Blog Archives

Documentary on New Mexico Behavioral Health: Breaking Bonds: The Shutdown of New Mexico’s Behavioral Health Care Providers

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUSSR_mJYdU&feature=youtu.be

 

BH Documentary

The Doctrine of Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies and Medicare/caid Providers

What is the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies?  And why is it important?

If you are a Medicaid or Medicare provider (which, most likely, you are if you are reading this blog), then knowing your administrative remedies is vital.  Specifically, you need to know your administrative remedies if you receive an “adverse determination” by the “Department.”  I have placed “adverse determination” and the “Department” in quotation marks because these are defined terms in the North Carolina statutes and federal regulations.

What are administrative remedies? If you have been damaged by a decision by a state agency then you have rights to recoup for the damages.

However, just like in the game of Chess, there are rules…procedures to follow…you cannot bring your castle out until the pawn in front of it has moved.

Similarly, you cannot jump to NC Supreme Court without beginning at the lowest court.

What is an adverse determination?

In Medicaid, NCGS 108C-2 defines “Adverse determination” as “a final decision by the Department to deny, terminate, suspend, reduce, or recoup a Medicaid payment or to deny, terminate, or suspend a provider’s or applicant’s participation in the Medical Assistance Program.”

In Medicare, sometimes the phrase “final adverse action” applies.  But, basically an adverse determination in Medicaid and Medicare is a decision by [whatever entity] that adversely affects you, your Medicare/caid contract or reimbursements.

What is the definition of the Department? 

NCGS 108C-2 defines the “Department,” as “The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, its legally authorized agents, contractors, or vendors who acting within the scope of their authorized activities, assess, authorize, manage, review, audit, monitor, or provide services pursuant to Title XIX or XXI of the Social Security Act, the North Carolina State Plan of Medical Assistance, the North Carolina State Plan of the Health Insurance Program for Children, or any waivers of the federal Medicaid Act granted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.”

On the federal level, the Department would be the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) and its agents, contractors and/or vendors.

So, an adverse decision is any final decision by DHHS….OR any of its vendors (Public Consulting Group (PCG), Carolinas Center for Medical Excellence (CCME), HMS, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), or any of the 10 managed care organizations (MCOs) (Alliance, Centerpointe, Smokey Mountain Center, Sandhills, East Carolina Behavioral Health, MeckLink, Cardinal Innovations, Eastpointe, CoastalCare, and Partners).

For example, PCG tells a dentist that he/she owes $500,000 in overpayments to the State.  The notice of overpayment is an adverse determination by the Department as defined in the general statutes.

For example, Smokey Mountain Center (SMC) tells a provider that it will no longer contract with the provider as of March 15, 2014.  SMC’s decision to not contract with the provider is an adverse determination by the Department as defined in the general statutes.

For example, CCME tells you that you are subject to prepayment review under NCGS 108C-7, which results in DHHS withholding Medicaid reimbursements.  The notice of suspension of payments is an adverse determination by the Department, as defined in the general statutes (not the fact that you were placed on prepayment review because the placement on prepayment review is not appealable, but the determination that Medicaid reimbursements will be withheld).

The doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies is, in essence,  a party must satisfy five conditions before turning to the courts: “(1) the person must be aggrieved; (2) there must be a contested case; (3) there must be a final agency decision; (4) administrative remedies must be exhausted; and (5) no other adequate procedure for judicial review can be provided by another statute.”  Huang v. N.C. State Univ., 107 N.C. App. 710, 713, 421 S.E.2d 812, 814 (1992) (citing Dyer v. Bradshaw, 54 N.C. App. 136, 138, 282 S.E.2d 548, 550 (1981)

Move your pawn before moving your castle.

Typically, if a party has not exhausted its administrative remedies, the party cannot bring a claim before the courts.  However, NC courts have recognized two exceptions that I will explain in a moment.

If you bring a lawsuit based on the adverse determination by the Department, do you go to state Superior Court?  No.

In North Carolina, we are lucky to have the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).  OAH is fantastic because the judges at OAH, Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) have immense Medicaid experience.  OAH is a court of limited jurisdiction, meaning that only if a NC statute allows OAH to hear the case is OAH allowed to hear the case.  One facet of OAH’s jurisdiction is adverse determinations by DHHS, its agents, vendors or independent contractors.  Not all states have an administrative court system, and we are lucky to have an accomplished administrative court system.  Our ALJs are well-versed in Medicaid, so, most likely, your issue you bring to OAH will be one already heard by the court.

Another great thing about OAH, is that OAH publishes some opinions.  So you can review some published opinions prior to your hearing.  For the most part, the ALJs are quite consistent in rulings.  For the published opinions of OAH, click here.  And, BTW, if you want to review only cases involving the Department of Health and Human Services, scroll down to the cases with the acronym: DHR.  As you can see, OAH listens to cases involving many different state agencies.

