (PCG) retains 11.5% of collected audits, and Health Management Systems (HMS) retains 9.75%. See my blog: “NC Medicaid Extrapolation Audits: How Does $100 Become $100,000? Check for Clusters!”
Why have RACs targeted short-stay admissions in hospitals? As mentioned, one-day inpatient stays are paid significantly more than similar outpatient stays. Because of the financial incentives, RACs often focus audits on whether the short-stay is appropriate because this focus will yield a larger overpayment. As a result, hospitals become hesitant to admit patients as an “inpatient” status and, instead, keep the patient in outpatient observation for longer periods of time.
Keeping a person in observation status rather than admitting the person could impact the person’s health and well-being, but it will also impact whether a Medicare patient can receive post-acute care in a SNF (or, rather, whether Medicare will pay for it).
In order for a Medicare patient to receive covered, skilled nursing care after a hospital stay, Medicare requires a 3-day inpatient stay. With the onslaught of RAC audits, hospitals become leery to admit a person as an inpatient. When hospitals are tentative about admitting people, it can adversely affect a person’s post-acute care services.
To give you an idea of how overzealous these RACs are when it comes to auditing Medicare providers, there are over 800,000 pending Medicare appeals. That means that, across the country, RACs and other auditing companies have determined that over 800,000 providers and hospitals that accept Medicare were improperly overpaid for services rendered due to billing errors, etc. Over 800,000 providers and hospitals disagree with the audit results and are appealing. Now, obviously, all 800,000 appeals are hospitals appealing audits findings short-stay admissions not meeting criteria, but enough of them exist to warrant Congressman Brady’s proposed bill.
The proposed bill will significantly impact RAC audits of short-stay admissions in hospitals. But the proposed bill will also extend the current short moratorium on RAC audits on short-stay admissions in hospitals. Basically, the RACs became so overzealous and the Medicare appeals backlog became so large that Congress placed a short moratorium on RACs auditing short-stay admissions under the two-midnight rule through the end of March 2015. The proposed bill will lengthen the moratorium just in time for NC’s new RACs to begin additional hospital audits.
The moral of the story is…you get too greedy, you get nothing…
Remember “The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs?”
A man and his wife owned a very special goose. Every day the goose would lay a golden egg, which made the couple very rich. “Just think,” said the man’s wife, “If we could have all the golden eggs that are inside the goose, we could be richer much faster.” “You’re right,” said her husband, “We wouldn’t have to wait for the goose to lay her egg every day.” So, the couple killed the goose and cut her open, only to find that she was just like every other goose. She had no golden eggs inside of her at all, and they had no more golden eggs.
Too much greed results in nothing.
Similar to the husband and wife who killed the goose who laid the golden eggs, overzealous and inaccurate audits cause Congress to propose a temporary moratorium on RACs conducting audits on short-term hospital stays until the reimbursement rates are implemented within the same proposed bill (which, in essence will lengthen the moratorium until the rates within the bill are implemented, which also includes additional methods to settle RAC disputes).
The proposed bill, entitled, “The Hospitals Improvements for Payment Act of 2014,” (HIP) would revamp the way in which short hospital stays are reimbursed and how observation days are counted toward Medicare’s 3-day rule for post-acute care; thereby alleviating these painful hospital audits for short inpatient stays. Remember my blog: “Medicare Appeals to OMHA Reaches 15,000 Per Week, Yet Decisions Take Years; Hospital Association Sues Over Medicare Backlog.”
HIP would create a new payment model called the Hospital Prospective Payment System (HPPS) that would apply to short-term hospital stays.
What is a “short stay?” According to the proposed bill, a short stay is a: (1) stay that is less than 3 days; (2) stay that has a national average length of stay less than 3 days; or (3) stay that is “among the most highly ranked discharges that have been denied for reasons of medical necessity.”
Proposed HIP would also require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish a new base rate of payment, which will be calculated by blending the base operating rate for short stays and an equivalent base operating rate for overnight hospital outpatient services.
The draft bill would also repeal the 0.2 percent ($200 million per year) reduction that CMS implemented with the two-midnight rule, which is the standard that presumes hospital stays are reasonable if the stay covers two midnights.
The proposed bill also mandates more government supervision as to the RACs.
This proposed bill comes on the cusp of an increased amount of RAC audits in NC on hospitals. As previously discussed, our new RAC contracts will be awarded before the end of this year. So our new RACs will come in with the new year…
The moral of the story?
Expect hospital RAC audits to increase dramatically in the next year, unless this bill is passed.
