Blog Archives

Managed Care – Eight Reasons Why MCOs Smell Like Pre-Minced Garlic

When it comes to the managed care organizations (MCOs) in NC, something smells rancid, like pre-minced garlic. When I first met my husband, Scott, I cooked with pre-minced garlic that comes in a jar. I figured it was easier than buying fresh garlic and dicing it myself. Scott bought fresh garlic and diced it. Then he asked me to smell the fresh garlic versus the pre-minced garlic. There was no contest. Next to the fresh garlic, the pre-minced garlic smelled rancid. That is the same odor I smell when I read information about the MCOs – pre-minced garlic in a jar.

garlic minced-garlic

In NC, MCOs are charged with managing Medicaid funds for behavioral health care, developmentally disabled, and substance abuse services. When the MCOs were initially created, we had 13. These are geographically situated, so providers and recipients have no choice with which MCO to interact. If you live in Sandhills’ catchment area, then you must go through Sandhills. If you provide services in Cardinal’s catchment area, then you must contract with Cardinal – even though you already have a provider participation agreement with the State of NC to provide Medicaid services in the State of NC.

Over the years, there has been consolidation, and now we have 7 MCOs.

newestmco

From left to right: Smoky Mountain (Duke blue); Partners Behavioral Health (Wake Forest gold); Cardinal Innovations Healthcare (ECU purple); Sandhills (UNCC green); Alliance Behavioral Healthcare (mint green); Eastpointe (Gap Khaki); and Trillium (highlighter yellow/green).

Recently, Cardinal (ECU purple) and Eastpointe (Gap khaki) announced they will consolidate, pending authorization from the Secretary of DHHS. The 20-county Cardinal will morph into a 32-county, MCO giant.

Here is the source of the rancid, pre-minced, garlic smell (in my opinion):

One – MCOs are not private entities. MCOs are prepaid with our tax dollars. Therefore, unlike Blue Cross Blue Shield, the MCOs must answer to NC taxpayers. The MCOs owe a duty of financial responsibility to taxpayers, just like the state government, cities, and towns.

Two – Cardinal CEO, Richard Topping, is paid $635,000, plus he has a 0 to 30 percent bonus potential which could be roughly another $250,000, plus he has some sort of annuity or long-term package of $412,000 (with our tax dollars).

Three – Cardinal is selling or has sold the 26 properties it owns or owned (with our tax dollars) to lease office space in the NASCAR Plaza office tower in uptown Charlotte for $300 to $400 per square foot plus employee parking (with our tax dollars).

Four – Cardinal charges 8% of public funds for its administrative costs. (Does that include Topping’s salary and bonuses?) How many employees are salaried by Cardinal? (with our tax dollars).

Five – The MCOs are prepaid. Once the MCOs receive the funds, the funds are public funds and subject to fiscal scrutiny. However, the MCOs keep whatever funds that it has at the end of the fiscal year. In other words, the MCOs pocket any money that was NOT used to reimburse a provider for a service rendered to a Medicaid recipient. Cardinal – alone – handles around $2.8 billion in Medicaid funding per year for behavioral health services. The financial incentive for MCOs? Terminate providers and reduce/deny services.

Six – MCOs are terminating providers and limiting access to care. In my law practice, I am constantly defending behavioral health care providers that are terminated from an MCO catchment area without cause or with erroneous cause. For example, an agency was terminated from their MCO because the agency had switched administrative offices without telling the MCO. The agency continued to provide quality services to those in need. But, because of a technicality, not informing the MCO that the agency moved administrative offices, the MCO terminated the contract. Which,in turn, puts more money in the MCO’s pocket; one less provider to pay.  Is a change of address really a material breach of a contract? Regardless – it is an excuse.

Seven – Medicaid recipients are not receiving medically necessary services. Either the catchment areas do not have enough providers, the MCOs are denying and reducing medically necessary services, or both. Cardinal cut 11 of its state-funded services. Parents of disabled, adult children write to me, complaining that their services from their MCO have been slashed for no reason….But the MCOs are saving NC money!

