Sunday, November 22, 2015

Understanding the 2016 Medicare Part B premiums

Prior to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 , all indications pointed to a pretty significant increase in the 2016 Part B premiums for Medicare. However, the increase was much less than expected in part because of the compromise in the Budget Bill. The Kaiser Family Foundation released a very helpful issue brief on November 11, 2015, explaining  the developments and the impact on beneficiaries.  What's in Store for Medicare's Part B Premiums and Deductible in 2016, and Why? explains the premium increase, the hold harmless provision and a $3 repayment surcharge to make up the deficit Part B will incur in 2016 because of the lower premium. ("includes a $3 repayment surcharge, which will be added to monthly premiums over time to cover the cost of the reduced premium rate in 2016.")

The brief explains the hold harmless provision, identifies the categories of beneficiaries who will have to pay the higher premiums (and why) and the amount of premiums paid by higher income beneficiaries. The brief also offers a projection for 2017 and concludes that but for Congressional intervention, "in the face of flat Social Security benefits and rising out-of-pocket costs, many people on Medicare could have greater difficulty affording their medical care costs in the coming year."

November 22, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

They're Out...CMS releases 2016 premium and co-pay amounts

CMS has released the 2016 amounts for deductibles, premiums, and co-pays for Medicare A and B.  The Inpatient Hospital Deductible and Hospital and Extended Care Services Coinsurance Amounts  are available in the Federal Register here. (The inpatient deductible is $1,288 for 2016). The Part B amounts are available here.  Remember because there is no COLA this year, the hold harmless provision keeps the Part B premium the same as last year for many Medicare Beneficiaries.  For those not protected by the hold harmless provision, their Part B premiums will be $121.80+ $3.  Don't forget that higher income beneficiaries will pay a higher premium, referred to as the income-related monthly adjustment.  The higher premium amounts can be found here as well.

November 19, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Other | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

SNF rooms to hot for residents

Living in a Sunbelt state, I know how hot it can get in the summer months.  I recently ran across a July 2015 decision from HHS' Departmental Appeals Board (DAB) reviewing the imposition of a "per instance" monetary penalty CMS assessed against an Arizona SNF.

CMS’s allegations in this case are predicated on complaints that portions of Petitioner’s facility – including several residents’ rooms – were uncomfortably hot. Those allegations are supported by the complaints of several residents and by temperature readings taken by a surveyor on July 16, 2014. Readings taken by the surveyor showed portions of some of the residents’ rooms being as hot as 90 degrees Fahrenheit.... Such temperatures plainly exceed what any reasonable person would consider to be "comfortable." On their face they comprise violations of 42 C.F.R. § 483.15(h)(6).

After discussing the ways the surveyor and the SNF measured the temperatures inside the SNF, the ALJ in the opinion notes

The overwhelming evidence is that rooms at Petitioner’s facility were uncomfortably hot due to the failure of the facility’s air conditioning system. Arizona in July is a very hot place. Building interiors in that State that are not adequately air conditioned can become dangerously hot. As Petitioner admits, the air conditioning in its facility had failed to work adequately in July 2014. The failure prompted residents to complain that their rooms had become uncomfortably hot.... The staff took various measures to address the failure of the air conditioning system, including closing curtains in residents’ rooms and conducting random temperature checks....

"The evidence that residents were not comfortable is overwhelming, beginning with these residents’ complaints and further evidenced by the fact that Petitioner’s own staff recognized that there were problems with overheating in the residents’ rooms."  The ALJ upheld the penalty.



November 18, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Health Affairs Publishes Report on New Models for Long-Term Services and Supports

Coinciding with the presentation yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the journal Health Affairs released a report  by Melissa Favreault, Howard Gleckman, and Richard W. Johnson, titled "Financing Long-Term Services And Supports: Options Reflect Trade-Offs For Older Americans And Federal Spending."  Noting the history of weak buy-in for existing long-term care insurance products, the authors' study, funded by the SCAN Foundation, AARP and LeadingAge, looks to future alternatives.  From the abstract:

To show how policy changes could expand insurance’s role in financing these needs, we modeled several new insurance options. Specifically, we looked at a front-end-only benefit that provides coverage relatively early in the period of disability but caps benefits, a back-end benefit with no lifetime limit, and a combined comprehensive benefit. We modeled mandatory and voluntary versions of each option, and subsidized and unsubsidized versions of each voluntary option. We identified important differences among the alternatives, highlighting relevant trade-offs that policy makers can consider in evaluating proposals. If the primary goal is to significantly increase insurance coverage, the mandatory options would be more successful than the voluntary versions. If the major aim is to reduce Medicaid costs, the comprehensive and back-end mandatory options would be most beneficial.