So, let’s review:

If you receive an adverse determination by any state or federal agency, its contractors, vendors and/or independent contractors, you have the right to appeal the adverse determination.  However, you MAY need to exhaust your administrative remedies prior to bringing the action in OAH.  In other words, if the agency’s contractor, vendor, and/or independent contractor notifies you of an adverse determination, check with the contractor, vendor and/or independent contractor for informal appeals. 

There are, however, some small exceptions. (Remember the knights can jump over your pawns.  So can the Queen).

Number 1: Inadequacy.

If the informal administrative appeal process would be inadequate for your remedies then you are not required to exhaust the administrative remedies prior to going to the courts.

A remedy is inadequate “unless it is ‘calculated to give relief more or less commensurate with the claim.’”  Huang v. N.C. State Univ., 107 N.C. App. 710, 713, 421 S.E.2d 812, 814 (1992) (citing Dyer v. Bradshaw, 54 N.C. App. 136, 138, 282 S.E.2d 548, 550 (1981).

An example of inadequacy would be if you are seeking monetary damages and the agency is powerless to grant such relief.

The phrase “monetary damages” means that you are seeking money.  The agency owes you money and you are seeking the money.  Or if you were caused monetary damages because of the agencies actions.  For example, your Medicaid reimbursements were suspended. As a result, you fired staff and closed your doors.  You would want to sue for the money you lost as a result of the reimbursement suspension.  If the agency cannot give money damages or is powerless to give such money damages, then informal agency appeals would be in adequate to address you needs.

Number 2: Futility.

Futility refers to situations where an agency “has deliberately placed an impediment in the path of a party” or where agency policies “are so entrenched that it is unlikely that parties will obtain a fair hearing.”

For example, if by appealing informally within the administrative agency, you will not receive a fair hearing because no independent decision maker exists, you can make the argument that the informal appeal process would be futile.

Here’s the “small print:”

If you claim futility and/or inadequacy, then you must include the futility and/or inadequacy allegations in the Complaint; AND you bear the burden of proving futility and/or inadequacy.

If, however, you exhaust your adminastrative remedies, go to OAH.

Checkmate!

Extrapolated Medicaid Audits Continue: Be Proactive! (Or Move to West Virginia)

Extrapolated audits are no fun, unless you work for a recovery audit contractor (RAC).  You get a Tentative Notice of Overpayment (TNO) that says the auditor reviewed 100 dates of service (DOS), found an overpayment of $1,000, so you owe $1 million dollars.  Oh, and please pay within 30 days or interest will accrue…

North Carolina’s 2nd recovery audit contractor (RAC) is ramping up.  HMS had a slower start than Public Consulting Group (PCG); the Division of Medical Assistance originally announced that HMS would be conducting post-payment reviews last October 2012 in its Medicaid Bulletin.  NC’s 1st RAC, PCG came charging out the gate.  HMS has been a bit slower, but HMS is active now.

HMS is performing post-pay audits on inpatient and outpatient hospital claims, laboratory, specialized outpatient therapy, x-ray and long-term care claims reviews.

According to the December 2013 Medicaid Bulletin, the findings for the first group of automated lab reviews were released in early November 2013.  Additional lab reviews are expected to be completed and findings released by late December 2013.  The post-payment reviews are targeting excessive drug screening.

And specialized therapy service providers, you are next on the list!

How will the providers know the results of an HMS post-payment review? Same way as with PCG.  You will receive a Tentative Notice of Overpayment (TNO) in the mail with some crazy, huge extrapolated amount that you supposedly owe back to the state.

If you receive a TNO, do not panic (too much), take a deep breath and read my blog: “You Received a Tentative Notice of Overpayment, Now What?”

Or “The Exageration of the Tentative Notices of Overpayments.”

Remember, most of the post-payment reviews that I have seen have numerous auditing mistakes on the part of the auditor, such as the auditor applying the more recent clinical coverage policies rather than the clinical coverage policy that was applicable to dates of services audited.

DMA Clinical Policy 1S-4 “Cytogenetic Studies“, for example, was recently revised February 1, 2013.  Obviously, an auditor should not apply the February 1, 2013, policy to a service provided in 2012…but you would not believe how often that happens!

So what can you do to be prepared?  Well, realistically, you cannot be prepared for audit ineptness.

