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NC Medicaid Reimbursement Rates for Primary Care Physicians Slashed; Is a Potential NC Lawsuit Looming?

Here is my follow-up from yesterday’s blog post, “NC Docs Face Retroactive Medicaid Rate Cut.

Nearly one-third of physicians say they will not accept new Medicaid patients, according to a new study.  Is this shocking in light of the end of the ACA enhanced payments for primary physicians, NC’s implementation of a 3% reimbursement rate cut for primary care physicians, and the additional 1% reimbursement rate cut?  No, this is not shocking. It merely makes economic sense.

Want more physicians to accept Medicaid? Increase reimbursement rates!

Here, in NC, the Medicaid reimbursement rates for primary care physicians and pediatricians have spiraled downward from a trifecta resulting in an epically, low parlay. They say things happen in threes…

(1) With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Medicaid reimbursement rate for certain primary care services increased to reimburse 100% of Medicare Cost Share for services paid in 2013 and 2014.  This enhanced payment stopped on January 1, 2015.

(2) Concurrently on January 1, 2015, Medicaid reimbursement rates for evaluation and management and vaccination services were decreased by 3% due to enactments in the 2013 NC General Assembly session.

(3) Concurrently on January 1, 2015, Medicaid reimbursement rates for evaluation and management and vaccination services were decreased by 1% due to enactments in the 2014 NC General Assembly session.

The effect of the trifecta of Medicaid reimbursement rates for certain procedure codes for primary care physicians can be seen below.

CCNC

As a result, a physician currently receiving 100% of the Medicare rates will see a 16% to 24% reduction in certain E&M and vaccine procedure codes for Medicaid services rendered after January 1, 2015.

Are physicians (and all other types of health care providers) powerless against the slashing and gnashing of Medicaid reimbursement rates due to budgetary concerns?

No!  You are NOT powerless!  Be informed!!

Section 30(A) of the Medicaid Act states that:

“A state plan for medical assistance must –

Provide such methods and procedures relating to the utilization of, and the payment for, care and services available under the plan (including but not limited to utilization review plans as provided for in section 1396b(i)(4) of this title) as may be necessary to safeguard against unnecessary utilization of such care and services and to assure that payments are consistent with efficiency, economy, and quality of care and are sufficient to enlist enough providers so that care and services are available under the plan at least to the extent that such care and services are available to the general population in the geographic area.”

Notice those three key goals:

  • Quality of care
  • Sufficient to enlist enough providers
  • So that care and services are available under the plan at least to the extent that such care and services are available to the general population in the geographic area

Courts across the country have held that low Medicaid reimbursement rates which are set due to budgetary factors and fail to consider federally mandated factors, such as access to care or cost of care, are in violation of federal law.  Courts have further held that Medicaid reimbursement rates cannot be set based solely on budgetary reasons.

For example, U.S. District Court Judge Adalberto Jordan held in a 2014 Florida case that:

“I conclude that while reimbursement rates are not the only factor determining whether providers participate in Medicaid, they are by far the most important factor, and that a sufficient increase in reimbursement rates will lead to a substantial increase in provider participation and a corresponding increase to access to care.”

“Given the record, I conclude that plaintiffs have shown that achieving adequate provider enrollment in Medicaid – and for those providers to meaningfully open their practices to Medicaid children – requires compensation to be set at least at the Medicare level.

Judge Jordan is not alone.  Over the past two decades, similar cases have been filed in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Texas, and D.C. [Notice: Not in NC].  These lawsuits demanding higher reimbursement rates have largely succeeded.

There is also a pending Supreme Court case that I blogged about here.

Increasing the Medicaid reimbursement rates is vital for Medicaid recipients and access to care.  Low reimbursement rates cause physicians to cease accepting Medicaid patients.  Therefore, these lawsuits demanding increased reimbursement rates benefit both the Medicaid recipients and the physicians providing the services.

According to the above-mentioned study, in 2011, “96 percent of physicians accepted new patients in 2011, rates varied by payment source: 31 percent of physicians were unwilling to accept any new Medicaid patients; 17 percent would not accept new Medicare patients; and 18 percent of physicians would not accept new privately insured patients.”

It also found this obvious fact:  “Higher state Medicaid-to-Medicare fee ratios were correlated with greater acceptance of new Medicaid patients.”

Ever heard the phrase: “You get what you pay for.”?

