Blog Archives

BREAKING: House and Senate appear close to a Medicaid deal!!

In our last post on Medicaid reform, we updated you on the recent bill passed by the North Carolina Senate relating to the long-standing thorn in the side of the General Assembly, especially regarding the states’ budget – the Medicaid program. The Senate’s version of Medicaid reform is quite different from what we have previously seen and is a hodge-podge of managed care and a new idea: “provider-led entities.”

In a strong sign that this proposal is a compromise between competing sides that could end up getting passed, both House and Senate leaders are speaking positively on the record to news media about the prospects for a deal. Given how public the issue is and how big it is (an expected $14.2 billion in North Carolina in the coming year), that means they expect to get a deal done soon. The fact that the issue is so tied up with the budget that is overdue to be passed is a further headwind to passing a bill.

Right now, the bill is in a conference committee of negotiators from the House and Senate to work out an agreement, given the differences between the two chambers.

One major issue that the committee needs to look at is whether there will be a whole new state agency: the “Department of Medicaid.” The Senate endorsed that idea last week.

Our prediction: The legislators will chart a cautious course and not erect a whole new agency at the same time they are overhauling the system.

With Wos having (coincidentally?) just stepped down as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, perhaps the lack of a lightning rod for criticism of DHHS will let the air out of the proposal to remove Medicaid from DHHS’s hands.

Stay tuned.

By Robert Shaw

Robert

Passing the Torch: Wos Resigns!! Brajer Appointed!

Aldona Wos resigned today after two years and seven months as Secretary of NC DHHS.  Wos’ last day will be Aug. 14.

McCrory named Rick Brajer, a former medical technology executive, as the new Secretary of DHHS.

Soon-to-be Sec. Brajer, 54, was the chief executive of ProNerve and LipoScience.  LipoScience was sold to LabCorp in 2014, and ProNerve was sold to Specialty Care in April.

Brajer is not a doctor, as Wos was.  Instead, Brajer touts an MBA from Stanford.

I do not have any information as to why Wos resigned now, especially in light of the recent resignation of the Secretary of Transportation, but will keep you apprised.

More to come….

Medicaid Reform in a House Divided and MCO, ACO…Who Cares?

We are living in the most polarized society in recent American history. A recent study shows that the feeling of political partisanship has more than doubled over the past 2 decades. So since 1995, politically, America has parted the Red Sea with voters increasingly ebbing away from the middle.

Even more interesting is that, according to the same 2014 study, political animosity is at an all-time, recent high. I say “recent” because I cannot fathom a more polarized society than the society in the 1850s-1860s leading up to the Civil War. So, when I say “recent,” I mean post-invention of the telephone.

According to the Pew Research Center, “[i]n each party, the share with a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994. Most of these intense partisans believe the opposing party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.””

partisanship

If BOTH parties express this identical sentiment, someone is wrong.

So, now, here, in this extremely polarized society, our NC General Assembly is tackling one of our most important and most divisive issues…Medicaid Reform.

But, you say, “Knicole, our General Assembly is an overwhelming Republican majority.  Our Governor is Republican.  How can this vast and deep political polarization prevent NC from creating a new, better, non-broken Medicaid system?”

In NC, even the Republicans are polarized, at least as to the issue of Medicaid reform.  The two differing opinions as to Medicaid reform can be found in our separate houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives (House).  As for our executive branch, Governor McCrory sides with the House.

The houses are divided by acronyms: ACOs (House) versus MCOs (Senate).

The House plan for Medicaid reform involves accountable care organizations (ACOs).  The ACO plan includes physicians, hospitals and other health care providers collaborating to serve Medicaid recipients and assuming the monetary risks.  For example, one ACO may be liable for 6000 Medicaid recipients.  The ACO would be given X dollars per Medicaid recipient to cover the person’s overall health care.  Say the ACO, via its health professionals, conducts a preventative breast exam on a woman and discovers a lump.  The ACO would pay to remove the lump and, hopefully, the woman is ok.  If the ACO fails to practice preventative medicine and the woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, then the ACO must finance the more expensive surgery and chemotherapy required.  The ACO’s incentive would be to provide the best, proactive health care because, regardless, the ACO will be liable for that individual’s care.  With ACOs, there is a financial incentive to keep people healthy and the profit is shared with the state.

The Senate plan for Medicaid reform involves managed care organizations (MCOs).  Unlike ACOs, MCOs will not be comprised of health care providers.  The MCOs will be large companies that will be charged with managing Medicaid by contracting with a network of providers.  Many Medicaid services require prior authorization, which would be in the hands of the utilization review team employed by the MCO.  Similar to the ACO, the MCO would be given an amount of money based on the number of Medicaid recipients within its network.  The profit for the MCO is the money remaining at the end of the fiscal quarter that was not spent on services for Medicaid recipients.

What is better?  Does better mean the most cost-savings?  Does better mean the best quality of care for Medicaid recipients?

In order to determine whether the MCO-model or ACO-model is better and what exactly “better” means, you have to follow the money.  For both models, you have to ask, “If the actual medical services provided cost double the anticipated amount, who bears the burden?” And, conversely, “If the actual medical services provided cost half the anticipated amount, who pockets the profit?”

There are numerous ways for an insurer to be paid.  At one end of the spectrum, you have capitation; while at the other end of the spectrum you have a more typical financial relationship in which the insurer simply pays the health care provider its reasonable and usual amount.

