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Sandhills Center Marketing Closed Providers? Where is the Supervision?

A lady telephoned me today.  We will call her Dannae (because her name actually is Dannae, and she gave me permission to use her name).  Dannae used to have a company, Three-D’s Forever, Inc. d/b/a Step Down Group Home. 

Dannae used to manage a group home for mentally ill teens in the Sandhills catchment area.  Sandhills Center is one of our 11 (soon to be 10) MCOs and serves 8 counties: Anson, Harnett, Hoke, Lee, Montgomery, Moore, Randolph and Richmond. The eight county catchment area has a population of approximately 556,000 individuals.

From the time Sandhills Center (Sandhills) went “live” (contract effective date December 1, 2012, and “live” effective date April 1, 2013) until the day her company closed, May 3, 2013, Dannae and Step Down had difficulty dealing with Sandhills.

Throughout January 2013, Sandhills informed Dannae that forms were missing from the application; on or about February 8, 2013, Sandhills conducted a safety, site-visit check.  On or about February 17, 2013, Dannae received a letter from Sandhills saying the site visit was fine.

April 1, 2013, came and went and Step Down still did not have a contract with Sandhills.  She was told by Sandhills that everything had been approved and Step Down was on the list for approval.  Yet, Step Down had consumers in Sandhills catchment area with no Medicaid contract.  Numerous communications went back and forth. 

April 24, 2013, Sandhills contacted Step Down saying that it had been approved and a contract would follow.  But still…no signed contract.

Two check periods passed with no Medicaid reimbursements paid to Step Down.

The last contact from Sandhills was April 24, 2013, saying Step Down was approved.

Step Down was forced to close its doors May 3, 2013.

May.  It is mid-August.

Sadly, Dannae is now unemployed. Prior to May 3, 2013, she contributed to society.  She ran a business.  She helped Medicaid recipients.  Now, because of Sandhills and the bumpy (to say the least) transition to Sandhills, Dannae’s company is nonexistent.

Yet, I googled Sandhills’ Medicaid providers today.  An amazingly, long list of Medicaid providers is on Sandhills’ website as “Current Medicaid…Provider List.”  Here is the page in which I was interested:

Sandhill

I know. The print is small. But click on the picture and you can enlarge it. See Three D’s Forever, Inc d/b/a Step Down?

This is a list of Medicaid providers in the Sandhills catchment area that I pulled from today, August 19, 2013.  Three and 1/2 months after Step Down was forced to close, Sandhills still lists Step Down as a Medicaid provider.

Dannae told me that Medicaid recipients/guardians are still calling her for mental health care appointments because of Sandhills list of “current” providers.

Who is supervising Sandhills’ marketing of closed providers? Who is to say that Three D’s Forever, Inc. d/b.a Step Down is the only closed provider on Sandhill’s list?

Who is ensuring that Medicaid recipients have adequate access to mental health care?

Apparently not Sandhills, which, apparently, does not even know that Step Down is out of business.  Surely, not the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), because after the MCOs went live, DHHS cannot even track mental health services.  DHHS has no idea who is getting or not getting services.  The providers certainly cannot ensure adequate access.  Once the providers go out of business, the owners are concerned about their own monetary situations (and understandably).

This leaves the Medicaid recipients’ guardians, if applicable, who pull up the Sandhills current Medicaid provider list and start calling around.  They call Step Down only to be told Step Down is closed. 

How many other providers on Sandhills’ list are closed? Or no longer accepting Medicaid?

Wasn’t Sandhills contracted to manage behavioral health Medicaid care in 8 counties?

Then how can Sandhills be oblivious to the fact that a provider on its “Current Medicaid…Provider List” is closed?

As for Dannae, whether Sandhills is managing Medicaid behavioral health car within 8 counties adequately enough is a non-issue.  Her company is closed.  

She is just another victim of State non-oversight.

NC Taxpayers Demand Accountability as to Behavioral Health Care Medicaid Funds (And That Medicaid Recipients Reap the Benefit of Such Funds).

