NC Medicaid Expansion: More Consumers, Not More Providers!
Republican-run Congress passed Medicaid expansion today, March 23, 2023.
Today North Carolina took a commendable step forward in healthcare by expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income individuals. Now there are 10 States that have not expanded Medicaid. This decision will provide much-needed healthcare coverage to over 600,000 people in the state who previously did not have access to affordable healthcare. North Carolina has 2.9 million enrollees in traditional Medicaid coverage. Advocates have estimated that expansion could help 600,000 adults. In theory. On paper.
As a legal professional, I commend the North Carolina lawmakers for making this decision. The expansion of Medicaid will go a long way in improving the health and wellbeing of North Carolinians. It is well known that access to quality healthcare is critical for people to lead healthy and productive lives. By expanding Medicaid, the state is taking a proactive step towards ensuring that its citizens have access to the healthcare they need.
However, it is important to note that despite this expansion, many healthcare providers still do not accept Medicaid due to low reimbursement rates and regulatory burdens. This is a major issue that must be addressed if the benefits of the expansion are to be fully realized.
According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicaid patients often face significant challenges in accessing healthcare services due to a shortage of healthcare providers who accept Medicaid. In North Carolina, as of 2021, only 52% of primary care physicians accept Medicaid patients, while only 45% of specialists accept Medicaid patients. 600,000 North Carolinians will get a Medicaid card. A card does not guarantee health care services. See blog.
One area that has been severely impacted by the shortage of Medicaid providers is dental care. According to the American Dental Association, only 38% of dentists in the United States accept Medicaid patients. This has led to many low-income individuals going without essential dental care, which can lead to more serious health issues down the line. Remember, Deamante Driver? See blog.
Another area that has been impacted by the shortage of Medicaid providers is nursing homes. In many cases, nursing homes that accept Medicaid patients struggle to find healthcare providers willing to provide care to their residents. This can lead to residents going without essential medical care, which can have severe consequences.
Specialists are another area where the shortage of Medicaid providers is particularly acute. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 45% of specialists accept Medicaid patients. This can be especially challenging for patients with complex medical needs, who often require specialized care.
The shortage of Medicaid providers is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted solution. One approach is to increase reimbursement rates for healthcare providers who accept Medicaid patients. This would incentivize more healthcare providers to accept Medicaid patients, thereby increasing access to healthcare services for low-income individuals.
Another approach is to reduce regulatory burdens for healthcare providers. This would make it easier for healthcare providers to participate in Medicaid, thereby increasing access to healthcare services for low-income individuals.
These statistics highlight the urgent need to address the issue of low reimbursement rates and regulatory burdens faced by healthcare providers. If more providers are incentivized to accept Medicaid patients, more people will have access to the care they need, and the benefits of the expansion will be fully realized.
In conclusion, North Carolina’s decision to expand Medicaid is a significant step forward in healthcare, and it should be applauded. However, it is crucial that policy change to incentivize providers to accept Medicaid. From dental care to nursing homes and specialists, low-income individuals who rely on Medicaid face significant challenges in accessing essential healthcare services.
NC Medicaid Reform … Part 5,439-ish
I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah! As 2023 approaches, NC Medicaid is being overhauled…again! Medicaid reform is never smooth, despite the State. NC is no different. When NC Medicaid reformed in 2013, I brought a class action lawsuit against Computer Science Corporation, which created NCTracks, and DHHS, NC’s “single state entity” charged with managing Medicaid. See blog.
The new start date for NC Medicaid Tailored Plans is April 1, 2023. Tailored Plans, originally scheduled to launch Dec. 1, 2022, will provide the same services as Standard Plans in Medicaid Managed Care and will also provide additional specialized services for individuals with significant behavioral health conditions, Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities and traumatic brain injury.
While the start of Tailored Plans will be delayed, specific new services did go live Dec. 1, 2022.