But you can be proactive.  Contact your insurance policy to determine whether your liability insurance covers attorneys’ fees for regulatory audits.  It is important to be proactive and determine whether your insurance company will cover attorneys’ fees prior to undergoing an audit.  Because if you find out that your liability insurance does not cover attorneys’ fees, then you can upgrade your insurance to cover attorneys’ fees.  I promise, it is way better to pay additional premiums than get hit with $25,000+ bill of attorneys’ fees.  Plus, if you wait until you are audited to determine whether your liability insurance covers attorneys’ fees and you realize it does not, then the insurance company may not allow you to upgrade your insurance.  The audit may be considered a pre-existing condition.

So…proactiveness  is imperative.  But you can always move to West Virginia…

In a survey of 18 states conducted by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and published August 29, 2013, NCSL determined that 10 states use extrapolations with the RAC audits, 7 do not and 1 intends to use extrapolations in the future. (No idea why NCSL did not survey all 50 states).

Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin do not use extrapolations in Medicaid RAC audits.

So moving to West Virginia is an option too…

Are PCG’s Extrapolated Medicaid Audits in Violation of State Statute?

Public Consulting Group (PCG) is one of the contracted entities conducting Medicaid post-payment audits in North Carolina. I’ve heard rumors that NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is not renewing PCG’s contract, although I have found no evidence to corroborate this rumor.

Regardless, right now, PCG is here and the Medicaid post-payment audits continue. And PCG continues to extrapolate.  For more information as to the extrapolations, see my blog: How Does $100 Become $100,000? Check for Clusters!

But is PCG legally allowed to extrapolate? Oh, of course it is allowed to legally extrapolate!! The contract between DHHS and PCG allows PCG to extrapolate, right? But…what if….the extrapolations are not being conducted legally?

N.C. Gen. Stat. 108C-5 states, in pertinent part:

“(i) Prior to extrapolating the results of any audits, the Department shall demonstrate and inform the provider that (i) the provider failed to substantially comply with the requirements of State or federal law or regulation or (ii) the Department has credible allegation of fraud concerning the provider.

Prior to extrapolating, the Department must demonstrate and inform…

Prior to…

Of all the Tentative Notices of Overpayment (TNO) that I have seen, the actual TNO states the extrapolated amount and states that the audit is extrapolated because “(1) the provider  failed to substantially comply with the requirements of State or federal law or regulation or (ii) the Department has credible allegation of fraud concerning the provider.”  There is no more detail.  The TNO literally regurgitates the statutory language into the TNO.  Does that constitute “demonstrating”?  Better yet, if a provider receives the information that “(1) the provider  failed to substantially comply with the requirements of State or federal law or regulation or (ii) the Department has credible allegation of fraud concerning the provider” CONCURRENTLY with receipt of the extrapolated amount, does that notice meet the statutory criteria of PRIOR TO?

Question #1: Does regurgitating the statutory language meet the requirement that the State demonstrate the noncompliance?

Question #2: Does the Department sending the reason for the extrapolation concurrently with the extrapolation meet the statutory requirement to inform the provider prior to extrapolating?

Let’s start with Question #1…

Last night I was checking my daughter’s homework.  She had to read an article on Abraham Lincoln.  Then she had to answer reading comprehension questions about the article.  One question was something like, “What is this article primarily about?”  The article discussed the Civil War, Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s top hat, Lincoln’s assassination and Lincoln’s gravesite.  My daughter answered “B: Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.”  (Which was wrong). 

What if I told her she was wrong, but never explained why?  I believe the conversation would go something like this: “You’re wrong.”  “Why?” “Because you’re wrong.”  “But WHY am I wrong.”  “Because you are wrong.”

In the above scenario, I informed my daughter that she was wrong.  But I failed to demonstrate how or why she was wrong.

Similarly, N.C. Gen. Stat. requires that the Department  demonstrate and inform the provider that the provider failed to substantially comply with the requirements of State or federal law or regulation or that the Department has credible allegation of fraud concerning the provider.

Inform + Demonstrate = Statutory compliance

So, does PCG demonstrate and inform the providers that the provider failed to substantially comply with the requirements of State or federal law or regulation or that the Department has credible allegation of fraud concerning the provider, simply by restating the identical language in the TNO?

“Why?” “Because you’re wrong.”

Ok, how about Question #2…?

How important is something to occur prior to versus concurrently? I mean, at least it is done, right? Who cares whether the action is done prior to or concurrently? 

Think of skydiving.  I tell you to be sure to put on your parachute prior to jumping.  Instead you hold your parachute, leap out of the plane, and attempt to put on your parachute contemporaneously as jumping.  With the amount of air resistance you encounter after you jump, you are unable to get the parachute secured and you die.

Let’s look at a less grotesque example…Think about eating…I tell you to open your mouth prior to inserting the piece of chocolate cake into your mouth.  Instead you insert the piece of chocolate cake into your mouth while you concurrently open your mouth.  Sure, you get some cake into your mouth, but the majority of the chocolate cake is smeared all over your face.

