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“Bye Felicia” – Closing Your Doors To a Skilled Nursing Facility May Not Be So Easy – You Better Follow the Law Or You May Get “Sniffed!”

There are more than 15,000 nursing homes across the country. Even as the elderly population balloons, more and more nursing homes are closing. The main reason is that Medicare covers little at a nursing home, but Medicare does cover at-home and community-based services; i.e., personal care services at your house. Medicare covers nothing for long term care if the recipient only needs custodial care. If the recipient requires a skilled nursing facility (SNF), Medicare will cover the first 100 days, although a co-pay kicks in on day 21. Plus, Medicare only covers the first 100 days if the recipient meets the 3-day inpatient hospital stay requirement for a covered SNF stay. For these monetary reasons, Individuals are trying to stay in their own homes more than in the past, which negatively impacts nursing homes. Apparently, the long term care facilities need to lobby for changes in Medicare.

Closing a SNF, especially if it is Medicare certified, can be tricky to maneuver the stringent regulations.  You cannot just be dismissive and say, “Bye, Felicia,” and walk away. Closing a SNF can be as legally esoteric as opening a SNF. It is imperative that you close a SNF in accordance with all applicable federal regulations; otherwise you could face some “sniff” fines. Bye, Felicia!

Section 6113 of the Affordable Care Act dictates the requirements for closing SNFs. SNF closures can be voluntary or involuntary. So-called involuntary closures occur when health officials rule that homes have provided inadequate care, and Medicaid and Medicare cut off reimbursements. There were 106 terminations of nursing home contracts in 2014, according to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Regardless, according to law, the SNF must provide notice of the impending closure to the State and consumers (or legal representatives) at least 60 days before closure. An exception is if the SNF is shut down by the state or federal government, then the notice is required whenever the Secretary deems appropriate. Notice also must be provided to the State Medicaid agency, the patient’s primary care doctors, the SNF’s medical director, and the CMS regional office. Once notice is provided, the SNF may not admit new patients.

Considering the patients who reside within a SNF, by definition, need skilled care, the SNF also has to plan and organize the relocation of its patients. These relocation plans must be approved by the State.

Further, if the SNF violates these regulations the administrator of the facility and will be subject to civil monetary penalty (CMP) as follows: A minimum of $500 for the first offense; a minimum of $1,500 for the second offense; and a minimum of $3,000 for the third and subsequent offenses. Plus, the administrator could be subject to higher amounts of CMPs (not to exceed ($100,000) based on criteria that CMS will identify in interpretative guidelines.

If you are contemplating closing a SNF, it is imperative that you do so in accordance with the federal rules and regulations. Consult your attorney. Do not be dismissive and say, “Bye, Felicia.” Because you could get “sniffed.”

Lordy, Lordy, Look Who’s Forty: A Review of Our 40-Year-Old Stalemate in Health Care Reform

40-birthday

Well, folks, it is official.  I am “over the hill.”  Yup.  My birthday is today, January 7, 1975, and I was born 40 years ago.

Instead of moping around, I have decided to embrace my 40s. For starters, let’s take a look at where we were 40 years ago. Obviously, personally, I was in utero. But what about the country? What about health care?

Not surprisingly, even 40 years ago, politicians were discussing the same issues with health care as we are now. Some things never change…or do they???

In my “40 years in review” blog, I want to discuss why we, as a nation, are still arguing about the same health care issues that we were arguing about 40 years ago.  And, perhaps, the reason why we have been in a 40-year-old stalemate in health care reform.

Today, we have a diverged nation when it comes to health care. Democrats want to expand public health insurance (i.e., Medicaid) and tend to favor a higher degree of government oversight of health care to ensure that health care is available to all people.  Republicans, on the other hand, believe that the financial burden of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on the federal and state level is unsustainable, and people will receive less than adequate health care. Republicans tend to favor privatization of Medicaid, while liberals oppose such ideas.

Health care reform has been a hot topic for over 40 years…with some interesting differences…

Going back to 1975…

Gerald Ford, a Republican, was our nation’s president, and we were in a nationwide recession.