Eight – The MCOs ended 2015 with a collective $842 million in the bank. Wonder how much money the MCOs have now…(with our tax dollars).

Rancid, I say. Rancid!

CEO of Cardinal Gets a Raise – With Our Tax Dollars!

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 $635,000with 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.

FINALLY!!! Not the first time that I have blogged about the mismanagement (my word) of our tax dollars. See blog. And blog.

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?

Embezzlement at MCO Eastpointe and the Freedom of Information Act

How many times have I blogged about the unsupervised, unharnessed actions of the managed care organizations (MCOs) in our State, which happen to be managing billions of our tax dollars for Medicaid behavioral health care? These MCOs, which are in the process of consolidating to create even larger MCOs and to handle even more tax dollar money, are running rampant and unsupervised by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). See blog. And blog.

DHHS is the single state agency charged with managing Medicaid for NC. According to federal law, the single state agency may not delegate certain duties. Our 1915 b/c Waiver allows DHHS to waive some duties related to behavioral health, but not all. For example, it is, ultimately, DHHS’ duty to ensure that our Medicaid recipients have access to care.

It is, ultimately, DHHS’ duty to ensure that the MCOs are following the law.

However, recently, that duty was picked up by the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI). Thank goodness someone is reviewing the MCO’s books!

SBI arrested former Eastpointe CFO William Robert Canupp on December 16, 2015, for nine charges of financial fraud and embezzlement. Eastpointe is one of our MCOs and manages behavioral health care for Medicaid and state-funded programs in 12 counties. These allegations of fraud and embezzlement are from when Canupp worked at Eastpointe.

This recent arrest demonstrates a real need for accountability at the MCOs. While Eastpointe and the other MCOs are terminating health provider contracts and denying/reducing services, who is reviewing these decisions. Apparently, not DHHS.

What can you do?

As you should know, the MCOs are not private entities. They are agents of the state and receive funding from county, state, and federal funds. In other words, the MCOs manage and spend our tax dollars. Therefore, these entities are liable to us for all expenditures and are subject to the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA. The FOIA allows any one of you to request any financial record, any document showing access to care, any document showing monies spent on actual care versus administrative costs, or any other information you desire and the MCOs must provide it to you.

Here is a link to a sample public records request.

The MCOs are bound by NC General Statute, Chapter 132 and must allow you to examine any requested documents within a reasonable time.

Use the FOIA to get answers!

State Auditor Finds Robeson County School NOT Using Medicaid Money

Our State Auditor Beth Wood’s most recent audit finds that The Public Schools of Robeson County failed to spend approximately $1 million in Medicaid dollars intended for special needs children in schools!!

See audit report.

“The Public Schools of Robeson County (School District) did not use approximately $1 million per year in Medicaid administrative reimbursements to provide required services to students with disabilities. The School District missed this opportunity to better serve students with disabilities because it was unaware of a contractual requirement to use the Medicaid reimbursements to provide required services.

Over the last three years, the School District reported that it used $26,780 out of $3.16 million in Medicaid administrative reimbursements to provide services to students with disabilities.

The amounts reportedly spent each year are as follows:

• $ 8,969 out of $1,010,397 (0.89%) in 2013

• $12,043 out of $872,299 (1.38%) in 2012

• $ 5,768 out of $1,278,519 (0.45%) in 2011”

The question that I have after reading the audit report is…WHERE IS THE MONEY?

Was this $1 million given to the school system and spent on items other than services for children? Is the school district sitting on a surplus of money that was unspent? Or was this amount budgeted to the school system and the remainder or unspent money is sitting in our state checking account?

To me, it is relatively unclear from the audit report which of the above scenarios is an accurate depiction of the facts.  If anyone knows, let me know.

MCO CEO Compensated $400,000 Plus Bonuses with Our Tax Dollars!

On July 1, 2014, Cardinal Innovations, one of NC’s managed care organizations (MCOs) granted its former CEO, Ms. Pam Shipman, a 53% salary increase, raising her salary to $400,000/year. In addition to the raise, Cardinal issued Ms. Shipman a $65,000 bonus based on 2013-2014 performance.

