You could hear the outrage in the voices of some of the NC legislators (finally, for the love of God – our General Assembly has taken the blinders off their eyes regarding the MCOs) at the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Medicaid and NC Health Choice on Tuesday, December 6, 2016, when Cardinal Innovations‘, a NC managed care organization (MCO) that manages our Medicaid behavioral health care in its catchment area, CEO, Richard Topping, stated that his salary was raised this year from $400,000 to $635,000 – with our tax dollars. (Whoa – totally understand if you have to read that sentence multiple times; it was extraordinarily complex).
Senator Tommy Tucker (R-Waxhaw) was especially incensed. He said, “I received minutes from your board, Sept. 16 of 2016, they made that motion, that your 2017 comp package, they raised your salary from $400,000 to $635,000, they gave you a 0 to 30 percent bonus potential which could be roughly another $250,000 and also you have some sort of annuity or long-term package of $412,000,” said Sen. Tommy Tucker.
Sen. Tucker was not alone.
Representative Dollar was also concerned. But even more surprising than our legislators stepping up to the plate and holding an MCO accountable (MCOs have expensive lobbyists – with our tax dollars), the State’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Secretary Rick Brajer was visibly infuriated. He spoke sharply and interrogated Topping as to his acute income increase, as well as the benefits attached.
As a health care blogger, I receive so many emails from blog readers, including parents of disabled children, who are not receiving the medically necessary Medicaid behavioral health care services for their developmentally disabled children. MCOs are denying medically necessary services. MCOs are terminating qualified health care providers. MCOs are putting access to care at issue. BTW – even if the MCOs only terminated 1 provider and stopped 1 Medicaid recipient from receiving behavioral health care services from their provider of choice, that MCO would be in violation of federal law access to care regulations. But, MCOs are terminating multiple – maybe hundreds – of health care providers. MCOs are nickeling and diming health care providers. Yet, CEO Topping will reap $635,000+ as a salary.
The MCOs, including Cardinal, do not have assets except for our tax dollars. They are not incorporated. They are not private entities. They are extensions of our “single state agency” DHHS. The MCOs step into the shoes of DHHS. The MCOs are state agencies. The MCOs are paid with our tax dollars. Our tax dollars should be used (and are budgeted) to provide Medicaid behavioral health care services for our most needy and to be paid to those health care providers, who still accept Medicaid and provide services to our most vulnerable population. News alert – These providers who render behavioral health care services to Medicaid recipients do not make $635,000/year, or anywhere even close. The reimbursement rates for Medicaid is paltry, at best. Toppings should be embarrassed for even accepting a $635,000 salary. The money, instead, should go to increasing the reimbursements rates – or maintaining a provider network without terminating providers ad nauseum. Or providing medically necessary services to Medicaid recipients.
Rest assured, Cardinal is not the only MCO lining the pockets of its executives. While both Trillium and Alliance, other MCOs, pay their CEOs under $200,000 (still nothing to sneeze at). Alliance, however, throws its tax dollars at private, legal counsel. No in-house counsel for Alliance! Oh, no! Alliance hires expensive, private counsel to defend its actions. Another way our tax dollars are at work. And – my question – why in the world does Alliance, or any other MCO, need to hire legal counsel? Our State has perfectly competent attorneys at our Attorney General’s office, who are on salary to defend the state, and its agencies, for any issue. The MCOs stand in the shoes of the State when it comes to Medicaid for behavioral health. The MCOs should utilize the attorneys the State already employs – not a high-dollar, private law firm. These are our tax dollars!
There have been few times that I have praised DHHS in my blogs. I will readily admit that I am harsh on DHHS’ actions/nonactions with our tax dollars. And I am now not recanting any of my prior opinions. But, last Tuesday, Sec. Brajer held Toppings feet to the fire. Thank you, Brajer, for realizing the horror of an MCO CEO earning $635,000/year while our most needy population goes under-served, and, sometimes not served at all, with medically necessary behavioral health care services.