Under Ford, the American Medical Society (AMA) proposed a new plan for health care, an employer mandate proposal.

According to a 1975 Chicago Tribune journalist, the AMA’s new proposal pushed for a broader government role in health care.  See below.

“The new [ ] plan would cover both employees and the unemployed, along with poor people and those considered uninsurable because of medical or mental problems.  It would require employers to subsidize health care for employees and their families and pay at least 65 % of each premium.  It would also require the government to provide partially subsidized health insurance, financed from general revenues, for the poor and the unemployed. It calls for medical insurance benefits covering 365 days of hospital care during any one year, 100 days of nursing home care, and home health, mental, and dental service for children aged 2 and up.  All but the poorest beneficiaries would share premium costs and would pay 20 per cent for the services provided, but no individual would pay more than $1,500 a year and no family more than $2,000 a year for health care.”

Chicago Tribune, “The A.M.A.’s subsidy plan” April 19, 1975 (emphasis added) (no author was cited).

Interestingly, in that same newspaper from April 19, 1975, advertisements show towels for $1.89, pants for teenagers for $4.99, a swivel rocker for $88, and a BBQ grill for $12.88. My how times have changed!

Those prices also indicate how much buying power was involved with the AMA’s proposal, and what it meant to suggest that an individual might have to pay up to $1,500 a year, and a family up to $2,000 a year, for health care – a lot of money back then!

In 1976, Pres. Ford proposed adding catastrophic coverage to Medicare, offset by increased cost sharing.  These are examples of Pres. Ford (a Republican) creating more government involvement in health care and expanding health care to everyone.

After Pres. Ford, came Pres. Jimmy Carter from 1977-1981, a Democrat.

Pres. Carter campaigned on the notion of “universal health care for everyone;” however, once in office he decided instead to rein in costs, and not expand coverage.  In the prior decade (1960), the consumer price index had increased by 79.7%, while hospital costs had risen 237%.  President Carter proposed an across-the-board cap on hospital charges that would limit annual increases to 1.5 times any rise in the consumer price index.

Pres. Carter was also quoted from public speeches saying, “We must clean up the disgraceful Medicaid scandals.”

Pres. Carter’s stance on “universal” health care was: “that such a program would be financed through both the employer and the payroll taxes, as well as general revenue taxes. Patients would still be free to choose their own physician, but the federal government would set doctor’s fees and establish controls to monitor the cost and quality of health care.”

In May 1979, Senator Ted Kennedy, a Democrat, proposed a new universal national health insurance bill—offering a choice of competing federally-regulated private health insurance plans with no cost sharing financed by income-based premiums via an employer mandate and individual mandate, replacement of Medicaid by government payment of premiums to private insurers, and enhancement of Medicare by adding prescription drug coverage and eliminating premiums and cost sharing.

These are examples of Democrats, Pres. Carter, by not expanding health care coverage and reining in costs, and Sen. Kennedy, by proposing privatization of Medicaid, acting in a more conservative nature, or, as a conservative nature would be perceived today.

So when did the parties flip-flop? Why did the parties flip-flop? And the most important question…if we have been struggling with the exact same issues on health care for over 40 years, why has our health care system not been fixed?  There has certainly been enough time, ideas, and proposed bills.

While I do not profess to know the answer, my personal opinion is the severe and debilitating polarizations of the two main political parties have rendered this country into a 40-year-old stalemate when it comes to health care reform and are the reason why the solution has not been adopted and put into practice.

Maybe back in 1979, when Senator Kennedy proposed replacing Medicaid with private insurance, Republicans refused to agree, simply because a Democrat proposed the legislation.

Today when Republican candidates campaign on privatizing Medicaid and the Democrats vehemently oppose such action, maybe the opposition is not to the idea, but to the party making the proposal.

Just a thought…

And here’s to the next 40!!!