I ask you, why do employees of an MCO receive better health care plans with Medicaid dollars than a Medicaid recipient with Medicaid dollars?

The State of North Carolina is accountable to me, and every taxpaying citizen, for taxes spent. 

Similarly, executives of a corporation owe a duty to shareholders to account for stock crashing.  Remember Enron? What a disaster!

Enron has been dubbed the biggest audit failure.  Enron shareholders filed a $40 billion law suit after the company’s stock price, which achieved a high of US$38.44 per share in mid-2000, plummeted to less than $1 by the end of November 2001.  And why did the shareholders sue?  Because they lost money?  Well, yes, but it is much more.  The reason the shareholders lost money is because the executives of Enron owed a duty to the shareholders, basically, to be accountable to report correct data on financials.

Apparently, Enron’s financial statements were complex and confusing to shareholders.  It has been said that from 1997 until its demise, “the primary motivations for Enron’s accounting and financial transactions seem to have been to keep reported income and reported cash flow up, asset values inflated, and liabilities off the books.” Bodurtha, James N., Jr. (Spring 2003). “Unfair Values” – Enron’s Shell Game. Washington, D.C.: McDonough School of Business. p. 2. CiteSeerX: 10.1.1.126.7560.  Arthur Anderson was the audit and accounting firm, which also went belly up due to Enron.  But Enron’s financials were false and, ultimately, led to numerous convictions.

Now, I am certainly NOT comparing the State of North Carolina to Enron.  I am merely providing an example of a possible result when accountability is ignored.  When the fiduciary duty owed is not fulfilled.

Not completely unlike corporate financials, North Carolina creates a budget every fiscal year (yeah, I get it, not completely similar either). 

When the Medicaid budget is created each year, which is more than $18 billion, I, as a taxpayer, expect those Medicaid dollars allocated to the Medicaid budget to be spent for the benefit of Medicaid recipients.  Medicaid money should be spent on Medicaid providers, who service Medicaid recipients.  I expect that administration costs be kept at a minimum.  I expect that Medicaid providers receive timely, prompt payments, and I expect that Medicaid recipients receive good, quality, and continuing health care.

I do not expect the State to cover the health care for everyone.  Not even most people.  I understand that funds are not limitless in government and that there must be limitations on spending, otherwise our great State will become another Detroit. 

However, I do expect that the funds that ARE allocated to Medicaid to BE allocated for the benefit of the Medicaid recipients. Period.

In the past year, we have implemented the Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) to manage Medicaid behavioral health care.  In theory, the MCOs were implemented to cut down the administrative costs for DHHS.  Basically…outsourcing.  In theory, it sounds good.

DHHS’ administration costs are out-of-control.  After the January 2013 Performance Audit on DHHS, State Auditor Beth Wood said North Carolina’s administrative costs are 38 percent higher than the average of nine states because of “structural flaws” in how DHHS operates the Medicaid program.

So, in response to these high administrative costs (among other things), we took the administration of behavioral health from DHHS and delegated that administration to the MCOs.  With the number of employees in Health and Human Services over 17,000 employees and the average MCO employing only a couple hundred, it seems, on its face, to be a good idea.  Surely these MCOs can and will run more efficiently that the government! Right?

(The other assumption in outsourcing is that DHHS administrative costs would actually decrease due to the MCOs, but I have seen no indication of this). I have seen no indication of the “structural flaws” in how DHHS operates the Medicaid program being fixed.

According to the website indeed.com, the average salary for a person working at NC DHHS is $47,000.  In addition to the average salary, you also need to contemplate that employees of NC DHHS qualify for basic health benefits at no cost.  However, if a DHHS employee wants to have his or her spouse covered or an insurance plan above the “basic plan,” there is a nominal cost. (The standard plan (above a basic plan) for an employee is still low, only $22.76/mo).