What is deeply concerning is that if Sec. Brajer is this troubled by actions by the MCOs, or, at least, Cardinal, why can he not DO SOMETHING?? Where is the supervision of the MCOs by DHHS? I’ve read the contracts between the MCOs and DHHS. DHHS is the supervising entity over the MCOs. Our Waiver to the federal government promises that DHHS will supervise the MCOs.
If the Secretary of DHHS cannot control the MCOs, who can?
Another Win for Gordon & Rees! Judge Finds NM HSD Arbitrary, Capricious, and Not Otherwise in Accordance of Law! And JUSTICE PREVAILS!
For those of you who have followed my blog for a while, you understand the injustices that occurred in New Mexico against 15 behavioral health care providers in 2013. For those of you who do not recall, for background, see blog, and blog and blog. These 15 agencies comprised 87% of NM behavioral health care services. And they were all shut down by immediate suspensions of reimbursements on June 23, 2013, collectively.
My team (Robert Shaw, Special Counsel, and Todd Yoho, Master Paralegal) and I worked our “behinds off” in these two New Mexico administrative hearings that have so far been held. The first was for The Counseling Center (TCC) headed up by Jim Kerlin (seen below). And our decision was finally rendered this past Friday!
BTW: It is officially Jim Kerlin day in Otero county, NM, on June 11th.
The second hearing, which appeal is still pending, was for Easter Seals El Mirador, headed up by Mark Johnson and Patsy Romero. Both companies are outstanding entities and we have been blessed to work with both. Over the last 20-30 years, both companies have served the New Mexican Medicaid population by providing mental health, developmentally disabled, and substance abuse services to those most in need.
After both companies were accused of committing Medicaid fraud, and, while, subsequently, the Attorney General’s office in NM found no indications of fraud, both companies were told that they owed overpayments to HSD. We filed Petitions for Contested Cases. We disagreed.
NM HSD based its decision that all 15 behavioral health care companies were guilty of credible allegations of fraud based on an audit conducted by Public Consultant Group (PCG). While I have seen the imperfections of PCG’s auditing skills, in this case, PCG found no credible allegations of fraud. HSD, nonetheless, took it upon itself to discard PCG’s audit and find credible allegations of fraud.
These cases were brought in administrative court. For those who do not know, administrative court is a quasi-judicial court, which is specially carved out from our state and federal civil courts. In NC, our Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) is the administrative court in which health care providers and Medicaid recipients seek relief from adverse agency actions. Similarly, NM also has an administrative court system. The administrative court system is actually a part of the executive branch; the Governor of the State appoints the administrative law judges (ALJs).
However, 42 CFR 431.10 mandates that each state designate a single state entity to manage Medicaid. In NM, that single state agency is Human Services Department (HSD); in NC, it is the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) (for now).
42 CFR 431.10 states that if the single state agency delegates authority to another entity, that other entity cannot “have the authority to change or disapprove any administrative decision of that agency, or otherwise substitute their judgment for that of the Medicaid agency with respect to the application of policies, rules, and regulations issued by the Medicaid agency.”
If an ALJ is deciding an issue with Medicaid, then her or she would be substituting his or her judgment for that of the Medicaid agency with respect to the application of policies, rules, and regulations issued by the Medicaid agency.
This is why, in NC, prior to 2013, our ALJs could only make a Recommendation, not an Order or Decision. See blog. In 2013, NC was granted a Waiver to the single state agency mandate allowing ALJs to render decisions on behalf of Medicaid.
In New Mexico, however, there has been no such Waiver. Thus, the ALJ only recommends a decision. In NC, our ALJs are appointed and are independent of DHHS. Juxtapose, in NM, the ALJ answers to the single state entity AND only issues a recommendation, which the agency may accept or reject.
Needless to say, in TCC v. HSD, the ALJ ruled against us. And HSD accepted the recommended decision. We appealed to Superior Court with a Petition for Judicial Review.
