Knicole Partners-Up with Nelson Mullins and Questions NC Partial Hospitalization!
I have an announcement! I have the pleasure of joining Nelson Mullins as a partner. You may have heard of Nelson Mullins; it is a nationwide firm, and its health care team is “spot on.” Instead of spinning my own wheels trying to figure out the health care law; I now will be able to collaborate with colleagues and like-minded, health care, geeks. Yes, I will be doing the same thing – Medicare and Medicaid provider appeals and fighting terminations, suspensions, and penalties for long-term care facilities, home health, DME, hospitals, dentists…basically anyone who receives an adverse decision from any state or the federal government or a contracted vendor, such as RACs, MACs, TPE, UPICs, etc.
Now to my blog… Today I want to talk about partial hospitalization and billing to Medicare and Medicaid. One of my clients has been not getting paid for services rendered, which is always a problem. The 3rd party payor claims that substance abuse treatment is not partial hospitalization. 49 States consider substance abuse intensive outpatient services (“SAIOP”) and substance abuse comprehensive outpatient treatment (“SACOT”) partial hospitalization. Do you agree? Because, apparently, NC is the sole State that refuses to identify SAIOP and SACOT as partial hospitalization.
Partial hospitalization is defined as a structured mental health treatment program that runs for several hours each day, three to five days per week. Clients participate in the scheduled treatment sessions during the day and return home at night. This program is a step down from 24-hour care in a psychiatric hospital setting (inpatient treatment). It can also be used to prevent the need for an inpatient hospital stay. In reality, partial hospitalization saves massive amounts of tax dollars by not taking up a bed in an actual hospital.
In NC, partial hospitalization is codified in 10A NCAC 27G.1101, which states “A partial hospitalization facility is a day/night facility which provides a broad range of intensive and therapeutic approaches which may include group, individual, occupational, activity and recreational therapies, training in community living and specific coping skills, and medical services as needed primarily for acutely mentally-ill individuals. This facility provides services to: (1) prevent hospitalization; or (2) to serve as an interim step for those leaving an inpatient hospital. This facility provides a medical component in a less restrictive setting than a hospital or a rehabilitation facility.”
So, why does this 3rd party payor believe that SAIOP and SACOT are not partial hospitalization? I believe this payor’s stance is wrong. I spoke about their wrongness on RACMoniter, and I hope it may give me some “sway.”
Partial hospitalization is considered a short-term treatment. It is supposed to last 2-3 weeks. However, as many of you know substance abuse is not wiped away in 2-3 weeks. It is a long term process to overcome substance abuse issues. States’ Medicaid programs will question why consumers bounce from SAIOP AND SACOT over and over. In fact, another one of clients is being investigated by the Medicaid Investigative Division (“MID”) for having consumers in SAIOP and SACOT too long or too many times.
Substance abuse services are audited a lot. In fact, Medicare and Medicaid audits occur most often in behavioral health care, home health, and hospice. On January 24, 2023, the New York State Comptroller announced it found $22 million in alleged improper payments. I say alleged because, I would say, 90% of alleged overpayments accusations are inaccurate. The poor provider receives a letter saying you owe $12 million dollars, and their hearts drop. They imagine themselves going out of business. Then they hire a lawyer and it turns out that they owe $896.36. I give that example as a real-life example. I actually had a client accused of owing $12 million dollars and after a 2-week trial, the judge decided that this company owed $896.36. A big difference, right? We appealed nonetheless. 🙂
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!!
Tip #5: Avoiding Medicaid Recoupments
EDUCATE. EDUCATE. EDUCATE.
The rules for Medicaid are esoteric. You practically need a J.D. to provide health care services for Medicaid recipients in North Carolina. Some services require prior approval. Some services have caps on units billed per recipient in any given authorized period. Other services have restrictions on using concurrent services. For example:
Day Treatment services may not be provided during the same authorization period as the following services:
• MH/SA Targeted Case Management • Intensive In-Home Services; • Multisystemic Therapy; • Individual, group and family therapy; • Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Program; • Child Residential Treatment services–Levels II (Program Type) through IV; • Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF);• Substance abuse residential services; or • Inpatient hospitalization.
And if you make a mistake….Recoupment. Whew! How is a provider supposed to know everything?
Answer: You can’t.
But, you can EDUCATE. If you are a provider with a mid to large size of employees (all of whom are filling out service notes and other documents that are mandatory to receive Medicaid payments), then you know the difficulty of ensuring each employee fills out the forms completely, correctly, and without cutting and pasting from the previous service note. (Yes, the State looks for this too).
Education can consist in multiple venues:
1. Weekly meetings are great to talk about new Medicaid regulations or past mistakes made that need to be fixed.
2. Another idea is to give one person, usually the office manager, the sole job to review each and every Implementation Update. Not all the Implementation Updates will apply to your particular health care service, but it is extremely important to keep up with any changes. Because, whether you are aware of the changes to Medicaid rules or not, the State will hold all new rules and regulations against you. Telling the State that you “didn’t know that was the rule,” is not a valid excuse.
3. Daily emails with tips.
4. Monthly staff meetings to provide all updates to Medicaid.
5. Have someone from DHHS or a Medicaid attorney come to the main office and give a presentation.
6. Attend all the State’s Medicaid conferences to keep up-to-date.
7. Take 15 minutes each morning and Google NC Medicaid.
8. Check for announcements on DHHS’ website daily.
9. Follow my blog (a little self-marketing never hurt anyone).
Staying up-to-date on all changes in Medicaid rules is extremely important. Because there are so many Medicaid rules, it is difficult to read and learn everything. By engaging in some or all of the activities or suggestions enumerated above, providers can try to EDUCATE their employees…thus avoiding recoupment in the future.
EDUCATE. EDUCATE. EDUCATE.