Health insurance premiums are a HUGE expense.  So when calculating salaries, if an employee receives free health care, in essence, the salary is higher…due to not having to pay premiums every month.  Health care premiums add up.  For example, I pay $750.00 monthly for health insurance for me and my husband. That’s $9000/year! Yikes!! (No, for real, yikes!!)  If Williams Mullen paid my health insurance premium, in essence, my salary would increase by $9000/year.

Including health care and trying to underestimate instead of overestimate, I calculate the average salary, including health care premiums, at NC DHHS at about $52,000-ish.

Since the MCOs went “live,” the Medicaid tax dollars that would have been held by NC DHHS, are now divvied up and bestowed upon each MCO.  Today, we have 11 MCOs, but soon Smokey Mountain Center will take over Western Highlands, bringing us to 10 MCOs.  Plus, according to a recent article published, “Frustrations With MeckLINK Grow as Denials for Care Increases,” MeckLINK is financially unstable.  We may soon be down to 9.  But, as for now, 11 MCOs receive the federal and state tax dollars for Medicaid behavioral health.

Key point? Tax dollars.

CenterPoint Human Services (CenterPoint), one of the MCOs, staffs approximately 200 employees (about 19 part-time). Out of the 200-ish employees, 41 employees receive salaries over $75,000 (including health care).  Almost 1/4 of CenterPoint’s employees have salaries OVER $75,000. 

145 employees receive salaries over the NC DHHS average salary: $52,000. 

Let’s talk about the price of health care.  Remember, these are OUR tax dollars.

Employee A has a base salary of $45,500.  But A received $16,965 in medical contribution.  Remember, my insurance for me and my husband costs $9,000/year.  For $16,965, how big of a family are we taxpayers covering?

Employee B has a base salary of $43,500. (Now, let me preface this example with…I hope…I pray…that this one example is a typo on CenterPoint’s financials, because, if not, this is outrageous!).  According to CenterPoint’s financials, Employee B gets $84,658 in medical contributions. Including FICA contribution, dental, short and long-term disability, 401K, etc., Employee B receives $136,716 in total compensation.  Admittedly, I have no way to confirm whether this is a typo….and, I must admit, I really hope it is. Regardless, according to CenterPoint’s financials Employee B receives $84,658 in medical contributions for a total of $136,716 total compensation, but with a base pay of only $43,500.

But here it is in black and white (and yellow) (toward the bottom):

Health Insurance

Three other employees, C, D, and E, have base salaries of $49,750, $49,000, and $47,100, respectively, and medical contributions of $12,007 each.  And here I thought MY health insurance was expensive…

The number $12,007 is popular.  12 employees in total receive $12,007 in medical contributions for a total of $144,084 (for 12 employees).

Another employee gets $16,965 in medical contribution with a base salary of $47,100.

Now let’s talk about the Medicaid recipients’ behavioral health care services.

Since the MCOs went live, it is indisputable that less behavioral health services are being authorized by the MCOs.  (Why the government has not addressed this tragedy, I do not know).  Another question is how many less behavioral health care servies?  I have my suspicions that if we were shown the number of behavioral health care services authorized last year compared to this year, the line would look like \. 

Remember the chart from yesterday?

MeckLINK_June_Slide

And this chart only shows one county. One MCO.

NC DHHS is handing over millions (just the behavioral health portion of the Medicaid funds) of Medicaid dollars to the MCOs.  But the money is not going to service Medicaid recipients.  The Medicaid dollars are paying salaries at every MCO, as well as the employees’ families’ health insurance plans.  What Medicaid funds go to the recipients for medically necessary services?  Seems to decrease every day.

I ask you, why do employees of an MCO receive better health care plans with Medicaid dollars than a Medicaid recipient with Medicaid dollars?

Aren’t Medicaid funds supposed to be for Medicaid recipients?

Maybe instead of all this administrative waste, we should just buy private health insurance for all Medicaid recipients. It would probably be cheaper.  And the medically necessary services would

                                                                                                  NOT

                                                                                                            LOOK

                                                                                                                     LIKE

                                                                                                                            THIS.