The following organizations will serve as regional Behavioral Health I/DD Tailored Plans beginning April 1, 2023:
- Alliance Healthalliancehealthplan.org
- Member phone numbers: 800-510-9132, TTY: 711 or 800-735-2962
- Member phone numbers: 800-913-6109, TTY: 888-819-5112
- Partners Health Managementpartnersbhm.org
- Member phone numbers: 888-235-4673, TTY: English: 800-735-2962, TTY: Spanish: 888-825-6570
- Sandhills Centersandhillscenter.org
- Member phone numbers: 800-256-2452, TTY: 711 or 866-518-6778
- Trillium Health Resourcestrilliumhealthresources.org
- Member phone numbers: 877-685-2415, TTY: 711
- Vaya Healthvayahealth.com
- Member phone numbers: 800-962-9003, TTY: 711
Aetna is a managed-care provider, one of eight entities who submitted proposals for Medicaid managed-care services. The Committee issued its recommendations on January 24, 2019, which identified four statewide contracts for Medicaid managed care services to be awarded. On February 4, 2019, DHHS awarded contracts to WellCare of North Carolina, Inc. (“Wellcare”), Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (“BCBS”), AmeriHealth Caritas of North Carolina (“AmeriHealth”), and UnitedHealthcare of North Carolina, Inc. (“United Healthcare”). DHHS also awarded a regional contract to Carolina Complete Health, Inc.
However, two private insurance failed to get awarded NC contracts.
Aetna, along with the two other entities who were not awarded contracts, protested DHHS’ contract by filing contested case petitions in the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”). Aetna filed its contested case petition and motion for preliminary injunction on April 16, 2019. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied Aetna’s motion for preliminary injunction on June 26, 2019. The ALJ consolidated all three petitions on July 26, 2019. It rose to the Court of Appeals, where it was thrown out on a technicality; i.e., failure to timely serve Defendants. Aetna Better Health of N. Carolina, Inc. v. N. Carolina Dep’t of Health & Hum. Servs., 2021-NCCOA-486, ¶ 4, 279 N.C. App. 261, 263, 866 S.E.2d 265, 267.
The Court stated, “Here, Aetna failed to timely serve DHHS or any other party within the “10 days after the petition is filed” as is mandated by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 150B-46. Prior to serving DHHS, Aetna amended its Petition on 12 October 2020 and served its amended Petition the same day. Aetna argues “the relation-back provision of Rule 15(c) allows the service of an amended pleading where the original pleading was not properly served.” What a silly and mundane reason to have their Complaint dismissed due to the oversight of an attorney or paralegal…and a great law firm at that. Just goes to show you that technical, legal mistakes are easily done. This career in law in the Medicare/Medicaid realm is not simple.
The upcoming transformation in Medicaid will probably not be smooth; it never is. But we shall see if Medicaid reform 2023 works better than 2013 reform. We can hope!
A Story of Three Medicaid Providers’ Erroneous Terminations
I have a story for you today that affected three, Medicaid, behavioral health care providers back in 2013. Instead of me spouting off legal jargon that no one understands, I am going to tell you a nonfictional story.
Since both stories occurred in NC, we will use DHHS, the Department of Health and Human Services, which is the acronym for NC’s Medicaid agency.
In 2013, a Residential Level IV facility was shut down overnight by the managed care organization (“MCO”), Alliance, which was one of many MCOs that managed all behavioral health care for NC Medicaid recipients within their respective, catchment areas. The facility, we will call Alpha, housed 5-6, at-risk, teenage, African American, males, who could not reside in their family’s home due to mental illness, substance abuse, legal trouble, and/or violence. The owners of Alpha, themselves were large, muscular, African American males, which, I can only imagine, was to their benefit.
Alliance terminated Alpha from its catchment area, but since Alpha only provided Medicaid services in Alliance’s catchment area, Alliance’s decision would close a business immediately, terminate all staff, cause the owners to lose their careers, and the residents would have no home.
Alpha hired me. We were successful in obtaining an injunction. Click on “injunction” to read my blog about this exact situation in 2013, written by me in 2013. I have written numerous blogs on the topic of erroneous terminations of Medicaid providers over the years. Here are a couple: blog and blog.
An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) ruled in our favor that Alliance does not have the legal authority to terminate a provider for no reason or any erroneous reason. The ALJ Stayed the termination and Ordered Alliance to reverse the termination and continue to contract with Alpha.
Whew! We thought. Then, Alliance flat-out ignored the ALJ’s Order.
We brought a Motion for Contempt and/or Sanctions; however, we were instructed, at the time, that a Writ of Mandamus was the appropriate venue in Superior Court. This too was unsuccessful.
During our legal battle for Alpha, we were successful in obtaining injunctions for two other provider also terminated without cause.
Alpha did close. But the bright side of the story is what happened in the future. Those 3 injunctions, which were ignored by MCOs to the detriment of the three providers, were the last ones to be ignored. In the years that followed, OAH ALJs routinely held MCOs accountable for erroneous terminations and without cause terminations.
My team has witnessed successful injunctions across the country that protect providers from arbitrary and capricious terminations. We have litigated many of these successful injunctions.