Medicaid, Medicare, Nursing Facilities, and Death and Taxes: Our Uncertain Future for Our Aged Population

There are few “knowns” in life. In 1789, Benjamin franklin penned a correspondence to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, in which he wrote, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Certainly the phrase “death and taxes” had existed prior to Franklin’s 1789 usage, but considering how famous Franklin became in history for our country, many people attribute the phrase to Franklin.

Think about it. Nothing is certain, but death and taxes. It is a rather bleak view of the world. Why not “nothing is certain except happiness and sadness?” Or “nothing is certain but you being alive and dying?” Why do both “certain” items have to be bleak?

For purposes of this blog, I am using my own phrase:

“Nothing is certain except old age, unless you die early.”

For one day, we will all be old (unless we die early). And when we age, as much as we would love to ignore the fact, the fact is that most of us will be placed in an assisted living facility (ALF) or a nursing home of some sort.

But what will the world of ALFs look like 20…30…40 years from now? With the low Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates for personal care services (PCS), how many nursing homes will exist in the future?

Already, in Massachusetts, nursing homes are dropping like flies due to low reimbursement rates. What does this mean to the aged population?

In NC, our PCS reimbursement rate continues to be slashed. What will this mean for our aged population?

In the past few years, with approval from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has lowered the reimbursement rates for non-medical PCS provided both in the home and in a facility.

In October 2013, DHHS officials proposed to CMS a cut in the Medicaid PCS hourly rate by $2.40 per hour, down to $13.12 per hour, retroactive to July 1 (At the time, the PCS hourly rate was $15.52 and allowed up to 130 hours of care per month or, roughly, 4 hours a day).

Interestingly, DHHS has the PCS reimbursement rate for facilities and for home health care providers the same. Yet, facilities face much higher overhead, staffing costs, and building and equipment costs than does a home care provider. So why do both different types of providers receive the same reimbursement rate?

Prior to 2010, DHHS had two separate PCS rates, one for facilities and one for home health care providers. Obviously, the reimbursement rate in facilities was higher than the PCS rate for home health care providers to account for the additional overhead costs.

However, Disability Rights of NC warned DHHS that paying lower reimbursement rates for people living in the home versus a facility violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed, and, in 2012, the General Assembly (GA) had to make a decision: (1) lower the reimbursement rate for PCS in facilities; (2) increase the reimbursement rates for PCS in the home; (3) or come up with some innovative way to not violate the ADA.

Feeling pinched, the GA passed legislation that made it more difficult for recipients to qualify for PCS and decreased the number of allowable hours of PCS to from 130 to 80 hours per month, although if a person suffered from dementia, the PCS provider could get an extra 50 hours/week.

Plus, starting January 1, 2014, the shared savings plan went into effect, which decreased reimbursement rates by 3% across the board.

What does all this mean? It points to a couple of things.

Nursing facilities are facing financial distress.

In Massachusetts nursing facilities have already begun to close down. As of May 19, 2014, within 5 months, 4 nursing homes have gone out of business. According to The Boston Globe, the 4 nursing homes closed because they were “unable to make ends meet with the money they get from Medicaid because reimbursement rates have not increased in nearly a decade, according to the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, the industry trade group. Scores more are on the edge of shutting down.”

Scores more are on the verge of shutting down? For those of you who do not recall Lincoln’s speech, “Four scores and seven years ago…,” a score equals 20. According to the Boston Globe scores are on the verge of shutting down??? 40? 60?

With our aged population growing by the day, what does the future look like for nursing homes and the aged population?

Nothing may be certain except death and taxes, but I think it is certain that you will grow old, unless you die early.

Personal Care Services: Will the Fear of the “F” Word (Medicaid Fraud) Cause PCS in the Home to Be Eradicated???

In my career, I call it the “F” word:

Fraud.

Its existence and fear of existence drives Medicare and Medicaid policies.

It is without question that Medicare and Medicaid fraud needs to be eliminated.  In fact, for true Medicare and Medicaid fraud, I propose harsher penalties.  Think about what the fraudulent provider is doing…taking health care dollars from the elderly and poor without providing services.  Medicare and Medicaid recipients receive less medically necessary services because of fraudulent providers.