$400,000 a year, plus bonuses.  Apparently, I got into the wrong career; the public sector seems to pay substantially more.

Then in July 2015, according to the article in the Charlotte Observer, Cardinals paid Ms. Shipman an additional $424,975, as severance. Within one year, Ms. Shipman was paid by Cardinal a whopping $889,975. Almost one million dollars!!!! To manage 16 counties’ behavioral health care services for Medicaid recipients.

For comparison purposes, the President of the United States earns $400,000/year (to run the entire country). Does the CEO of Cardinal equate to the President of the United States? Like the President, the CEO of Cardinal, along with all the other MCOs’ CEOs, are compensated with tax dollars.

Remember that the entire purpose of the MCO system is to decrease the risk of Medicaid budget overspending by placing the financial risk of overspending on the MCO instead of the State. In theory, the MCOs would be apt to conservatively spend funds and more carefully monitor the behavioral health care services provided to consumers within its catchment area to ensure medically necessity and not wasteful, unnecessary services.

Also, in theory, if the mission of the MCOs were to provide top-quality, medically necessary, behavioral health care services for all Medicaid recipients in need within its catchment area, as the MCOs often tout, then, theoretically, the MCOs would decrease administrative costs in order to provide higher quality, beefier services, increase reimbursement rates to incentivize health care providers to accept Medicaid, and maybe, even, not build a brand, new, stand-alone facility with top-notch technology and a cafeteria that looks how I would imagine Googles’ to look.

Here is how Cardinal’s building was described in 2010:

This new three-story, 79,000-square-foot facility is divided into two separate structures joined by a connecting bridge.  The 69,000-square-foot building houses the regional headquarters and includes Class A office space with conference rooms on each floor and a fully equipped corporate board room.  This building also houses a consumer gallery and a staff cafe offering an outdoor dining area on a cantilevered balcony overlooking a landscaped ravine.  The 10,000-square-foot connecting building houses a corporate training center. Computer access flooring is installed throughout the facility and is supported by a large server room to maintain redundancy of information flow.

The MCOs are not private companies. They do not sell products or services. Our tax dollars comprise the MCOs’ budget. Here is a breakdown of Cardinal’s budgetary sources from last year.

Cardinals budget

The so-called “revenues” are not revenues; they are tax dollars…our tax dollars.

78.1% of Cardinal’s budget, in 2014, came from our Medicaid budget. The remaining 21.7% came from state, federal, and county tax dollars, leaving .2% in the “other” category.

Because Cardinal’s budget is created with tax dollars, Cardinal is a public company working for all of us, tax paying, NC, residents.

When we hear that Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, received $9.22 million in compensation last year, we only contributed to his salary if we bought Apple products. If I never bought an Apple product, then his extraordinarily high salary is irrelevant to me. If I did buy an Apple product, then my purchase was a voluntary choice to increase Apple’s profits, or revenues.

When we hear that Cardinal Innovations paid $424,975 to ousted CEO, Pam Shipman, over and above her normal salary of $400,000 a year, we all contributed to Shipman’s compensation involuntarily. Similarly, the new CEO, Richard Toppings, received a raise when he became CEO to increase his salary to $400,000 a year. Again, we contributed to his salary.

A private company must answer to its Board of Directors. But an MCO, such as Cardinal, must answer to tax payers.

I work very hard, and I expect that my dollars be used intelligently and for the betterment of society as a whole. Isn’t that the purpose of taxes? I do not pay taxes in order for Cardinal to pay its CEO $400,000.

For better or for worse, a large percentage of our tax dollars, here in NC, go to the Medicaid budget. I would venture that most people would agree that, as a society, we have a moral responsibility to ensure that our most vulnerable population…our poorest citizens…have adequate health care. No one should be denied medical coverage and our physicians cannot be expected to dole out charity beyond their means.

Hence, Medicaid.

We know that Medicaid recipients have a difficult time finding physicians who will accept Medicaid. We know that a Medicaid card is inferior to a private payor card and limits provider choice and allowable services. We know that certain services for which our private insurances pay, simply, are not covered by Medicaid. Why should a Medicaid-insured person receive sub-par medical services or have more difficulty finding willing providers, while privately insured persons receive high quality medical care with little effort?  See blog or blog.