Regulatory Fright: Audits Citing Harm, Abuse, Neglect, or Exploitation
There is little more daunting than the Division of Health Services Regulation (“DHSR”) – or whatever acronym is used in your State – slapping penalties on long term care facilities, nursing homes, and other residential facilities, such as residential homes housing handicapped recipients, mentally ill recipients, or substance abuse consumers. Many of these penalties are immediate and can easily put a facility out of business and a resident without a home. DHSR falls under the umbrella of DHHS, the “single State entity” that manages Medicaid in each respective State. DHSR may be a different acronym in your State, but the essence will be the same.
The primary difference between adult care homes and nursing homes is as follows:
“Adult Care Homes” provide care and assistance to people with problems carrying out activities of daily living and supervision to people with cognitive impairments whose decisions, if made independently, may jeopardize the safety or well-being of themselves or others and therefore require supervision. Medication in an adult care home may be administered by designated, trained staff. Smaller adult care homes that provide care to two to six unrelated residents are commonly called family care homes.
“Nursing Homes” are for people who need chronic or rehabilitative care, who, on admission are not acutely ill and who do not usually require special facilities such as an operating room, X-ray facilities, laboratory facilities, and obstetrical facilities. A “nursing home” provides care for people who have remedial ailments or other ailments, for which medical and nursing care are indicated; who, however, are not sick enough to require general hospital care. Nursing care is their primary need, but they will require continuing medical supervision.
Regarding Violations & Penalties in Adult Care Homes
Pursuant to G.S. 131-D-34 (a), the Department shall impose an administrative penalty in accordance with provisions of the Article on any facility which is found to be in violation of requirements of G.S. 131D-21 or applicable State and federal laws and regulations. Citations for violations shall be classified and penalties assessed according to the nature of the violation.
Type A1 and A2 Violations & Penalties: A monetary penalty fine may be imposed when a “Type A1” or “Type A2” violation has occurred.
- “Type A1 Violation” means a violation by a facility of applicable laws and regulations governing a facility which results in death or serious physical harm, abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a resident.
- “Type A2 Violation” means a violation by a facility of applicable laws and regulations governing the licensure of a facility which results in substantial risk that death or serious physical harm, abuse, neglect, or exploitation will occur.
- For family care homes (licensed for two to six beds), the penalty amount may range from $500.00 to $10,000 for each Type A violation.
- For adult care homes (licensed for seven beds or more), the penalty amount may range from $2000.00 to $20,000 for each Type A violation.
Examples of a Type A1 violation may include the following:
- The facility failed to provide supervision to a confused resident who exhibited wandering and exit seeking behaviors resulting in the resident leaving the facility unsupervised and without the knowledge of the facility’s staff. The resident was hit by a car and sustained multiple injuries causing death.
- The facility failed to administer an antibiotic medication for 7 days as ordered for a resident discharged from the hospital with diagnoses including pneumonia. The resident required a subsequent 11-day hospitalization for diagnoses including respiratory failure and an infection in the bloodstream.
Examples of a Type A2 violation may include the following:
- The facility failed to send a resident to the hospital for evaluation after the resident drank approximately 24 ounces of hand sanitizer on one occasion; drank approximately 8 ounces of body wash and ate an unknown amount of solid deodorant on a second occasion; and failed to notify the resident’s primary care provider of the resident drinking non-consumable substances on more than one occasion which placed the resident at substantial risk of serious physical harm and neglect.
- A resident was administered medications that belonged to another resident. The medications administered had the strong potential of adverse side effects. The resident required emergent evaluation and treatment in the emergency department of the local hospital which placed the resident at substantial risk of serious physical harm.
Unabated Violations and Penalties:
If a facility has failed to correct any violation within the specified date of correction (30 days for Type A violations; 45 days for Type B violations), these are “unabated violations.” Additional penalty fines may be imposed for unabated violations.
Unabated Type A1 and A2 Violations & Penalties:
When a facility has failed to correct a “Type A1” or “Type A2” violation within 30 days, a monetary penalty fine may be imposed in the amount of up to $1,000 for each day that the Type A1 or Type A2 violation continued to occur beyond the date specified for correction.
The Department has legal authority to impose a monetary fine for:
- The inspection in which the Type A1 or Type A2 violation was first identified and
- Additional monetary penalty fines as a result of each inspection in which the unabated Type A1 violation or unabated Type A2 violation continued to occur beyond the specified date of correction
Unabated Type B Violations & Penalties:
Another unabated violation that could result in the imposition of penalty fines is a “Type B” violation that has not been corrected by the facility within the specified correction date (45 days per regulatory authority), known as an Unabated B violation.