Just recently, in Charlotte, on April 9, 2014, V.F. Brewton, of Shelby, N.C., was sentenced to 111 months in prison, three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $7,070,426 in restitution to Medicaid and $573,392 to IRS. On April 8, 2014, co-defendant, R. S. Cannon, of Charlotte, was sentenced to 102 months in prison, three years court supervised release and ordered to pay $2,541,306 in restitution.  See press release.  Ouch!

On November 21, 2013, in Miami, Fla., Roberto Marrero, who ran Trust Care, was sentenced 120 months in prison.  From approximately March 2007 through at least October 2010, Trust Care submitted more than $20 million in claims for home health services. Medicare paid Trust Care more than $15 million for these fraudulent claims. Marrero and his co-conspirators have also acknowledged their involvement in similar fraudulent schemes at several other Miami health care agencies with estimated total losses of approximately $50 million. See article.  Ouch!

However, there are never the stories in the newspapers and media about all the services actually rendered to Medicare and Medicaid recipients by upstanding providers who do not commit fraud, but, instead, work very hard every day to stay up-to-date on regulations and policies and who do not reap much profit for the services provided.  I guess that doesn’t make good journalism.

I recently attended the Association for Home and Hospice Care (AHHC) conference in RTP, NC.  I met wonderful and non-fraudulent providers.  Each provider I met was passionate and compassionate about their job.  The only time money was brought up was to discuss the low reimbursement rates and the low profit margin for these providers.

In fact, one of the speakers even opined that, because of the alleged prevalence of fraud in home health care, the federal and state governments will continue to cut reimbursement rates for home health and hospice until over 50% of the agencies operate at a loss by 2017.  That is a dismal thought!  What happened to our right to pursue a career without intervention?

One provider informed me that, upon his or her information and belief, there is a chance that PCS, which is an optional program under Medicaid, may be wiped out in the near future by the General Assembly (PCS for home health and assisted living facilities, not the recipients covered by the Waiver).

What are personal care services (PCS)?

In the world of Medicaid and Medicare, there are a number of different types of PCS.  No, actually, I think it is more apropos to say there are a number of different PCS recipients in the world of Medicaid and Medicare.

First, the definition/eligibility requirements:

Personal Care Services (PCS) are available to individuals who have a medical condition, disability, or cognitive impairment and demonstrate unmet needs for, at a minimum three of the five qualifying activities of daily living (ADLs) with limited hands-on assistance; two ADLs, one of which requires extensive assistance; or two ADLs, one of which requires assistance at the full dependence level. The five qualifying ADLs are eating, dressing, bathing, toileting, and mobility.  See DMA website.

PCS are provided to developmentally disabled people under the 1915 b/c Waivers, people who reside in nursing homes and long-term assisted living facilities, and people who qualify to receive PCS in their homes.  For purposes of this blog, I am writing about the latter three types of recipients.  All 50 states allow PCS for qualified individuals, but the qualifications differ among the states.

In this day and age, the “F” word drives Medicaid and Medicare policies.  Without question Medicaid fraud exists.  Whether Medicaid fraud is as prevalent as some may believe, I am not sure.  I have certainly witnessed honest providers accused of Medicaid fraud.

And home health care providers are viewed by some, generally, as the providers who can most easily commit Medicaid fraud (with which I do not agree, but must concede that home health care is more difficult to monitor).  For example, a home health care provider goes to a person’s home and provides services.  Who would know whether the home health care provider was billing for services on days he or she did not go to the recipient’s house? Not the recipient, because the recipient has no idea for what dates the provider is billing.  Unlike an assisted living facility or nursing home that is easier to monitor and would have the documentation to show that the recipient actually lived in the facility.