The full article is linked here. Several related pieces are also on the Health Affairs website.  Much to read and evaluate here and helpful for those planning spring Elder Law courses. 

November 18, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Health Poll September 2015

The Kaiser Health Network September, 2015 tracking poll  tackled several issues. The one I was most interested in was the results on the public's view of end of life care.

As the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services prepares to finalize a plan to pay physicians for discussing end-of-life treatment options with Medicare patients, this month’s Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that about 8 in 10 of the public favors Medicare and private insurance covering such discussions and about 9 in 10 say doctors should have these discussions with their patients. However, relatively few (17 percent) say they’ve had such discussions with a doctor or other health care provider, including 27 percent of people age 65 or older, while half of the public says they would want to have such a discussion. Over 8 in 10 say they would feel very comfortable talking about their end-of-life medical wishes with their spouse or partner and closer to half say they would be very comfortable talking with a doctor, their children, their close friends or their parents....

The detailed discussion of the poll results provides interesting statistics. Consider the following:

About 9 in 10 (89 percent) say doctors should discuss end-of-life care issues with their patients. But, relatively few (17 percent) say they’ve had such discussions with a doctor or other health care provider, including 34 percent of people age 75 or more, 23 percent of people age 65-74, 19 percent of those age 50-64 and 12 percent of those age 18-49. In addition, those who report having a debilitating disability or chronic condition are more likely to say they have discussed their end-of-life care wishes with a health care provider than those without a disability (31 percent vs. 13 percent). A third of the public says they have participated in a discussion with a doctor about another family member’s wishes about their care at the end of life, including 46 percent of those ages 50-64. Across age groups, many say they would want to have such a discussion about their own end-of-life care (50 percent overall).

The full poll results are available here.


October 28, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Evidence Based End of Life Care?

The New England Journal of Medicine published a perspective piece, Toward Evidence-Based End-of-Life Care.

In the last month of life, one in two Medicare beneficiaries visits an emergency department, one in three is admitted to an intensive care unit,and one in five has inpatient surgery. But one of the most sobering facts is that no current policy or practice designed to improve care for millions of dying Americans is backed by a fraction of the evidence that the Food and Drug Administration would require to approve even a relatively innocuous drug.

The article explains why this evidence is important

The public and private sectors are now engaged in an unprecedented array of virtuous efforts to improve end-of-life care. That these efforts are generally not evidence-based is not the fault of the organizations promoting them. It is the responsibility of investigators and research sponsors to identify, develop, and rigorously test interventions so that they can offer guidance as growing political and cultural tolerance increasingly permits implementation of end-of-life care programs. Achieving evidence-based end-of-life care will require at least four key developments — which, fortunately, are now attainable.

The article discusses the four key developments and notes in conclusion "the central challenge is to avoid complacency regarding plausibly useful but non–evidence-based initiatives. Researchers, research sponsors, and large insurers, employers, and health systems can collaborate to advance knowledge about what works best for whom. And the sooner they do so, the better...."

October 20, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Medicare Part B Premiums in 2016-OUCH for Some Beneficiaries

It's that time of year...CMS releasing the 2016 figures for Medicare. For some beneficiaries, the amount of their Part B premiums and deductibles is going to be a big OUCH!  The New York Times ran an editorial on October 10, 2015 on how the premiums and deductibles are calculated and what it means for some beneficiaries in 2016. The Unlucky Millions Paying More for Medicare explains

Under a 1997 law, premium payments must cover 25 percent of the projected per capita costs for Part B. The premiums, which can rise and fall from year to year, are usually deducted from beneficiaries’ Social Security payments each month. A “hold harmless” provision guarantees that for most people the dollar amount of a premium increase cannot be so big that they are left with a Social Security check that is less than that of the year before. The goal is to ensure that beneficiaries, most of whom have modest incomes, don’t have less money to live on.

Since there will be no Social Security COLA for 2016 but Part B premiums are set to rise, the impact is going to hit hard a certain group of beneficiaries:

The roughly 70 percent of beneficiaries who are “held harmless” will pay the same premium as last year. That means the increased cost will have to be made up by the other 30 percent, because of the rule that premiums must cover one-quarter of Part B costs. This group includes 2.8 million new enrollees, 1.6 million people who don’t collect Social Security benefits and 3.1 million higher-income beneficiaries.