Can PCG send you one letter saying you are non-compliant while concurrently informing you of the extrapolated amount? Or is that a bit like squashing chocolate cake into your face?

Are PCG’s Extrapolated Medicaid Audits in Violation of State Statute?

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.

DHHS Takes 35 Years to Become Federally Compliant With Medicare/Medicaid Crossover Issues

It is without question that the implementation of NCTracks has been a complete debacle.  NCTracks is the new computer system that is processing Medicaid claims for all health care providers who accept Medicaid in North Carolina.  NCTracks went live July 1, 2013.

Immediately upon going “live,” providers received error messages.  Providers were not timely paid.  If the provider was paid, the reimbursement amount was incorrect.  Depending on the type  of provider you are, your issues varied from other types of providers.  But all types of providers encountered adverse issues.

I still do not understand, even today, why the current administration did not stand up (figuratively and publicly) against Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) the company contracted to create NCTracks and say, “North Carolina, CSC has created this debacle.  We didn’t hire CSC.  The past administration did.  We will try to fix this debacle now…” That would have been the best public relations move, in my mind.  However, instead, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) stood by CSC and stated publicly how wonderful NCTracks was doing….”NCTracks is on track!”

Oh, well, suum cuique.  Or…to each his own.

One of the biggest problems for providers with NCTracks is the Medicare/Medicaid crossover issue.

What is the Medicare/Medicaid crossover issue?

DHHS explains the crossover issue in the November 2013 Medicaid Bulletin as the “Medicaid Allowable minus Medicare Paid Amount equals the Net Medicaid Allowable. Next, the Net Medicaid Allowable is compared to the Medicare Coinsurance Amount and the lesser of the two is the amount payable by Medicaid.”

DMA also offers the following chart as clarification

   Example No. 1  Example No. 2
Total Billed Charges

159.00

159.00

Medicare Allowed Amount

100.34

80.26

Medicare Paid Amount

79.95

64.21

Medicare Contractual Adjustment

(58.66)

(78.74)

Medicare Coinsurance Amount

20.39

16.05

 
Medicaid Allowable

84.29

85.20

Medicare Paid Amount

(79.95)

(64.21)

Net Medicaid Allowable

4.34

20.99

 
Lesser of Medicare Coinsurance and Net Medicaid Allowable Amount

4.34

16.05

DHHS goes on to say that even though the crossover claims should have been paid according to the above logic, the payments to providers for crossover claims on the NCTracks system versus the HP system may be different, as in, you may be getting paid less on the NCTracks system.

Why? We had the HP system for 35 years.

Well, according to DHHS, because the HP system “lacked the capability to perform such calculations on a claim specific basis. Instead, the prior Medicaid claims system included a “work around” that estimated the amount payable. In some cases, the “work around” paid more than the amount payable in accordance with State law and the North Carolina State Plan approved by CMS.”

Hold on….Hit the brakes!!!

Is DHHS telling us that NC was not federally compliant with Medicare/Medicaid crossover claims for 35 years???!!!!???

So, how much does NC owe to the federal government for overpaid crossover claims over a 35-year period?? And will it be extrapolated?  Maybe PCG can audit NC.

This boggles my mind. 

Here is the other fact that boggles my mind:

According to DHHS, “on October 7, 2013, NCTracks implemented system logic to more precisely pay Medicare crossover claims in accordance with State law and the North Carolina State Plan approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on a claim specific basis. The amount of payment is the difference in the amount paid by Medicare and the Medicaid Allowable amount up to the actual amount of the Medicare coinsurance, deductible or both.”

On…October….7th???

98 days after NCTracks went live???

Why in the world would this Medicare crossover issue NOT be implemented PRIOR TO going live?  The Medicare crossover issue just doesn’t seem to be a “Eh, whatever…Let’s take a gamble” issue.

So I propose a toast to DHHS.  Well done.  Well done on becoming federally compliant as to the Medicare/Medicaid crossover claims (if, in fact ,we are) 35 years later.  And well done, to implementing a NCTracks implemented system to “more precisely pay Medicare crossover issues” 98 days after NCTracks went live.

To timeliness!  Here!  Here!! (the clinking of glasses).

Maybe…just maybe….in 200+ years, NC may fix the broken Medicaid system…

NC Medicaid Providers, Are You Required to Seek an Informal Appeal Prior to Filing a Contested Case at OAH?

Recently, numerous clients have come to me asking whether they have the right to appeal straight to the Office of Administrative Appeals or whether they have to attend informal appeals first, whether the informal appeal is within a managed care organization (MCO), the Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) or any other entity contracted by DMA.

The answer is: No, you are not required to go through the informal review prior to filing a contested case at OAH, but, in some cases, the informal review is beneficial.