Capitation is how we currently have our MCOs set up for behavioral health care in North Carolina.  As we currently use capitation for our MCOs, I would assume that the Senate-model MCOs would also be capitated.  Capitation places the risk on the MCO because the MCO receives a fixed amount regardless of actual cost.  However, there is concern (or should be) that the MCOs will provide patients less care than needed in order to pocket a profit.

On the other hand, ACOs typically do not rely on full capitation.  The ACOs may share the risk, and, therefore, the profit, with the state.

Another HUGE difference between ACOs and MCOs is that, with MCOs, the insurer in effect dictates what a health care provider is allowed to do.  For example, say a dentist believes that a person is in need of dentures.  Maybe 4-5 teeth have already fallen out and the remaining teeth are suffering more mild rot.  The dentist requests prior authorization from the MCO to extract teeth, create a mold of the mouth, and order dentures to be custom-created.  The MCO denies the requests saying, for example, not enough teeth have fallen out or not enough rot is present in the remaining teeth.  The dentist’s hands are tied to the decision of the MCO, unless the patient can fork over the cost of care that the MCO refuses to authorize.  And, BTW, the person who denied the request may have graduated from college with a BA in History . . . or in any event something else other than a field of medical or dental care

An ACO, on the other hand, is run by physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers. Theoretically, the decisions to authorize services would be made by those same people who swore the Hippocratic Oath.

With regard to healing the sick, I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means; and I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage.

(I doubt a History major ever swore to heal the sick).

There has also been contemplation as to whether the General Assembly should remove the responsibility of managing Medicaid from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) completely.  Obviously, this suggestion is extreme and would require a Waiver from the federal government to transfer the “single state agency” requirement from DHHS to another entity.

Regardless of what decisions are made…whether the GA requires a private Medicaid panel to usurp Medicaid responsibilities from DHHS….whether NC adopts an MCO-model or an ACO-model for Medicaid reform….as it currently stands, our houses are divided.  No bills pass a divided legislature.

The Senate and House both indicate that Medicaid reform is a forefront issue during this long session, but, so far, there has been no indication of a Great Compromise.

DHHS reviews options for Medicaid expansion

From the News & Observer:

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s health secretary said Wednesday her agency is collecting information for Gov. Pat McCrory to offer him possible ways to expand Medicaid coverage to more people under the federal health care overhaul.

The Republican-led General Assembly and McCrory declined to accept expansion last year because they said the state Medicaid office consistently faced shortfalls in the hundreds of millions of dollars. A state audit and other troubled operations led McCrory to call the $13 billion program “broken.”

But Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos told a legislative committee the agency’s financial and structural improvements make offering credible options doable.

“We are at a point …. where we have an ability to evaluate options for the state and will be presenting those options to the governor,” Wos told the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee. Last week, Wos trumpeted to another General Assembly panel how the Division of Medical Assistance held a $64 million cash balance at the end of the last fiscal year.

Wos stressed it would be up to others to decide on expansion, most of which would be paid by the federal government for the near future. Expansion is designed for hundreds of thousands of uninsured North Carolina residents who make too much for traditional Medicaid but not enough for subsidized insurance exchange plans. Medicaid currently enrolls more than 1.8 million state residents — mostly poor children, older adults and the disabled.

Wos gave no timetable for offering McCrory those options but said it would be more than just determining whether it would make financial sense. For example, she said, there needs to be enough health care providers to oversee any wave of new enrollees.

McCrory said in July he would be willing to revisit Medicaid expansion if cost overruns were repaired and provided the federal government in part gave the state flexibility to target any coverage increase based on North Carolina’s needs.

Earlier Wednesday, DHHS also announced plans for a retooled organizational structure for the division, the first of its kind in 36 years. It shifts from two division sections to what the agency calls five clearly defined functions. An outside consultant has been helping with organizational, finance and budget forecasting within Medicaid.

Again Wednesday, Wos rejected arguments from the legislature, particularly the Senate, to remove Medicaid from DHHS, saying it would undo recent progress.

Our Medicaid Budget Does More Than Allocate Money; It Places the Burden of Proof on Medicaid Providers!!!

Are you a health care provider in NC? Are you wonderful enough to help Medicaid patients but accept low Medicaid reimbursements? Are you dedicated to helping our most needy? Well, guess what???? YOU now have the burden of proof if you disagree with an adverse determination by the State.

That’s right. The newly-enacted state budget quietly changes the statutes and shifts the burden of proof from the Department to YOU. I am reminded of my Grandpa Carson. Whenever he couldn’t believe what he just heard, he would bellow, “Wooooo weee.” Growing up in the south, we have certain sayings, such as “Bless your heart,” “Y’all come back now, ya hear?” and “That food is so good I could slap my momma.” My Grandpa Carson, God rest his soul, was as southern as southern can get. If he were here and heard about the burden shift onto the providers, he would say, “Wooo weeeee.”

Last week while I was on my first week-long vacation in 2 years, the North Carolina state budget, known as Session Law 2014-100, was signed into law by Governor McCrory.  (Which is why I missed a week of blogging…my vacation, not McCrory’s signature).  Since I was at my family reunion started by my Grandpa, I am dedicating this blog to my grandpa, Nat Carson, who created a family tradition that has lasted for over 40 years. Our (huge) extended family vacation together once a year at Emerald Isle for a family reunion. FOUR generations attend!

Going back to the budget…

An “adverse determination” in this case includes decisions by North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) under the Medicaid program such as the Department’s termination of a contract with the provider, a Managed Care Organization’s (MCO) termination of a provider contract, or the Department or one its many vendors determines that the providers owes an overpayment back to the state.