- A “Type B” violation means a violation by a facility of applicable laws and regulations governing a facility which is detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare of any resident, but which does not result in substantial risk that death or serious physical harm, abuse, neglect, or exploitation will occur.
- The range of the fine for an Unabated “Type B” violation that was not corrected is up to $400.00 for each day that the violation continues beyond the date specified for correction.
- Additional penalty fines may be imposed as a result of each inspection in which the unabated Type B violation continued to occur beyond the specified date of correction.
Examples of Unabated Type B violations may include the following:
- Several residents have orders to receive pain medications every evening but on one evening, staff forget to give the residents the ordered pain medications. One resident suffers from shoulder pain and could not sleep from the missed dose. Subsequent doses are given as ordered. The facility is cited a Type B violation for the non-compliance and on a follow-up visit, additional medication errors are noted; therefore, the facility is fined up to $400/day until compliance with medication administration is determined, which must be verified by another follow-up inspection.
- The facility’s pest management program is not effective, and roaches are noted in a couple of the residents’ rooms on one out of two halls in the facility. The facility is cited a Type B violation for the non-compliance and on a follow-up visit, additional roaches and insects are noted; therefore, the facility is fined up to $400/day until compliance with pest management is determined, which must be verified by another follow-up inspection.
The Department will determine whether each violation has been corrected.
Pursuant to Chapter 150B and N.C. Gen. Stat. § 131D-34(e), adult care homes have the legal right to appeal the imposition of a penalty fine by filing a petition for contested case within 30 days after the Department mails a notice of the penalty imposition decision to a Licensee.
Once a penalty has been imposed, payment is due within 60 days unless an appeal is timely filed at the at the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).
If a penalty is appealed, it will go to a hearing at the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). Alternatively, the Department and the Licensee may agree to resolve the penalty by executing a settlement agreement.
I emphasize, if you disagree with the sanction and/or the accusation, APPEAL. I have been successful in eliminating severe penalties that a residential home, nursing home, or adult care homes by arguing at the OAH. Just remember, DHSR can accuse anything of happening to constitute “abuse or neglect” of a consumer. But DHSR must prove it to a Judge!
CHIP v. Medicaid: What’s the Difference?
As you know, many States have expanded Medicaid. I am not saying whether that is good or bad. Just that some have expanded and some States have not. NC is one that has not expanded Medicaid. NC’s Department for Medicaid received a Waiver from CMS to extend Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage for 12 months after pregnancy. As a result, up to an additional 28,000 people will now be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP for a full year after pregnancy in North Carolina. CMS gave its blessing or Waiver to 24 States. An estimated 361,000 Americans annually are now eligible for 12 months of postpartum coverage. If all states adopted this option, as many as 720,000 people across the United States would be guaranteed Medicaid and CHIP coverage for 12 months after pregnancy.
CHIP piggybacks Medicaid for children. Not adults. But so does EPSDT. The Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit provides comprehensive and preventive health care services for children under age 21 who are enrolled in Medicaid. As a hospital or any provider, if you serve children and get your claims denied, EPSDT should overturn your denials. Check your compliance department. If claims are getting denied for children 21 years of age or younger, then you should be disputing these denials based on EPSDT.
CHIP differs from Medicaid EPSDT. There can be premiums or cost sharing with CHIP. CHIP is also a pre-set amount; whereas, Medicaid EPSDT creates exceptions for those in need under 21.
CHIP was designed to cover children who fall outside of Medicaid eligibility, but who otherwise were not able to be insured through a family plan. This program vastly increased the number of children eligible for health insurance. However, CHIP is not governed by the same legislation as Medicaid and offers drastically different levels of coverage.
Certain states have different names for their Medicaid and CHIP programs. For example, in California, both programs are called Medi-Cal. In Georgia, Medicaid is called Georgia Medical Assistance, and their CHIP program is called PeachCare for Kids.
Medicaid and CHIP provide 51% of health care to our nation’s youth – more than 40 million children.
In the last few months, CMS has published numerous bulletins regarding the importance of EPSDT, especially germane to mental health.
NC Medicaid: Are MCOs Biased?