Let me explain.

N.C. Gen. Stat. 150B-22-37 (Article 3) applies to:

“[A]ny dispute between an agency and another person that involves the person’s rights, duties, or privileges, including licensing or the levy of a monetary penalty, should be settled through informal procedures. In trying to reach a settlement through informal procedures, the agency may not conduct a proceeding at which sworn testimony is taken and witnesses may be cross-examined. If the agency and the other person do not agree to a resolution of the dispute through informal procedures, either the agency or the person may commence an administrative proceeding to determine the person’s rights, duties, or privileges, at which time the dispute becomes a “contested case.”

N.C. Gen. Stat. 150B-22.

“Any dispute between an agency and another person”…Obviously DMA is a state agency, but is Public Consulting Group (PCG)?  Is the Carolinas Center for Medical Excellence (CCME)? East Carolina Behavioral Health?  HMS?

What if you disagree with a prepayment review result that CCME conducted?  DMA had nothing to do with the actual prepayment review.  Can you bring a contested case at OAH against CCME?

Yes.  But include DHHS, DMA as a named Respondent.  If you include the state agency that contracted with the entity, then jurisdiction is proper at OAH.  The argument being that the actions of a contracted entity is imputed to the principle (DMA).

“Should be settled through informal procedures…”  Notice it states “should,” not “must.”  Time and time again when a provider skips the informal review within the entity (for example, let’s say that MeckLINK terminates Provider Jane’s Medicaid contract and files a grievance with OAH instead of through MeckLINK first) the counsel for the entity (MeckLINK in this example) argues that OAH does not have jurisdiction because Jane failed to exhaust her administrative remedies.  As in, Jane should have appealed through MeckLINK first.

In my opinion, appealing to the very entity that is causing the grievance is futile.  The decision was made.  The entity is not going to rule against itself. 

Plus, there is no requirement for any petitioner to exhaust informal appeals prior to appealing to OAH.  When you receive a Tentative Notice of Overpayment from PCG, you can go to an informal review or you can appeal in OAH. 

The “failing to exhaust administrative remedies” argument is being misapplied by the entities.  In order to file judicial review in Superior Court or a declaratory judgment action in Superior Court, you must exhaust all administrative remedies prior to seeking relief in Superior Court.  But the requirement to exhaust administrative remedies is not applicable to filing at OAH.

The upshot is that any person aggrieved may bring a contested case in OAH without attending an informal appeal first.

However, there are some occasions that, in my opinion, the informal appeal is useful.  Such as an overpayment found by PCG.  If you receive a Tentative Notice of Overpayment by PCG, the informal reconsideration review at DMA can be helpful for a number of reasons.

1.  It forces you to review the audited documents with a fine tooth comb prior to getting in front of a judge.

2. It allows you to find all PCG’s mistakes, and there will be mistakes, and bring those mistakes to the attention of the auditor.

3.  It gives you a chance to decrease the alleged amount owed before a contested case.

Keeping those positive aspects in mind, most likely, the reconsideration review will NOT resolve the case.  Although it has happened occasionally, more times than not, you will not agree with the reduced amount the DHHS hearing officer decides.  The alleged overpayment will still be extrapolated. The alleged overpayment will still be ridiculous.

Other than an overpayment, I have found very little use for the informal appeals.

DHHS’ Robotic Certification of MCOs…So Stepford-ish!

Senate Bill 208, Session Law 2013-85, requires the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to conduct certifications to ensure the effectiveness of the managed care organizations (MCOs), and the first certification was to be before August 1, 2013.  N.C. Gen. Stat. 122C-124.2 was added as a new section by Session Law 2013-85 and states:

“In order to ensure accurate evaluation of administrative, operational, actuarial and financial components, and overall performance of the LME/MCO, the Secretary’s certification shall be based upon an internal and external assessment made by an independent external review agency in accordance with applicable federal and State laws and regulations.”

In order to comply with the statute, Secretary Wos conducted the first certification and published the findings July 31, 2013.  Well, actually Carol Steckel signed the certification and sent it to Sec. Wos (technically Wos did not conduct the certification, but she certified the content).

Steckel’s certification states that “DMA is attesting that all ten [MCOs] are appropriate for certification.”

Strong language!

Attest means to provide or service as clear evidence of.  See Google.  Clear evidence?  That the MCOs are compliant?

One of the areas that was certified was that the MCOs are timely paying providers, that the MCOs are accurately processing claims, and that the MCOs are financially accurate (whatever that means).

Here is the chart depicting those results:

Compliance chart2

Wow.  Who would have guessed that East Carolina Behavioral Healthcare (ECBH) is 100% compliant as to timely payments to providers, 100% compliant as to accuracy of claim processing, and 100% compliant as to financial accuracy.  ONE HUNDRED PERCENT!! As in, zero noncompliance!!