A few months ago, my husband brought home a box of wine.  Yes, a box of wine.  Surely you have noticed those boxes of wine at Harris Teeter.  I tried a sip.  It was ok.  I’m no wine connoisseur.  But I woke the next morning with a terrible headache after only consuming a couple of glasses of wine.  I’m not sure whether the cheaper boxed wine has a higher level of tannins, or what, but I do not get headaches off of 2 glasses of wine when the wine bottle is, at least, $10.  You get what you pay for.

The same is true in service industries.  Want a cheap lawyer? You get what you pay for.  Want a cheap contractor? You get what you pay for.

So why do we expect physicians to provide the same quality of care in order to receive $10 versus $60?  Because physicians took the Hippocratic Oath?  Because physicians have an ethical duty to treat patients equally?

While it is correct that physicians take the Hippocratic Oath and have an ethical duty to their clients, it’s for these exact reasons that many doctors simply refuse to accept Medicaid.  It costs the doctor the same office rental, nurse salaries, and time devoted to patients to treat a person with Blue Cross Blue Shield as it does a person on Medicaid.  However, the compensation is vastly different.

Why?  Why the different rates if the cost of care is equal?

Budgetary reasons.

Unlike private insurance, Medicaid is paid with tax dollars.  Each year, the General Assembly determines our Medicaid budget.  Reducing Medicaid reimbursement rates, by even 1%, can affect the national Medicaid budget by billions of dollars.

But, remember, rates cannot be set for merely budgetary reasons…

Is a potential lawsuit looming in NC’s not so distant future???

Williams Mullen Hosts “The State of the State of Health Care” Panel Discussion

Williams Mullen is hosting a free panel discussion on “The State of the State of Health Care.”  Please see below!

The panelists will be Rep. Nelson Dollar, Steven Keene, General Counsel to the NC Medical Society, Barbara Burke, from BCBS, and me.  The panel discussion will begin at 4:00.  Then from 5:00-6:30 we will have free drinks and appetizers.

Please feel free to come and bring others.  But we do request that you register here by October 10th in order for us to have a correct head count.

panel

 

 

How EPSDT Allows Medicaid Recipients Under the Age of 21 To Receive More Services Than Covered By NC State Plan

EPSDT. What in the heck is EPSDT?

EPSDT is an acronym for the “Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT).” It only applies to Medicaid beneficiaries under the age of 21. As in, if you are 21, EPSDT does not apply to you. The point of EPSDT is to allow beneficiaries under the age of 21 to receive medically necessary services not normally allowed by the NC Medicaid State Plan. (These beneficiaries under the age of 21 I will call “children” for the sake of this blog, despite 18+ being a legal adult).

The definition of each part of the acronym is below:

Early:……. Assessing and identifying problems early
Periodic:…… Checking children’s health at periodic, age-appropriate intervals
Screening:…. Providing physical, mental, developmental, dental, hearing, vision, and other screening tests to detect potential problems
Diagnostic:…. Performing diagnostic tests to follow-up when a risk is identified, and
Treatment:…. Control, correct or reduce health problems found.

Federal Medicaid law at 42 U.S.C.§ 1396d(r) [1905(r) of the Social Security Act] requires state Medicaid programs to provide EPSDT for beneficiaries under 21 years of age. Within the scope of EPSDT benefits under the federal Medicaid law, states are required to cover any service that is medically necessary “to correct or ameliorate a defect, physical or mental illness, or a condition identified by screening,” whether or not the service is covered under the North Carolina State Medicaid Plan.

The services covered under EPSDT are limited to those within the scope of the category of services listed in the federal law at 42 U.S.C. § 1396d (a) [1905(a) of the Social Security Act].

For example, EPSDT will not cover, nor is it required to cover, purely cosmetic or experimental treatments.

Again, EPSDT allows for exceptions to Medicaid policies for beneficiaries under the age of 21. For example, if the DMA clinical policy for dental procedures does not cover a certain procedure, if the dentist determines that the procedure is medically necessary for a beneficiary under the age of 21, then the dentist can request prior approval under EPSDT simply by filling out a “non-covered services form” along with the other supporting documentation to establish medical necessity. More likely than not, the “non-covered procedure” would be approved.

