Blog Archives

NC Medicaid: Freedom of Choice of Providers? Why Bother? Providers Are Fungible!…Right?

I found some interesting language in the 1915(b) Waiver last week (well, interesting to me).

What is the 1915(b) Waiver? In the simplest of terms, with the 1915(b) Waiver, NC has asked the federal government for an exception to certain mandatory statutes.  In order to request the exception or “waiver” of certain federal statutes, NC had to draft our 1915(b) Waiver and promise the federal government that, despite the fact that NC is not following certain federal statutes, that certain things about Medicaid will not change.  Even though we may have waived the federal statute requiring it.

For example, in our 1915(b) Waiver, NC asks to waive Medicaid recipients’ “freedom of choice of provider” provision.  As in, federal statute requires the states to allow a Medicaid recipient to have the freedom to choose whatever or whomever provider that recipient desires.  (Kind of like…”You like your doctor? You can keep your doctor!”)

Well, NC had to waive the freedom of choice of provider because the MCOs in NC are jurisdictional.  For example, if Dr. Norwood provides Medicaid services in Durham, there is no reason that she should have to contract with Smokey Mountain Center (SMC).  And because Dr. Norwood does not contract with SMC, a Medicaid recipient cannot choose to receive services from Dr. Norwood, which, obviously, limits Medicaid recipients’ freedom of choice of provider.

The thinking behind the waiver of Medicaid recipients’ freedom of choice of provider is that (in my opinion), realistically, even if we did not waive the provision mandating the freedom of choice of provider, how likely is it that a Medicaid recipient residing in Asheville would choose to receive services from a Medicaid provider in Durham, NC? Most likely, the Medicaid recipients in Asheville have never heard of the Medicaid providers in Durham.  So…waive the freedom of choice….it’s harmless.

However, in order for the feds to allow this waiver of the freedom of choice of provider, NC had to promise something.

Our promise is found in the 1915(b) Waiver.  The language of our promise reads, ”

1915(b)

Why is this important?

Because it is not true.  Our promise that we made to the federal government in order for the federal government to allow us to implement our managed care system for our mental health, substance abuse, and developmentally disabled population is not true.

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

If the Waiver were Pinocchio, its nose would be circling the earth.

It reminds me of my grandma.  Grandma is the sweetest, most wonderful grandma in the world.  She and my grandpa lived in a home in Cary, NC for over five decades.  When grandpa passed and grandma’s health began to decline, grandma decided to sell her home and move into an assisted living facility.  Well, grandma’s home was near and dear to all 5 children’s hearts, as well as all 15+ grandchildren’s hearts (I know…I have a huge family).  I, personally, had so many wonderful memories there (fishing in the lake behind the house, playing pool and ping-pong in the basement, climbing up and down the laundry chute acting as if it were a secret passage way, and grandpa’s amazing tomato sandwiches, gumbo and cornbread).

Anyway, the point is that when grandma sold the house, there was a stipulation in the contract.  The buyer promised to not bulldoze the house and build a new home.  You see, this neighborhood was old…one of the oldest in Cary.  So the homes were built in the 70s.  It had become “posh” to buy an older home in this neighborhood because the lots were so large and the location was so great and to simply flatten the old house for a new one.

Well, grandma wouldn’t have it.  There was too much nostalgia in the home for some buyer to bulldoze the home.  So the contract to sell the house stipulated that the buyer would not bulldoze the house.  So grandma sold the home.

And the buyer bulldozed the home.

Of all the low-down, dirty tricks!!! To lie in a contract to my grandma! Needless to say, grandma was very upset.  She felt that a piece of her life vanished, which, obviously, it did.

Well, grandma has a number of attorneys in the family (including me).  So grandma’s kids began to talk about a lawsuit.  But grandma said that even if she sued the buyer that it would not bring back the house.  Money could not replace the memories at grandma’s house.

If I am remembering correctly, this new house was built 5-6 years ago. Maybe more.  I pass the neighborhood all the time.  To date, I still have not driven to see the house that replaced grandma’s house.  I don’t think I could take it.

What is worse than lying to a grandmother about her home?

In my opinion? Lying to the feds about the freedom of choice of Medicaid provider that our Medicaid recipients have here in NC.  Talk about a vulnerable population…our most needy citizens, but add to the vulnerability mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and/or developmentally disablement.  And, now, let’s lie about their freedom of choice.

So where am I getting my allegation that Medicaid recipients do not have “at least enough choice in individual providers as they had in pre-reform non-managed care?”

Normally I only blog as to facts that I can corroborate with some research.  However, this blog may not be corroborated by any independent research.  My allegation is based on my own experience as a Medicaid attorney, conversations with my clients, emails that I have received from providers across the state, memos I have read from the MCOs, and the very real fact that the MCOs are terminating (or not renewing) hundreds of provider contracts across the state.

For the sake of argument, let’s say I am right.  That Medicaid recipients do not have at least the same freedom of choice of provider as pre-MCOs.  What then?

If I am right, this is the situation in which we find ourselves today.  So what is happening today?

As the MCOs determine that fewer providers are needed within a catchment area, the MCOs are refusing to contract with “redundant and unnecessary” providers.  But are these providers really unnecessary?  Really redundant?  Are we to believe that mental health providers are fungible?  Meaning that one provider is just as good as the next…that nothing makes some provider “stick out?”  Are providers fungible like beach balls are fungible?

Let’s test that theory.

Abby is a suicidal teenager.  She has suffered from schizophrenia with auditory hallucinations since she was a child.  For the last six years, Abby has seen Dr. Norwood.  It took some time, but, eventually, Abby began to trust Dr. Norwood.  Dr. Norwood has developed a close relationship with Abby, even telling Abby to call her 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if she is in crisis.  Dr. Norwood resides in Durham, so Alliance Behavioral Healthcare (Alliance) is her MCO, and Dr. Norwood provides Abby with outpatient behavioral therapy (OBT).  But, in addition to the weekly therapy, Dr. Norwood also provides Abby with a sense of security.  Abby knows that, if needed, Dr. Norwood would be there for here under any circumstances.  In addition, Abby trusts Dr. Norwood because she is a female.  Abby has an intense distrust of males.  When Abby was 9, her step-father raped her over and over until child protective services stepped in, but not before Abby suffered 8 broken bones and has lost the ability to reproduce forever.

Then, Alliance held its RFPs a couple of months ago.  It’s “tryout.”

And Dr. Norwood was not awarded a contract with Alliance.  Dr. Norwood has no idea why Alliance did not award her a contract.  Only that, according to Alliance, Alliance has sufficient number of providers providing OBT within its catchment area and Dr. Norwood’s services are no longer needed.

Because mental health care providers are fungible, right?