I mean…Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow!

Have you ever read “The Stepford Wives?” The book was published in 1972 by Ira Levine. 

Basically, the main character, Joanna Eberhart and her husband move to Stepford, Connecticut (a fictional place).  Upon arrival, Joanna and spouse (I can’t remember his name, so we will call him Ed) notice that all the woman are gorgeous, the homes are immaculate, and the woman are all perfectly submissive to their husbands (how boring would that be??). As time passes, Joanna becomes suspicious of the zombie-like actions of all the wives.

She and her friend Bobbie (until Bobbie turns zombie-like) research the past of the Stepford citizens and discover that most of the wives were past, successful business women and feminists, yet become zombie-like.  At one point, they even write to the EPA inquiring as to possible contamination in Stepford.

After Bobbie turns zombie-like, Joanna fears that the women are changed into robots.  She decides to flee Stepford, but is caught and is changed into a robot.  The books concludes with Joanna happily and submissively walking the grocery store with a large smile and robotic movements, and another wife moving into Stepford.

That book coined the word “Stepford” to mean someone acting as a robot, submissive, or blissfully following orders.

I am not saying that the DMA certification was conducted as a Stepword wife…I am merely explaining that I was reminded of “The Stepford Wives” when I read the certification.  Maybe there is no analogy to be made…you decide.

Upon quick review of the certification, a number of questions arise in my mind.  Such as…didn’t anyone proofread this??? Under each graph, it states “Data is based on a statistical sample of Medicaid claims processed between February and May of 2013 for each LME-MCO.”  Data is???

Hello!…It is data ARE, not data is!!  Data are; datum is.

Besides the obvious grammar issue, I am concerned with the actual substance of the certification. 

Nothing is defined. (Not surprising for an entity that doesn’t know data are plural).  Except “compliant” is defined on the last page as “A finding of  “compliant” means that HMS found that the LME-MCO was compliant with the requirements set forth in SB 208.”  That is like saying, “Beautiful is hereby defined as whatever I say is beautiful.”  That is not a definition.

And HMS? HMS, as in, the company North Carolina hired as a Medicaid recovery audit contractor (RAC)?  I do not know if HMS the RAC and HMS the credentialing company is the same company…but the names sure are similar.

Speaking of RACs, going back to the basis of the data…”a statistical sample?” (Which is not defined?)  What is a statistical sample?  Is this a statistical sample like Public Consulting Group’s (PCG) in extrapolation audits?  From where does the sample come?

Looking at the timeliness of provider payments, the lowest percentage is CoastalCare.  At 93.06%.  But what does that mean?  That CoastalCare takes longer than 30 days to pay providers in 6.94% of cases?  And what is noncompliance?  80%? 20%?  Because where I went to school, a 93% is a ‘B.’ Yet 93%, here, is “compliant.”  Does “compliant” mean not failing?

What is “claims processing accuracy?”  Does that mean that ECBH was 100% correct in processing (or not processing) claims based on medical necessity (or failure to meet medical necessity)?  or, merely, that the process by which ECBH processes claims (regardless of whether the process abides by clinical policy), does not deviate; therefore ECBH is 100% compliant?

How does one determine 100% compliance?  Does this certification mean that between February and May 2013, Sandhills paid 100% providers timely.  That for 4 months, Sandhills was not late for even one provider?  Because Sandhills had 100% in relation to timely provider payments.  (Personally, I would be extremely hesitant to attest for any entity achieving 100% compliance.  How easy would that be to disprove?? A journalist finds one mistake and the certification loses all credibility).

The next chart demonstrates the MCO’s solvency.

Solvency

I have to admit…this chart makes very little sense to me.  The only information we get is that greater than 1.0 equals compliance.  If you ask me, being greater than 1 seems like a very low bar.

But, if greater than 1 equals compliance, then, applying Logic 101, the higher the number the more solvent.  I could be wrong, but this makes sense to me.

Using that logic, in February MeckLINK was N/A (not “live” yet).  March: 1.32.  April: 1.54. May: 1.80.  Tell if I’m wrong, folks, but it appears to me that MeckLINK, according to HMS and unknown data, that MeckLINK is becoming more solvent as the months pass.

And this is the same MCO that WFAE cited was using accounting tricks to remain in the black????

And the same MCO that, come March 1, 2014, must be acquired by another MCO?  And then there were 9

Under the chart demonstrating the “Solvency Review,” it states, “Data is (sic) base don financial information…”  Duh!! I thought we’d review employee personnel records to determine solvency!! (Although…that could be helpful because we could see employee salaries…I’m just saying…).