Part of the trouble with Medicaid is the low reimbursements given to health care providers. Health-care consulting firm Merritt Hawkins conducted a study of Medicaid acceptance rates which found that just 45.7 percent of physicians are now accepting Medicaid patients in the U.S.’s largest 15 cities and the numbers worsen when you look at sub-specialties.

The reimbursement rates are so low for health care providers; the Medicaid services are inadequate, at best; and people in need of care have difficulty finding Medicaid physicians. Yet the CEO of Cardinal Innovations is compensated $400,000 per year.

Cardinal has 635 employees. Its five, top-paid executives are compensated $284,000-$400,000 with bonuses ranging $56,500-$122,000.

Richard Topping, Cardinal’s new CEO, told the Charlotte Observer that “it doesn’t cut into Medicaid services.”

He was also quoted as saying, “It’s a lot of money. It is. You’ve just got to look at the size and the scope and the scale.”

In contrast, Governor McCrory is compensated approximately $128,000.  Is McCrory’s “size, scope, and scale” smaller than the CEO’s of Cardinal?  Is the CEO of Cardinal “size and scope and scale,” more akin to the President of the US?

“We are a public entity that acts like a private company for a public purpose,” Toppings says.  Each MCO’s Board of Directors approve salaries and bonuses.

Cardinal is not the only MCO in NC compensating its CEO very well.  However, according to the Charlotte Observer, Cardinal’s CEO’s compensation takes the cake.

Smokey Mountain Center (SMC) pays its Chief Medical Officer Craig Martin $284,000 with a $6,789 longevity bonus.

Four years ago, before the initial 11 MCOs, the administrative cost of the MCOs was nonexistent (except for the pilot program, Piedmont Behavioral Health, which is Cardinal now).  Implementing the MCO system increased administrative costs, without question.  But by how much?  How much additional administrative costs are acceptable?

Is it acceptable to pay $400,000+ for a CEO of a public entity with our tax dollars?

CSC Sued in NY: Accused of Multi-Million Dollar Healthcare Fraud Scheme!!

Remember the NCTracks lawsuit?  NCTracks Derailed: Class Action Lawsuit Filed!!  Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) is one of the Defendants in that action here in NC.

Well, Monday CSC was hit with another enormous lawsuit.  This one is filed in New York, and the Plaintiff is the U.S. Federal Government.

The feds are accusing CSC of a multi-million dollar Medicaid fraud scheme through its Medicaid billing software CSC implemented in NY.

Here is the press release.

From the complaint: “[T]hese fraud schemes were far from isolated events; instead, they were part and parcel of a general practice at CSC and the City to blatantly disregard their obligations to comply with Medicaid billing requirements.” (Compl. par. 8.)

The feds are seeking treble damages, which permits a court to triple the amount of the actual/compensatory damages to be awarded to a prevailing plaintiff.

According to the lawsuit, CSC has received millions of taxpayer dollars (budgeted for Medicaid) unlawfully and in direct violation of federal billing requirements.

If I were a taxpayer in NY, I would be incensed!!!! If I were a Medicaid recipient of parent of a child receiving Medicaid services, I would be furious!!

Now, take a step back…who is administering our Medicaid billing system here in NC?

Answer: CSC

This will almost certainly cause the federal government to peer a bit closer at all CSC’s billing software systems in other states…

Right Wing, Left Wing: Does It Equal a More Balanced Senate Bill 744?

Our Senate put forth Senate Bill 744 with radical and shocking changes to our Medicaid system. However, one section of our General Assembly cannot create law. Both sides,the Senate and the House, much agree on a Bill in order to create law.

Senate sent SB 744 to the House on May 31, 2014. Between May 31 through June 13, 2014, the House revised, omitted, and added language to SB 744, making SB 744 a much different document than what the Senate had fashioned. Today, SB 744 is back in the Senate for more revisions. The end result will be a law that appears nothing like the initial SB 744 brought to the Senate on May 15, 2014.