Because of the alleged prevalence of fraud in home health care, apparently, (and with no independent verification on my part) some in North Carolina are questioning whether we should continue to reimburse PCS with Medicaid dollars, particularly as to home health.  But if we stopped reimbursing for PCS in the homes, what would be the alternative?  How would it affect North Carolinians? Would eliminating PCS save tax dollar money? Stop fraud?

When we evaluate the effects of whether to continue to reimburse for PCS with Medicaid dollars, we aren’t only talking about those served by PCS, but also the companies and all employees providing the home health.  In 2012 in NC, approximately 40,000 were employed in home health.

Why is home health care important (or is it?)? Should we allow the “F” word to erase PCS  in home health?

What is the alternative to home health?  Answer: (1) Assisted living facilities?  (2) Nursing homes? (3) A dedicated, family caregiver?  (4) Nothing?

While there are, I am sure, many reasons that PCS in home health care is vital to our community, for the purposes of this blog, I am going to concentrate on cost savings to the taxpayers.  Home health costs us (taxpayers) less money than other alternatives to home health.

Also, understand please that I am not advocating that everyone should receive home health instead of entering nursing homes or assisted living facilities.  Quite the contrary, as both nursing homes and assisted living facilities are essential to NC.  I am merely pointing out that all the services (home health, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities) are important.

What is the difference between assisted living and nursing homes?

An assisted living community provides communal living, usually with social activities, a cafeteria, laundry service, etc.  I always think of my grandma at Glenaire in Cary, NC.  She plays bridge, attends a book club, and even takes a computer course!  She actually joined Facebook a couple of years ago!

A nursing home, on the other hand, provides 24-hour supervision by a licensed or registered nursing staff.  Generally, the folks eligible to be admitted into an assisted living facility will be eligible to receive PCS (see the above definition/eligibility requirements).  So, logically, the clientele in an assisted living facility receiving PCS could, in some cases, also be eligible to receive PCS in their home.  Obviously a number of factors come into play to determine whether a person goes into an assisted living facility versus staying at home and receiving home health care: eligibility, family issues, money, condition of your home, money, desire for independence, money, health issues, and money.

Because of the level of supervision and skill required in a nursing home, a nursing home will be much more expensive than an assisted living facility.  Insomuch as the assisted living facility will be less expensive than a nursing home, home health care, because you are paying for your own room and board, will be cheaper than both.

The average national cost for an assisted living facility in 2012 was $3,550/month.  That’s $42,600/year.  The average cost for an assisted living facility in 2012 in NC was $2900/month.

The average cost for a nursing home in NC for a semi-private room is $73,913 and $82,125 for a private room.  That’s $225/day for a private room.  For that price, you could get a room at a Ritz Carlton! (albeit not in a touristy area).

You think nursing homes are expensive in NC? Don’t move to NY!! In NY, for a semi-private room it costs $124,100/year and $130,670/year for a private room ($358/day!). Florida is a bit more expensive that NC too.  In Florida, on average, a semi-private room in a nursing home costs $83,950 and a private room is approximately $91,615.

On the flip side, the average cost for a homemaker is $38,896.  A home health aide costs, on average, $40,040.

If, in fact, NC ceases to reimburse PCS in home health, many of the people residing in their homes and relying on Medicaid-covered PCS will be forced to leave their homes for, in some case, more expensive alternatives.

Though the odd contrast may not be easily seen, there is an argument that erasing PCS in the home may actually cost the tax payers more.  Not to mention that erasing PCS in home health would drive agencies bankrupt and staff jobless.

Remember, I have no verification that our General Assembly would or would not eradicate PCS in the home environment.  It was mere speculation in a conversation.  But the conversation got me thinking about the delicate balance of Medicaid services in NC.  And how one abrupt and drastic change could change our health care system and capitalist ideas so quickly.

And, arguably, all because of the speculative “F” word.  What is that political phrase we heard so much in the last elections? Oh, yes, maybe we should use a scalpel, not an ax?