Going back to the State of North Carolina’s accountability to me and all taxpayers as to Medicaid tax dollars spent, I have not seen any investigation as where the behavioral health care Medicaid money is being spent.

The same article from above stated something that made me extremely concerned.  In “Frustrations With MeckLINK Grow as Denials for Care Increases,” the article cites that “[o]nce MCOs took over, North Carolina stopped tracking what care patients are receiving. A health official said the database goes blank. That means the state does not know how many North Carolinians received services, what those services were, or what was denied. It can compare MCOs financials, but not their care.” (emphasis added).

Are you kidding me? The State of North Carolina, which is accountable to me and all taxpayers, cannot determine whether the Medicaid dollars being handed over to the MCOs are being used appropriately????

Yet 145 employees at CenterPoint receive salaries over the NC DHHS average salary: $52,000!  145 out of 200-ish, to be exact.  Some employees are receiving health insurance contributions of over $10,000/year…and NC cannot determine how many Medicaid recipients received medically necessary behavioral health care??

As a taxpayer, I am appalled. And I want accountability!!

Where is the fiduciary duty to taxpayers?

NC Medicaid MCOs: You Cannot Prove a Negative!

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

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

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

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

Here is the chart WFAE provided in its article:

MeckLINK_June_Slide

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

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

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

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

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

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

See Article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such as Medicaid physicians’ office visits:

Example pic

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

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

Chart DMA

See the difference?

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

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

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

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

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

Capitation Pic

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

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

Hmmmm.

Here are proofs of negatives:

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

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

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

Smoke and Mirrors: ECBH Increasing Medicaid Rates (But Decreasing the Amount of Services Authorized?)

I am always amazed at magicians.  David Copperfield, David Blaine…

I once saw David Copperfield live.  I was convinced prior to the show that I would be able to determine how he performed the illusions. I just KNEW that I would see the strings or the trapdoor. But I did not. I was thoroughly amazed. Despite the fact that I still know that magic is not real, I was still awe-struck and entertained.  Realistically, magic is just smoke and mirrors. But, dag  on, those smoke and mirrors do a fantastic job.  At times, while watching a magic show, I find myself actually believing in magic. That is the power of smoke and mirrors.

Smoke and mirrors do not only appear in magic.  Many politicians are expert wielders of smoke and mirrors.  So to are many salesmen. And, apparently, East Carolina Behavioral Health (ECBH).

An article was published on NC Health News’ website yesterday. “Medicaid LME Updates: Cumberland/Alliance to Merge, Good News from ECBH.” Article is good. Information is good. But the ECBH news, I find “smoky.”

Click here for the article by Taylor Sisk

According to the article, “ECBH will increase the rates for psychological testing by 10 percent, personal care services by 16 percent, peer support by 7 percent and facility-based crisis and detoxification services to cover the full cost of the service.”

On the surface, the increase in rates that ECBH is implementing sounds great, right? In my head, I thought, “Wow! ECBH is doing some great marketing. Providers will want to work with ECBH…”

The problem is that the “surface level” or rate increase “on its face” is never the whole story. (Which is why ECBH’s rate increase is such an amazing use of smoke and mirrors. Most people will never see past the smoke).

The MCOs are prepaid. If the MCOs’ do NOT contract with providers and NOT authorize services, profits rise. 

But would an MCO REALLY deny medically necessary services, theoretically, to INCREASE profit?? You can decide.

However, one of my clients hired me because ECBH denied 100% of continuing authorizations and new referrals for ACTT services in Pitt County.

ONE HUNDRED PERCENT!

What are ACTT services?

DMA Clinical Policy 8A defines ACTT services:

The Assertive Community Treatment Team [ACTT] is a service provided by an interdisciplinary team that ensures service availability 24 hours a day, 7 days per week and is prepared to carry out a full range of treatment functions wherever and whenever needed. A service beneficiary is referred to the Assertive Community Treatment Team service when it has been determined that his or her needs are so pervasive or unpredictable that they cannot be met effectively by any other combination of available community services. Typically this service should be targeted to the 10% of MHDDSA service beneficiaries who have serious and persistent mental illness or co-occurring disorders, dual and triply diagnosed and the most complex and expensive treatment needs.” 