Who cares whether Abby receives services from Dr. Norwood? She can get the same exact services from a large corporation…we will call it “Triangle Counseling.” (BTW: If a Triangle Counseling really exists, I apologize.  This is a fictitious company made up for my example).  Triangle Counseling employs 25+ psychiatrists and 30+ counselors.  When a Medicaid recipient is referred to Triangle, Triangle assigns a psychiatrist and a counselor to the recipient.  Oh, and if, for some reason, the Medicaid recipients needs crisis help outside business hours, Triangle provides “tele-care” so the Medicaid recipient can speak to a computer screen on which a person can be seen by a counselor.

Abby is now hospitalized.  Dr. Norwood filed bankruptcy, lost her 30 year+ career, and is receiving monetary support from the state.

I ask you, if Alliance (or any other MCO) has terminated even one provider, hasn’t that MCO restricted Medicaid recipients’ freedom of choice of provider beyond what was contemplated by the Waiver?  Is the clause in our Waiver that “freedom of choice of provider will be the same as before the implementation of MCOs?,” truthful?  What if the MCO has terminated 10 provider contracts?  50?  100? 

Yet, in order to implement the MCO system, we promised the federal government in our 1915(b) Waiver that “consumers have at least as much choice in individual providers as they had in the pre-reform non-managed care environment.”

Fact or fiction?

Are providers fungible?  Because my grandma knows from experience, houses sure are not.

CMS Declares the Payment Structure for the MCOs Violates A-87…”So What Happens Now?”

Hey, everybody!! Anyone miss me?  I feel like I haven’t blogged in forever.  And, the thing is, I am so excited about this blog!! I actually found out about the CMS letter last week, but have had zero time to blog (had a very intense, two-day hearing).  So I apologize if you have already seen the CMS letter…but, for others, read on…

I have to say…I love it when I am right!

In North Carolina, we set up managed care organizations (MCOs) to manage behavioral health care for Medicaid.  For the past year, I have been blogging that the MCOs’ payment arrangement with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is fishy.  These MCOs are pre-paid.  Their profit hinges on spending less.  In order to spend less, the MCOs deny medically necessary services (usually the most expensive) and terminate quality health care providers’ Medicaid contracts.  I mean, come on, why authorize more services and contract with more providers if doing so would directly decrease your profit?

See my blogs: “NC MCOs: The Judge, Jury and Executioner.” Or “How Managed Care Organizations Will be the Downfall of Mental Health in NC.” 

Apparently, I am not the only person concerned with how the MCOs are compensated.

On October 24, 2013, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which is the federal agency charged with overseeing Medicare and Medicaid (as in, if CMS says jump and you accept federal money for Medicaid, you jump) sent correspondence to our Acting Medicaid Director Sandy Terrell. (Remember Carol Steckel abruptly left our Director position, leaving Terrell holding the conch…I bet that conch is getting mighty heavy!).

CMS’ correspondence states that, during its review of NC’s contracts between DHHS and the LME/MCOs, CMS determined an issue.  Specifically, CMS determined that the arrangement between DHHS and the MCOs may be classified as “subgrants or intergovernmental agreements that are subject to the cost principles set forth in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-87 (A-87).”

So what? Who cares if the arrangement between the MCOs and DHHS is classified as a subgrant subject to A-87? Blah…blah….blah….right?

Wrong!

If the MCOs are subject to A-87, then the use of Medicaid funds is limited to “allowable costs.”  Why is that important?  Allowable costs do NOT include….

…..drum roll….

PROFIT!!!!! and other increments above cost.

BOOO…freakin’ YA!

For a rant and rave about the MCOs’ profit, high salaries and expensive health care benefits, see my blog: “NC Taxpayers Demand Accountability as to Behavioral Health Care Medicaid Funds (And That Medicaid Recipients  Reap the Benefit of Such Funds).

If you take away the ability for the MCOs to profit off of our taxpayers’ Medicaid money, then you take away the monetary incentive for the MCOs to deny medically necessary services and to terminate provider contracts.

Know what else you take away? The desire to be an MCO.

So what happens now? Just because CMS wrote a letter to NC saying it does not agree with our payment arrangement with the MCOs, does that mean that we have to immediately stop and desist from paying the MCOs?  No. 

In fact, CMS also states that it “recognize[s] that changing a long-standing delivery system will take time and potentially state legislation.  We know the process begins with a frank discussion of these issues…”

CMS did, however, provide a couple of choices for us (if, in fact, A-87 does apply):

1. Openly procuring behavioral health services and making the counties compete on the same basis as with any other commercial entity; or

2. Comply with A-87 by changing the payment methodology and reimburse only for the cost of services actually rendered  plus administration costs.

I am actually doing the Snoopy dance as you read this.

Herein lies the problem…How many times in the last 10 years, has NC changed the mental health care system?  How many mess-ups?  How many Medicaid recipients have not received medically necessary mental health care service because of NC changing the mental health system over and over?

So what happens now?

On a sidenote, I love North Carolina’s response to CMS.  Over a month after receipt of the CMS letter, on November 27, 2013, DHHS finally responds with a short, 2 paragraph letter signed by Sandy Terrell.  “As you might expect, North Carolina was surprised to receive the letter outlining [CMS’] concerns regarding the cost principles set forth in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-87…”

NC was surprised???

Not I.

I am reminded of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita,” when Eva Peron follows her lover to Buenos Aires only to discover he is married with children.  She has all her belongings in a suitcase, turns from her ex-lover’s home and sings, “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.”

So what happens now
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to
(You’ll get by you always have before)
Where am I going to

Just like Eva Peron, NC had full faith the MCOs, enacted them statewide, and, then, not even a year into the statewide MCO progam…BOOM! The MCOs are married with kids.

So what DOES happen now?

In the short-term, probably nothing.  And, there is a chance that nothing happens in the long-term.  In NC’s response, Ms. Terrell wrote that “[w]e believe we have information to share with CMS that should alleviate those concerns…”

Most likely, Ms. Terrell will explain to CMS how the wonderful MCOs are completely objective and how they save NC millions in Medicaid money…We will see whether CMS drinks DHHS’ Kool-Aid…

If, on the other hand, CMS demands change, in the long-term, there will be great change.

If we go with Door #1…”Openly procuring behavioral health services and making the counties compete on the same basis as with any other commercial entity,” what will that look like?

I believe CMS is envisioning not allowing the MCOs to monopolize their catchment areas.

Here are the MCOs “jurisdictions” today:

MCOs as of October 2013

And more mergers are currently being contemplated.  But, for now, if you live in Mecklenburg county and need behavioral health care services you must go through MeckLINK.  Raleigh?  Alliance is your MCO.  You have no choice of MCOs and must use a provider within the MCO’s catchment area.

The way I understand CMS’ proposal, if you live in Mecklenburg county, you would not have to receive services from or (if you are a provider) have a contract with MeckLINK.  You could, but there would other options as well.  Door #1 is what I call, “Busting up the Baby Bells!”

What about Door #2? “Comply with A-87 by changing the payment methodology and reimburse only for the cost of services actually rendered  plus administration costs.”