Not only does the state budget shift the burden of proof onto providers when they contest an adverse determination by the State, which we will discuss more below, but it also takes a lot of DHHS decision-making power away. It is apparent that the General Assembly does NOT think DHHS can do its job of managing Medicaid and creating Medicaid reform competently. The General Assembly (GA) has decided that, for whatever reason, it will be more hands-on regarding Medicaid decisions in the future.

Here are a few examples of the GA’s hands-on attitude found in the Session Law 2014-100 (with some emphasis I have made by putting some words in bold-faced type)

  • “Until the General Assembly enacts legislation authorizing a plan to reform Medicaid, the Department of Health and Human Services (i) shall continue to consult with stakeholder groups, study, and recommend options for Medicaid reform that will provide greater budget predictability for the Medicaid program and (ii) shall not commit the State to any particular course on Medicaid reform and shall not submit any reform-related State plan amendments, waivers, or grant applications nor enter into any contracts related to implementing Medicaid reform.”
  • “The Department may submit drafts of the waiver to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to solicit feedback but shall not submit the waiver for CMS approval until authorized by the General Assembly.”
  • “The Department of Health and Human Services shall make payments to the contractor hired by the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services from funds appropriated elsewhere in this budget for this contract…”
  • “The Department of Health and Human Services shall not make any other modifications to the portion of the Medicaid State Plan referenced in this section, except as provided herein.”
  • “The Department may submit drafts of the waivers to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to solicit feedback but shall not submit the waivers for CMS approval until authorized by the General Assembly.
  • “[T]he Division of Medical Assistance shall ensure that any Medicaid-related or NC Health Choice-related State contract entered into after the effective date of this section contains a clause that allows the Department or the Division to terminate the contract without cause upon 30 days’ notice.”
  • “No fewer than 10 days prior to submitting an amendment to the State Plan to the federal government, the Department shall post the amendment on its Web site and notify the members of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services and the Fiscal Research Division that the amendment has been posted.”

Basically, the GA has estopped DHHS from reforming Medicaid without the consent of the General Assembly.

Then, stuck in the middle of the state budget is the amendment to N.C. Gen. Stat. 108C…. “Woooo weeee!”

MODIFY MEDICAID APPEALS SECTION 12H.27.

(a) G.S. 108C-12(d) reads as rewritten: “(d) Burden of Proof. – The Department petitioner shall have the burden of proof in appeals of Medicaid providers or applicants concerning an adverse determination.”

Does anyone else understand what this teeny, tiny clause within Session Law 2014-100 means????

What is the importance of burden of proof? Enormous! And this clause changes the playing field for Medicaid providers. It may not have been a level field prior to Session Law 2014-100, but now it’s even more slanted.

The easiest way to explain “burden of proof” is that when a petitioning Medicaid provider challenges some adverse determination by DHHS, for example, the Department’s termination of a contract with the provider, the “burden of proof” decides which party must persuade the reviewing tribunal that the party’s assertions are correct. Up until this amendment of G.S.108C-12(d), the Department has had the burden to present evidence showing that its adverse determination was correct. The petitioner could then respond to that evidence, to try to show the contrary, but the burden of proving the correctness of the adverse determination still rested on the Department in cases filed by Medicaid providers under Chapter 108C.

In court, one of the first questions a judge will ask is, “Who carries the burden of proof?” Because the legal burden of proof is just that…a burden…that must be satisfactorily carried in order to win.

Health care providers who accept Medicaid have notoriously been given the short-end of the stick, i.e., low reimbursement rates, undergoing burdensome audits, but, at least, in NC, historically, the Department has had to prove the correctness of its allegations, whether it be an alleged overpayment, a termination of a Medicaid contract, or other allegations.

But now? DHHS’ allegations against a health care provider are true…unless the provider can prove DHHS wrong. The uphill fight of a provider seeking to correct a DHHS adverse determination, just became much steeper, and it was done with little or no fanfare.

“Woooooooo weeeeeee!”

So can you do? Only options as far as I see it:

  1. Call and email your state representatives.
  2. Hire a lobbyist.
  3. Bring a lawsuit to change it.
  4. Do nothing.

Per L. Warren’s comment, I am adding #5.

5. Stop taking Medicaid clients.

NCTracks’ One-Year Anniversary Is Celebrated with a Newly-Released, NCTracks, Congratulatory, SUCCESS Video! You agree?

Happy Anniversary, NCTracks!!!!  Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of NCTracks going live.

DHHS TV released a video touting the wonderful success of NCTracks, despite its, admittedly, rocky start (The video admits a rocky start).  In the video, health care providers gush over how wonderful NCTracks is and its success.  I have no comment due to the current pending litigation. Therefore, I am merely reporting the release of the video and asking whether you agree.

See the DHHS TV video here: .

Medicaid Mishaps Cause Tempers to Flare

Here is an interesting article…

Article from Carolina Journal Online by Dan Way:

RALEIGH — With $2 billion in cost overruns the past four years, Medicaid continues to be North Carolina’s most volatile political conundrum, and now unanswered questions about its spending and growth threaten to delay passage of 2014-15 state budget adjustments before next Monday’s deadline.

Things got nasty in a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting last week, and one is left to wonder whether Gov. Pat McCrory and the state Department of Health and Human Services squandered political capital by snubbing budget writers struggling with alarming lapses in vital Medicaid data.

Medicaid “is the linchpin” to writing the 2014-15 budget, said an irritated Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg. “Would someone explain to me why we don’t have [Office of State Budget and Management] or staff people from DHHS here to help us get to an answer so that we can move this budget forward?”