Since the inception of the Medicaid MCOs in North Carolina, we have discussed that the MCO terminations of providers’ Medicaid contracts have consistently and disproportionately been African American-owned, behavioral health care providers. Normally the MCOs terminate for “purported various reasons,” which was usually in error. However, these provider companies had one thing in common; they were all African American-owned. On this blog, I have generally reported that MCO terminations were just based on inaccurate allegations against the providers. The truth may be more bias. – Knicole Emanuel
- Written by Ryan Hargrave, associate at Practus.
George Floyd; Breyonna Taylor; Eric Garner; Tamir Rice; Jordan Davis, these are all names that we know, all-too-well, for such horrendous reasons. Not for the brilliance, that these young African-American men and women possessed; nor for the accolades they had accumulated throughout their short-lived experiences on this earth. We recognize these names through a disastrous realization that brought communities and our nation together for a singular purpose; to fight racism.
A global non-profit organization, United Way, recognizes four types of racism.
- Internalized Racism—a set of privately held beliefs, prejudices, and ideas about the superiority of whites and the inferiority of people of color.
- Interpersonal Racism—the expression of racism between individuals. Occurring when individuals interact and their private beliefs affecting their interactions.
- Institutional Racism—the discriminatory treatment, unfair policies and practices, and inequitable opportunities and impacts within organizations and institutions, all based on race, that routinely produce racially inequitable outcomes for people of color and advantages for white people.
- Structural Racism—a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations and other norms work in various, often reinforcing, ways to perpetuate racial group inequality.
These various types of racism can be witnessed in every state, city, county, suburb, and community, although it isn’t always facially obvious. Racism can even be witnessed in the health care community. Recently in 2020, NC Governor Roy Cooper signed executive order 143 to address the social, environmental, economic, and health disparities in communities of color that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Machelle Sanders, NC Department of Administration Secretary, was quoted stating that “Health inequities are the result of more than one individual choice or random occurrence—they are the result of the historic and ongoing interplay of inequitable structures, policies, and norms that shape lives.” Governor Cooper went on to include that there is a scarcity of African-American healthcare providers, namely behavioral healthcare providers, available to the public.
Noting this statement from the Governor of our great state, its troublesome to know that entities that provide federal funding to these healthcare providers have been doing their absolute best to rid the remaining African-American behavioral healthcare providers. For years, Managed Care Organizations (“MCOs”) have contracted with these providers to fund the expenses pursuant Medicaid billing. MCOs have repeatedly attempted to terminate these contracts with African-American providers without cause, unsuccessfully; until recently. In the past few years, Federal Administrative Law Judges (“ALJ’s”) have been upholding “termination without cause” contracts between MCOs and providers. This is nothing less of an escape route for MCOs, allowing them to keep the federal funds, that they receive each year based upon the number of contracts they have with providers, as profit. This is an obvious incentive to terminate contracts after receiving these funds. Some may refer to this as a business loophole, while most Americans would label this an unconstitutional form of structural racism. It has been estimated that 99% of behavioral healthcare providers in NC that have been terminated have ONE thing in common. You guessed it. They are African-American owned. Once terminated, most healthcare providers cannot operate without these Federal Medicaid Funds and, ultimately, are forced to close their respective practices.
Why is this not talked about? The answer is simple. Most Americans who are on Medicaid don’t even understand the processes and intricate considerations that go into Medicaid, let alone the general public. And what’s the craziest thing? The craziest thing is the fact that these Americans on Medicaid don’t know that the acts of racism instituted against their providers, trickle down and limit their ability to obtain healthcare services. Think about it. If I live in a rural town and have a healthcare provider that I know and love is terminated and forced to close, I lose access to said healthcare provider and must potentially go to an out-of-town provider. The unfortunate fact is that most healthcare providers who operate with a “specific” specialty, such as autistic therapy, can have waitlists up to 12 months! The ramifications of these financially-greedy, racist acts of the MCOs ultimately affect the general population.
A New Associate Joins Practus’ Health Care Team: Ryan Hargrave!!
Attorney Ryan Hargrave joined the Practus Health Care Litigation team on June 1, 2022. Ryan comes from a career of litigation in the State of North Carolina. He began his career in 2016 as a Prosecutor for the State of North Carolina, Guilford County. There he gained valuable experience from which he used as he moved to defending clients. He served as the Lead Trial Attorney at Triad Legal Group before joining Graystar Legal as the Senior Associate Attorney.
Ryan obtained his undergraduate degree at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC., where he received a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Biology. Ryan has always had a keen interest in health care which has followed him throughout his career. He is locally known as the “Drug Lawyer” for his focus in the defense of drug-related crimes. He has a reputable proficiency in Cannabis Law, Criminal Law, and Civil Law across State and Federal Courts. Ryan has extensive trial experience that he brings to the Health Care Litigation team at Practus.