Medicare Appeals to OMHA Reaches 15,000 Per Week, Yet Decisions Take Years; Hospital Association Sues Over Medicare Backlog
When you are a health care provider and make the business determination to accept Medicare or Medicaid, you are agreeing to deal with certain headaches. Low reimbursement rates and more regulations than you can possibly count make accepting Medicare and Medicaid a daunting experience. Throw in some pre- and post-payment review audits, some inept contractors, and dealing with the government, in general, and you have a trifecta of terrible to-dos.
But having to “pay back” (by reimbursement withholding) an alleged overpayment before an appeal decision is rendered is not a headache which hospitals have agreed to take, says the American Hospital Association. And it said so very definitively, in the form of a Complaint in the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia
In both Medicaid and Medicare audits, if you get audited and are told to pay back XX dollars, you have a right to appeal that determination. Obviously, with Medicare, you appeal on the federal level and with Medicaid, you appeal to the state level. But the two roads to appeal (the state and federal) are not identical. Robert Frost once said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” However,the Medicare appeal route is NOT the route less traveled by.
As of February 12, 2014, over 480,000 Medicare appeals were pending for assignment to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), with 15,000 new appeals filed each week. In December 2013, HHS Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA) announced a moratorium on assignment of provider appeals to ALJs for at least the next two years, and possibly longer. The average wait-time for a hearing is approximately 24 months, but will undoubtedly increase quickly due to the moratorium. A decision would not come until later. And all the while the parties are waiting, the provider’s reimbursements will be withheld until the alleged overpayment amount is met. Literally, a Medicare appeal could take 3-5 years.
The American Hospital Association is fed up. And who can blame them? On May 22, 2014, the American Hospital Association (AHA) filed a Complaint in the United States District Court in the District of Columbia against Kathleen Selebius, in her official capacity as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), complaining that HHS is noncompliant with federal statutory law because of the Medicare appeal backlog. I am not surprised by AHA’s Complaint; I am only surprised that it took this long for a lawsuit. I am also surprised that more providers, other than hospitals, are not taking action.
AHA is requesting relief under the Mandamus Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1361. The Mandamus Act allows a court to compel an officer or employee of the United States or any agency thereof to perform a duty owed. In this case, the AHA is saying that HHS has a statutory duty to resolve Medicare appeals within 90 days. So, AHA is asking the district court to compel HHS to resolve Medicare appeals by not later than the end of the 90-day period beginning on the date a request for hearing has been timely filed.
And, here, I am obliged to insert a quick, two thumbs-up for our very own Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) in NC for its handling of Medicaid appeals. If you file a contested case at OAH, it will not take 3-5 years.
AHA’s lawsuit is significant because AHA does not restrict the relief requested to only hospital Medicare appeals. AHA requests that the District Court “enter a declaratory judgment that HHS’s delay in adjudication of Medicare appeals violates federal law.” If granted, I would assume that this declaratory judgment would impact all Medicare providers. The only way to ensure all providers are covered by this decision is for all providers to either (1) file a separate action (to include damages, which is not included in AHA’s action for some reason); or (2) to join AHA’s action (and forego damages), but its impact will be broad. I am not sure why AHA did not seek damages; the time value of money is a real damage…the non-ability for the hospitals to invest in more beds because their money is stuck at HHS is a real damage…the loss of the interest on the withheld money, which is obviously benefiting the feds, is a real damage.
AHA’s request is not dissimilar to an arrested individual’s right to a speedy trial. During a criminal trial, the defendant remains incarcerated. Therefore, because we believe our liberty is so important, the defendant has a right to a speedy trial. That way, if he or she is innocent, the defendant would have spent the least number of days imprisoned.
With a Medicare audit appeal, HHS begins immediately withholding reimbursements until the alleged overpayment amount is met, even though through the appeal, that overpayment will most likely be decreased quite substantially. Apparently, across the nation, the percent of overturned Medicare audits through appeal is around 72%, but I could not find out whether the 72% represents ANY amount overturned or the entire 100% of the audit being overturned. Because, in my personal experience, 99.9% of Medicare appeals have SOME reduction in the alleged amount (I would have said 100%, but we are taught not to use definitive remarks as attorneys).
Because the provider’s Medicare money is withheld based on an allegation of an overpayment, the fact that the cases are backlogged at the ALJ level is financially distressing for any provider.Even without the backlog, Medicare appeals take longer than Medicaid appeals. In Medicare, there is four-step appeal process. Going before the ALJ is the 3rd level.
First, a Medicare appeal begins with the Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) for redetermination. The MAC must render a redetermination decision within sixty days.
If unsuccessful, a provider can appeal the MAC’s decision to a Qualified Independent Contractor (“QIC”) for reconsideration. QICs must render a decision within sixty days.