For this option, I believe, that the MCOs could remain where they are, but contract to be paid some, sort of, “cost-plus.”  No more…if you do not spend it, it is your profit. Theoretically if the money were not spent, it would be returned to DHHS, or, somehow, kept for additional services.  Bye, bye, monetary incentive to deny services and terminate providers!

Door #2 is what I call, “Busting up the Ponzi scheme!”

No matter which door NC chooses, it has to be better than our current situation with the MCOs.

Ok, I stopped doing the Snoopy dance.

Because, in reality, there will be change.  We do not know what the changes will be.  And, dag on it, change is scary, especially we are talking about changes to mental health services for Medicaid recipients.

As Eva Peron says, “Where [are we] going to?”

Then, if you have seen the motion picture “Evita,” Antonio Banderes sings, “Don’t ask anymore…”

Could NC Hospitals Be the Surprising and Much Needed Advocate for Mentally Ill Medicaid Recipients?

North Carolina has created the perfect storm when it comes to mentally ill…the perfect scenario for disaster.  10…9….8…..7……6…….5……..4………3………..2…………..

From 2001 to 2012, the total population of North Carolina increased from 8,203,734 people to 9,781,022.  Over 1 and a half million more people live here now than twelve years ago.  Which is understandable when you think about all the people relocating here.

The number of NC residents in need of mental health services has increased from 517,447 in 2001 to 613,379 in 2012 (not sure how many are on Medicaid).  However, since 2001, the number of inpatient psychiatric beds has DECREASED by fifty percent (50%), from approximately 1,750 beds to approximately 850 beds.  850 beds!!  Not even enough beds to serve 1/10 of the population in need!!

In the past, it was understandable to decrease the number of psychiatric beds.  NC was doing a fairly decent, not perfect, by any means, but a decent job of providing community-based mental health services to those in need. 

Those days of decent care for mentally ill Medicaid recipients are over.  Instead, we have the perfect storm for utter disaster.

Enter main ingredient of the perfect storm…the managed care organizations (MCOs).  In NC, we moved only behavioral health care to the MCOs.  Basically, if you are on Medicaid and need any type of health care services, besides behavioral health services, you will never come into contact with an MCO.  However, if you suffer from a mental illness, a developmental disability, or a substance abuse problem and rely on Medicaid for insurance, you have encountered the MCOs.

Prior to 2013 (except for the experimental 1st MCO, which was called Piedmont Behavioral Health, but now called Cardinal Innovations), the MCOs did not exist.  Literally, the MCOs have gone “live” this year.  The MCOs are new to being the gatekeepers of mental health services for Medicaid recipients in NC.

Not only do we have these new, inexperienced companies deciding which Medicaid recipients may receive mental health services, but we, in our great wisdom, gave them the monetary incentive to DENY services to recipients and to DENY providers Medicaid contracts, which is the 2nd ingredient for the perfect storm.  Oh yes, we did all that!  The MCOs are prepaid.  So, in theory, the MCOs are taking the burden of risk (i.e., going over budget) off the State and onto themselves.  If the MCOs go over budget, it is on the MCOs to come up with the money.  However, in reality, the MCOs, to save on money and increase profit, are denying medically necessary services and terminating (or not enrolling) quality health care providers.  See my blog “The NC Medicaid Mental Health 10-Ring Circus: How 10 Mini Jurisdictions Will Be the Downfall of Mental Health.”

Enter the 3rd ingredient to the perfect storm…the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Medical Assistance (DMA)’s complete absence of supervision of the MCOs.

The MCOs have full reign and uninhibited authority to deny mental health care services, to terminate Medicaid provider contracts, or to refuse to contract with Medicaid providers with absolutely ZERO repercussions (unless you hire an attorney (not necessarily me) and obtain an injunction) from DMA, from the federal government, from anyone.  See my blog “The MCOs: Judge, Jury, and Executioner.”

[The equation for the perfect storm = the decreased number of psychiatric beds + increase in population + the increase of mentally ill residents + the MCOs + the monetary incentive for MCOs to deny services and not enroll providers + DMA’s complete lack of supervision]

As I am sure you are aware, a week or so ago, Virginia state Senator Creigh Deeds was stabbed multiple times by his son.  Deeds was hospitalized for three days, but his son took his own life after stabbing his father.  According to the media, Deeds’ son, Gus Deeds, suffered from severe mental problems and the day prior to the stabbing, an emergency custody order was sought.  However, a psychiatric bed, reportedly, could not be found.

Sadly, the tragic story of Gus Deeds is too common.  In Modern Healthcare this week, the feature story is called, “No Room for the Mentally Ill.”

The article discusses how the hospitals “are trying to collaborate with other hospitals  to place psychiatric patients in open beds, using separate psychiatric EDs, setting up crisis triage centers, and referring patients to residential treatment centers.” See Modern Healthcare, dated November 18, 2013.

The hospitals may be acting in a self-serving manner.  Most mentally ill patients, who are admitted to the ERs are not paying clients.  The hospitals cannot turn a profit if too many non-paying clients are admitted to the ER.  However, whatever the motivation, I say, thank goodness, and God bless the hospitals’ efforts!

Mentally ill, Medicaid recipients may be the demographic with the LEAST voice of all demographics in existence. 

Sadly, few care about poor people, and even fewer care about poor people suffering with MH/DD/SA. (When I say “care,” I mean will devote time, resources, and energy to them.  I mean hire lobbyists for them, hire attorneys.)

Here, in NC, we are staring into the face of a perfect storm.  If the hospitals can make headway with a bigger voice than those depending on Medicaid with behavioral health issues, God bless the hospitals, whatever the reason for their advocacy.

Because, perhaps, without the hospitals, we could be seeing:

3….2…..1……BOOM!

Public invited to Dec. 5 Medicaid Reform Advisory Group meeting

 
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, December 2, 2013 Contact: news@dhhs.nc.gov
919-855-4840        
 

Raleigh, N.C. – The public is invited to the Medicaid Reform Advisory Group’s first meeting Dec. 5, 2013. The advisory group will collaborate with the Department of Health and Human Services in its development of a detailed plan to reform North Carolina’s Medicaid system. The public is encouraged to attend the meeting and become involved in improving health care in North Carolina while controlling escalating Medicaid costs.

The meeting will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Dec. 5, 2013, at:
The Grill on the Hill
DHHS/Dorothea Dix Campus, behind the McBryde Building

Parking is available off of Whiteside Drive. A map of the DHHS/Dorothea Dix campus is available at http://www.ncdhhs.gov/dsohf/services/dix_map.pdf <http://ncdhhs.us4.list-manage.com/track/click?u=58ec19aaea4630b1baad0e5e4&id=034d4a8058&e=678f6cc5b6> .