What the certification does not say is financial information from whom?  The MCOs? 

Secretary Wos: “Hey, Alliance, are you solvent?”
Alliance: “Yes, Secretary.”
Secretary Wos:  “Oh, thank goodness! I wouldn’t know what to do if you were not!!”

Going back to the finding of compliance means HMS determined compliance…Does that mean that HMS compiled all the data?  What about the intradepartmental monitoring team?  Does the intradepartmental monitoring team just authorize whatever HMS says it finds?  Almost…Stepford-like.

The letter from Steckel showing DMA’s attestation of all 10 MCOs being appropriate for certification says just that…DMA is attesting that all 10 MCOs are appropriate for certification.  No analysis.  No individual thinking.  Almost…Stepford-like.

Then the letter from Sec. Wos to Louis Pate, Nelson Dollar, and Justin Burr (legislatures) regurgitates Steckel’s letter.  Except Wos’ letter says “I hereby certify that the following LME-MCOs are in compliance with the requirements of NC Gen. Stat 122C-124.2(b).”

Again, no analysis.  No independent thinking.  Steckel’s letter is dated July 31, 2013; Sec. Wos’ letter is dated July 31, 2013.  Wos did not even take ONE DAY to verify Steckel’s letter.

Zombie-like.

Stepford-like.

What good is a statute requiring DHHS to certify the MCOs every 6 months if each certification is attested to by a Stepford??

NC Medicaid Audits: Is There a Silver Lining? (Maybe Even Two!)

Normally I am “silver lining” type of person. You know…the whole, “The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be sun,” mentality…

But when it comes to North Carolina Medicaid audits conducted by Public Consulting Group (PCG) or HMS, I have failed to find the silver linings.  You, as a health care provider, receive a Tentative Notice of Overpayment (TNO) for $1 million and go through various stages of acceptance: surprise, horror, anger, befuddlement, and fear.  In order to defend yourself, you have to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for an attorney (hopefully one that understands Medicaid audits).  Then spend countless hours compiling all the documents for the attorney to review and use at the reconsideration review.  Then take off a day to attend the reconsideration review, losing even more clinical hours, only to disagree with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Hearing Officer’s decision.  Spend more money in legal fees to appeal the DHHS decision to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).  Possibly hire an extrapolation expert at even more expense.  Only to prove, finally, that the PCG and/or HMS audit was erroneous and you owe nothing.  Or $100. Or $1000.

Where is the silver lining in that process?

That you owe nothing in the end? But you paid exhorbent amounts to the attorney.

Well, there could be a silver lining… (maybe even two)…

Recently, the IRS released a couple private letter rulings as to whether paid overpayments could be tax-deductible.

OK, what  the heck is a private letter ruling?

According to Wikipedia, private letter rulings “(PLRs), in the United States, are written decisions by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in response to taxpayer requests for guidance.  A private letter ruling binds only the IRS and the requesting taxpayer. Thus, a private ruling may not be cited or relied upon as precedent.”

The most important part of the above-referenced definition of a PLR is that the PLR is binding only on the IRS and the requesting taxpayer.  Obviously, this means that if the IRS wrote 2500 PLRs saying that paid overpayments in Medicaid audits are tax-deductible, those 2500 PLRs are not binding as to you (unless you were one of the 2500 taxpayers asking for a PLR).

Regardless, PLRs are demonstrative as to how the IRS determines [whatever is determines in the PLR].  Because, despite the fact that PLRs are not binding on all taxpayers, I would find it odd if the IRS issued 2500 PLRs stating that the paid overpayments are tax-deductible, then the IRS turn around and refuse to allow you to treat the overpayment as a tax deduction.  Although, I am sure stranger things have happened.

In the first PLR, which, BTW, is not fun to read.  Who uses all this legalese???  Taxpayer B asks whether (1) the money he paid to the insurance company could be deducted as a loss incurred in a trade or business; and (2) the money paid to a Government Entity E and Government Entity F in the tax years in which the installment payments are made under the settlement agreement can be deducted. (I made Taxpayer B a male because the PLR makes him a male.  I have no idea as to the gender of Taxpayer B).

In Year 1, the Insurance Company sued … Taxpayer B for insurance fraud, demanding both compensatory and punitive damages.   In the second year, the state of New Jersey indicted Taxpayer B… for insurance fraud.  Taxpayer B agreed to pay $X in restitution to Government Entity E and Government Entity F.

Taxpayer B has represented (a) that he previously included in his gross income in prior tax years the amounts he now seeks to deduct and (b) that he and all other defendants in [both] lawsuits are jointly and severally liable for the amounts due under the settlement agreement because the language of the settlement agreement imposes joint liability upon the defendants and New Jersey law imposes joint and several liability upon members of a limited liability company.