If not a prairie fire, the meeting at least exposed the slow burn of senators handcuffed by a dearth of crucial budget numbers from DHHS. Capital press corps reporters instinctively asked one of their most oft-repeated questions: Is DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos to blame for yet another major Medicaid predicament?

Due to significant backlogs, DHHS cannot provide accurate Medicaid enrollment numbers, valid claims data, and categories into which new enrollees are entered. Without precise, up-to-date information for this fiscal year, drafting an accurate budget for 2014-15 is impossible.

That’s a tough corner to be backed into for McCrory and Wos, who have made Medicaid budget predictability a holy grail.

The exasperation of Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, typified the level of lawmaker frustration.

“If push comes to shove,” he said, “we can always issue subpoenas and have the numbers come to us. So let’s not take that off the table.”

The irritability in Senate Appropriations was bipartisan.

“Will we ever know what we need to know?” Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, asked incredulously. “Do we have to be completely at the mercy of executive branch agencies on an issue like this that is so critical to what we do?”

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, explained, in measured but heart-attack serious tones, why there is an elevated sense of urgency, and why he had wanted someone from the budget office at the Appropriations Committee meeting to explain Medicaid numbers that have swung from wildly varying to unaccounted for.

“Our feeling is we need to reach some understanding on the Medicaid number before we can realistically start talking about most of the other things,” including teacher pay raises and pay hikes for state workers, Berger said.

And then there was this jaw-dropping exchange between Sen. Joel Ford, D-Mecklenburg, and Susan Jacobs of the legislative Fiscal Research Division.

“Based upon the uncertainty and the lack of data, how can we say for certain that people are not being overpaid or underpaid?” Ford asked.

“We probably can’t say that,” responded Jacobs. She also dropped a bombshell that it could be “probably late next year” before all necessary numbers are completely and accurately obtained.

“To me that is a very disturbing scenario where we are taking taxpayer money with good intentions, but with no verification that we’re doing the right thing because of a broken system,” Ford said.

Whether he realized it, Ford’s characterization of Medicaid as a broken system oozed irony.

In one of their first official acts upon assuming office in January 2013, McCrory and Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos lambasted the state’s Medicaid program as a chaotic, broken system. Eighteen months later and holding Swiss-cheese Medicaid reports, state senators are grumbling that the agency’s disarray persists.

Pressed by reporters, Berger stopped short of saying he has lost confidence in Wos’ leadership.

“I’ll leave it to others as to why they’re not able to provide that information,” he said, but he insisted this budgeting fiasco shows the need to remove Medicaid from Wos’ control and make it a standalone agency.

The Senate budget calls for $88 million more in Medicaid spending in 2014-15 than the House version. Berger said the Senate used higher, worst-case-scenario numbers.

Berger and his counterparts rightly expressed no appetite for once again using rosy projections only to find out halfway through the budget year that there is a whopping shortfall.

To make matters worse, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said Fiscal Research staff isn’t even confident the worst-case numbers are sufficiently high. “I think that’s important to make sure everyone understands it.”

Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, co-chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, agreed with frustrated Fiscal Research staff that much of the problem with missing data stems from NC Tracks, the new but deeply flawed Medicaid billing system.

But he was quick to note that Republicans inherited the woefully underperforming computer system that was in development for years under Democratic administrations.

“I don’t know if they made up-to-date adjustments as they went along, and we don’t know if it was tested properly before it went live,” Pate said. Others, including State Auditor Beth Wood, warned last year that the nearly half-billion-dollar system was not ready to launch.

Wos lost control and never regained the upper hand in messaging after she defiantly promised she was going to drag the long-beleaguered NC Tracks over the July 1 finish line, and declared it sound when she did.

The bravado and exuberant can-do proclamations might have seemed politically appropriate for a new administration seeking to position itself as an intrepid change agent.

But Wos would have been wise to have tempered her rookie remarks with caveats about the huge challenges left behind by previous Democratic administrations, downplayed expectations, and more candidly acknowledged what IT skeptics already knew — the system was going to encounter plenty of rollout problems that would require a long time to correct.

Pate was among those declaring that the current Medicaid budgeting calamity further demonstrates the “critical necessity for reorganization” of the agency. But restructuring has been hampered by the unsteadiness of tectonic policy shifts.

Pate is among senators who continue to oppose the latest reform plan favored by McCrory and Wos, and now in bill form in the House. He said the proposal only tinkers around the edges of budget predictability and restraint.

This latest iteration is an accountable care model comprising networks of doctors and hospitals. It was rolled out after the administration’s stunning U-turn from months of championing full-risk managed care, and scoring a coup in recruiting Carol Steckel, a highly sought, nationally renowned expert on Medicaid managed care.

Steckel, former head of the National Association of State Medicaid Directors, left her $210,000-a-year job in North Carolina last September after only eight months working for Wos.

Whether there was a back-story to the swift departure of a highly heralded Medicaid reformer, much like what this year’s Medicaid numbers are, remains a guessing game.

Right Wing, Left Wing: Does It Equal a More Balanced Senate Bill 744?

Our Senate put forth Senate Bill 744 with radical and shocking changes to our Medicaid system. However, one section of our General Assembly cannot create law. Both sides,the Senate and the House, much agree on a Bill in order to create law.

Senate sent SB 744 to the House on May 31, 2014. Between May 31 through June 13, 2014, the House revised, omitted, and added language to SB 744, making SB 744 a much different document than what the Senate had fashioned. Today, SB 744 is back in the Senate for more revisions. The end result will be a law that appears nothing like the initial SB 744 brought to the Senate on May 15, 2014.