The first meeting will help:                           

  • Educate members on reform models in other states
  • Build consensus on principles of reform
  • Outline options for reform

The Medicaid Reform Advisory Group, as instructed by the General Assembly, will obtain broad stakeholder input in a public forum and ensure transparency in the proposal development process. The advisory group will work with DHHS as it explores all options to come up with the best plan for North Carolina, and has three citizens appointed by Governor McCrory, a state representative and senator:

  • Dennis Barry (Guilford County), advisory group chair – Barry is CEO emeritus of Cone Health, a multihospital system serving the Piedmont region of North Carolina.
  • Peggy Terhune (Randolph County) – Terhune is the executive director/CEO of Monarch since 1995. She has worked with people with disabilities for more than 35 years.
  • Richard Gilbert, M.D., M.B.A. (Mecklenburg County) – Dr. Gilbert has served as the chief of staff for Carolinas Medical Center and was the chief of the Department of Anesthesiology for Carolina’s Medical Center for 20 years.
  • Representative Nelson Dollar (Wake) – Appointed by House of Representatives Speaker Thom Tillis.
  • Senator Louis Pate (Lenoir, Pitt, Wayne) – Appointed by Senate President Pro-Tempore Phil Berger.

More information on the governor’s appointees can be found at governor.nc.gov/newsroom/press-releases <http://ncdhhs.us4.list-manage.com/track/click?u=58ec19aaea4630b1baad0e5e4&id=d02b8f54b1&e=678f6cc5b6> .

Since its inception in 1970, the N.C. Medicaid program has evolved into an essential component of the state’s health care system. It currently serves approximately 1.7 million low-income parents, children, seniors and people with disabilities.

The Medicaid Reform Advisory Group will hold additional meetings during which stakeholders will have the opportunity to publicly comment on the reform process. Public notices will be issued with the dates, times and locations.

DHHS will present a reform proposal to the General Assembly no later than March 17, 2014.

Is Sec. Aldona Wos Challenging the Goliath-Like MCOs? Will She Win?

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.

Why?

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.”

Attention: All Medicaid Providers Whose Services Require Prior Authorization: A Way to Increase Revenue and Help Medicaid Recipients…Or…Killing Two Birds with One Stone

Attention: All Medicaid Providers Whose Services Require Prior Authorization

A Way to Increase Revenue and Help Medicaid Recipients

Have you heard the cliché: “Killing two birds with one stone….?”

The phrase is thought to have originated in the early 1600s when slingshots were primarily used for bird hunting.  (BTW: My husband, who is an expert bird hunter (with guns), I am sure, would be able to hit two birds with one stone…he is that good.  In fact, he may have already shot two birds with one bullet).  Anyway, Thomas Hobbs, an English political philosopher, is generally given credit for coining the phrase in 1656, although Ovid has a similar expression in Latin over 2000 years prior.  Killing two birds with one stone generally means achieving two objectives with one action. (Which, obviously, is a good thing).

For our purposes here, killing two birds with one stone means that by undergoing one action (appealing all Medicaid recipients’ denials, terminations, and reductions for services requiring prior authorization) two positive results are achieved:

1. The Medicaid recipients have their denials, terminations, and reductions appealed (or…people who need services may actually get those necessary services); and

2. Your provider company makes more money.

Not all Medicaid services require prior authorization.  But many do.  Many prescription drugs require prior approval.  Certain services during a pregnancy for a Medicaid pregnant woman require prior authorization. In behavioral health care, almost all services require prior authorizations (although there are some unmanaged visits in outpatient behavioral health (OBT) that do not require prior authorization).  Even though other Medicaid services require prior authorization, this blog and NCGS 108D only applies to behavioral health care (because NCGS 108D applies to MCOs and the MCOs only manage behavioral health care).  You should appeal all other denied, terminated, or reduced Medicaid services that require prior authorization, but the appeal process in this blog pertains to behavioral health care.

Why care about Medicaid recipient appeals?

It is indisputable that people start companies to make money (except 501(c) companies).  You’ve heard all the cliches…”Money makes the world go around…” “The lack of money is the root of all evil…” “Money: power at its most liquid…”

We’ve also heard all the cliches…”Money can’t buy happiness…” “I have no money, no resources, no hope. I am the happiest man alive….” “Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.”

Regardless whether you believe that money is a necessary evil or the key to happiness, it is without question that people need money to get by in life.  Therefore, when people create companies, it is, normally, with the intent to make money.

Medicaid providers are no exception.

True, Medicaid reimbursements are crappy.  But, despite the crappy/low Medicaid reimbursements, Medicaid providers still hope to make some profit…and do good. (2 birds…1 stone).

We all want to make money and help Medicaid recipients, right? (I know I do).

So with my “handy dandy” tips in this blog, you, too, can kill two birds with stone. You can do both: make more money and help Medicaid recipients.

Wait, I thought providers could not appeal on behalf of our clients? I have heard this incorrect statement over and over from multiple clients.  It simply is not true.

NCGS 108D(4)(b) states that “[e]nrollees, or network providers authorized in writing to act on behalf of enrollees, may file requests for grievances and LME/MCO level appeals orally or in writing. However, unless the enrollee or network provider requests an expedited appeal, the oral filing must be followed by a written, signed grievance or appeal.” (emphasis added).

You just need the Medicaid recipient’s consent in writing.

Increased Profit AND Providing Medicaid Services to Recipients: Two Birds…One Stone!

First, how would appealing all terminations, denials and reductions for Medicaid services increase profit for you, as a provider?

For terminations and reductions (not initial authorizations), if you appeal, the Medicaid recipients are required to receive maintenance of service (MOS).  This means that, at the very least (even if you lose), if you appeal, you are able to provide services and be reimbursed for services during the appeal process. 

For example, you have a developmentally disabled (DD) Medicaid client, who has received 8 hours/day personal care services (PCS) for the last 4 years.  You submit your yearly plan of care (POC) requesting 8 hours PCS/day per norm.  The managed care organization (MCO) reduces your client’s PCS to 6 hours/day.  If you timely appeal the reduction or termination, the MCO will be required to reimburse for 8 hours PCS/day throughout the appeal process.

NCGS 108D-6(c) states: “Continuation of Benefits. – An LME/MCO shall continue the enrollee’s benefits during the pendency of a LME/MCO level appeal to the same extent required under 42 C.F.R. § 438.420.”

42 C.F.R. 438.420 states that:

“Continuation of benefits. The MCO or PIHP must continue the enrollee’s benefits if—

(1) The enrollee or the provider files the appeal timely;
(2) The appeal involves the termination, suspension, or reduction of a previously authorized course of treatment;
(3) The services were ordered by an authorized provider;
(4) The original period covered by the original authorization has not expired; and
(5) The enrollee requests extension of benefits.

Pay particular attention to subsection (5)…the enrollee must request MOS.  Don’t forget to add that little phrase into the form that you have the enrollee sign to consent to appeal.

MOS allows you to be paid during the appeal AND the Medicaid recipient to receive the medically necessary services during the pendency of the appeal.