So…can Taxpayer B deduct the money paid to the insurance company and the government as a business loss????

Or, in other words, could you (a health care provider who accepts Medicaid) deduct any money paid to PCG or HMS arising our of a regulatory audit as a business loss?

According to the PLR: 

We conclude that Taxpayer B may deduct the payments he made to the Insurance Company and to Government Entity E and Government Entity F in the years the payments were made or will be made, provided that he received or will receive no contribution from any other party and included the amounts he paid or will pay in his gross income in prior tax years.

Yes!

The second PLR is basically identical to the first, except that Taxpayer A is at issue.  For the PLR, click here.

So what does this mean?  Why should North Carolina Medicaid providers care that 2 taxpayers were able to deduct the monies paid to the government/insurance companies as a business loss?

Because, these PLRs are demonstrative that, perhaps, the IRS would view regulatory audit paybacks to PCG or HMS as an allowable tax deduction as a business loss.

So, you receive a TNO in the amount of $1 million.  You spend $20,000 litigating the $1 million to $1000.  I know, it sucks, right?? (Not that the amount was decreased by $999,000, but that it cost $20,000 to reduce the amount $999,000).

The silver lining? Maybe you can deduct the $1000 paid as a business loss.

But what about the $20,000 attorneys’ fees???

Let me preface this with:

I am no tax expert.  I know Medicaid, not tax. If you want real tax advice, go to a real tax attorney.  But, I did find…Publication 529, which states the following:

Legal Expenses

You can usually deduct legal expenses that you incur in attempting to produce or collect taxable income or that you pay in connection with the determination, collection, or refund of any tax.

You can also deduct legal expenses that are:

  • Related to either doing or keeping your job, such as those you paid to defend yourself against criminal charges arising out of your trade or business,
  • For tax advice related to a divorce if the bill specifies how much is for tax advice and it is determined in a reasonable way, or
  • To collect taxable alimony.

 A definitive answer?

No.

But…a possible two silver linings!  The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be sun!!!!

Lawsuit Against PCG: Allegations That PCG is Inept and Malicious!

It seems that Public Consulting Group’s (PCG) unscrupulous behavior has no bounds.

On June 6, 2013, LDP, Inc. d/b/a Leader Services sued PCG in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  (Case No.: 2:13-cv-03128-AB).

According to the Complaint, Leader and PCG are direct competitors.  Leader was the Pennsylvania’s Department of Education (DOE) contractor responsible for executing Medicaid claims for the school-based ACCESS program.  In 2011, the Pennsylvania DOE requested bids from companies.  PCG won the bid by submitting a bid at less than half the amount paid under previous years. (Already fishy).

Many school agencies were concerned about the switch from Leader’s computer program to PCG’s program.  Leader offered to serve as an intermediary during the switch.

Leader alleges that PCG took active steps to thwart Leader’s intermediary role, such as changing its data formatting and not paying claims submitted by Leader.  The biggest allegations is that PCG failed to process hundreds of thousands of claims for Medicaid payments submitted by Leader, which resulted in tens of millions of dollars of health-related services provided by school agencies to go unpaid.

The press got wind and some stories were written about PCG doing a “poor job.”

PCG turned around and began disparaging Leader.  PCG held conference calls and meetings asserting that the schools were not paid because of Leader, not PCG.  Leader confronted PCG and PCG provided (for the first time) error logs (basically a log of why the claims were unpaid and as a basis for the disparaging remarks that the claims were not paid because of Leader).

Leader reviewed the error logs, only to discover that the majority of “errors” were errors because of PCG!!! (Hmmmm..sound familiar?).

What???? PCG erroneously auditing something?  Say it is not so!! (This is sarcasm, people).

After seeing how PCG conducted itself in New Mexico (auditing 15 behavioral health care providers at the request of HSD, but after flying to Arizona to determine which companies should take over the 15 providers, and never showing the providers the claim audit findings) and how PCG is conducting itself in North Carolina (sending providers Tentative Notices of Overpayment saying the provider owes hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, only to discover that the PCG auditors were wrong and the provider really owes a $100), I cannot say I am surprised that PCG would fail to process claims, blame Leader, and produce a report supposedly showing Leader’s errors, but, in reality, the errors being on PCG shoulders.

No. Not surprising.

Although, remember, this is a Complaint.  The courts have not rendered a decision.  There is a chance that Leader made all this up….there is also a chance that PCG is inept and malicious.

Leader sued PCG for

1. Tortious interference with contract;

2. Unfair competition;

3. Commercial disparagement; and

4. Defamation.

Coincidentally, some of the cause of action would be the very same causes of action I would advise the NM behavioral health care providers to assert.