ACTT services are reserved for the extremely mentally ill.  These are the people who need 24-hour services; recipients receiving ACTT services are people who must receive the ACTT services to function.  Yet, ECBH denied 100% of my client’s new referrals and continuing authorizations.  One such denial was a Medicaid recipient who had been arrested 6 times since April 2012.  After the ACTT denial, the Medicaid recipient was again incarcerated, which is where the recipient is now.  Another denial resulted in the Medicaid recipient being hospitalized for suicidal ideation.

For recipients already receiving ACTT services, ECBH has forced my client to “step-down” the recipients to outpatient behavioral therapy (“OBT”). Of the Medicaid recipients that ECBH has forced Petitioner to “step-down,” three recipients were immediately referred back to ACTT when the OBT providers stated that the recipients suffered too high acuity of mental health illness to manage in OBT setting.  Two recipients were incarnated after discharge; the jail employees are complaining of psychiatric problems that are difficult to manage. 

Back in May 2013, the local news channel in Greenville, North Carolina, aired “9 On Your Side Mental Health Town Hall exposes problems, brings you answers.”  The news channel coverage demonstrates the possibility of the widespread breath of ECBH denials, in general. Maybe ECBH’s denials of medically necessary services is not limited to my client’s personal situation.

Regardless of the breadth of ECBH’s denials of medically necessary services, back in May 2013, ECBH was getting some bad marketing from the local news. So what does ECBH do? Raise reimbursement rates.

If, in fact, ECBH is denying many medically necessary Medicaid services in order to raise profit, then isn’t ECBH’s rate increase just smoke and mirrors?

Prisons and Emergency Rooms: Our New Medicaid Mental Health Care Providers?

Emergency rooms and jails are our mental health care providers for Medicaid recipients?

My best friend is an ER trauma nurse.  She told me that a majority of patients are mentally ill.  One man came in to the ER, screaming at the top of his lungs, “Get me my lilly pad!”  Apparently he believed that he was a frog.  While you may smile at the humorous notion of the lilly pad man, it is a sad tribute to the state of mental illness in North Carolina.  Why was he not getting the care he needed?

And here I  thought mental health care was so important. In light of recent events, I would venture to say that mental health is quickly becoming our nation’s most pressing issue.

First let me say, Boston…so tragic.  My prayers are with all families affected by the bombing.

So you would think with all the hoopla in the aftermath of the Boston bombing and other serious heinous acts (Connecticut) that our mental health system would be top priority.

Is there a correlation between poor mental health systems and violent crime? Yes.

Here are some studies:

  • The present study of public psychiatric beds in the United States suggests that 42 of the 50 states have less than half the minimum number of beds considered to be reasonable by knowledgeable experts. In 32 of the states, the shortage is critical or severe.
  •  A study in Ohio compared 122 patients with schizophrenia who had committed violent acts with 111 patients with schizophrenia who had not committed such acts. The violent patients had significantly more prominent symptoms and significantly less awareness of their illness. Friedman L, Hrouda D, Noffsinger S et. al. Psychometric relationships of insight in patients with schizophrenia who commit violent acts. Schizophrenia Research 2003;60:81.
  • A study of 961 young adults in New Zealand reported that individuals with schizophrenia and associated disorders were two-and-one-half times more likely than controls to have been violent in the past year. If the person was also a substance abuser, the incidence of violent behavior was even higher. Arseneault L, Moffitt TE, Caspi A et. al. Mental disorders and violence in a total birth cohort. Archives of General Psychiatry 2000;57:979–986.
  • A study of 63 inpatients with schizophrenia in Spain reported that the best predictors of violent behavior were being sicker (i.e., higher scores on symptom measures) and less insight into their illness. “The single variable that best predicted violence was insight into psychotic symptoms.” Arango C, Barba AC, Gonzalez-Salvador T et. al. Violence in schizophrenic inpatients: a prospective study. Schizophrenia Bulletin 1999;25:493–503.
  • A 10-year follow-up of 1,056 severely mentally ill patients discharged from mental hospitals in Sweden in 1986 reported that “of those who were 40 years old or younger at the time of discharge, nearly 40 percent had a criminal record as compared to less than 10 percent of the general public.” Furthermore, “the most frequently occurring crimes are violent crimes.” Belfrage H. A ten-year follow-up of criminality in Stockholm mental patients. British Journal of Criminology 1998;38:145–155.
  • A study of 331 individuals with severe mental illness in the United States reported that 17.8 percent “had engaged in serious violent acts that involved weapons or caused injury.” It also found that “substance abuse problems, medication noncompliance, and low insight into illness operate together to increase violence risk.” Swartz MS, Swanson JW, Hiday VA et. al. Violence and severe mental illness: the effects of substance abuse and nonadherence to medication. American Journal of Psychiatry 1998;155:226–231.

What about North Carolina? Where are our mentally ill? In jails? Hospitalized? Or receiving quality mental health care.

The study “More Mentally Ill Persons are in Jails and Prisons…” states, “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.”

Having a strong, competent, and easily accessible system to serve those people suffering from mental illness is key to so many things you would want in a society: (1) those suffering from mental illnesses would receive the quality health care so needed; (2) there would be less homeless; (3) there would be less violence (see above-referenced studies).

Now, since this is a Medicaid blog, I will obviously concentrate on the Medicaid population.

So what is North Carolina doing regarding the mental health system for Medicaid recipients?

With the implementation of the Managed Care Organizations (MCOs), the hiring of Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs) and the utter lack of supervision by the Division of Medical Assistance (DMA), the Medicaid mental health system is spiraling downward.

Medicaid recipients are not receiving the care needed because of the state’s, MCOs’ and RACs’ treatment of health care providers willing to accept Medicaid.

Here are some serious and real-life examples:

1. The MCOs are denying authorizations for more expensive mental health services.

In a certain county, a certain MCO is denying all ACTT services, stating the Medicaid recipients do not meet eligibility requirements. ACTT, or Assertive Community Treatment Team services.  ACTT is a 24-hour, 7 day/week service for the seriously mentally  ill. Since the MCO denied ACTT services in this certain county, despite medical necessity, 2 discharged ACTT recipients have committed crimes and become incarcerated. One discharged recipient attempted suicide. Two in jail; one in a hospital.  Thank you, new mental health care providers.

2. The RACs are causing quality health care providers who have never committed fraud to have their Medicaid contracts terminated based on paperwork nit-picking and causing Medicaid recipients to lose their provider.

One such provider serves teen-age boys suffering mental illnesses with violent tendencies. With its Medicaid contract terminated and the inability to pay its staff, those boys may soon be homeless and on their own. The consequences could be catastrophic. Jails and hospitals, I am sure.

What is DMA doing about the MCOs denying medically necessary services and the RACs terminating health care providers needlessly and erroneously?

Nothing.

DMA states that MCOs and RACs are independent contractors; therefore, DMA cannot supervise the MCOs and RACs. I say, “Hog-wash.” DMA cannot divorce itself the duties of managing Medicaid.

But, regardless, stop pointing fingers.  Who cares if its DMA’s fault that the teenage boys receiving residential Medicaid services will be homeless because the RACs erroneously and without due process terminated the provider’s contract? Just fix it. Period.

Stop the jails and emergency rooms from becoming North Carolina’s mental health care providers!

NC Group Home Residents Lose Medicaid Funds: May Lose Homes

NC residents who live in Medicaid-funded group homes suffer mental illnesses or developmental disabilities.  Group homes allow the residents a home-like atmosphere and 24/7 health care and personal care services, such as help with toileting, bathing, and eating.