The “ping pong” revision system between the Senate and the House that our founding fathers installed in order to generate actual laws is a well-crafted, finely-tuned balancing machine. It is an effort to keep all ideological agendas in-check. When one side dips too low, the other side counters in an effort to maintain balance. It reminds me of a bird in flight.

Our nation’s symbol is the bald eagle. I am sure everyone knows that, right? But did you also know that the bald eagle is not named the bald eagle because its white head gives the appearance that it is bald? No, bald eagle, in Latin, is haliaeetus leucocephalus (from Greek hali-, which means sea; aiētos , which means eagle; leuco-, which means white, and cephalos, which means head). So, literally its name means “sea eagle with white head.”

Even more important about the bald eagle is its set of wings. A bald eagle has a right wing and a left wing, and without both, the bald eagle would not be able to fly.

We need both the right and the left wings in order to maintain balance in our government. Both sides are necessary, and, yet, it seems that nowadays the left and right sides are at war with each other. Politics has become so polarized that the right wing and the left wing forget the attributes of the other.

The result of the ping pong revision system, in theory, is that, by the time a bill is brought into final shape and enacted into law, all polarized ideations have been balanced out in order to move forward. It does not always work that way, and it becomes increasingly difficult to balance the sides when the sides become more and more divided.

The Senate created SB 744, the House has made its alterations…and, if SB 744 passes, it will pass after many more modifications, no doubt.

When our state Senate passed Senate Bill 744 and sent it to the House, I blogged about the shocking ramifications to Medicaid had that bill been passed.

I listed the most shocking changes included within SB 744:

1. DHHS must immediately cease all efforts to transition Medicaid to the affordable care organizations (ACOs) system that DHHS had touted would be in effect by July 2015;
2. DHHS, DMA will no longer manage Medicaid. Instead a new state entity will be formed to manage Medicaid. (A kind of…scratch it all and start over method);
3. All funds previously appropriated to DHHS, DMA will be transferred to Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) and will be used for Medicaid reform and may not be used for any other purpose such as funding any shortfalls in the Medicaid program.
4. Categorical coverage for recipients of the optional state supplemental program State County Special Assistance is eliminated.
5. Coverage for the medically needy is eliminated, except those categories that the State is prohibited from eliminating by the maintenance of effort requirement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Effective October 1, 2019, coverage for all medically needy categories is eliminated.
6. It is the intent of the General Assembly to reduce optional coverage for certain aged, blind, and disabled persons effective July 1, 2015, while meeting the State’s obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the United States Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring, 527 U.S. 581 (1999).
7. Repeal the shared savings program and just reduce the reimbursement rates by 3%.
8. DHHS shall implement a Medicaid assessment program for local management entities/managed care organizations (LME/MCOs) at a rate of three and one-half percent (3.5%).
9. Additional notices as to State Plan Amendments (SPAs), DHHS must post the proposed SPAs on its website at least 10 days prior to submitting the SPAs to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
10. Reimbursement rate changes become effective when CMS approves the reimbursement rate changes.
11. The Department of Health and Human Services shall not enter into any contract involving the program integrity functions listed in subsection (a) of this section that would have a termination date after September 1, 2015.
12. The Medicaid PROVIDER will have the burden of proof in contested case actions against the Department.
13. The Department shall withhold payment to any Medicaid provider for whom the DMA, or its vendor, has identified an overpayment in a written notice to the provider. Withholding shall begin on the 75th day after the day the notice of overpayment is mailed and shall continue during the pendency of any appeal until the overpayment becomes a final overpayment (can we say injunction?).

Since my last blog about Senate Bill 744 (the Appropriations Bill), Senate Bill 744 has reached its 7th revision.

The House took it upon itself to delete many of the shocking changes in the Senate Bill. Just like the bald eagle using its right and left wings to balance out.

First, the General Assembly’s proposed cease and desist order that would have stopped Gov. McCrory and Sec. Wos from implementing Medicaid reform and the accountable care organizations (ACOs), is deleted from the current version of the bill. Gone too is the “new state agency” created to manage Medicaid. Medicaid services are no longer eliminated. The Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) is no longer receiving all funds appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Medical Assistance (DMA).

On June 13, 2014, the House finished its revisions to SB 744 and sent the revised bill back to the Senate. On June 18, 2014, the conference committee for SB 744 was formed and includes:

  • Sen. Harry Brown, Chair
  • Sen. Andrew C. Brock
  • Sen. Kathy Harrington
  • Sen. Tom Apodaca
  • Sen. Ralph Hise
  • Sen. Neal Hunt
  • Sen. Phil Berger
  • Sen. Brent Jackson
  • Sen. Wesley Meredith
  • Sen. Louis Pate
  • Sen. Bill Rabon
  • Sen. Shirley B. Randleman
  • Sen. Bob Rucho
  • Sen. Dan Soucek
  • Sen. Jerry W. Tillman
  • Sen. Tommy Tucker

SB 744 is still not law. It takes both the House and Senate to pass the bill, and then the Governor has to sign the bill. So we have a ways to go. We need the agreement of the right wing and the left wing.

The two main political parties were not always so polarized.

A couple of our founding fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were fierce political adversaries. Imagine the political distance between Barack Obama and Ted Cruz. Despite their political differences, both Adams and Jefferson believed in the importance of funding public education. Rather than defaming the other’s point of view, Adams and Jefferson collaborated and compromised. “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it,” wrote Adams. “There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.” Adams and Jefferson were able to balance out the right wing and the left wing in order to fly a straight path.

