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An Ominous Cloud Looms Over NC’s Mental Health System! And Radix Malorum Est Cupiditas!

“There is an ominous cloud over North Carolina’s mental health care system that many fear is limiting access to care and treatment by those who need it the most,” wrote Jason deBruyn in Friday’s Triangle Business Journal article titled, “Mental Health Block.”

TBJ Pic

(Thanks, Jason, for the nice spread:) )

Two phrases that can never be good when linked together: “an ominous cloud” and “mental health care system.”  Upon reading “ominous cloud,” I get this dark (dare I say ominous?), dreary outlook on whatever the “ominous cloud” is  over.  Then to discover that the “ominous cloud” is over our mental health system here in NC, I get goosebumps and a pit in my stomach (and a bit of disgust at the sheer ineptness of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)).

What is causing that “ominous cloud” over our mental health system? Well, according to Jason, the managed care organizations (MCOs) that were implemented across the state only this past year.

What are these MCOs you talk of?

The MCOs were established to manage the Medicaid mental health, developmentally disabled, and substance abuse services in NC.  If you want mental health services or are attempting to get prior authorization on behalf of a Medicaid recipient, then the buck stops with the MCO.  See my blog: “NC MCOs: The Judge, Jury and Executioner.” Or “NC MCOs: Accountability Must Be Somewhere!”

Here is a list of the MCOs along with the “correct toll free number” in case you wanted it:

LME-MCO CORRECT TOLL FREE NUMBER
Alliance Behavioral Health 1-800-510-9132
Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions 1-800-939-5911
CenterPoint Human Services 1-888-581-9988
CoastalCare 1-855-250-1539
East Carolina Behavioral Health (ECBH) 1-877-685-2415
EastPointe 1-800-513-4002
MeckLINK 1-877-700-3001
Partners Behavioral Health Management 1-888-235-4673
Sandhills Center 1-800-256-2452
Smoky Mountain Center 1-800-849-6127
Western Highlands Network 1-800-951-3792

Going back to the “ominous cloud…”

Jason writes further that “under the state’s new payment system, MCOs have the unbridled authority to terminate providers in an attempt to keep costs down – with little accountability for the process.”

The only word I would change is “little” to “no.” But, then, maybe Jason was referring to the little accountability as arising from advocates such as myself who are fighting for the providers.

Have I not been saying this all along?  The MCOs can terminate providers with little (or no) accountability!! To save money!!

And who suffers?? The providers, yes.  And the Medicaid recipients!!   “Patients aren’t going to know where to go to access services,” Goldston says. “Those patients are going to suffer.”

Why? Why are these MCOs terminating providers and denying services to our most-needy population??  Have they no heart? No conscience?

One word answers all these questions:

Money

Radix malorum est cupiditas, meaning, in Latin, greed is the root of all evil.  In the Bible, 1 Timothy 6:10, starts “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil…”

“MCOs register as not-for-profit organizations and receive fixed amounts of money from the state, called their “capitation.” Unlike physical health care providers, when Medicaid patients receive mental health services, their providers bill these MCOs instead of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. If an MCO doesn’t spend up to its capitation level, it keeps the remainder. And therein lies the problem, say provider advocates,” writes Jason. (emphasis added).

And he is absolutely correct!

What was the MCOs’ response?

“The myth that we are trying to eliminate every provider in our network is not an accurate statement,” says Rob Robinson, chief operating officer for Alliance Behavioral Healthcare, the MCO that covers Wake, Durham, Johnston and Cumberland counties.

Mr. Robinson’s comment, however, is incorrect on, at least, two fronts: (1) the “myth” is not that the MCOs are trying to eliminate every provider; and (2) it is no myth.  The MCOs are, without question, terminating as many providers from the networks as possible without the appearance that services will not get rendered.  The MCOs need a certain number…just to appear that services are not getting cut.

So what is that magic number?

A client informed me a couple of months ago that Smokey Mountain Center (SMC) told him that SMC wants two providers per service per county.  If correct, hundreds and hundreds of providers will be put out of business.  And, hello…I thought the current Republican administration was pro small business!

Alliance has chopped its provider network recently.

Just recently, Alliance called for Requests for Proposals (RFPs) from all contracted providers within its catchment area.  Kinda like a tryout.  When I was in college at NCSU, I was on the cheerleading team.  I will never forget being a freshman and learning these routines that I would have to perform in front of a judge’s panel.  Literally hundreds of young men and women were all learning the same routine…all to perform for the tryouts.  In the middle of learning the routine with hundreds of people, I looked around and realized that only 8 girls and 8 guys would be chosen.  Which meant 90% of the people there would not be on the team.  I tried to remove the thought from my head.

When the D-Day arrived, there was simply a white piece of paper taped to the gymnasium’s window on the outside for anyone to see.  I had to walk up to the piece of paper, shuffle through the small crowd surrounding it, ignore others’ tears and congratulations, and look for my name.

Holding my breath, I searched for “Knicole Carson” (my maiden name). And I did not see it.  For a moment, I was crushed.  Then I saw “Nicole Carson.”  My name was on there, just misspelled.