Ryan lives in North Carolina with his family, spending his time working out, making financial investments, and beginning his non-profit business, “Colored Money”. His non-profit will focus on teaching young boys and girls the value of money as a vehicle to achieve wealth, making smart investments, and how to achieve financial freedom. He is a big Georgia football fan and even has an English Bulldog that could serve as the team’s mascot.
Note from me:
I expect Ryan to dovetail and expand my Medicare and Medicaid regulatory compliance practice because his litigation experience will directly help me in litigation natters, but, also, his criminal litigation experience will also allow us to represent more White Collar Crime clients, including Medicare and Medicaid fraud accusations, False Claims Act, Stark, and Anti-Kickback alleged violations.
We are happy that he is here!
RAC Audit Update: Renewed Focus on the Two-Midnight Rule
In RAC news, on June 1, 2021, Cotiviti acquired HMS RAC region 4. Don’t be surprised if you see Cotiviti’s logo on RAC audits where you would have seen HMS. This change will have no impact in the day-to-day contract administration and audit timelines under CMS’ guidance. You will continue to follow the guidance in the alleged, improper payment notification letter for submission of medical documentation and discussion period request. In March 2021, CMS awarded Performant an 8.5 year contract to serve as the Region 1 RAC.
There really cannot be any deviations regardless the name of the RAC Auditor because this area is so regulated. Providers always have appeal rights regardless Medicare/caid RAC audits. Or any other type of audit. Medicaid RAC provider appeals are found in 42 CFR 455.512. Whereas Medicare provider redeterminations and the 5 levels of appeal are found in 42 CFR Subpart I. The reason that RAC audits are spoken about so often is that the Code of Federal Regulations applies different rules for RAC audits versus MAC, TPE, UPIC, or other audits. The biggest difference is that RAC auditors are limited to a 3 year look back period according to 42 CFR 455.508. Other auditors do not have that same limitation and can look back for longer periods of time. Of course, whenever “credible allegations of fraud” is involved, the lookback period can be for 10 years.
The federal regulations also allow States to request exceptions from the Medicaid RAC program. CMS mandates every State to participate in the RAC program. But there is a federal reg §455.516 that allows exceptions. To my knowledge, no State has requested exceptions out of the RAC Audit program.
RAC auditors have announced a renewed focus on the two-midnight rule for hospitals. Again. This may seem like a rerun and it is. You recall around 2012, RACs began noticing high rates of error with respect to patient status in certain short-stay Medicare claims submitted for inpatient hospital services. CMS and the RACs indicated the inpatient care setting was medically unnecessary, and the claims should have been billed as outpatient instead. Remember, for stays under 2 midnights, inpatient status may be used in rare and unusual exceptions and may be payable under Medicare Part A on a case-by-case basis.
A Court Case in the Time of COVID: The Judge Forgot to Swear in the Witnesses
Since COVID-19, courts across the country have been closed. Judges have been relaxing at home.
As an attorney, I have not been able to relax. No sunbathing for me. Work has increased since COVID-19 (me being a healthcare attorney). I never thought of myself as an essential worker. I still don’t think that I am essential.
On Friday, May 8, my legal team had to appear in court.
“How in the world are we going to do this?” I thought.
My law partner lives in Philadelphia. Our client lives in Charlotte, N.C. I live on a horse farm in Apex, N.C. Who knows where the judge lives, or opposing counsel or their witnesses? How were we going to question a witness? Or exchange documents?
Despite COVID-19, we had to have court, so I needed to buck up, stop whining, and figure it out. “Pull up your bootstraps, girl,” I thought.
First, we practiced on Microsoft Teams. Multiple times. It is not a user-friendly interface. This Microsoft Team app was the judge’s choice, not mine. I had never heard of it. It turns out that it does have some cool features. For example, my paralegal had 100-percent control of the documents. If we needed a document up on the screen, then he made it pop up, at my direction. If I wanted “control” of the document, I simply placed my mouse cursor over it. But then my paralegal did not have control. In other words, two people cannot fight over a document on this new “TV Court.”
The judge forgot to swear in the witnesses. That was the first mess-up “on the record.” I didn’t want to call her out in front of people, so I went with it. She remembered later and did swear everyone in. These are new times.