Back when our founding fathers squabbled and debated key issues, both sides worked together, instead of running mudslinging commercials and scoffing at the other side’s position on the media. During one of the biggest debates in history, the creation of our government, the lawmakers convened together for about 4 months. The Constitutional Convention lasted from May 25 to September 17, 1787 (the first one). The delegates were within close proximity of one another, which led to more conversations and more compromises. Until the Constitution was drafted, the delegates continued to meet together. I imagine they ate lunch together and shared whiskey and cigars in the evenings.

Maybe our lawmakers should schedule a new constitutional convention, both on the state and federal level. At least, both sides need to realize that the right wing and the left wing are necessary. Otherwise we would just fly in circles.

“The Times They Are a-Changin’”: A Look at Possible Ramifications on Medicaid by Senate Bill 744

I think of Bob Dylan’s raspy voice singing:

Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt took the presidency during a time of severe poverty. The Great Depression, which would last until the late 1930s or early 1940s, cast shadows and doubt over the future of America. People were starving. Unemployment and homelessness were at an all-time high.

FDR’s first 100 days in office were monumental. In fact, FDR’s first 100 days in office changed America forever. With bold legislation and a myriad of executive orders, he instituted the New Deal. The New Deal created government jobs for the homeless, banking reform, and emergency relief to states and cities. During those 100 days of lawmaking, Congress granted every major request Roosevelt asked. This is an example of what I call blending of the separation of powers. In a time of great national need, Congress took an expansive view of the president’s constitutional powers and cooperated with him to effect major change.

I am in no way comparing our General Assembly to Congress back in the 1930s nor am I comparing FDR to Gov. McCrory. In fact, there are vast differences. I am only making the point that rarely does the legislative body create such change.

But North Carolina’s current Senate Bill 744 may create this change. For example, if Senate Bill 744 passes the House, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) may no longer manage Medicaid. That’s right. A whole new state agency may manage Medicaid.

This past Friday, May 30, 2014, the state Senate passed a $21.2 billion budget, which is known as Senate Bill 744. On May 31, 2014, Senate Bill 744 passed its 3rd reading and will now go on to the House. So far, it has been revised 3 times, so we do not know whether the House will make substantial changes. But, as it stands today, it is shocking. Is it good? Bad? I don’t think we can know whether the changes are good or bad yet, and, quite honestly, I have not had time to digest all of the possible implications of Senate Bill 744. But, regardless, the changes are shocking.

Of the most shocking changes (should SB 744 get passed), consider the following:

1. DHHS must immediately cease all efforts to transition Medicaid to the affordable care organizations (ACOs) system that DHHS had touted would be in effect by July 2015;

2. DHHS’s DMA will no longer manage Medicaid. Instead, a new state entity will be formed to manage Medicaid. (A kind of…”scratch it all and start over” method);

3. All funds previously appropriated to DMA will be transferred to the Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) and will be used for Medicaid reform and may not be used for any other purpose such as funding any shortfalls in the Medicaid program.

4. Categorical coverage for recipients of the optional state supplemental program State County Special Assistance is eliminated.

5. Coverage for the medically needy is eliminated, except those categories that the State is prohibited from eliminating by the “maintenance of effort” requirement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Effective October 1, 2019, coverage for all medically needy categories is eliminated.

6. It is the intent of the General Assembly to reduce optional coverage for certain aged, blind, and disabled persons effective July 1, 2015, while meeting the State’s obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the United States Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring, 527 U.S. 581 (1999).

7. Repeal the shared savings program and just reduce the reimbursement rates by 3%.

8. DHHS shall implement a Medicaid assessment program for local management entities/managed care organizations (LME/MCOs) at a rate of three and one-half percent (3.5%).

9. For additional notices as to State Plan Amendments (SPAs), DHHS must post the proposed SPAs on its website at least 10 days prior to submitting the SPAs to the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

10. Reimbursement rate changes become effective when CMS approves the reimbursement rate changes.

11. The Department of Health and Human Services shall not enter into any contract involving the program integrity functions listed in subsection (a) of this section of SB 774 that would have a termination date after September 1, 2015.

12. The Medicaid PROVIDER will have the burden of proof in contested case actions against the Department.

13. The Department shall withhold payment to any Medicaid provider for whom the DMA, or its vendor, has identified an overpayment in a written notice to the provider. Withholding shall begin on the 75th day after the day the notice of overpayment is mailed and shall continue during the pendency of any appeal until the overpayment becomes a final overpayment (can we say injunction?).

Senate Bill 744 purports to make immense modifications to our Medicaid system. I wonder what Gov. McCrory and Secretary Wos think about Senate Bill 744. If SB 744 passes, McCrory and Wos can no longer continue down the ACO path. Does the General Assembly even have the authority to bind their hands from creating ACOs? It seems so.

As for the “new state agency” that will manage Medicaid, maybe the General Assembly is right and we do need to scratch out the current Medicaid management and start over…I doubt anyone would disagree that DHHS has had some “oops” moments in the past year or so. But (a) is this the way to start all over; and (b) does the General Assembly have the legal power to remove the management of Medicaid from Secretary Wos?

Going to the reduction of optional services for the “medically needy,” what services are considered optional? Here is a list of optional services, as defined by the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS):

• Case Management
• Mental Health
• Podiatry
• Intermediate Care Facilities (ICF-MR)
• Personal Care Services
• Prosthetics
• Respiratory Therapy
• Hospice
• Adult Dentures
• Prescription Drugs
• Community Alternative Programs (CAP)
• Private Duty Nursing
• Chiropractor
• Home Infusion Therapy
• Physical Therapy/Speech Therapy
• Transportation

I cannot comment on all the changes proposed by Senate Bill 744; I simply have not had enough time to review them in detail, because there are so many changes. I do not purport to know whether these modifications are ultimately for the good or for the bad.