What does college cheerleading tryouts have to do with NC Medicaid?

Alliance’s RFPs created a provider tryout.  Hundreds submitted.  Only a few were chosen.  Those few chosen were written on a piece of paper for all to see, and providers had to scan the list to see if they were chosen.

For Wake county, Alliance decided to award a 1 year contract for community support team (CST) to only 6 companies.  For the entire county of Wake, Alliance has determined that only 6 companies may provide CST to Medicaid recipients (with a 1 year contract).  Only 6 names were on the list.

For Durham county, Alliance decided to award a 1 year contract for CST to only 5 companies.  For the entire county of Durham, Alliance has determined that only 5 companies may provide CST (with a 1 year contract).  Only 5 names were on the list.

Now let’s go back to Mr. Robinson’s comment:

“The myth that we are trying to eliminate every provider in our network is not an accurate statement,” says Rob Robinson, chief operating officer for Alliance Behavioral Healthcare, the MCO that covers Wake, Durham, Johnston and Cumberland counties.

You are right, Mr. Robinson, you aren’t trying to eliminate “every provider.”  Just the ones that Alliance, in its subjective discretion, doesn’t want to deal with (I don’t care that I ended the sentence in a preposition).

Oh, and what about our State Plan?

Our State of North Carolina MH/DD/SA  Health Plan Renewal, states, in pertinent part, as an answer regarding concerns as to provider choice with MCOs, “network capacity studies and gap analyses were conducted by Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions (CIHS) annually and prior to expansion the coverage area, and by the new PIHPs prior to start-up, as required. Access and provider choice appear to be as good as or better than it was prior to waiver implementation, although there is room for improvement in several areas.” (emphasis added).

Obviously, that was written a while ago and Cardinal, an MCO, was the entity conducting the study (cough, cough…bias…cough).  Regardless, we told the federal government that “provider choice appears to be as good or better than it was prior implementation.”  Are you kidding me???

How many providers didn’t make Alliance’s cut?

How many providers have MeckLINK terminated? Smokey Mountain?

Jason deBruyn was dead on when he said, “There is an ominous cloud over North Carolina’s mental health care system that many fear is limiting access to care and treatment by those who need it the most.”

The NC Medicaid Mental Health 10-Ring Circus: How 10 Mini-Jurisdictions Will Be the Downfall of Mental Health

Ever been to a three-ring circus? It is hard to stay focused on one ring because so much is happening in all 3 rings.  Are you supposed to watch the lion-tamer? The trapeze artists? Or the motorcycles jumping through rings of fire? You can’t watch all the acts.  You end up turning your head back and forth like a water sprinkler, only to catch some of each act.

Now imagine a 10-ring circus.

You wouldn’t be able to see much of any act.

This is similar to our NC Medicaid mental health system.  Instead of the one single state entity running our mental health system for Medicaid, we have 10 entities.  And all 10 entities have different rules.  Different Medicaid rates.  (Not to mention this is in violation of the federal “single state agency” mandate).

So what is the effect of these 10 mini-jurisdictions with different rules on our Medicaid mental health system?

Providers are going out of business.  Medicaid recipients are not receiving medically necessary, mental health services.

While the dancing bears, the fire-eaters and the acrobats are all performing, the ringmaster loses control.

Yesterday a psychologist-friend (We will call her Dr. Liz) told me that a mother called her asking whether Dr. Liz could see her child.  Dr. Liz soon learned that the mother and the child were on Medicaid.  Dr. Liz agreed to assess the child, but sadly informed the mother that it was highly unlikely that Dr. Liz could provide therapy for the child because the child is on Medicaid.

The mother burst into tears.  She explained that she lives in Fayetteville.  (Dr. Liz provides services in Durham).  One and a half hours away.  The mother said that Dr. Liz was the 30th provider she called.

29 providers either refused to see the child or had waiting lists months and months long because the child is on Medicaid.

The mother explained that the psychologist the child had routinely seen went out of business and that she did not understand why there were no psychologists within an hour and a half drive of her that were willing or able to provide services to her child.

She cried, “Why won’t anyone take Medicaid?”

When Dr. Liz told me this story, I was deeply saddened.  Yet this is reality.

Dr. Liz could not provide services to the child because, despite the fact that Dr. Liz has a Medicaid contract with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to provide Medicaid services throughout North Carolina, one managed care organization (MCO), Alliance Behavioral Health (Alliance), has decided that Dr. Liz cannot provide services in Durham County (where Dr. Liz is located).

We have 11 MCOs across North Carolina.

MCO map

Although after September 30, 2013, we will have 10 MCOs.  After Sept. 30, Western Highlands will be consolidated with Smoky Mountain, and Smoky Mountain will oversee management of mental health services for 23 western North Carolina counties.

So I will use 10 MCOs in this blog as there will be 10 within a few weeks.  BTW: There is also a lot of talk that MeckLINK will soon be the next MCO to disappear, but we shall see.

So how are these 10 MCO creating mini-jurisdictions? And why are these mini-jurisdictions causing the downfall of NC Medicaid mental health?