The “ping pong” revision system between the Senate and the House that our founding fathers installed in order to generate actual laws is a well-crafted, finely-tuned balancing machine. It is an effort to keep all ideological agendas in-check. When one side dips too low, the other side counters in an effort to maintain balance. It reminds me of a bird in flight.

Our nation’s symbol is the bald eagle. I am sure everyone knows that, right? But did you also know that the bald eagle is not named the bald eagle because its white head gives the appearance that it is bald? No, bald eagle, in Latin, is haliaeetus leucocephalus (from Greek hali-, which means sea; aiētos , which means eagle; leuco-, which means white, and cephalos, which means head). So, literally its name means “sea eagle with white head.”

Even more important about the bald eagle is its set of wings. A bald eagle has a right wing and a left wing, and without both, the bald eagle would not be able to fly.

We need both the right and the left wings in order to maintain balance in our government. Both sides are necessary, and, yet, it seems that nowadays the left and right sides are at war with each other. Politics has become so polarized that the right wing and the left wing forget the attributes of the other.

The result of the ping pong revision system, in theory, is that, by the time a bill is brought into final shape and enacted into law, all polarized ideations have been balanced out in order to move forward. It does not always work that way, and it becomes increasingly difficult to balance the sides when the sides become more and more divided.

The Senate created SB 744, the House has made its alterations…and, if SB 744 passes, it will pass after many more modifications, no doubt.

When our state Senate passed Senate Bill 744 and sent it to the House, I blogged about the shocking ramifications to Medicaid had that bill been passed.

I listed the most shocking changes included within SB 744:

1. DHHS must immediately cease all efforts to transition Medicaid to the affordable care organizations (ACOs) system that DHHS had touted would be in effect by July 2015;
2. DHHS, DMA will no longer manage Medicaid. Instead a new state entity will be formed to manage Medicaid. (A kind of…scratch it all and start over method);
3. All funds previously appropriated to DHHS, DMA will be transferred to Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) and will be used for Medicaid reform and may not be used for any other purpose such as funding any shortfalls in the Medicaid program.
4. Categorical coverage for recipients of the optional state supplemental program State County Special Assistance is eliminated.
5. Coverage for the medically needy is eliminated, except those categories that the State is prohibited from eliminating by the maintenance of effort requirement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Effective October 1, 2019, coverage for all medically needy categories is eliminated.
6. It is the intent of the General Assembly to reduce optional coverage for certain aged, blind, and disabled persons effective July 1, 2015, while meeting the State’s obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the United States Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring, 527 U.S. 581 (1999).
7. Repeal the shared savings program and just reduce the reimbursement rates by 3%.
8. DHHS shall implement a Medicaid assessment program for local management entities/managed care organizations (LME/MCOs) at a rate of three and one-half percent (3.5%).
9. Additional notices as to State Plan Amendments (SPAs), DHHS must post the proposed SPAs on its website at least 10 days prior to submitting the SPAs to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
10. Reimbursement rate changes become effective when CMS approves the reimbursement rate changes.
11. The Department of Health and Human Services shall not enter into any contract involving the program integrity functions listed in subsection (a) of this section that would have a termination date after September 1, 2015.
12. The Medicaid PROVIDER will have the burden of proof in contested case actions against the Department.
13. The Department shall withhold payment to any Medicaid provider for whom the DMA, or its vendor, has identified an overpayment in a written notice to the provider. Withholding shall begin on the 75th day after the day the notice of overpayment is mailed and shall continue during the pendency of any appeal until the overpayment becomes a final overpayment (can we say injunction?).

Since my last blog about Senate Bill 744 (the Appropriations Bill), Senate Bill 744 has reached its 7th revision.

The House took it upon itself to delete many of the shocking changes in the Senate Bill. Just like the bald eagle using its right and left wings to balance out.

First, the General Assembly’s proposed cease and desist order that would have stopped Gov. McCrory and Sec. Wos from implementing Medicaid reform and the accountable care organizations (ACOs), is deleted from the current version of the bill. Gone too is the “new state agency” created to manage Medicaid. Medicaid services are no longer eliminated. The Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) is no longer receiving all funds appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Medical Assistance (DMA).