The federal government informed NC that the state was using the wrong eligibility criteria for Medicaid recipients receiving personal care. Personal care services (PCS) is a paraprofessional service that covers the services of an aide in the recipient’s private residence or group home to assist with the recipient’s personal care needs that are directly linked to a medical condition.

To fix the eligibility problem pointed out by the feds, the General Assembly set up a $39.7 million fund to pay for adult care homes, but group homes were unintentionally excluded. If the legislators did not use the word “only” in the legislation, most likely, group homes would have been covered. But in “only” covering adult care homes, group homes were excluded.

The result of the General Assembly’s oversight is that approximately 1400 people may be homeless starting January 1, 2013.

Despite an outcry from the General Assembly for Purdue to call a special session, Purdue refused. Instead, last week, Purdue announced that she was moving $1 million dollars within the Department of Health and Human Services to pay for group homes through January 2013. This allows the group home residents one extra month before Medicaid funding is gone.

The General Assembly organizes January 9th, but is not scheduled to conduct business until January 30, 2013….the day Medicaid funding will cease for the group homes.

 

How Medicaid Handles Mental Illness

Mental health in this country is not handled well. That is an understatement!!! Look at the atrocity in Connecticut last week. An young man, supposedly suffering from Asberger’s, a mild type of autism, shot his way into an elementary school and proceeded to slaughter young children and women. Our country does not handle mental health. However, mental health issues exist, are common, and are not treated appropriately. We cannot act like an ostrich and poke our heads in the sand.

The horrifying events of last week’s elementary school slaughter should make us realize that something must be done with how this country handles mental illness.  Folks, it’s not the guns that need control. Gun cannot act on their own. The people holding the guns need to be reasonable and sane. People who suffer mental illness in this country need real services. Real help.

How North Carolina handles mental illness is about to change drastically. The entire Medicaid mental health system is changing. This may be the biggest re-vamping of mental health we have undergone. If it doesn’t work, it will cost billions to change the system back. How will it change? See below.

The sad truth is mental illness is a very under-treated health condition. The stigma that attaches to it is one reason.  But poverty is also a factor.

The N.C. Interagency Council for Coordinating Homeless Programs (ICCHP) conducts an annual survey of homeless people.  In 2008, the statistics were as follows:

  • 12,371 people identified as homeless, including
  • 3,643 people in families, 2,216 of whom were children.
  • 1,054 identified themselves as veterans of military service.
  • 1,961 identified themselves as having a serious mental illness.
  • 4,206 identified themselves as having a substance use disorder.
  • 1,108 identified themselves as being a victim of domestic violence.
  • 6.5 percent of people identified themselves as having been released from the criminal justice system.
  • 6 percent of people identified themselves as having been released from a mental health hospital or drug treatment program.

Half of the homeless identified themselves as suffering from a mental illness or suffering substance abuse! Half! How many homeless suffer a mental illness without a diagnosis?

These are people who should be receiving Medicaid. In order to receive mental health services covered by Medicaid, the mental health services must be determined to be medically necessary to treat the mental illness.

So what is “medical necessity?”

Medicaid covers procedures, products, and services when they are medically necessary. With all the Medicaid rules and regulations, somewhere, medical necessity must be defined. It is not. In North Carolina Clinical Policy 8A, medical necessity is described as: “All Medicaid services are based upon a finding of medical necessity, which is determined by generally accepted North Carolina community practice standards as verified by independent Medicaid consultants. There must be a current diagnosis reflecting the need for treatment.”  What?  Basically, an independent consultant, as of now, VO, must decide whether a health care service is medically necessary. Despite the amorphous definition, medical necessity has been somewhat uniform because all the prior authorizations went through VO. It did not matter in which county you lived. VO was state-wide.

Not for long. In upcoming changes to NC Medicaid, VO will no longer be the independent consultant for North Carolina’s mental health.  The State is creating Managed Care Organizations (“MCOs”).  Suffice it to say, if you are a health care provider in North Carolina, you have heard the term “MCO.” What is an MCO? I guess the correct question is what will be an MCO?