Two birds…one stone.

For terminations and reductions, there is no need to ask for an expedited hearing (will discuss momentarily), because with MOS, there is no hurry (the recipient is receiving the needed services and you are getting paid).

So, let’s turn to an initial denial for a Medicaid service that requires prior authorization and the appeal process:

If the MCO denies an initial authorization, the Medicaid recipient is not entitled to MOS.  However, appealing these initial denials are just as important to (a) the recipients; and (b) your profit as appealing the terminations and denials.

But an appeal can takes months and the recipient (assuming medical necessity truly exists) needs the behavioral health care services in order to not decompensate. So how can the appeal help?

Answer: Request an expedited appeal.

NCGS 108D-7 states:

“When the time limits for completing a standard appeal could seriously jeopardize the enrollee’s life or health or ability to attain, maintain, or regain maximum function, an enrollee, or a network provider authorized in writing to act on behalf of an enrollee, has the right to file a request for an expedited appeal of a managed care action no later than 30 days after the mailing date of the notice of managed care action. For expedited appeal requests made by enrollees, the LME/MCO shall determine if the enrollee qualifies for an expedited appeal. For expedited appeal requests made by network providers on behalf of enrollees, the LME/MCO shall presume an expedited appeal is necessary.”

Important: You still have 30 days to appeal.

Even more important: The MCO is required, by statute, to PRESUME an expedited appeal is necessary.

True the General Assembly really gave mentally ill, developmentally disabled, and substance abuse population the shaft when they passed, and McCrory signed, Senate Bill 553, now Session Law 2013-397, by placing the legal burden of proof on the Medicaid recipient in all circumstances (really??), but the small ray of hope is that, at least as it pertains to expedited appeals, the MCO must presume that an expedited appeal is necessary for the well-being of the recipient.

Going back to expedited appeals, the MCO must make “reasonable efforts” (yes, there is too much wiggle room there) to notify the Medicaid recipient/provider of a denial of an expedited appeal within 2 days.  I also believe that is in the best interest of an MCO to authorize expedited appeals, because….could you imagine the implications and legal liability on the MCO if the MCO denies an appeal to be expedited and something horrible happens to the Medicaid recipient as a direct result of the MCO’s refusal to expedite the appeal????  Or, even worse, the recipient harms others as a  result of the appeal not being expedited??? WHOOO HOOOO….talk about bad PR!!!

So, two days to determine whether the MCO will accept the request for an expedited appeal.  How long for a decision?

According to NCGS 108D-7(d), “[i]f the LME/MCO grants a request for an expedited LME/MCO level appeal, the LME/MCO shall resolve the appeal as expeditiously as the enrollee’s health condition requires, and no later than three working days after receiving the request for an expedited appeal. The LME/MCO shall provide the enrollee and all other affected parties with a written notice of resolution by United States mail within this three-day period.”  (emphasis added).

So, basically, if the MCO takes 2 days to decide to accept the expedited appeal, then there is only 1 additional day to determine the results of the appeal.  That is fast…I don’t care who you are!!

If the MCO denies the expedited appeal, then the MCO has 45 days to provide a decision.

Very Important:  Any adverse decision from an MCO is appealable to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).

Ok, recap:  You, as a provider, want to appeal all Medicaid recipient denials, terminations, and reductions for the following two reasons:

1. Increase profitability for your company; and

2. Help the Medicaid recipients by appealing denials, terminations or reductions, and, hopefully, obtaining the medically necessary services for your clients.

Win…win.

2 birds…1 stone.

The Future of Managed Care in Medicaid and the Fear of the Unknown

The unknown.  No one likes the unknown.  Especially people, like me, who try so desperately to maintain control over our lives. 

But the future of Medicaid in North Carolina is unknown.  We have all heard Governor McCrory talk about expanding managed care to all Medicaid services, not just behavioral health care, but for all medical services.  Here in NC, our experience with managed care organizations (MCOs) has not been all sunshine and roses.  So, when we hear…let’s expand the MCO system to all Medicaid services, I am reminded of the feeling I had this past Saturday as I stood on the side of the Wells Fargo building, 30-stories up, facing background, with a harness and a helmet on, when the rappel guy said, “Ok…now lean back and let go…”

OK….so is anyone wondering how I managed rappelling down the 30-story Wells Fargo building downtown Raleigh this past Saturday in the name of Special Olympics North Carolina?

Answer: I DID NOT MANAGE WELL!!!

I do not kid you when I say that I thought that I would enjoy rappelling. I envisioned myself bouncing off the side of the building, laughing, and doing straddle jumps. I envisioned myself getting to the bottom with an adrenaline rush and an immediate need to sign-up for next year’s Over The Edge charity event.

So, what actually happened?  Picture this:

I am standing on the edge of a 30-story building.  I have 20 pounds of equipment attached all around my body.  I am donning a helmet and gloves.  I have never seen any of the equipment that is wrapped around my body.  The pro-rappellers are saying things like “rigger,” “descenders,” and “carabiners.”  They are obviously all hard-core, banging rapellers, which I, most certainly, am not.

In order to get on the ledge of the building, you have to climb up onto the ledge…as in, take your 2 arms and hoist your body up onto the ledge…sit down on your bum with your back to the 30-story view…and, then, completely stand up…. on a ledge… in order to lean back and jump off the building.

If you can envision preparing yourself for a jump off a 30-story building without your heart racing, then you are way cooler than I.

Ever heard the saying, “The first step is the hardest?”  Whoever said that had, obviously, rappelled off the Wells Fargo building.  Just prior to actually going over the edge, not only did my body have to battle the physical issues (shaking, breathing, and sweating), but my brain kicked into high gear.  I wanted to cry.  I cussed at the nice rappellers trying to comfort me.  My brain told me to give up and descend as we are meant to…via elevators.

The rappeller-volunteer said, “Lean back and let go!”

I cussed.  I screamed, “Get me off this building!!” to the nice rappeller-volunteers.  But, eventually (and, definitely, NOT gracefully) I started the descent down the building.  The entire way down, which, by the way, takes at least 15 minutes, I panicked; I hyperventilated; I prayed; I cussed; I tried to not spin; I made a very weak attempt of actually using the lever attached to my rope to make myself go down (No, I do not know the term for the apparatus); my muscles failed me….for 15 minutes.

Why?? Fear of the unknown.  I was in a completely new situation, and one in which I had no control.

Similarly, the unknowns of the future of Medicaid terrify providers, recipients, and advocates alike.  “Just lean back and let go!”

I am currently at the Association for Home and Hospice Care of North Carolina (AHHC) Leadership Convention in Wrightsville Beach.  (Which, BTW, is a great association).  The morning speaker, Scott Carbonara was fantastic.  He spoke about engaging fully in life, work, and family.

During lunch, I ended up sitting next to another attorney (unbeknownst to me at the time of sitting), who works for the National Council on Medicaid.