On June 13, 2014, the House finished its revisions to SB 744 and sent the revised bill back to the Senate. On June 18, 2014, the conference committee for SB 744 was formed and includes:

  • Sen. Harry Brown, Chair
  • Sen. Andrew C. Brock
  • Sen. Kathy Harrington
  • Sen. Tom Apodaca
  • Sen. Ralph Hise
  • Sen. Neal Hunt
  • Sen. Phil Berger
  • Sen. Brent Jackson
  • Sen. Wesley Meredith
  • Sen. Louis Pate
  • Sen. Bill Rabon
  • Sen. Shirley B. Randleman
  • Sen. Bob Rucho
  • Sen. Dan Soucek
  • Sen. Jerry W. Tillman
  • Sen. Tommy Tucker

SB 744 is still not law. It takes both the House and Senate to pass the bill, and then the Governor has to sign the bill. So we have a ways to go. We need the agreement of the right wing and the left wing.

The two main political parties were not always so polarized.

A couple of our founding fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were fierce political adversaries. Imagine the political distance between Barack Obama and Ted Cruz. Despite their political differences, both Adams and Jefferson believed in the importance of funding public education. Rather than defaming the other’s point of view, Adams and Jefferson collaborated and compromised. “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it,” wrote Adams. “There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.” Adams and Jefferson were able to balance out the right wing and the left wing in order to fly a straight path.

Back when our founding fathers squabbled and debated key issues, both sides worked together, instead of running mudslinging commercials and scoffing at the other side’s position on the media. During one of the biggest debates in history, the creation of our government, the lawmakers convened together for about 4 months. The Constitutional Convention lasted from May 25 to September 17, 1787 (the first one). The delegates were within close proximity of one another, which led to more conversations and more compromises. Until the Constitution was drafted, the delegates continued to meet together. I imagine they ate lunch together and shared whiskey and cigars in the evenings.

Maybe our lawmakers should schedule a new constitutional convention, both on the state and federal level. At least, both sides need to realize that the right wing and the left wing are necessary. Otherwise we would just fly in circles.

DHHS Blunder Could Cost Millions! “Oops I Did It Again!”

We can add one more “oops” to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) repertoire of “oopses.” I am reminded of Captain Edward Smith when he banged the Titanic into an iceberg.  Talk about an “oops” moment.  Not to mention the lives lost, hitting that iceberg cost $7.5 million in ship building costs back in 1909.

DHHS hit another iceberg yesterday.  How much will this “oops” costs?

DHHS made its “oops” by sending 48,752 new Medicaid cards to the WRONG people.  Oops! Medicaid cards have HIPAA protected information on them, such as names, Medicaid numbers and dates of birth. 

Let me tell you a little about HIPAA. HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).  It was signed into law by Bill Clinton,  Title II of HIPAA requires the establishment of national standards for electronic health care transactions and national identifiers for providers, health insurance plans, and employers.  Why is this important?  This act also provides significant penalties if privileged information is disseminated.

Hence the DHHS Medicaid card debacle. Iceberg, ahoy! “Oops I did it again!”

The questions are (1) how much will NC be penalized for the dissemination of so much private information; and (2) will NC actually have to pay the penalty?

Recently, HIPAA was revamped.  Beginning September 2013, HIPAA became even more stringent with harsher penalties and began to apply to more people (including law firms).  For example, prior to September 2013, my firm Williams Mullen treated my documents received from clients the same as all other privileged information in our firm.  Obviously, almost everything at a law firm is confidential.  Now I have to lock my door (we had to install a lock) anytime I leave my office, even for lunch.  Bright yellow flags have been added to all my files that contain privileged health information (PHI), which is every file.  My partners cannot access my documents on our computer network system unless granted access.  I feel like Edward Snowdon.

I also remember a story about a nurse who worked at a hospital.  Her husband was admitted into the ER while she was on her shift and she looked up his condition on the computer.  She was fired for violating HIPAA.

How bad can it be?

The feds imposed a penalty of $4.3 million against Cignet Health of Prince George’s County, MD, for HIPAA violations in 2011. Oops!