Provided that the amount in controversy is greater than $140 (for calendar year 2014), the next level, and where the backlog begins, is at the level of appeal to an ALJ. The ALJ is required both to hold a hearing and to render a decision within ninety days, which is not happening.
Hence, AHA’s lawsuit. Hopefully AHA will be successful, because a backlog of Medicare appeals at the ALJ level doesn’t help anyone. And audits are not going away.
I attended a Women in Leadership conference the other day. The keynote speaker asked for us to come up with a one sentence mantra or mission statement that we would use to describe our purpose in life. I had never thought about what my life purpose is…my career?..being a mom?….being a wife?
As a woman, I was torn. Was I a bad mom if I thought my “purpose of being” was my career? Do all women feel this? Was I a bad wife if I thought my “purpose of being” was my career? Does my career define me? I decided that what defines me are the indirect consequences of my career? (i.e., those who benefit from my advocacy, but could never hire me).
So my mission statement came out on paper as: I am here in order to advocate for the voiceless.
I have a rare opportunity with my career choice to indirectly help Medicaid recipients (the voiceless) by serving the providers who serve recipients. Obviously, Medicaid recipients cannot afford me or any other attorney. But, by serving those that serve recipients, indirectly I am serving recipients. For a more detailed explanation why I love my job, see my blog on Why I Have the Most Rewarding Career.
Sometimes, however, my job feels like I am David fighting Goliath. No…the flea on David’s shoe while he is fighting Goliath.
In my own head, I have always felt that changing government policy (fighting DHHS) is a true David and Goliath story.
Which, finally, brings me to my point. For those of you who have been reading my blogs, how many times have I blogged about MCOs not providing medically necessary mental heath care services??? Or Medicaid recipients being incarcerated or hospitalized because the MCOs were denying mental heath care services? But never have I written that DHHS is not providing the medically necessary mental heath care services, quite frankly, because DHHS has stood back and allowed the MCOs to run rampant.
Since the inception of the MCOs statewide, in my opinion and from what I see every day, the MCOs have increasingly taken more and more steps to deny more services, terminate more provider contracts, and recoup more money from providers. And DHHS has taken less and less steps to supervise, oversee or manage the MCOs. By the MCOs increasingly having a “I can do what I want attitude,” and DHHS increasingly having a “I can’t tell an MCO what to do” attitude, when it comes to the MCOs, the MCOs’ power has grown while DHHS’ ability to manage the MCOs has shrunk. Thus, in the behavioral health care world, the MCOs have morphed into the Goliaths. DHHS is an onlooker, and I am still the flea on David’s shoe.
Thereby creating a counterintuitive situation in which Sec. Wos is David and the MCOs are the Goliath. (Normally DHHS would be Goliath).
I have written approximately 230 blogs. (really???). I would wager a guess that over half of my blog topics have been MCOs denying medically necessary mental health services or MCOs reaping monetary rewards for terminating provider Medicaid contracts or denying services to Medicaid recipients.
The flea on the shoe of David fighting Goliath.
But….perhaps….last week….the flea was noticed.
Last week the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) (actually, Secretary Aldona Wos) announced a new mental health, substance abuse effort.
What is that new effort?
Sec. Wos announced, what she called the “Crisis Solutions Initiative.” “DHHS estimated that there were 150,000 visits to emergency rooms in the state last year for addition-related issues or psychiatric conditions.” See The Progressive Pulse blog. Remember my blog, “Prisons and Emergency Rooms: Our New Mental Health Care Providers?”
Sec. Wos, in a written statement, states “With today’s announcement, we begin a focused, long-term effort to ensure that individuals and families who are experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis know where to turn for the help they need. In turn, we can begin to reduce the tremendous burden that these issues place on hospital emergency departments and law enforcement.”
OMG…did she read my blog???? (And even more crazy….and agree???????)
Whether it was my blog, true statistics brought to her attention, or an epiphany, it does not matter. Bravo, Sec. Wos, but, please follow through.
The fact of the matter is if Sec. Wos wants to “reduce the burden on hospital ERs and law enforcement” AND truly provide Medicaid recipients with mental health/substance abuse issues, Sec. Wos will have to take on the MCOs head-on. Grab the bull by the horns. Pony-up. Put your big, boy pants on. Just do it! (Nike). Buck up…against the MCOs. The Goliaths will have to be defeated.
Here a little secret: The MCOs have monetary incentive to deny medically necessary mental health services….WHAT???? Shut the front door!!!
Let me explain:
The managed care organizations (MCOs) in NC are managing behavioral health care services for Medicaid recipients. However, the MCOs are pre-paid. What does that matter? It’s all about the money.