Hello, 2014! And Hello 3% Decrease in Medicaid Reimbursements (But Call the Decrease “Shared Savings”)

Tomorrow is the first Medicaid checkwrite for 2014 (and its my birthday too).  Happy New Year! Happy birthday!! (I’m turning 29 for the 10th year).  For New Years, my husband and I had a very quiet evening eating crab legs at home. Yum! I am sure many of you made New Years resolutions…work harder…lose weight…get paid 3% less….WHAT?

With the first Medicaid checkwrite tomorrow, due to Session Law 2013-360, many health care providers will receive 3% less in Medicaid reimbursements.  You will receive a 3% cut if you are the following types of providers:

  • Inpatient hospital.
  • Physician, excluding primary care until January 1, 2015.
  • Dental.
  • Optical services and supplies.
  • Podiatry.
  • Chiropractors.
  • Hearing aids.
  • Personal care services.
  • Nursing homes.
  • Adult care homes.
  • Dispensing drugs.

(This is the exact list as found in Session Law 2013-360.  I am well aware that the list is grammatically-challenged, but I did not write it).  Both the federal government and NC are calling this 3% withholding “Shared Savings Plan with Provider.” 

How is this “shared savings with providers” when the government is withholding money from providers??? Sure, supposedly, there will  be a “pay for performance payment” to some providers, but most providers will just be reimbursed 3% less.

How is this fair?  How is this “shared savings?” 

Here’s an example:

Say I work at Harris Teeter and my manager comes up to me and says, “Hey, Knicole, Harris Teeter is really concerned with our overhead costs.  Salaries seem to be a big cost, and we want to “share the savings” with you.  So we are going to cut your pay by 3%.  If we, subjectively, determine, at the end of the year, that you are working hard and saving us money, then we will give you a performance reward.  It will not be all the money we retained, but it will be some amount.  This way Harris Teeter profits off the interest of the 3% we retain all year, plus the amount we never give you.”

Folks, the above example is called a decrease in pay and a swift kick in the bottom.  It is not “shared savings.”

In DHHS’ shared savings scheme, the money will go to:

“The Department of Health and Human Services shall use funds withheld from payments for drugs to develop with Community Care of North Carolina (CCNC) a program for Medicaid and Health Choice recipients based on the ChecKmeds NC program. The program shall include the following:

  1. At least 50 community pharmacies by June 30, 2015.
  2. At least 500 community pharmacies in at least 70 counties by June 30, 2016.
  3. A per member per month (PMPM) payment for care coordination and population health services provided in conjunction with CCNC.
  4. A pay for performance payment.”

Session Law 2013-360.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), “[a] shared savings methodology typically comprises four important concepts: a total cost of care benchmark, provider payment incentives to improve care quality and lower total cost of care, a performance period that tests the changes, and an evaluation to determine the program cost savings during the performance period compared to the benchmark cost of care and to identify the improvements in care quality.”

Employers chop salaries all the time in order to maximize profit.  Back in 2011, Sony proposed 11% salary cuts for executives due to such a terrible fiscal year.  But guess what is different between Sony’s 11% cut and Medicaid’s 3%?  I know…I know…a lot….but what difference am I thinking about?

Sony sought shareholder approval.

I guess you can make the argument that the General Assembly sought voter approval because our citizens voted for all the legislators in the General Assembly.  But I think that argument is weak.  No legislator ran his or her campaign on: “Vote for Me! If you are a Medicaid provider, I plan to decrease your salary by 3%!”

Better yet, with the Sony salary cut, executives had the option to seek employment elsewhere.  What is a Medicaid provider’s option? Move?  Not take Medicaid? (Sadly, I see this as a more viable option).

On a legal note, I question the constitutionality of our new shared savings plan.  Wouldn’t the decrease of 3% in Medicaid reimbursements be considered an unlawful taking without due process.  In essence, could one argue that the decrease of 3% in Medicaid reimbursements is just a way for the State to decrease Medicaid reimbursements without going through the proper lawful process?

Then again, maybe we won’t need to worry about the 3% decrease at all…given NCTracks’ track record, it is plausible that NCTracks will not be able to adjust the Medicaid reimbursements by 3%.