And, in light of the “new HIPAA,” last week, DHHS disseminates privileged information to 48,752 people.

What are the penalties for violating HIPAA?

There are four violation categories (1) did not know; (2) reasonable cause; (3) willful neglect-corrected; and (4) willful neglect-not corrected.  Here are the penalties:

HIPAA

Assuming DHHS’ HIPAA violation is the least severe, “did not know,” DHHS could be liable for $100-$50,000 per violation.  Here, there are, at least, 48,752 violations.  So we are talking a penalty anywhere from $4,875,200 to a number bigger than my calculator allows.

Thankfully for DHHS and, ultimately, our tax dollars, there are caps to HIPAA penalties.  There is a $1.5 million cap per calendar year.

However, DHHS could be liable for multiple violations of multiple provisions and a violation of each provision can be counted separately.  So, theoretically, DHHS could be liable for multiple violations of up to $1.5 million cap for each violation, which would result in a total penalty well above $1.5 million.

Oops!

The other question is whether the federal government will hold a state liable for such HIPAA violations.  I don’t know the answer to this, but it would seem fundamentally unfair if HIPAA applies to people and companies, but not the state.

Then, again, how many of you want our tax dollars going toward paying these HIPAA penalties?

You can also see this story on WRAL. (Yes, I was interviewed 🙂 )

Will Aldona Wos also have a $7.5 million “oops” like Captain Smith?  Because, regardless who committed the “oops,” Wos is captain of the ship.  It is believed that Capt. Smith went down with the Titanic.

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.

Wanted: North Carolina Medicaid Director: Transparent and Open!

With Carol Steckel’s abrupt resignation September 27, 2013, only 8 months after accepting the job as NC Medicaid Director, we North Carolinians were left without a Medicaid Director.  I posted a week or so ago that I can only imagine how difficult it would be to fill the position, considering the absolute mess the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has created recently…the calamity of NCTracks…the negative PR…the high salaries of administration…Who would want to inherit this mess???

While I cannot imagine the person who would actually apply to be our Medicaid Director in the midst of such storms, I do have some advice for whomever attempts to carry the burden of being NC’s Medicaid Director. 

I don’t know why Ms. Steckel left.  I’ve heard numerous hypotheses.  I’ve heard that she didn’t get along with Sect. Wos.  I’ve heard that she left because the NC Medicaid system cannot be fixed.  I’ve heard the bad media press upset her.  I’ve heard she couldn’t handle the scrutiny of the public.

Regardless, anyone who is thinking of applying to be our Medicaid Director needs to understand that this is a public servant job.  This is not a private sector job.  Why is that important?  Because as an officer in the public arena, you are accountable to the taxpayers.  You cannot hide behind rhetoric or stop speaking to media.  As a public servant, you have duty to be transparent to taxpayers.  You will be scrutinized by the public…and this is allowed.

Recently, Secretary Wos responded with this comment when asked about transparency… “I think the word transparency can get pretty dangerous. … If transparency means that we’re in a planning process and you’re asking us, ‘Tell us all the things you’re planning,’ well, my goodness, allow us to work, and then we’ll give you everything that you want.”

While I understand Sect. Wos’ assertion that if all we do is talk then nothing gets done, in the public sector, transparency is, not only desired by taxpayers, but public servants owe a duty to be transparent.  Public servants are not spending their own money.  It’s my money and your money.  We deserve to know how our money is being spent and we deserve to have an opinion as to whether our money is being spent in an economically intelligent fashion.

For example, my blog about the managed care organizations paying the health insurance for its employees and the employees’ families was to point out that our tax dollars are paying for these employees’ families’ health insurance…tax dollars that are meant to provide health insurance to our most needy population.

Similarly, all the media hype about the high salaries of the two 24-year-old staffers, who were given salaries making $85,000 or more, the media are angered because, again, those salaries are paid by us.

Because the money that the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) spends is our money, not private funds, transparency is essential. 