Then we had to discuss HIPAA, because this was a health care provider asking for immediate relief because of COVID-19. We were sharing personal health information (PHI) over all of our computers and in space. We asked the judge to seal the record before we even got started. All of a sudden, our court case made us all “essentials.” Besides my client, the healthcare provider, no one else involved in this court case was an “essential.” We were all on the computer trying to get this provider back to work during COVID-19. That is what made us essentials!
Interestingly, we had 10 people participating on the Microsoft Team “TV Court” case. The person that I kept forgetting was there was Mr. Carr (because Mr. Carr works at the courthouse and I have never seen him). Also, another woman stepped in for a while, so even though the “name” of the masked attendee was Mr. Carr, for a while Patricia was in charge. A.K.A. Mr. Carr.
You cannot see all 10 people on the Team app. We discovered that whomever spoke, their face would pop up on the screen. I could only see three people at a time on the screen. Automatically, the app chose the three people to be visible based on who had spoken most recently. We were able to hold this hearing because of the mysterious Mr. Carr.
The witnesses stayed on the application the whole time. In real life, witnesses listen to others’ testimony all the time, but with this, you had to remember that everyone could hear everything. You can elect to not video-record yourself and mute yourself. When I asked my client to step away and have a private conversation, my paralegal, my partner, and the client would log off the link and log back on an 8 a.m. link that we used to practice earlier that day. That was our private chat room.
The judge wore no robe. She looked like she was sitting on the back porch of her house. Birds were whistling in the background. It was a pretty day, and there was a bright blue sky…wherever she was. No one wore suits except for me. I wore a nice suit. I wore no shoes, but a nice suit. Everyone one else wore jeans and a shirt.
I didn’t have to drive to the courthouse and find parking. I didn’t even have to wear high heels and walk around in them all day. I didn’t have to tell my paralegal to carry all 1,500 pages of exhibits to the courthouse, or bring him Advil for when he complains that his job is making his back ache.
Whenever I wanted to get a refill of sweet tea or go to the bathroom, I did so quietly. I turned off my video and muted myself and carried my laptop to the bathroom. Although, now, I completely understand why the Supreme Court had its “Supreme Flush.”
All in all, it went as smoothly as one could hope in such an awkward platform.
Oh, and happily, we won the injunction, and now a home healthcare provider can go back to work during COVID-19. All of her aides have PPE. All of her aides want to go to work to earn money. They are willing to take the risk. My client should get back-paid for all her services rendered prior to the injunction. She hadn’t been getting paid for months. However, this provider is still on prepayment review due to N.C. Gen. Stat. 108C-7(e), which legislators should really review. This statute does not work. Especially in the time of COVID. See blog.
I may be among the first civil attorneys to go to court in the time of COVID-19. If I’m honest, I kind of liked it better. I can go to the bathroom whenever I need to, as long as I turn off my audio. Interestingly, Monday, Texas began holding its first jury trial – virtually. I cannot wait to see that cluster! It is streaming live.
Being on RACMonitor for so long definitely helped me prepare for my first remote lawsuit. My next lawsuit will be in New York City, where adult day care centers are not getting properly reimbursed.
RACMonitor Programming Note:
Healthcare attorney Knicole Emanuel is a permanent panelist on Monitor Monday and you can hear her reporting every Monday, 10-10:30 a.m. EST.
NC’s DHHS’ Secretary’s Handling of COVID-19: Yay or Nay?
I posted/wrote the below blog in 2017. I re-read my February 10, 2017, blog, which was entitled “NC DHHS’ New Secretary – Yay or Nay?” with the new perspective of COVID-19 being such a hot potato topic and sparking so much controversy. Interestingly, at least to me, I still stand by what I wrote. You have to remember that viruses are not political. Viruses spread despite your bank account, age, or location. Sure, variables matter. For example, I am statistically safer from COVID because I live on a small, horse farm in North Carolina rather than an apartment in Manhattan.
The facts are the facts. Viruses and facts are not political.
I was surprised that more people did not react to my February 10, 2017, blog, which is re-posted below – exactly as it was first posted. For some reason (COVID-19), people are re-reading it.
Our newly appointed DHHS Secretary comes with a fancy and distinguished curriculum vitae. Dr. Mandy Cohen, DHHS’ newly appointed Secretary by Gov. Roy Cooper, is trained as an internal medicine physician. She is 38 (younger than I am) and has no known ties to North Carolina. She grew up in New York; her mother was a nurse practitioner. She is also a sharp contrast from our former, appointed, DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos. See blog.