Medical necessity is an interesting term. Medical necessity is not defined by statute. The American Medical Association (AMA) defines medical necessity as:

“Health care services or products that a prudent physician would provide to a patient for the purpose of preventing, diagnosing, treating or rehabilitating an illness, injury, disease or its associated symptoms, impairments or functional limitations in a manner that is: (1) in accordance with generally accepted standards of medical practice; (2) clinically appropriate in terms of type, frequency, extent, site and duration; and (3) not primarily for the convenience of the patient, physician, or other health care provider.”

But, legally, the courts have construed medical necessity broadly when it comes to EPSDT. As in, generally speaking, if a doctor will testify that a procedure or service is medically necessary, then, generally speaking, a judge will accept the medical necessity of the procedure or service.

It seems as though I am degrading the intelligence of the judges that take the face value testimony of the doctors. But I am not.

Judges, like I, are not doctors. We do not have the benefit of a medical education. I say benefit because any education is a benefit, in my opinion.

It would be difficult for anyone who is not a doctor to disagree with the testimony of a physician testifying to medical necessity. I mean, unless the person stayed in a Holiday Inn Express the night before. (I know…bad joke).

Some courts, however, have ruled that the decision as to whether a procedure is medically necessary must be a joint effort by the state and the treating physician. Obviously, for courts that follow the “joint decision for medical necessity” holdings, less procedures would be allowed under EPSDT because, more likely than not, the state will disagree with a treating physician (I say this only from my own experience representing the state when the state disagreed with EPSDT treatments despite the treating physician testifying that the procedure was medically necessary).

For example, the 11th Circuit has held that both the state and the treating physician have a role in determining whether a procedure or treatment is medically necessary to correct or ameliorate a medical condition. The 11th circuit disagreed with the Northern District of Georgia’s determination that the state MUST provide the amount of services which the treating physician dreamed necessary. Moore v. Medows, No. 08-13926, 2009 WL 1099133 (11th Cir. Apr. 24, 2009).

Regardless, in practice, EPSDT is interpreted broadly. A long, long time ago, I worked at the Attorneys’ Generals office. A mother requested hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) for her autistic children (and I had to oppose her request because that was my job).

For those of you who do not know what HBOT is (I sure didn’t know what HBOT is prior to this particular case)…

“Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is the use of high pressure oxygen as a drug to treat basic pathophysiologic processes and their diseases. HBOT has acute and chronic drug effects. Acutely, HBOT has been proven to be the most powerful inhibitor of reperfusion injury, which is the injury that occurs to tissue deprived of blood supply when blood flow is resumed. This is thought to be one of the primary mechanisms of hyperbaric oxygen therapy effects in acute global ischemia, anoxia, and coma. Chronically, HBOT acts as a signal inducer of DNA to effect trophic (growth) tissue changes.” See http://www.hbot.com/hbot.

I went and saw a hyperbaric oxygen treatment chamber in preparation of my case. It’s pretty intimidating. It is a large chamber made of thick metal. It looks like you could get inside, have it submerged under the ocean, and explore. It appears similar to a submarine. And, interestingly, it is most often used for divers who get the bends.

It is highly controversial as to whether HBOT cures, remedies or ameliorates autistic symptoms. I had two experts testifying that HBOT was experimental, and, therefore, not covered by Medicaid, even with EPSDT. (Remember, back then I was at the AG’s office).

Yet, despite the fact that HBOT was still controversial as to whether it ameliorates the symptoms of autism, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) used the EPSDT doctrine to rule that the mother’s children could receive HBOT and Medicaid must pay for the services.

That is the power of EPSDT. HBOT was clearly not covered by Medicaid for the purpose of ameliorating symptoms of autism. But, for the children named in the Petition who were under 21, Medicaid paid nonetheless.

HBOT allows beneficiaries under the age of 21 to receive medically necessary services that would not normally be allowed under the North Carolina Medicaid State Plan.

Importantly, EPSDT provides for private rights of action under 1983. At least all the federal circuit court of appeals have held such.

Oh, and, BTW, NCTracks will soon also be in charge of EPSDT determinations.

The NC State Plan, Its Importance, and How Can We Keep Up With All the Changes??

I am constantly amazed at the amount of knowledge that I do not know.  And how quickly the knowledge I have becomes obsolete due to changes.  To quote Lewis Carroll’s “Alice and Wonderland,” “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” My other favorite quote series from Lewis Carroll is the following scene:

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, or you wouldn’t have come here.”