Judges in Superior Courts are not employed by their single state agencies. I have found, generally, that Superior Court judges truly try to follow the law. (In my opinion, so do ALJs who do not have to answer to the single state agency, like in NC).
This past Friday, October 23, 2015, Judge Francis Matthew, issued a Decision REVERSING HSD’s decision that TCC owed any money and ordered all funds being withheld to be released. Here are a couple quotes:
Special Counsel, Robert Shaw, our paralegal, Todd Yoho, our local counsel Bryan Davis, and I are beyond ecstatic with the result. Robert and I worked weeks upon weeks of 12-16 hour days for this case.
I remember the night before the 1st day of trial, local counsel encountered an unexpected printing problem. I had just flown into New Mexico and Robert Shaw was on his way, but his flight was delayed. Robert got to the hotel in Santa Fe at approximately 7 pm New Mexico time, which was 10 pm eastern time.
It’s 7:00 pm the evening before the trial…and we have no exhibits.
Robert went to the nearby Kinko’s and printed off all the exhibits and organized the binders until 2:00 am, 5:00 am eastern time. During which time I was preparing opening statement, direct examinations, and cross examinations (although I went to bed way before 2:00 am).
Regardless, Robert was dressed, clean-shaven, and ready to go the next day at 9:00 am with the exhibits (of which there were approximately 10 bankers’ boxes filled).
The trial lasted all week. Every day we would attend trial 9:00-5:00. After each day concluded, our evenings of preparation for the next day began.
I am not telling you all this for admiration, consternation, or any other reason except to shed some light as to our absolutely unbridled joy when, on Friday, October 23, 2015, Bryan Davis emailed us the Order that says that HSD’s decision “is REVERSED in its entirety…”
See the article in The Santa Fe New Mexican.
We hope this sets good precedent for Easter Seals El Mirador and the other 13 behavioral health care agencies harmed by HSD’s allegations of fraud in 2013.
42 CFR 455.23 mandates a state to suspend reimbursements for a provider upon “credible allegations of fraud.” Obviously, this is an extreme measure that will undoubtedly put that accused provider out of business without due process. BTW: the “credible” allegation can be non-credible. It does not matter. See blog. 42 CFR 455.23 is the modern day guillotine for health care providers.
Which leads me to say…It is my sincere hope, that, going forward, state agencies realize the magnitude of implementing measures mandated by 42 CFR 455.23. Instead of wielding the power willy-nilly, it is imperative to conduct a good faith investigation prior to the accusation.
And, certainly, do not conduct an investigation, discard the results, and accuse 87% of your behavioral health care providers in your state. Think of the recipients!! The employees!! And all the families affected!!
New Mexico Senator Proposes Forefront State Legislation to Provide Due Process to Providers Accused of Fraud (Oh, And Here Are Some NC Election Results)
Whew…the election is over. No more political ads, emails, and other propaganda… Ok, so we have our new elected officials, now our new elected officials need to pass some new legislation protecting providers when it comes to “noncredible allegations of fraud.”
Due Process…It’s such a fundamental part of our society that we rarely think about due process on a day-to-day basis. Not until due process is violated, do we usually contemplate it.
However, when it comes to credible allegations of fraud against a health care provider who accepts Medicaid or Medicare, the federal government, arguably, dropped the ball. The federal regulations instruct the states to “afford due process,” but fail to instruct how. 42 CFR 455.23. Which leaves the due process component in the states’ hands.
To begin with, the standard for a credible allegation of fraud is excruciatingly low. I mean, LOW. The bar has been set so low that an ant would probably climb over the bar rather than walk beneath it. See my past blogs: “New Mexico Affords No Due Process Based on a PCG Audit.”and “NC Medicaid Providers: “Credible Allegations of Fraud?” YOU ARE GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT!!” For example, a disgruntled employee or a competitor can draft an anonymous letter without a signature and without a return address, send it to the single state entity, and all your reimbursements could be suspended without any notice to you.