Let me explain:

Dr. Liz lives and works in Durham county.  Alliance is the MCO.  Alliance has refused to provide Dr. Liz with a Medicaid contract.  Therefore, Dr. Liz is not allowed to provide Medicaid services in Wake, Durham, Cumberland, or Johnston counties, because Alliance is in charge of those counties.

However, if Dr. Liz drives over to Fuquay Varina (Harnett county), Dr. Liz CAN provide Medicaid services there because Sandhills, the MCO for Harnett county, contracted with Dr. Liz.

Do you see the issue?

In essence, by Alliance not contracting with Dr. Liz, Alliance has taken Dr. Liz’s Medicaid contract with DHHS and torn a chunk out of it.  Dr. Liz’s contract with DHHS states she can provide services statewide.  But Alliance removed Dr. Liz’s ability to provide services in 4 counties, Wake, Cumberland, Durham and Johnston.  Since Dr. Liz could, theoretically, provide services in 96 other counties, Alliance removed a small chunk of Dr. Liz’s contract with DHHS…but still a chunk nonetheless.

If Dr. Liz ONLY provided services within Alliance’s catchment, then Alliance, by refusing to contract with Dr. Liz, would have either (1) put Dr. Liz out of business; (2) caused Dr. Liz to no longer accept Medicaid; or (3) forced Dr. Liz to relocate.

As all 10 MCOs are managing Medicaid differently, one provider could be allowed to provide Medicaid services in half the state, but not the other half.

While, theoretically, on paper, it may seem easy to tell Dr. Liz to just relocate her practice to Fuquay Varina, in reality, this is much more difficult.

Dr. Liz signed a 5-year lease for her building in Durham, and she is only in her first year (she just renewed it) of the lease.  She also has a daughter who attends school nearby her office.  Were Dr. Liz to move her office, she would no longer be able to transport her daughter to school.  Her clients cannot drive to Fuquay.  Most of her Medicaid clients lack transportation or the funds to pay for gas to drive 30 minutes further.  She has no clients in Fuquay.  She has no staff in Fuquay.  Her staff will not follow her to Fuquay; they all live in Durham. 

Dr. Liz does not have monetary ability to go lease another building in Fuquay.  But she is unable to perform her work where she is located now in Durham.

So what happens?

More times than not…the provider’s company goes bankrupt.  Which is why the mother cannot find services for her child in Fayetteville.  Many providers in Fayetteville and across NC have gone belly up.  The few remaining providers are either limiting the number of Medicaid patients they will accept or have long waiting lists.

Not only do the MCOs determine the providers with whom to contract differently, the MCOs even reimburse certain Medicaid services differently.

Assertive Community Treatment Team (ACTT) is a 24-hour service for the severely mentally ill.  All 10 MCOs must provide ACTT services, but the MCOs do not have to reimburse uniformly.

Therefore, if Dr. Liz were to provide ACTT services in the western part of the state, Dr. Liz may receive $295.32 per unit.  But if Dr. Liz provided the services in southern NC, she may have been reimbursed $323.98 per unit.

This Medicaid reimbursement rate changing depending on which MCO is paying would be like a Chatham county DMV charging $25 to renew your license, but a Mecklenburg county DMV charging $75.  It is a North Carolina state license!  The price to renew should be statewide.

Just like Medicaid should be uniform across the state. 

But, instead, here in NC, we have created 10 mini-jurisdictions.

In each of the 10 mini-jurisdictions, the MCO dictate the rules.  In each of the 10 MCOs, the rules are different.  Each MCO can choose to contract with a provider (or not) with zero regard as to the effect on the provider, the provider’s company, and the Medicaid recipients.  The MCOs can reimburse the same Medicaid services at different rates.

The dancing bears, the fire-eater, and the acrobats are all charging different entrance fees, depending on which entrance you entered.  (And we all know that a dancing bear should not be in charge of entrance fees!) 

The ringmaster is sleeping.

There is no uniformity in Medicaid mental health in NC. 

It is a 10-ring circus!

Mental Illnesses Pose Stigmata and Gov. McCrory States NC Mental Health System May Be Worst in Country

As to mental illnesses pose stigmata…duh. However, Gov. McCrory admitting that North Carolina’s mental health system may be the worst in the country…FINALLY!!!

Granted, I am not happy that NC may be the worst mental health system in the country.  But in order to fix something, you must acknowledge it is broken, or, in this case, a royal cluster.

Click here: Video Landing Page – WNCT | 9 On Your Side Greenville NC & Eastern NC News

Mental health takes center stage in Washington

…BUZZ ABOUT THE NEED TO ADDRESS MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS IN AMERICA. JEFF VARNER ……THE ISSUES OF GUN CONTROL AND MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS.’ “9 ON YOUR SIDE” HAS INVESTIGATED NORTH CAROLINA’S MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM. AND OUR INVESTIGATION  Jun 03, 2013

You will hear on this 9 on your side newscast video

following the commercial:

 

  “Governor McCrory came out of nowhere – admitted our

 Mental Health System is not only broken 

 it might be one of the worst systems in the county.”

 

Secretary Aldona Wos: Inherited a Medicaid Money Pit

 (It’s Not All Her Fault)