The best way to describe the new Medicaid system in North Carolina, I think, is to explain the process for getting prior approval now and explain how it will change in the upcoming 6-7 months.

To obtain prior authorization now for mental health services, the provider sends documents, usually a Person-Centered Plan (“PCP”) with a Service Order, among other papers, to ValueOptions.  Since 2006, VO has provided North Carolina with utilization management. Meaning health care professionals at VO would review the documents and determine whether the Medicaid recipient met “medical necessity” in order to receive the services requested.

When the MCOs take over, there will be no state-wide definition for medical necessity.  There will be no state contract with VO. Basically, the State will disperse all the Medicaid funds to the MCOs.  No one really knows how many MCOs there will be in North Carolina.  As of now, it appears there will be 12 or so. Alliance Behavioral Health will be one. Wake County could not get qualified on its own, so Wake County partnered up with Durham County.

The thought process was this: The State is too big to understand the needs of local regions. So let the localities decide what services are needed in Medicaid’s mental health. On paper, I think it sounds good. Trying to focus locally is a good thing. The problem I foresee is the lack of a uniform, well-defined criteria for medical necessity in mental health.

It is foreseeable that each different MCO will have different opinions as to what services are medically necessary or not. In Charlotte, Medicaid may cover hyperbolic oxygen treatment for autism. But Raleigh may not. In Raleigh, Medicaid may limit psychiatrist visits for people with violent tendencies, and, in Wilmington, the psych visits may be unlimited. A Medicaid recipient may be denied in Roxsboro for mental health services that would be covered if that Medicaid recipient lived in a different MCOs region.

Mental health is such an important topic. In the wake of the killings in Connecticut, we, as a country, need to learn to better provide services to those with mental illnesses. Medicaid recipients need solid mental health services. With the MCOs provide better mental health services? Maybe. But I think a good start would be to provide a state-wide definition for medical necessity.

20,000~ Medicaid Recipients: Homeless, January 1, 2013

Literally THOUSANDS of mentally disabled, NC Medicaid recipients may be on the streets of NC come January 1, 2013. Perdue claims that her last act as governor will be to prevent this to happen. But can she? No. Not alone.

Due to recently passed federal legislation, The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services told North Carolina last year that personal care services (such as assistance with daily ADL‘s like eating, bathing, and toileting) must be reimbursed at the same rate for Medicaid patients who live in private homes and for those in group homes. It is estimated that the change in the reimbursement rate would cause $414 million less payments to group homes caring for Medicaid recipients suffering from mental illness. The result of this massive cut in Medicaid payments to group homes will cause most group homes in North Carolina to go bankrupt, resulting in all the Medicaid recipients residing at the group home to be put out on the street.

Group homes must abide by extremely stringent state and federal laws to keep their doors open.  Therefore, group homes are exceedingly expensive to run. Not to mention that group homes must have 24-hour, 365 days/year employees. The cost to run a group home is staggeringly higher to run than a private home. It is illogical why the government would pay a private home and a commercial group home the same Medicaid rate. In a private home, the people live at the home; therefore private homes do not need to pay for numerous employees to work 24-hour, 365 days/year. Yet, due to federal legislation, Medicaid will reimburse group homes the same as private homes.

Can we stop this tomfoolery? It is up to the state legislators. While they relax for Christmas vacation, come New Year‘s approximately 20,000 adult Medicaid recipients may be on the street.  While legislators sip hot toddies with a roof over their heads, 20,000 will be freezing in the middle of winter, homeless, during one of the coldest months of the year. Action is needed. State legislators have advised Perdue to fund these group homes will alternative funding. However, Perdue has stated this is impossible due to the language of statutes. What is needed? A special session! Make the legislators come back for a special session. If the legislators get to ring in the New Year with a roof over their heads, don’t the residents of North Carolina’s group homes deserve the same?