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A New Year and We Will “Ring In” Even Lower PCS Reimbursement Rates: Time for Litigation?

Merry Christmas, everyone!!! And Happy New Year!!

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday! Personally, Christmas was wonderful for my family.  I actually took some days off.  And our 9-year-old girl received way too many presents.  Plus, I learned that we should be spending way less on her!! We bought her a new saddle, bridle and breast-strap for her horse, but, when asked what she received for Christmas, she tells everyone about the $2 marshmallow gun she received, not the saddle. Regardless, we were able to spend quality time together with my mom and dad and 2 sisters.  My husband Scott, however, got the flu and he has been in bed for the last few days…yuck! But he was healthy on Christmas.

We have been truly blessed this year, and I want to thank you all for reading my blog.

I received an email today from an owner of a home care agency that reminded me that, especially during the holidays, many people are struggling.  This home care agency owner, “we will call him Al,” informed me that he potentially will be closing his agency, which would put approximately 130 employees out of work. Al told me that his agency has been struggling over the past few years with the decrease in personal care services (PCS) reimbursement rate.

Al is not the only home care agency owner who has contacted me in the last few months bemoaning about the low PCS reimbursement rates.  The PCS reimbursement rates are set by legislature, most of the time in the budget bills.  For example, the General Assembly passed the budget this past year, which will decrease the PCS reimbursement rates by another 3% beginning January 1, 2015. (Happy New Years).

See below, which is from another blog post: “PCS Medicaid Reimbursement Rates Are TOO LOW to Maintain Adequate Quality of Care, in Violation of the Code of Federal Regulations!

“SECTION 12H.18.(b). During the 2013-2015 fiscal biennium, the Department of Health and Human Services shall withhold reduce by three percent (3%) of the payments … on or after January 1, 2014” (emphasis added).”

The PCS reimbursement rate became $13.88. Session Law 2014-100 was signed into law August 7, 2014; however, Session Law 2014-100 purports to be effective retroactively as of October 2013. (This brings into question these possible recoupments for services already rendered, which, in my opinion, would violate federal and state law, but such possible violations (or probable or currently occurring violations are a topic for another blog).

It is without question that the Medicaid reimbursement rate for PCS is too low. In NC, the PCS reimbursement rate is currently set at $13.88/hour (or $3.47/15 minutes). It is also without question that there is a direct correlation between reimbursement rates and quality of care.

Because Medicaid pays for approximately 67% of all nursing home residents and recipients of home health care in USA, the Medicaid reimbursement rates and methods are central to understanding the quality of care received by PCS services and the level of staffing criteria expected.

PCS for adults are not a required Medicaid service. As in, a state may opt to provide PCS services or not. As of 2012, 31 states/provinces provided PCS services for adults and 25 did not. Most notably, Florida, Virginia, and South Carolina did not provide PCS services for adults. See Kaiser Family Foundation website.

According to Kaiser Family Foundation, “For the personal care services state plan option, the average rate paid to provider agencies [across the nation] was $18.19 per hour in 2012, a slight increase from $17.91 per hour in 2011. In states where personal care services providers were paid directly by the state or where reimbursement rates were determined by the state, the average reimbursement rate was $16.31 per hour in 2012. Medicaid provider reimbursement rates are often set by state legislatures as part of the budget process.”

What can be done regarding these low PCS reimbursement rates in NC???

In order to change legislation, one of two avenues exist: (1) lobbying; or (2) litigation.

Over the past few years, while the PCS reimbursement rates have continued to decrease, the associations involved with home care organizations and long term care facilities (companies that provide PCS) have emphasized the lobbying aspect.  No litigation has been filed demanding a reasonable PCS reimbursement rate.

Obviously, the lobbying aspect has yielded less than desirable results.  Instead of increasing the PCS reimbursement rate, the General Assembly has continually decreased the rate.

When one line of attack does not work, you try another.

Maybe it is time for litigation.

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

In my career, I call it the “F” word:

Fraud.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are personal care services (PCS)?

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

First, the definition/eligibility requirements:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the difference between assisted living and nursing homes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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