Another person who wants to talk about Medicaid sitting next to me during lunch? I felt like I drew the lucky straw.

Then she said that she helps implement managed care throughout the country.  She may as well have said that she teaches medical providers to refuse Medicaid and provide horrible services to Medicaid recipients.

You have to understand, if you have read my blogs, my opinion as to MCOs and mental health.

She must’ve read my horror on my face.  She said…”Oh, I know.  Most people do not have positive reactions when I explain my job.”

Me? I felt like I was standing on edge of the ledge with an unknown rappeller telling me to, “Lean back and let go!”  Trust me…

We proceeded to have a rather lengthy conversation.  I explained the effects of the MCOs on Medicaid recipients and behavioral health care providers here in NC. 

I explained to her that some MCOs are denying medically necessary assertive community treatment team services (ACTT) (a highly intense, 24-hour/day service for the most severely mentally ill) even when the recipients meet the continued stay criteria and do not meet discharge criteria.  I explained that the recipients who were undergoing discharge from ACTT were becoming hospitalized, incarcerated, homeless, and sometimes all of the above.

She was horrified.

“Why would the MCOs deny ACTT services if discharge criteria is not met?”  She said.  “It ends up costing more money, with the hospitalizations and incarcerations, than it would cost if the MCO actually authorized the mental health care needed.”  In other words, providing medically necessary services saves money, if you look at the totality of circumstances.

“Where is CMS?”

You win a prize! Ding! Ding! Ding!

I explained that our management of Medicaid services is bifurcated.  The MCOs are only in charge of behavioral health, not the total patient care.  The monetary incentive for the MCOs in NC is to provide the least expensive services to the least amount of Medicaid recipients through the least amount of Medicaid providers.

She said, “Well, the providers can choose to deal with the MCOs, right?”

Not in NC.  As the MCOs are jurisdictional, if the MCO in one county says that you cannot see your patients, another MCO in a different MCO may say otherwise.

She explained that her MCOs work completely differently.  (Here I was on the edge of the Wells Fargo building again).  We are just supposed to trust that other MCOs would act differently?

Then she told me why her MCOs would not act like our current MCOs.

In her MCO world, the MCOs manage ALL Medicaid services. If a recipient suffers high blood pressure, diabetes, and schizophrenia, the MCO handles all the recipients’ medical issues.  That MCO is in charge of the totality of the recipient’s care.  If the MCO denies ACTT services and the recipient is hospitalized, then the MCO has the burden of paying for that more expensive ER visit.  If the MCO denies ACTT services and the recipient is incarcerated without the proper care and medication, then that MCO has the burden of paying for all crisis care for the recipient that may occur from not receiving necessary services.  It costs less to provide proper care rather than let the recipient decompress and pay higher emergency costs. 

Hmmm…

She wanted to get a representative of one her MCOs to listen to my horror stories.  She tried to convince me that the MCOs she has worked with would approve all necessary services.  It’s just cheaper in the long run.

But, to me, there is fear of the unknown.

What if the MCOs she has worked with do NOT authorize services like she is describing??

How do we know that a new system would be better? I mean, we’ve all seen how great the new billing system NCTracks is…New is not always better.  Change is unknown, and the unknown is scary.

I guess we all have to ask ourselves: Is the current NC MCO system bad enough to warrant a change to the unknown?

When you are standing on top the 30-story building, and are told to “Lean back and let go…”

Do you?

Or do you take the elevators?

How Managed Care Organizations Will Be the Downfall of Mental Health in NC

Lately, mental health has been a topic of great interest to many people.  Tragedies like the Navy Yard shooting bring the mental health issue even more to the forefront.  Remember, the shooter had complained about auditory hallucinations prior to the horrible event.

Yet North Carolina, like many other states, has implemented the managed care system for Medicaid behavioral health.  These managed care organizations (MCOs) will be the downfall of the mental health care system.

That’s a pretty strong statement, huh? How could these MCOs be the downfall of mental health?

Let me explain…

Currently, in NC we have hundreds of thousands of mental health care providers across the state.  Most of the behavioral health care providers are not huge companies.  Many thousands of these providers are small businesses with under 10 staff, although there are certainly some that staff numerous psychiatrists and hundreds of employees.  Regardless, in the aggregate, these behavioral health care provider staff millions of North Carolinians.  (I don’t have the data on the numbers, so these numbers are estimates).

Not only do we rely on these behavioral health care providers to staff millions of North Carolinians, but these providers also service our 1.5 million Medicaid recipients with any mental health care issue.

I doubt I would receive any opposition to the statement that these behavioral health care providers across NC are assets to our community.  They provide employment for some and mental health services for others.  Without our behavioral health care providers, our Medicaid recipients would (a) not receive medically necessary treatment; and (b) most likely, be hospitalized, incarcerated, or simply non-productive citizens. Not to mention the number of people who would become unemployed if the behavioral health care providers went our of business.

Many studies have proven that, in fact, many mentally ill not receiving care end up in prisons or the emergency room (ER).  For example,  in one study, “More Mentally Ill Persons Are in Jails and Prisons Than Hospitals: A Survey of the States,” the authors found that:

Using 2004–2005 data not previously published, we found that in the United States there are now more than three times more seriously mentally ill persons in jails and prisons than in hospitals. Looked at by individual states, in North Dakota there are approximately an equal number of mentally ill persons in jails and prisons compared to hospitals. By contrast, Arizona and Nevada have almost ten times more mentally ill persons in jails and prisons than in hospitals. It is thus fact, not hyperbole, that America’s jails and prisons have become our new mental hospitals.

The way to combat the fact that many mentally ill become hospitalized or jailed is to have enough behavioral health care providers to service all the people in-need and to allow people easy access to the providers at all times.  It only makes sense. If we have people needing mental health care services, we need enough providers to service them.  This is Logic 101, people.

Well, when we switched over the managed care system for behavioral health, at first, we didn’t see a huge impact.  Yes, we missed ValueOptions.  Yes, we hated the process of provider credentialing and obtaining additional contracts with the new MCOs (I mean, good gracious, we already had the contract with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).  How many contracts would we need?)  But, at first, the MCOs were not crippling.  Killing a ton of trees? Yes.  But crippling? No.

Our government leaders performed two (2) fatal flaws when implementing the MCOs.  (1) The MCOs were allowed to conduct a closed network after a short period of time; and (2) the MCOs were not statewide.  Well, there were probably many more flaws, but these were the most fatal.

CLOSED NETWORK

The MCOs are allowed via statute to contract with the number of providers that it deems necessary for its catchment area.  If, for example, MeckLINK, the MCO in Meckeleburg county, decides that 1 provider can service all the mental health needs of Medicaid recipients in Mecklenburg county, then MeckLINK may contract with only one provider.

What happens to the rest of the behavioral health providers in Mecklenburg county?  Well, those providers do not have contracts with MeckLINK to provide services within Mecklenburg county.  Never mind that the provider had signed a 5-year lease in downtown Charlotte.  No other provider except for the one that MeckLINK contracts with can provide services in Mecklenburg county.