So too, must I be mad, I think, at times, for dealing with Medicaid and Medicare law.  The statutes and regulations are vast and ever-changing.  You can easily miss a policy change that was disseminated by an update posted on the web.  But, I am a lawyer…I read a lot.  But providers are held accountable as well for every revision and every update.

Just when you think you understand the State Plan, the Department of Health and Human Service (DHHS) asks the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for an amendment.

In this blog, I am going to discuss 2 issues.  (1) What is the State Plan and why is it important; and (2) how can providers stay abreast of the ever-changing Medicare/caid world and policies.

(1) Our State Plan

What is our State Plan in Medicaid? Is it law? Guidance? Does NC have to follow the State Plan? Can NC amend the State Plan?

These are all good questions.

The State Plan is a contract between North Carolina and the federal government describing how NC will administer its State Plan, i.e., Medicaid program.  The State Plan describes who can be covered by Medicaid, what services are available, and, basically, assures the federal government that we will abide by certain rules and regulations.  NC must follow the State Plan or risk losing federal funding for Medicaid, which would be BAD.

Quite often, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will issue a State Plan Amendment (SPA) to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  DHHS has to post all proposed amendments on its website “10 Day Posting for Submission to CMS.”  This internet site should be in your “favorites,” and you should check it regularly.

For example, February 27th, DHHS asked to reduce Medicaid reimbursements methodologies for Chiropractic Services, Podiatry Services and Optometry Services to 97% of the July 1, 2013, rate, effective January 1, 2014 (yes, retroactively).

Just in 2014, there have been approximately 10 SPA requests.  So, these SPAs are relatively common.

So, question #2…how can you keep up?

(2) Keeping abreast of all changes

As much as I would love to throw my computer out the window (I am on the 16th floor) and watch it crash, computers and technology can be very helpful.  And technology makes it easy for everyone, even busy health care providers, to stay current on changes, amendments, and revisions to Medicaid/care policies and law.

Here is the secret: (shhhhhhhhh!!)

Google Alerts.

If you want to keep current on NCTracks, all you have to do is set a Google alert with the search term “NCTracks,” and you will receive daily email alerts on all internet articles on NCTracks.  It is that easy.

So how do you set up a Google Alert?  I have drafted a set by step process, otherwise entitled “Google Alerts for Dummies.”

1. Go to Google.

2. At the top of the page you will see the words: “You,” “Search,” “Images,” “Maps,” “Play,” “Youtube,” “News,” “Gmail,” and “More.”  Click on “More.”

3. When the box drops, at the very bottom, you will see “even more.”  Click on “even more.”

4. Scroll down to specialized search and click on “Alerts.”

5. Type in whatever search term you like, such as “Medicaid,” or “Knicole Emanuel.”

6. Decide how often you want to be alerted and your email address.

You will now be alerted about your topic.  See? Easy!!

Now, because of this blog, you have learned two or more impossible things before lunch.

Attention Medicaid Providers: Potential SPA Decreases PCS Rates By 60 Cents Per 15 Minutes

The North Carolina State Medicaid Plan (State Plan) is constantly revised.  The result of its constant revisions make for an 1800+ page, jumbled mess of plans, rules, amendments, and effective dates that make the State Plan as much fun to read as reading every volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica in Japanese with the aid of a Japanese translation dictionary.

First of all, what the heck is the State Plan?  Basically, a State Plan is a contract between a state and the Federal Government describing how that state administers its Medicaid program.  It “assures” the federal government that we, here in NC, will follow the State Plan because the federal government has “blessed” our State Plan.  Whenever we need to change the State Plan, we file an amendment.  In circumstances that call for much greater deviation from the State Plan, we can apply for a Waiver…or an exception.

On or about August 15, 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued a Public Notice providing notice of its intent to amend the Medicaid State Plan for the purpose of defining the reimbursement methodology of Personal Care Services as directed by Section 10.9F of Session Law 2013-306 (House Bill 492). “

Personal Care Services (PCS) are Medicaid-covered, in-home services to recipients “who have a medical condition, disability, or cognitive impairment and demonstrates 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 DHHS Website.

In a letter dated September 30, 2013, and signed by Sec. Aldona Wos, DHHS sent what is called a SPA or a State Plan Amendment to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), in part, asking to be allowed to change the PCS unit rate from $3.88 to $3.28.

$3.88 to $3.28…

It may not sound like a huge decrease in pay to you, but a 60 cent drop per unit will be extremely harmful to providers who provide PCS services and, ultimately Medicaid recipients because less providers will be willing to serve the population.