A few weeks ago, when I flew to New Mexico, I had to go through airport security.  I had to take off my shoes (yuck! and walk on the airport floor), place my purse and laptop on the conveyor belt and step into the “All-Seeing Machine.”  You know, the machine that you have to place your feet a little apart and raise your hands above your head, while the machine whirls around your body.  I always feel slightly mortified every time I have to go through that machine.  I even suck in my breathe a little so my belly doesn’t poke out.  It is just a strange feeling to have a stranger look that closely at you and scrutinize your body.  You never know what the person looking at your image is thinking.  Being scrutinized is not fun.

Similarly, as NC Medicaid Director, and a public servant, you will be scrutinized.  Every word.  Every action…and non-action.

Remember Mary Poppins?  Remember the sweet, little song the two children sang about the criteria for their new nanny?

If you want this choice position
Have a cheery disposition
Rosy cheeks, no warts!
Play games, all sort

You must be kind, you must be witty
Very sweet and fairly pretty
Take us on outings, give us treats
Sing songs, bring sweets

Never be cross or cruel
Never give us castor oil or gruel
Love us as a son and daughter
And never smell of barley water…

Well it applies to the Medicaid Director position too.  Here is the “Perfect NC Medicaid Director Song:”

If you want this choice position
Have an open disposition
Know Medicaid laws and rules
Don’t treat media as fools
 
You must be strong, you must be smart
Very tenacious, open heart
Take on naysayers, show guts
Move our Agency out of ruts
 
Be transparent, don’t circumvent
Never say to media, “No comment.” 
Love our citizens; our state
And always, always update…

I found the job posting for our Medicaid Director on the National Association of Medicaid Directors’ (NAMD) website.

Here it is:

DIRECTOR OF MEDICAL ASSISTANCE

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), in collaboration with our partners, protects the health and safety of all North Carolinians and provides essential human services.

Within DHHS, the Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) provides access to high quality, medically necessary health care for eligible North Carolina residents through cost-effective purchasing of health care services and products. The Department of Health and Human Services and DMA are devoted to quality customer service.

The Director of Medicaid directs the administration of the state’s Medicaid and NC Health Choice Programs. The Medicaid program serves more that 1.7 million North Carolinians and provides services to children, the elderly, the blind, the disabled and those eligible to receive federally funded assisted income maintenance payments. The North Carolina Health Choice (NCHC) Health Insurance Program for Children is a comprehensive health coverage program for low-income children. The goal of NCHC is to reduce the number of uninsured children in the State. The program focus is on families who make too much income to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private or employer-sponsored health insurance.

DMA has approximately 400 employees and a budget impact of 14 billion dollars which includes 3.8 billion in state appropriations. DMA partners with over 78,000 physician providers throughout the state to provide essential services to recipients. The Director is responsible for multi-million dollar contracts and performs an array of fiscal agent and administrative services which include cost reimbursement and integrated payment management reporting to local management entities (area mental health programs). The position manages the state waiver program and demonstration projects. The Director is the primary interface with the Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and for the Committee Management Office. (CMO)

KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS AND ABILITIES:

Prior leadership and policy role in large complex organization administering the Medicaid Program or within a Medicaid Reimbursement or Health Insurance Agency
Demonstrated knowledge of the federal and state funding process for Medicaid and Medicare
Proven ability to build consensus among diverse stake holders which includes constituents, providers, advocacy groups, the media, the public and the legislature
Demonstrated ability to provide leadership during a time of change or reorganization

MINIMUM EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE REQUIREMENTS:

A Masters Degree in Business, Public Health, Health Administration, Social or Clinical Science or a related field and six years of broad management experience in Health Administration or in Healthcare financial management of which at least three years must be at the Director or Assistant Director level of a statewide or federal division in Health Administration or Financial Management.

To be considered for this opportunity please submit a detailed resume to alma.troutman@dhhs.nc.gov

To learn more about the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, please visit our web site at: www.ncdhhs.gov

All applications will remain confidential.
Equal Opportunity Employer

Nowhere in the advertisement for the NC Medicaid Director does it say what the Medicaid Director ACTUALLY has to do in real life.

Undergo scrutiny.  Talk to the public.  Maintain transparency. Be a public figure in a time of crisis.

It’s our money.  So talk to us.