For example, a Medicaid recipient suffers schizophrenia with auditory and visual hallucinations. (We will call him Bill). Bill’s psychiatrist, after an assessment, requests assertive community treatment team services (ACTT), which is an extremely high-level mental health service (and very expensive). The MCO denies ACTT services based on “failing to exhaust lesser intensive services” (which is NOT a criterion for entrance criteria, but DHHS is not supervising or managing the MCOs, so who cares whether the MCOs follow DHHS policy). Bill becomes incarcerated. Yes, it is more expensive for tax payers to pay for Bill’s incarceration versus the community based services requested, but it is cheaper for the MCO. The MCO does not pay the prison for Bill’s room and food; tax payers do. The MCO is successful in keeping its money. Similarly, Bill becomes hospitalized. The hospital admits Bill into Butner or Holly Hill. Sure it is more expensive for tax payers to pay for Bill’s stay at Butner or Holly Hill, but it is cheaper for the MCO. The MCO does not pay Butner or Holly Hill; the tax payers do. The MCO is successful in keeping its money.
But, according to the Press Release from DHHS, Sec. Wos wants to stop the MCOs from pushing the mentally ill to prisons and emergency rooms. But in order to stop the MCOs, she will have to stop the Goliaths (MCOs).
Interestingly, everyone always thinks of David as the underdog to Goliath and, therefore, is surprised/excited when David beats Goliath. In reality, according to “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants,” a book by Malcolm Gladwell, David was not the underdog. According to Gladwell, Goliath suffered from acromegaly or, more commonly known as, gigantism, which can cause people to grow to abnormal heights. People who suffer from acromegaly, usually, also suffer other symptoms, such as poor eyesight and mobility. Yes, Goliath looked scary and big, but, in reality, he may have been slow and somewhat blind. Remember his words to David? “Come to me so that I may feed your body to the birds of the air…” “Come to me.” As in, I cannot see you yet. Come closer.
Furthermore, David was a trained “slinger.” As in, the person in battle back then who did not wear armor and who became skilled at slinging rocks at high speeds to kill opponents. Imagine a major league baseball player with a fast ball of 100mph throwing the ball directly at your head. David was a shepherd, and he became a master with the sling to kill the wild life attacking his sheep. Back in biblical times, being large, massive and heavily armored against a master slinger would be like bringing a butter knife to a gun fight. Goliath had no chance. David was smart. Sec. Wos will need to be smart too, maybe even a master slinger.
A portion of the DHHS press release reads, “As a part of this initiative, a Crisis Solutions Coalition will be created to address the inefficiencies that currently exist surrounding crisis services in the state. Secretary Wos has charged Dave Richard, director of the DHHS Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disability and Substance Abuse Services, with leading this coalition. Patient advocates, along with leaders from healthcare, government, and law enforcement communities will be invited to join the coalition to help:
- Recommend and establish community partnerships to strengthen the continuum of care for mental health and substance abuse services.
- Promote education and awareness of alternative community resources to the use of emergency departments.
- Make recommendations related to data sharing to help identify who, when and where people in crisis are served, and what the results of those services are.
- Create a repository of evidence-based practices and provide technical assistance to Local Management Entities/Managed Care Organizations (LME/MCOs), law enforcement and providers on how to respond to crisis scenarios.
- Recommend legislative, policy and funding changes to help break down barriers associated with accessing care.
- Assist with the creation of LME-MCO Local Business Plans to provide a road map for mental health investments in the community.”
Hospitals are ecstatic and they should be! “I want to thank Governor McCrory, Secretary Wos and the Department of Health and Human Services for their commitment to this issue,” said Dr. Bill Roper, CEO of UNC Health Care. “We look forward to partnering with you and the community to solve the mental health problems facing our state.”
The prisons should be ecstatic too.
Herein lies the problem…the MCOs are, most likely, NOT ecstatic. Sec. Wos, by announcing this crisis solution, has placed her hand in the MCOs’ cookie jars.
Goliath will challenge David. “Come to me.”
Can you imagine the backlash by the MCOs if Sec. Wos actually followed through with this crisis solutions? In order to follow through with the crisis solutions, Sec. Wos will have to force the MCOs to authorize medically necessary mental health care services. With more services authorized, there will be a greater need for providers who accept Medicaid; thus reducing the number of terminations of provider’s Medicaid contracts.
Because if Sec. Wos wants, as she stated in the Press Release, to stop the revolving doors at the hospitals for the mentally ill, Sec. Wos has to take on the MCOs. DHHS will have to do its job and supervise/manage the MCOs.
But can David be smart enough? Or will the Goliaths prevail?
“Come to me.”