So you say, so what? The providers can provide services in 99 other counties.

But, what if a provider has been in business for 15 years.  What if the mentally ill that the provider services are severely mentally ill?  What if that provider was the only person that some Medicaid recipients trusted?  What if those Medicaid recipients refuse to switch providers?  Who suffers?  Because, despite any other contention, behavioral health care providers are not fungible.

Or…change it from MeckLINK to Smokey Mountain Center (SMC), which starting next month will have a 23 county catchment area.  23 counties!!

What happens when SMC determines that it will only contract with 2 providers per county?

Are the thousands of behavioral health care providers who reside and service those 23 counties that can no longer provider services all to move out of SMC’s catchment area in order to continue their careers?

No, realistically, if SMC decides that it will only contract with 2 providers per county, all other providers within SMC’s catchment area go out of business.  All employees of those thousands of providers are  unemployed.  Unemployment sky-rockets and the need for Medicaid and food stamps sky-rocket.

NOT STATEWIDE

The MCOs in NC are not statewide.  What does that mean?  That means that every MCO in NC has its own catchment area…or jurisdiction.  If you are a provider in Wake county, you must have a contract with Alliance Behavioral Health (Alliance).  If you are a provider in Pitt county, you must have a contract with East Carolina Behavioral Health (ECBH).

Other states have implemented MCOs differently.  Such as New Mexico…not that the MCOs are working great in NM, but I do agree with this one facet of NM MCOs.  Other states have MCOs that are statewide.  Each MCO has providers across the state, and…get this…the Medicaid recipients get to choose with which MCO they want to deal.

Think about it…Medicaid recipients having a choice among MCOs depending on the providers with which the MCO contracts.

But not in NC.

In NC, Medicaid recipient Alice may choose to go to Dr. Jane in Charlotte.  In fact, Alice has gone to Dr. Jane for years.  Alice suffers schizophrenia with visual hallucinations.  Dr. Jane has known Alice for so long that Dr. Jane can tell when Alice is going through a more troubling than normal bout.  But last week MeckLINK determined that it would not contract with Dr. Jane and demanded that Dr. Jane transition all clients.

So, Dr. Jane transitions Alice to Dr. Kelly and closes up her shop.  Dr. Jane and her 16 employees file for unemployment, food stamps and subsidized housing…oh, and Medicaid.

Alice decides she hates Dr. Kelly and is convinced that Dr. Kelly had devised a plot to rid her of Dr. Jane.  Remember, people who suffer from mental illnesses don’t always think rationally…

So Alice never goes to any appointments with Dr. Kelly.  Instead, she begins to use heroin again.

Sound far off? Crazy? Unrealistic?

I beg to differ.

The way in which the MCOs are set-up in NC allows the MCOs to unilaterally decide to contract with one provider, but not the other.  Or even scarier, just 1 provider.  The MCO set-up in NC allows the MCOs to determine that certain providers cannot service the population within its catchment area.

A GLIMPSE INTO THE FUTURE

If our MCOs continue to terminate Medicaid provider contracts at the rate that they are currently, thousands and thousands of providers will soon be out of business.  Hundreds of thousands of citizens will be unemployed (the staff of the provider companies).  Unemployment will increase.  The need for Medicaid and food stamps will increase.  The very few behavioral health care providers that are still allowed to provide services to Medicaid recipients will be overwhelmed, unable to meet the needs of every single recipient.  Medicaid recipients will not receive individual, unique mental health care; Medicaid recipients will be overlooked (whether they don’t go to appointments, become hospitalized or incarcerated).

And something very tragic will happen here in NC.  And not on a Navy Yard.

Hence the downfall of mental health in NC.

NC General Assembly: Hold Contracted Companies Accountable in NC Medicaid! (If You Do Not, Who Will?)

Our government is made of checks and balances.  The reason for having checks and balances is to create independent governing bodies with separate powers, thereby preventing any one branch from having more power over another.

The legislative branch (General Assembly), most importantly, passes bills (makes the laws) and has broad taxing and spending power.

The executive branch (Governor), most importantly, makes appointments, may veto bills, but those vetoes may be overridden, and executes the spending allowed by the legislature.

The judicial branch (court system), most importantly, interprets the laws passed by the legislature, exercises injunctions and judicial reviews.

How these checks and balances can play out in real life are endless.  But, without question, if the legislative branch fails to check the executive branch, even if the judicial branch is checking the executive branch, then the executive branch exceeds its power and the legislative branch is failing its intended job.

It has nothing to do with Republicans versus Democrats.  No one cares that the executive branch is conservative or liberal or whether the legislative branch is 60% Republicans or 70% Democrats.  It is a matter of the legislative branch doing its job.  The legislative branch’s job is to check and balance the executive and judicial branch.

Here, in North Carolina, it appears that the legislative branch is not checking the executive branch.  (While all our branches of government have their own shortcomings, I am concentrating on the legislative branch in today’s blog because, recently, I have seen other legislative branches step-up.  Now our state legislative branch needs to step-up.)  It certainly appears that our judicial branch is providing the checks and balances on the executive branch via the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).

But where is the legislative branch’s checks and balances? If our legislators do not demand accountability, who will? 

Me?

You?

Recently, I have seen two instances in which legislative branches checked and balanced the executive branch.  These two legislative branches stepped-up to the plate…

Last Tuesday (September 3, 2013), the New Mexico behavioral health subcommittee convened and demanded accountability from Public Consulting Group (PCG).  Coincidentally, last Tuesday, Mecklenburg county commissioners also held a meeting and demanded accountability from MeckLINK, the managed care organization (MCO) in Mecklenburg county, managing Medicaid behavioral health services. (Was it a full moon?)

To see my blog explaining the events in NM leading up to the NM subcommittee meeting, click here.

To see my blog explaining the events in Mecklenburg county leading to the commissioner’s meeting, see all posts on my blog.  Or if you don’t have time to read all posts in my blog over the past 9-10 months, click here.

So why hasn’t the NC General Assembly held a meeting to demand accountability from all MCOs, PCG, and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Medical Assistance (DMA)? 

I do not know.

Because of our government’s system of checks and balances, the legislative branch has the power over the money, both the taxing and spending power.  So the legislative branch has the authority to have DHHS appear before the General Assembly or a subcommittee and demand accountability for the tax dollars spent…as to all DHHS’ contracted companies…and DHHS’ apparent lack of supervision over these contracted companies.

Other legislative entities have done this.

As I already said, last week, the New Mexico behavioral health subcommittee convened to hold HSD (NM’s DHHS) and PCG accountable.