Senator Mary Kay Papen of New Mexico and her team have drafted a fantastic proposed state bill which would provide safeguards for health care providers’ due process while still allowing the state to investigate Medicaid fraud. I mean, let’s face it, we want to catch Medicaid fraud, but we don’t all live in Florida…or New York. 🙂 Fraud is much more infrequent than people imagine compared to the overreaching ability of the single state agencies to suspend innocent providers’ reimbursements.
I had the privilege of flying out to New Mexico a week or so ago to testify before a subcommittee of the legislature about my opinion of Senator Papen’s proposed bill.
Little known fact about New Mexico: The New Mexico legislature is the only unpaid legislature in the country. I had no idea. To which, I said, which I believed was a logical statement, “why doesn’t the legislature pass a bill that creates salaries for members of the legislature?” I was told that no bill providing salaries to members of legislature would ever be signed by the governor (no specific governor, I believe, but, any governor) because the status of governor is so important/powerful in New Mexico due to the less powerful legislature. In other words, supposedly, no governor would sign a bill instituting salaries for members of legislature because the governor would be fearful to lose power. (I do not know the validity of this conjecture, but I do find it interesting).
Going back to the proposed bill…
For starters, the proposed bill re-defines “credible allegation of fraud.” Instead of the current federal statute, which holds an allegation credible if it is merely uttered aloud, the proposed bill states that a credible allegation of fraud is credible only after the single state entity:
1. Considers the totality of the facts and circumstances;
2. Conducts a careful review of the facts, evidence, and facts; and
3. Determines that sufficient indicia of reliability exist to justify a reason to refer the provider to the Attorney General (AG) for further investigation.
The proposed bill also forbids extrapolation as to alleged overpayments.
Further, the proposed bill forbids the state agency from suspending payments until certain safety procedures are met. For example, all appeals and administrative remedies must be exhausted, and the bill allows the provider to post a bond in order to keep receiving reimbursements.
It also allows a provider to receive injunctive relief against the agency in order to continue receiving reimbursements.
And, my favorite part, states that a judge may award attorney’s fees if it shown that the agency substantially prejudiced the provider’s rights and acted arbitrarily and capriciously. Obviously, the attorneys’ fees are not a given; the provider would need to show that the state, somehow, acted, for example, without enough evidence or failed to provide due process.
Senator Papen’s proposed bill is just that…a proposed bill. But, it is a start in the right direction. If, in fact, the federal government placed the burden on the states to implement due process in situations in which there are allegations of fraud, then the states need to act. Because, right now, when there is noncredible allegation of fraud, the state has the ability, and is using this ability in many states, to completely shut down providers. In essence, an allegation of fraud becomes the death of a company…no reimbursements, no income, no payroll, terminate staff, cease paying bills, file for bankruptcy.
I encourage more states to review Senator Papen’s proposed bill and propose similar bills in other states.
And for you politicians…the best part? At least, in New Mexico, the bill appeared to be supported by a non-partisan group.
BTW, in case you are interested, here are the changes to our General Assembly and Congress after Tuesday’s election: (brought to you by Tracy Colvard, Vice President of Government Relations and Public Policy for AHHC).
North Carolina Legislature
- Republicans in N.C. House (2015-16): 74
- Number needed for supermajority: 72
- Democrats in N.C. House (2015-16): 46
- Change from 2013-2014: +3 DEM
- New faces in House: 15
- Incumbents defeated: 4
- Republicans in N.C. Senate (2015-16): 34
- Number needed for supermajority: 30
- Democrats in N.C. Senate (2015-16): 16
- Change from 2013-2014: +1 GOP
- New faces in Senate: 6
- Incumbents defeated: 1
N.C. Congressional Delegation
- Republicans in U.S. House: 10
- Democrats in U.S. House: 3
- Change from 2013-2014: +1 GOP
- Republicans in U.S. Senate: 2
- Democrats in U.S. Senate: 0
- Change from 2013-2014: +1 (GOP)
Thanks, Tracy, for those demographics.
Now, let’s get some due process safeguards for health care providers!!!!