All I know is that we better start swimming or we will sink like a stone, because the times they are a-changin’.

To Decrease Medicaid Spending (Without Decreasing Medicaid Recipients’ Services), Drastic Administrative Cuts Are Needed

It is indisputable that reigning in Medicaid costs is one of this administration’s top priorities.

And, I agree, reigning in Medicaid costs should be a top priority.  In fiscal year 2011, it is estimated that Medicaid comprised 23.6 percent of total state expenditures (average of all states).  My only concern is reigning in the appropriate Medicaid costs without interfering with Medicaid recipients’ medically necessary services.  A Medicaid budget cut (or reigning in Medicaid spending) should not be painfully felt by the Medicaid recipients by increased denials of services or by their providers being terminated from the Medicaid program without cause.  Instead a Medicaid cut should be felt by the administration. 

The Medicaid budget exists in order to provide medically necessary services to the most needy, not to create jobs at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

“About $36 million a day we spend on Medicaid, and the numbers grow by the second. It is a non-sustainable system,” Wos said to members of the Medical Care Commission this past Friday.  For the article, please click here.  The Medical Care Commission is a governor-appointed medical advisory group made-up of 16 North Carolinians and charged with the responsibility of recommending Medicaid cost control and budget predictability. (Actually, it is interesting that when you look at the NC DHSR website (click on Medical Care Commission) that the website states that the commission is composed of 17 individuals.  But when you count the individuals, only 16 are listed.  I assume that Gov. McCrory or Sec. Wos is the 17th member, but I am not 100% sure).

While I agree with Sec. Wos that continuing to spend $36 million a day and, perhaps, more in the future, is a non-sustainable system, I also believe that we could decrease Medicaid spending without decreasing services to recipients. 

The Medical Care Commission’s chairperson, Ms. Lucy Hancock Bode “served as the Deputy Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Human Resources from 1982 to 1984. She has been an Independent Trustee of Tamarack Funds Trust and various Portfolios in the fund complex of Tamarack Funds since January 2004. She served as a Director of BioSignia, Inc.”  See BusinessWeek.

The Vice-Chairperson, Joseph D. Crocker, “is Director of the Poor and Needy Division at Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he has served in such capacity since May 2010. Mr. Crocker served as Assistant Secretary for Community Development at the North Carolina Department of Commerce in Raleigh, North Carolina, from 2009 to 2010.  See Forbes.

Well, goodness, the appointees can be found in BusinessWeek and Forbes!! Who else is on the Medical Care Commission? The grandson of the founder of the Biltmore Estates, 6 MD’s, the ex-CEO of FirstHealth of the Carolinas, the Vice President and Director of the Health Care Program for The Duke Endowment, the President and CEO of Coastal Horizons.  My guess is that not one of the appointees to the Medical Care Commission has ever depended on Medicaid for insurance nor been personally acquainted with those dependent on Medicaid. How will these elite (which I am defining as making a salary well-over poverty level for years and years) help “adopt, recommend or rescind rules for regulation of most health care facilities,” and help “[b]e able to provide the proper care to the proper people at the proper time and at the proper price?”  How does the person making $13.8 million truly understand the troubles and turmoil of someone making $9.00/hour?

I recently read an article about McDonald’s and its low wages it pays to its employees.  The article pointed out that most McDonald’s employees received minimum wage, the median hourly wage is $9.00/hour.  McDonald’s also recommends that its employees file for food stamps and welfare.  Then I read that the CEO of McDonald’s is paid $13.8 million/year.  That’s over $1 million/month!!! That is stupid money!! What in the world does Donald Thompson do with that much money?  When Mr. Thompson encourages his employees to file for food stamps and welfare programs, how can he, making $13.8 million/year, have an inkling as to the daily troubles of an employee making $9.00/hour…how difficult it can be to maneuver government beaurocracy…to even get authorization to receive the food stamps…only to discover that the legislature suspended the distribution of food stamps this week…

(A quick aside, for those of you thinking right now, “What about you, Knicole? You are a partner at a big law firm? How can you protest to know anything about the $9.00/hour employee? Without getting too personal, I have not always been employed at a law firm.)

Had I been in McCrory’s position of appointing the folks onto the Medical Care Commission, I would have wanted at least one appointee to have either been personally dependent on Medicaid, been a case manager exclusively for Medicaid recipients, or, in some way, dealt with Medicaid recipients on a close, personal level.  In other words, I would have wanted at least one appointee to understand the real-life difficulties actually suffered by Medicaid recipients.  If I were a CEO of a company for 20 years, how would I know that medically necessary services are being denied to Medicaid recipients?  How would I know that when a mother calls to make a dental appointment for her child that it can take months to be seen by a dentist if you are on Medicaid? How can the social elite understand the frustrations of Medicaid recipients? They have never been turned down by a doctor because of the insurance they have.

I called a few of the offices of the 6 MDs appointed on the Medical Care Commission and learned that those offices I called accept Medicaid, which relieved me.  But I would be interested in knowing what percentage Medicaid clients each office accepts.  And how closely the MDs work with Medicaid recipients (do the MDs appeal denials for their clients’ services and appear and testify on their behalf in court?)

A funny thing happens when you’ve made a lot of money over a number of years…you forget how important $20 can be to a single mom with rent to pay and a kid with a tooth ache.  I would also assume the same thing happens when you are Governor or Secretary…you forget how debilitating a service denial is and how scary the prospect of an appeal can be.