How big a hit will this group take? A pretty big one.  Consider this in dollar amounts. 

The Part B premium has been just under $105 a month for three years, but it is projected to reach $159 in 2016 and then drop to $120 in 2017.

Similarly, the Part B deductible, which must be paid by everyone on Medicare (no one is “held harmless”), will rise from $147 in 2015 to $223 in 2016, before falling back to $169 in 2017. This will pose a particular burden to beneficiaries just above the poverty line who aren’t eligible for assistance from Medicaid in paying deductibles.

The editorial calls for action by Congress to resolve the way premiums are determined. But for now, OUCH!

October 14, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Medicare, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Keeping Track of Preventive Services

Trying to keep straight all of the preventive services available to individuals is daunting, but the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) has made it easy with their new tool, Preventive Services Tracker.   There are separate trackers for each condition including cancer chronic conditions, immunizations, sexual health, health promotions and preganancy-based.  Organized into easy-to-use charts,, each chart provides information on the required service, the target population, the recommendation, coverage clarifications and effective dates.  The charts also provide links for each required service to explain more details.

You might also want to check out their article on Preventive Services Covered by Private Health Plans Under the Affordable Care Act and the accompanying fact sheet.


September 27, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Family Caregivers Show Support for Pennsylvania State Assistance at State Capitol

If you have worked in Elder Law long enough, you have probably received a panicked call from a family caregiver who is unprepared for a loved one to be discharged on short notice from hospital care.

2015-capitol-caregiving-event-tamesha-keelOn September 22, the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg was crowded with individuals wearing coordinated colors, showing their support for Pennsylvania Caregivers, including family members who are often struggling with financial and practical challenges in caring for frail elders. Here's a link to a CBS-21-TV news report, with eloquent remarks from Tamesha Keel (also pictured left), who has first-hand experience as a stay-at-home caregiver for her own aging mother.  Tamesha recently joined our law school as Director of Career Services.

AARP helped to rally support for House Bill 1329, the Pennsylvania CARE Act.  The acronym, coined as part of a national campaign by AARP to assist family caregivers, stands for Caregiver Advise, Record and Enable Act.  HB 1329  passed the Pennsylvania House in July 2015 and is now pending in the Pennsylvania Senate.

We have written on this Blog before about pending CARE legislation in other states.  A central AARP-supported goal is to achieve better coordination of aftercare, starting with identification of patient-chosen caregivers who should receive notice in advance of any discharge of the patient from the hospital.  Pennsylvania's version of the CARE Act would require hospitals to give both notice and training, either in person or by video, to such caregivers about how to provide appropriate post-discharge care in the home. 

I'd actually like to see a bit more in Pennsylvania. It is unfortunate that the Pennsylvania CARE Act, at least in its current iteration (Printer's Number 1883), does not go further by requiring written notice, delivered at least a minimum number of hours in advance of the actual discharge. AARP's own model act suggests a minimum of 4 hours, consistent with Medicare rules.

Under Federal Law, Medicare-participating hospitals must deliver advance written notice of a discharge plan, and such notice must explain the patient's rights to appeal an inadequate plan or premature discharge. A timely appeal puts a temporary hold on the discharge. See the Center for Medicare Advocacy's (CMA) summary of key provisions of Medicare law on hospital discharges, applicable even if a patient at the Medicare-certified hospital isn't a Medicare-patient. CMA's outline also suggests some weaknesses of the Medicare notice requirement.

AARP's original CARE Act proposals are important and evidence-based, seeking to improve the patient's prospects for post-hospitalization care through better advance planning. At the same time, there's some irony for me in reading the Pennsylvania legislature's required "fiscal impact" report on HR 1329, as it reports a "0" dollar impact.  That may be true from the Pennsylvania government's cost perspective, but for the hospitals, to do it right, whether in person or by video, training is unlikely to be revenue neutral.  I think we need to talk openly about the costs of providing effective education or training to home caregivers.

If passed by the Senate, Pennsylvania's CARE Act would be not become effective for another 12 months.  The bill further provides for evaluation of the effectiveness of the rules on patient outcomes.   

As is so often true, states are constantly juggling the need for reforms to solve identified problems, with the costs of such reforms.  Perhaps the current version of the Pennsylvania bill reflects some compromises among stakeholders. According to this press statement, the Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania supports the current version of AARP's Pennsylvania CARE Act.