Today the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit opined that “One head chef in the Medicaid kitchen is enough.” (This may be the first time I’ve laughed out loud at a federal court’s decision due to true humor).
The case caption is K.C., a minor child by and through his mother and next friend, Africa H., M.S., a minor child Plaintiff-Intervenor v. Pamela Shipman, in her official capacity as Area Director of Piedmont Behavioral Health Care Mental Health, (and the rest of the caption…) (We will call the case “K.C. v. PBH“).
Let me set the stage:
Plaintiffs-Appellees: a class of Medicaid beneficiaries who suffer from severe developmental disabilities
Defendants-Appellants: PBH, one of 10 MCOs in the State contracted with DMA to manage behavioral health services for Medicaid recipients in certain counties
Issue: Does 42 U.S.C. 1396a(a)(5), which requires Medicaid to be managed by a single state entity, prohibit PBH from appealing a district court’s entry of preliminary injunction when DMA did not join the appeal?
In the vernacular: Can PBH appeal any Medicaid issue without its “boss” or principal being a party?
Hmmmmm….maybe that was not as “in the vernacular” as I thought. Let me try again: Can the MCOs decide anything about Medicaid unilaterally without DMA?
I’m trying, people.
Anyway, the short answer is, “No.”
42 U.S.C. 1396a(a)(5) requires Medicaid to be managed by a single state entity. The 4th District calls this requirement the “single state agency requirement.”
Why is it SO important that a single state agency manage Medicaid that the federal government dictates the same? “To avoid a lack of accountability for the appropriate operation of the program.” Hillburn v. Maher, 795 F.2d 252, 261 (2nd Cir. 1986).
Lack of accountability???? Hmmmmm…How many of my blogs have been devoted to the lack of accountability of the MCOs?
The Hillburn Court stated that, “a single state entity may not diminish or alter its Medicaid responsibilities based on the action or inaction of other state offices or agencies.”; i.e., DMA cannot divorce itself from the duties of Medicaid merely by contracting out to a private company….or, i.e., DMA is on the hook for whatever happens in Medicaid regardless the player.
As to accountability of the MCOs, here are some of my favorite quotes from K.C. v. PBH:
- “that agency cannot evade federal requirements by deferring to the actions of other entities.”
- “PBH is forbidden to “change or disapprove any administrative decision” made by the NCDHHS pursuant to…”
- “If important litigation decisions made by a single state agency were not “administrative decisions” protected from challenge by another agency, the resulting inefficiency and turmoil would be profound.”
- “The result of PBH’s interpretation would be a constant state of confusion in the litigation process in which parties (and judges) must not only attempt to argue (or decide) the merits of each case, but where they must first identify which of multiple state entities is even speaking with the state’s final authority.”
- The single state entity requirement “prohibits precisely what PBH aims to achieve in this appeal: to place itself in the driver’s seat and call the shots on how the state’s Medicaid is to be administered in the face of a clearly contradicted decision by the NCDHHS.”
Read the last two quotes again. To me, these quotes sound as if PBH is NOT in the driver seat, that DMA is in the driver seat, and that DMA has complete control over the Medicaid system. Maybe I’m wrong. But that’s what it sounds like to me.
It’s been a long time, but I remember my early college philosophy classes, beginning with Logic 101: PBH is not in the driver seat. PBH is an MCO. Thus, no MCO is in the driver seat.
K.C. v. PBH also held, “there is no dispute that PBH is an agent of the NCDHHS due to its contract…”
No dispute? In every case I have right now, the MCO (whichever MCO it is) is arguing that it is an independent contractor, not an agent. Apparently, there is no dispute…I am right 🙂 .
PBH cannot evade a preliminary injunction that continues to run against NCDHHS. See pages 15-16 of K.C v. PBH (This is SO not the Bluebook style of quoting sources…Sorry).
Granted this decision came out today, but I am counting the seconds until Monday when OAH opens up, so we can implement the beauty of this decision.
One head chef in the Medicaid kitchen is enough!