Going back to reigning in Medicaid costs:

Is there a way to decrease spending on Medicaid without compromising medical services.  Is there even a way to decrease Medicaid spending while providing better medical services to Medicaid recipients…? Could it be possible?? I believe so.

How many times have you heard the administration state that the Medicaid system is broken and the money spent on Medicaid is non-sustainable? And what about the Performance Audit conducted by the Office of the State Auditor?  The January 2013 Performance Audit revealed that almost 1/2 of the Medicaid administrative expenditures in the 2012 fiscal  year went to private contractors…such as the managed care organizations (MCOs), Public Consulting Group (PCG), and the Carolinas Center for Medical Excellence (CCME).  Another huge expenditure is the administrative costs for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)…think about it…DHHS employs approximately 70,000 people at an average salary of $42,000.  Add up the costs associated with private contractors and the administrative costs of DHHS, and the sad truth is that not even a quarter of the Medicaid budget goes to paying Medicaid recipients’ actual services.

Remember my blog: “How Dare They! That Money Could Have Been Used on a Medicaid Recipient!”

Remember the January 2013 Performance Audit of DHHS

Another contributing factor to the high amount of North Carolina’s administrative spending is insufficient monitoring of administrative services that are contracted out by DMA. Private contractor payments represent about $120 million (46.7%) of DMA’s $257 million in administration expenditures for SFY 2012. It is always important for a state government to even more critical when almost half of the administrative expense is made up of contract payments. Although contract payments represent a high percentage of its administrative budget, DMA was not able to provide a listing of contracts and the related expenditures in each SFY under review for this audit. DMA’s inability to provide this information is indicative of its inadequate oversight of contractual expenditures. The initial list DMA provided only included amounts expended to date per contract. However, we were able to eventually obtain contracted service expenditures for FY12 and compile this information.”

Inadequate oversight of contractors…Hmmmm…

In order to decrease Medicaid spending, how about a little thing I like to call: ACCOUNTABILITY!?

As in, if DHHS contracts with an entity that spends too much Medicaid money on “extras,” then DHHS must instruct the entity to cease the “extra” spending.  This is our tax money, remember!! For example, everyone knows that attorneys are not cheap, right? At hearings, the MCOs usually have in-house counsel  or retain the county attorney.  But two MCOs, Cardinal and MeckLINK (yes, MeckLINK, despite MeckLINK’s solvency issues) have hired an expensive and prestigious law firm.  There is no question that the law firm has experienced, excellent attorneys.  But who is paying for the expensive attorneys’ fees? Medicaid dollars? You? Me? I thought about these questions when, at a recent hearing three attorneys appeared on behalf of the MCO.  Let’s see…$450/hour + $350/hour + $275/hour = $1075/hour?  And who is paying?  (Obviously, I made these numbers up, but I dare say they are close estimates).

By the same token, DHHS needs to monitor its own expenses.  I can only imagine how difficult it is to monitor 70,000 employees.  At any given time, thousands may be on Facebook, cell phones, or surfing the web.  I am not suggesting that Sec. Wos turn DHHS into a sweat shop, by any means.  No, I am merely suggesting that a way to decrease money spent on Medicaid is to conduct a self-audit and determine that if 3 people are doing the job that 1 person could do, only employ the one person.  Just like, DHHS would be accountable if PCG used Medicaid dollars to pay for in-office massages for employees.  Medicaid dollars should be spent on Medicaid recipients.  DHHS should be accountable for superfluous spending.

With all these newly- contracted entities working for DHHS (and getting paid by DHHS), where is the savings in Medicaid spending?? To my knowledge, there has not been a huge slash in jobs at DHHS…the salaries and administrative costs at DHHS have not decreased drastically…no, instead, we’ve hired MORE companies and we are paying MORE salaries!! How will hiring more contractors decrease Medicaid costs if we are not decreasing our administration overseeing Medicaid?  We all know that no one wants to be the administration who cut government jobs, but if you truly want to decrease administrative costs, you have to decrease the cost of the administration, especially if you are hiring companies to do what the administration used to do.

Going to McDonald’s low wages and ridiculously, high-paid CEO, obviously, McDonald’s is a private company and is entitled to pay its CEO $13.8 million/year and its employees an hourly median wage of $9.00/hour.  McDonald’s only has to answer to its shareholders.

DHHS, on the other hand, is not a private company.  DHHS is funded by tax dollars and is accountable to every taxpaying citizen of North Carolina.

Want to decrease Medicaid spending while providing the medically necessary services to our most needy?  Cut the administrative costs…eliminate unnecessary staff (no matter how unpopular the idea is)…actively monitor the expenses of all contracted entities…provide the medically necessary services to Medicaid recipients (thereby decreasing the need for the more expensive ER visits and incarcerations)…

Cease all unnecessary administrative costs!  Be accountable!  Self-audit! Closely monitor all contracted entities’ expenditures!!

And, remember, hiring a third-party company costs money…real money…tax payer’s money!  If the hiring of the company is not offset by a reduction in spending elsewhere, the result is increased overall spending.  It isn’t hard, people…this is Logic 101.  So when DHHS hired PCG or CCME or HMS, the administration should have decreased Medicaid spending elsewhere just to break even (as in, just to continue our high Medicaid spending).  To decrease spending along with hiring third-party contractors, we have to severely and drastically decrease Medicaid spending.  In order to avoid reducing Medicaid recipients’ services, a decrease in Medicaid spending calls for the drastic action of slashing administrative costs.

It isn’t fun, but it is necessary.