Prior to the appointment as our DHHS Secretary, Dr. Cohen was the Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Chief of Staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Prior to acting as the COO of CMS, she was Principal Deputy Director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) at CMS where she oversaw the Health Insurance Marketplace and private insurance market regulation. Prior to her work at CCIIO, she served as a Senior Advisor to the Administrator coordinating Affordable Care Act implementation activities.
Did she ever practice medicine?
Prior to acting as Senior Advisor to the Administrator, Dr. Cohen was the Director of Stakeholder Engagement for the CMS Innovation Center, where she investigated new payment and care delivery models.
Dr. Cohen received her Bachelor’s degree in policy analysis and management from Cornell University, 2000. She obtained her Master’s degree in health administration from Harvard University School of Public Health, 2004, and her Medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine, 2005.
She started as a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital from 2005 through 2008, then was deputy director for comprehensive women’s health services at the Department of Veterans Affairs from July 2008 through July 2009. From 2009 through 2011, she was executive director of the Doctors for America, a group that promoted the idea that any federal health reform proposal ought to include a government-run “public option” health insurance program for the uninsured.
Again, I was perplexed. Did she ever practice medicine? Does she even have a current medical license?
This is what I found:
It appears that Dr. Cohen was issued a medical license in 2007, but allowed it to expire in 2012 – most likely, because she was no longer providing medical services and was climbing the regulatory and political ladder.
From what I could find, Dr. Cohen practiced medicine (with a fully-certified license) from June 20, 2007, through July 2009 (assuming that she practiced medicine while acting as the deputy director for comprehensive women’s health services at the Department of Veterans Affairs).
Let me be crystal clear: It is not my contention that Dr. Cohen is not qualified to act as our Secretary to DHHS because she seemingly only practiced medicine (fully-licensed) for two years. Her political and policy experience is impressive. I am only saying that, to the extent that Dr. Cohen is being touted as a perfect fit for our new Secretary because of her medical experience, let’s not make much ado of her practicing medicine for two years.
That said, regardless Dr. Cohen’s practical medical experience, anyone who has been the COO of CMS must have intricate knowledge of Medicare and Medicaid and the essential understanding of the relationship between NC DHHS and the federal government. In this regard, Cooper hit a homerun with this appointment.
Herein lies the conundrum with Dr. Cohen’s appointment as DHHS Secretary:
Is there a conflict of interest?
During Cooper’s first week in office, our new Governor sought permission, unilaterally, from the federal government to expand Medicaid as outlined in the Affordable Care Act. This was on January 6, 2017.
To which agency does Gov. Cooper’s request to expand Medicaid go? Answer: CMS. Who was the COO of CMS on January 6, 2017? Answer: Cohen. When did Cohen resign from CMS? January 12, 2017.
On January 14, 2017, a federal judge stayed any action to expand Medicaid pending a determination of Cooper’s legal authority to do so. But Gov. Cooper had already announced his appointment of Dr. Cohen as Secretary of DHHS, who is and has been a strong proponent of the ACA. You can read one of Dr. Cohen’s statements on the ACA here.
In fact, regardless your political stance on Medicaid expansion, Gov. Cooper’s unilateral request to expand Medicaid without the General Assembly is a violation of NC S.L. 2013-5, which states:
SECTION 3. The State will not expand the State’s Medicaid eligibility under the Medicaid expansion provided in the Affordable Care Act, P.L. 111-148, as amended, for which the enforcement was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in National Federation of Independent Business, et al. v. Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al., 132 S. Ct. 2566 (2012). No department, agency, or institution of this State shall attempt to expand the Medicaid eligibility standards provided in S.L. 2011-145, as amended, or elsewhere in State law, unless directed to do so by the General Assembly.
Obviously, if Gov. Cooper’s tactic were to somehow circumvent S.L. 2013-5 and reach CMS before January 20, 2017, when the Trump administration took over, the federal judge blockaded that from happening with its stay on January 14, 2017.
But is it a bit sticky that Gov. Cooper appointed the COO of CMS, while she was still COO of CMS, to act as our Secretary of DHHS, and requested CMS for Medicaid expansion (in violation of NC law) while Cohen was acting COO?
You tell me.
I did find an uplifting quotation from Dr. Cohen from a 2009 interview with a National Journal reporter:
“There’s a lot of uncompensated work going on, so there has to be a component that goes beyond just fee-for service… But you don’t want a situation where doctors have to be the one to take on all the risk of taking care of a patient. Asking someone to take on financial risk in a small practice is very concerning.” -Dr. Mandy Cohen