September 24, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 18, 2015

Medicare Criminal Investigation? FBI Raids Home of CEO of Nursing Home Company

As we have frequently reported on this Blog (see e.g., here and here and here), the Obama Administration has been aggressive in pursuit of Medicare and Medicaid claims tied to unlawful reimbursement or kickback claims for companies involved in long-term care.  But even given that history, often tied to whistleblowing by current or former employees, it is unusual to see criminal investigations. Thus recent media reports about the FBI raiding the CEO of American Senior Communities was eye-catching, including this report from the Indianapolis Star:  

A cadre of federal agents raided the Carmel home of an executive of a chain of nursing homes Tuesday morning. But the most important question remains unanswered: Why?

The home is owned by James G. Burkhart, the CEO of American Senior Communities, according to Hamilton County property records. FBI investigators also were at the Southside headquarters of American Senior Communities, at 6900 Gray Road, according to reports.

American Senior Communities manages nearly 100 senior care facilities and is one of the largest nursing home management companies in Indiana. Among those are 60 sites, including skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities throughout the state, that the company manages under a contract with Marion County’s public health agency.

According to media reports, American Senior Communities (ASC) issued the following press statement following the raid:

"American Senior Communities’ most important priority is to continue to provide excellent care to our patients and residents. ASC has been contacted by the federal government in connection with an investigation into certain individuals or practices. ASC is fully cooperating with the government and is conducting its own review to ascertain the relevant facts. ASC is in compliance with all federal, state and local laws and regulations and will continue to conduct its business in accordance with the highest standards of integrity." 

Stay tuned...(but don't hold your breath).

September 18, 2015 in Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Deadline 9/14/2015: Comments Due to CMS re "Binding Arbitration" in Nursing Home Admission Agreements

Erica Wood, a director for the ABA Commission on Law and Aging,  writing for the August 2015 issue of the ABA's Bifocal Journal, reminds us that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is seeking comments on proposed changes to rules affecting Long-Term Care Facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs, including the issue of whether CMS should prohibit "binding" pre-dispute arbitration provisions in nursing home contracts.  The deadline for public comments is 5 p.m., on Monday, September 14, 2015.  Electronic comments, using the file code CMS-2360-P, can be submitted through this portal:

How do you feel about pre-dispute "agreements" binding consumers, including consumers of long-term care, to arbitration? Your comments to CMS can make a difference! 

I remember my first encounter with "binding" pre-dispute arbitration provisions in care facilities. In the early years of my law school's Elder Protection Clinic, a resident of a nursing home had purportedly "given away" possessions to an aide at nursing home, who promptly sold them on EBay.  The resident was lonely and the "friendship" included the aide taking her out the front door of the facility, via a wheel chair, on little outings, including trips where the resident could visit her beloved house, still full of a life-time of antiques and jewelry.  (The resident might have recovered enough to go home -- although eventually a second stroke intervened.)

Continue reading

September 8, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, Property Management | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Medicare Learning Network Call on Dementia Care

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) provides the Medicare Learning Network (MLN). MLN provides, among other things, articles, trainings, and national provider calls. The next national provider call is scheduled for September 3, 2015 at 1:30 p.m. edt on the National Partnership to Improve Dementia Care and QAPI. Here is the description of this call

During this MLN Connects® National Provider Call, two nursing homes share how they successfully implemented person-centered care approaches and overcame the barriers of cost and staff. Additionally, CMS subject matter experts update you on the progress of the National Partnership and Quality Assurance and Performance Improvement (QAPI). A question and answer session follows the presentations.

The National Partnership to Improve Dementia Care in Nursing Homes and QAPI are partnering on MLN Connects Calls to broaden discussions related to quality of life, quality of care, and safety issues. The National Partnership was developed to improve dementia care in nursing homes through the use of individualized, comprehensive care approaches to reduce the use of unnecessary antipsychotic medications. QAPI standards expand the level and scope of quality activities to ensure that facilities continuously identify and correct quality deficiencies and sustain performance improvement.

Should you register for this program?  The intended audience is "[c]onsumer and advocacy groups, nursing home providers, surveyor community, prescribers, professional associations, and other interested stakeholders." So, if you fall into one of those groups, the answer is yes, you should register. Registration information is available here.

More information about the National Partnership to Improve Dementia Care in Nursing Homes is available here.