One PCS unit is 15 minutes.  There are 4 units in an hour.  A 60 cent/unit cut to the rate will result in a $2.40 hourly cut.

Providers who employ staff who provide PCS are not paying staff upwards of $20/hour.  Oh, no, most PCS providers make, maybe, $7-9. 

Think about it…a small business provider of PCS (Let’s call it ABC Provider) employs 5-10 staff to provide PCS to recipients.  ABC Provider has to pay its overhead (lease, office supplies, salaries of execs) plus pay the hourly wages of the PCS staff, and, supposedly, still make a profit…otherwise why even work?

For one hour of PCS, prior to a rate reduction, ABC Provider grosses $15.52/hour.  Obviously, a portion of the $15.52 must go to overhead.  ABC Provider pays her staff $9.00/hour. So ABC Provider nets $6.52/hour to pay for overhead.  After 1000 man-hours, maybe ABC Provider can pays its rent and its utility bill.  BTW: In order to reach 1000 man hours, it would take a person to work 41.66 days, 24 hours/day.  Or it could take 10 staff working 10 hours/day for 2 weeks…just for the provider to make $6520 to pay bills…we aren’t even talking about profit…

After the rate reduction?

$2.40 has to be recouped somehow.  Does the provider’s profit margin shrink or does the employee’s hourly rate decrease?  Maybe a little of both.

According to the September 30, 2013, Sec. Wos letter, NC DHHS requested a retroactive date for the PCS rate reduction to July 1, 2013, or, in the alternative, October 1, 2013.

What? Retroactive reduced rates?  Would DHHS recoup payments already made?

As of the day of this blog, I have not found out whether CMS approved the SPA sent to CMS September 30, 2013.  I looked on CMS’ website.  So if anyone reading has information as to whether CMS approved, is approving, denied, or is denying the rate reduction, I, as well as other people, would be much obliged for the information.

Proposed NC Medicaid Bill: Circumventing the State Plan?

Proposed House Bill 320 will be heard in committee on Tuesday, May 14, 2013.

For those of you who do not know what House Bill 320-2013 is, let me explain:

As of now, when a health care provider’s Medicaid contract is terminated or suspended by a Managed Care Organization (MCO), the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), not superior court, has jurisdiction over the grievance.  OAH is the administrative court set up to hear grievances against a state agency. 

When North Carolina ceased DHHS’ issuance of a Final Agency Decision after the OAH decision back toward the end of 2012, North Carolina, in essence, was handing OAH a decision-making role in Medicaid.  The reason that any entity getting a decision-making role in Medicaid is so important is because the federal statutes specifically state that Medicaid must be run by a single state entity.  The fact that OAH had a decision-making role in Medicaid would violate the single state entity requirement.

So what did NC do in order to ensure compliance with the single state entity requirement set forth by the federal government?

NC asked the federal government for a Waiver.  Or, in other words, an exception.  NC asked the federal government, “Can we have permission to allow OAH to have a decision-making role and not be in violation of the single state entity requirement?”

The federal government authorized our request, which can be found as the State Plan, Attachment 1.1D.

Our State Plan, Attachment 1.1B states:

“OAH acknowledges and also agrees that the issue to be determined at final hearings conducted in accordance with this waiver is whether the single state Medicaid agency or one of its contractors or agents exceeded its authority or jurisdiction, acted erroneously, failed to use proper procedure, acted arbitrarily or capriciously, and/or failed to act as required by law or rule; that it will conduct de novo reviews in beneficiary.”

Therefore, according to our State Plan and the federal government’s authorization, OAH hears cases involving DMA and its contractors or agents.

Yet proposed House Bill 320 states, in pertinent part (at 108D-18(d), “Notwithstanding any other law, OAH does not have jurisdiction over any dispute between an LME/MCO and a provider or applicant.”

Obviously the State Plan and the legislature are at odds.  After receiving the authorization to do something by the federal government, can NC legislate around what the feds told us to do? Seems pretty hairy.  Personally, I would go with that whole Supremacy Clause stuff.

Proposed House Bill 320 would take the decision-making role regarding Medicaid away from OAH and simply hand the superior court the authority…with zero authority from the federal government.  This is like a teenage boy asking for permission to go to Billy Bob’s house, but really sneaking out to go see Betty Lou.

Well, Betty Lou, here we come…