NM legislature

As you can see, the NM subcommittee formed a “U”-shape.  At the table facing the subcommittee, sat:

(1) Larry Heyek, the HSD Deputy General Counsel (remember, HSD = North Carolina’s DMA), Brent Earnest, Deputy Secretary HSD (representing Secretary Sidonie Squier, who was unable to attend due to eye surgery), and Diana McWilliams, Chief Executive Officer, Interagency Behavioral Health Purchasing Collaborative; Director, Behavioral Health Services Division, HSD.

Then…

(2) Me…to be joined later by Thomas Aldrich, manager at PCG.

Then…

(3) William Boyd Kleefisch, F.A.C.H.E., Executive Director, HealthInsight New Mexico, Margaret A. White, R.N., B.S.N., M.S.H.A., Director, External Quality Review, HealthInsight New Mexico, and Greg Lújan, L.I.S.W., Project Manager, Behavioral Health, HealthInsight New Mexico.

The above-listed people all testified before the NM behavioral health subcommittee because the subcommittee demanded accountability from HSD, PCG and others due to the disastrous state of mental health in NM.

Why hasn’t the North Carolina legislature demanded the same accountability?

Similarly, September 3, 2013, the Mecklenburg county commissioners held a meeting and demanded accountability of MeckLINK. 

Mecklenburg county

Apparently, behavioral health care providers have been complaining to their county commissioners about MeckLINK denying medically necessary services and targeting certain providers.

See article.

So, when NM providers complained to their State legislators, the NM subcommittee for behavioral health held a meeting to investigate the source of these complaints.

When Mecklenburg county providers complained to their county commissioners, the County commissioners held a meeting to investigate the source of these complaints.

Have not enough providers complained about PCG and the actions of the MCOs to our North Carolina legislature?

I find that hard to believe, but, just in case, providers….CONTACT YOUR STATE SENATOR AND REPRESENTATIVE!

DEMAND ACCOUNTABILITY!!

Let our elected officials know that:

There is NOT statewide consistency with the MCOs. 

Where 1 MCO denies services, another will authorize.  Where 1 MCO terminates a Medicaid contract of a provider, another does not. Where 1 MCO finds a provider compliant, another does not.

The DMA Clinical Policies and Innovations Waiver are not being applied consistently across the state.  Because of these inconsistencies, the MCOs have created 11 Medicaid jurisdictions. Where is the single state entity?

The MCOs are terminating provider contracts in violation of federal law.

Federal Medicaid law dictates that a “single state entity” manage Medicaid.  In NC, that single state entity is DHHS, DMA.  Yes, DMA may contract with companies.  Yes, DMA may delegate some duties to contracted entities.  BUT, DMA cannot allow a contracted entity substitute its judgment for DMA’s judgment.  See K.C. v. Shipman.  See also my blog: NC Medicaid: One Head Chef in the Kitchen Is Enough!

If DHHS is allowing 11 different companies to decide (use its own judgment) as to whether a provider can provide Medicaid services, the MCOs are substituting their decision-making in place of DHHS.

Also, at times, the MCOs are terminating the providers based on erroneous audits from the Carolinas Center of Medical Excellence.  For more on that…click here.

The MCOs are denying Medicaid recipients medically necessary mental health services.

The MCOs are prepaid, risk-based models.  What does that mean? That the MCOs have monetary incentives to DENY services in lieu of cheaper services.  In an extreme case, one MCO has denied 100% of ACTT services (24-hour, 7/days/week mental health care) in lieu of weekly, one-hour sessions of therapy.  Really?  24-hour care…reduced to weekly therapy????  But authorizing weekly therapy instead of 24-hour care saves the MCO thousands, if not hundreds of thousands.

What happens to the Medicaid recipients denied medically necessary services?  Answer: Imprisonment and hospitalizations.  So, fret not, taxpayers, you are actually paying MORE in taxes when the MCOs deny medically necessary services.  The increase in tax expenditure just will not be funded by the MCO’s Medicaid money.

As an aside, the attorney for the MCO stated that the Medicaid recipients should be the ones to appeal these erroneous denials.  To which I say, “Ha!”  One denied recipient suffered auditory and visual hallucinations (birds, snakes and crocodiles attacking.)  Another attacked his mother with a knife after services were denied.  Another was evicted from her home and, subsequently, jailed.  Another believed Satan spoke to him, telling him to kill himself.  I ask, when should the Medicaid recipients have (a) gotten themselves to a computer; (b) googled the NC Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH); (c) found the form to appeal a Medicaid denial of services; (d) filled-out the legal reasons they disagree with the denial of services; (d) complied with OAH procedure and drafted a prehearing statement, conducted any necessary discovery, and created all legal arguments to demonstrate medical necessity; and (e) attended a hearing in front of a judge…before or after hospitalization?  Before or after the recipient has had his/her conversation with Satan?

PCG’s audits are NOT 95% accurate (not even close).

I’ve heard that PCG’s contract with DHHS places an obligation on PCG that its audits be 95% accurate.  One person questioned whether that was 95% accurate as to PCG must be able to recoup (defend upon appeal) 95% of the audit results.  Obviously, that is not the case, because the inverse is probably closer to true.  95% of PCG’s audits are overturned (obviously, this number is not accurate…I am making a point).  Another person wondered whether the 95% accuracy meant that if 1 PCG auditor comes up with a $1 million overpayment, and the next day another PCG auditor audits the same documentation, that the 2nd auditor would be within 95% accurate of the $1 million the 1st auditor deemed needed to be recouped.  If the latter is the case, I can see why PCG may have 95% accuracy.  If you teach all your staff how to audit a Medicaid provider and all staff are taught to audit incorrectly, then, no matter the staff member auditing, the audit will be incorrect…but consistent.

Regardless, for a multitude of reasons, I have found almost all PCG audits erroneous. 

Yet, these PCG audits are terrifying Medicaid providers, causing them to ramp up attorney fees to defend themselves, and, in some cases, putting providers out of business.  And, in all cases, increasing the provider’s administrative burden and decreasing the time a provider can allot to serving the Medicaid recipients.

Contact your state legislators!   Help our General Assembly provide the checks and balances needed!

Just to help out, here is a link to all NC State Senators’ telephone numbers.

Because, in the absence of the legislative branch properly checking and balancing the executive branch, the legislative branch loses power and the executive branch gains power.

Articles Surrounding PCG Audit in New Mexico: Editorial Coming Tonight…(You Won’t Want to Miss It!)

As you know, I traveled to New Mexico earlier this week to testify before the New Mexico subcommittee for behavioral health about Public Consulting Group (PCG) Medicaid audits in North Carolina.  Interestingly, I learned that Thomas Aldrich, a manager at PCG, is in charge of two projects: (1) the New Mexico audit; and (2) the North Carolina audits.  Hmmmmm….and the plot thickens….oh, what a tangled web we weave…

More to come tonight…. (I’m still trying to catch up for the days I was gone).

 

Details of mental health audit emerge at legislative hearing

By James Staley

 

Auditing firm manager says he helped vet Ariz. providers

By Steve Terrell