August 26, 2015 in Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Reading the "Alphabet Soup of Medicare & Medicaid Contractors"

Attorneys Don Romano and Jennifer Colagiovanni have a useful article in the August issue of The Health Lawyer, published by the ABA.  In The Alphabet Soup of Medicare and Medicaid Contractors, the authors spell out the many players involved in claims processing, payment and oversight for federal/state health care payments:

Healthcare providers, suppliers, and their staff, as well as attorneys representing healthcare entities are faced regularly with a barrage of private contractors tasked with a variety of responsibilities for administering the Medicare program, including claims processing, reimbursement, enrollment and auditing activities.  Given the number of different contractors (and different acronyms, for that matter), it can be difficult to identify the role of the particular contractor one is dealing with, the focus of goal of the program the contractor is involved in , and the responsibilities it is tasked with managing, as well as the statutory and regulatory scope of its authority.  This article seeks to identify the various Medicare and Medicaid contractors and outline their authority, focus and responsibilities.

If you ever had any question about why Medicare and Medicaid are expensive programs, this article suggests that payment for services is not the "only" significant cost factor. 

August 20, 2015 in Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Telephone Therapy Shows Promise

Kaiser Health News (KHN) ran a story Telephone Therapy Helps Older People In Underserved Rural Areas, Study Finds, that reports that "[t]herapy provided over the phone lowered symptoms of anxiety and depression among older adults in rural areas with a lack of mental health services.... The option is important, one expert said, because seniors often have increased need for treatment as they cope with the effects of disease and the emotional tolls of aging and loss." 

The folks in the study suffered from generalized anxiety disorder. Fifty percent of the participants "received cognitive behavioral therapy, which focused on the recognition of anxiety symptoms, relaxation techniques, problem solving and other coping techniques." The remaining fifty percent received "less intensive phone therapy in which mental health professionals provided support for participants to discuss their feelings but offered no suggestions for coping."  The results show that both groups benefited from the therapy but those in the first group did better.

There are roadblocks to using phone therapy, according to the article.  "Medicare only pays for telehealth services done in rural areas with provider shortages; patients cannot do a phone call in their home, but must drive to a physician’s office or hospital to connect with the mental health professional at another site" according to a Professor quoted in the article. As well, some states require those who are providing "medical care must be licensed in the state where the patient resides."

The study, Telephone-Delivered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Telephone-Delivered Nondirective Supportive Therapy for Rural Older Adults With Generalized Anxiety Disorder was published in JAMA Psychiatry and is available here.

August 19, 2015 in Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

2015 National Aging & Law Conference

The National Aging & Law Conference is scheduled for October 29-30, 2015 at the Hilton Arlington, Arlington, VA. A number of ABA commissions and divisions are sponsors of this conference including the Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly, the Coordinating Committee on Veterans Benefits & Services, the Senior Lawyers Division and the Real Property, Trust & Estate Law Section.  The website describes the conference

The 2015 National Aging and Law Conference (NALC) will bring together substantive law, policy, and legal service development and delivery practitioners from across the country.  The program will include sessions on Medicare, Medicaid, guardianship, elder abuse, legal ethics, legal service program development and delivery, consumer law, income security, and other issues.

The 2015 National Aging and Law Conference marks the second year that this conference has been hosted by the American Bar Association. This year’s agenda will include 24 workshops and 4 plenary sessions on key topics in health care, income security, elder abuse, alternatives to guardianship, consumer law, and  legal service development and delivery.  The focus of the agenda is on issues impacting law to moderate income Americans age 60 and over and the front line advocates that serve them. 

The agenda is available here. To register, click here.  Early bird registration ends August 28, 2015.


August 16, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Social Security, Veterans | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Medicare Quality-Spending Interactive Map

The Commonwealth Fund has released an interactive map showing the correlation between Medicare quality and spending. It's easy as 1-2-3!  Here is how the website explains its use:

To view the relationship between health care quality and spending in your state or local area, use the graph, known as a scatter plot, or map. Choose a health care setting, such as hospitals, and then a quality measure to view performance. Curious about how your region compares to someplace else? Click on your selected location and then drag your mouse to the state or local area you want to compare it to and hover. You can see which location has lower spending and higher quality relative to the U.S. median.

August 11, 2015 in Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Medicare 5 Star Rating System Now Available For Home Health Agencies

In July, CMS announced the release of its 5 Star Rating System for Home Health Agencies (HHA). According to an article in the Kaiser Health News (KHN),

[t]he ratings are based on agencies’ assessments of their own patients, which the agencies report to the government, as well as Medicare billing records. The data is adjusted to take into account how frail the patients are and other potential influences. Medicare intends to use the same or similar data sources when it eventually begins to pay bonuses and penalties to agencies based on performance, as it does for hospitals.

According to Medicare's blog, HHAs are rated in 9 categories, including wound care and prevention of bed sores, handling daily activities, controlling pain, and protecting the patient from harm. To learn more, click here to visit the HHA Compare website.

August 6, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hospital "Observation Status" Medicare Bill Goes to President Obama for Signature

The legislation carrying the name Notice of Observation Treatment and Implication for Care Eligibility (NOTICE) Act, that has now passed both the House and Senate, goes to President Obama for signature. If signed by the president, it will still be another year before its official effective date.

Sadly, it doesn't actually fix the problem for the patients with the fact that hospitals frequently attempt to hold patients on a fictional "observation only" status.  Money is  still the issue. Hospitals want to avoid harsh potential Medicare penalties associated with readmissions of "admitted" patients.  At the same time, the lack of "admitted status" reduces the ability of patients to seek Medicare coverage for rehabilitation care post-hospitalization.  But now the patients get better "notice" of their status -- and the potential for it to affect Medicare coverage and therefor out-of-pocket expense for the patients.

ElderLawGuy Jeff Marshall has posted a good blog review of the new law, supplementing his earlier coverage of the problems.  See his Observation Status Bill Heads to President's Desk

July 30, 2015 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Social Security & Medicare Trustees Annual Reports

On July 22, 2015 the Social Security Trustees issued its annual report about the Social Security Trust funds. According to the press release, the good news overall is SSA gained a year in solvency. The bad news, the disability insurance trust fund reserve runs out of money next year.

The combined asset reserves of the Old-Age  and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds are  projected to become depleted in 2034, one year later than projected last year,  with 79 percent of benefits payable at that time.  The DI Trust Fund reserve will become depleted in  2016, unchanged from last year’s estimate, with 81 percent of benefits still  payable.

In the press release, Acting Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin addressed the DI Trust Fund issue:

While the projected depletion date of the combined OASDI trust funds gained a year, the Disability Insurance Trust Fund's projected depletion year remains 2016. I agree with President Obama, we have to keep Social Security strong, protecting its future solvency. President Obama's FY 2016 budget proposes to address this near-term Disability Insurance Trust Fund's reserve depletion. By reallocating a portion of payroll taxes from Old Age Survivors to the Disability Trust Fund - as has been done many times in the past - would have no adverse effect on the solvency of the overall Social Security program....

The full report The 2015 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal      Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds is available as a pdf here.

The Medicare Trustees report was also released on July 22, 2015. The news from Medicare was slightly better, with the trust fund solvency still in place through 2030.

[T]he Medicare Trustees projected that the trust fund that finances Medicare’s hospital insurance coverage will remain solvent until 2030, unchanged from last year, but with an improved long-term outlook from last year's report. Under this year’s projection, the trust fund will remain solvent 13 years longer than the Trustees projected in 2009, before the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

However, the press release notes an anticipated increase in Medicare Part B premiums for next year:

[A]pproximately 70 percent of beneficiaries are expected not to see a premium increase in 2016 because it is projected that there will be no cost-of-living increases in Social Security benefits. The remaining 30 percent of beneficiaries would pay a higher premium based on this projection. These include only individuals who enroll in Part B for the first time in 2016; enrollees who do not receive a Social Security benefit; beneficiaries that are directly billed for their Part B premium; and current enrollees who pay an income related higher premium. Decisions about premium changes will be made in October and depend on a variety of factors.

The full report is available as a PDF here.

July 24, 2015 in Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 17, 2015

9th Circuit Sets Aside Case Precedent on Whistleblowers Under False Claims Act

On July 7, 2015, in U.S. ex rel Hartpence v. Kinetic Concepts, Inc., the Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, created an easier path for whistleblowers to recovery under the False Claims Act for disclosure of fraudulent claims for Medicare reimbursement.  From its introduction to the ruling in consolidated civil qui tam suits:

If a whistleblower informs the government that it has been bilked by a provider of goods and services, and that scheme is unmasked to the public, under what conditions can that same whistleblower recover part of what the guilty provider is forced to reimburse the government? We hold today that there are two, and only two, requirements in order for a whistleblower to be an “original source” who may recover under the False Claims Act: (1) Before filing his action, the whistleblower must voluntarily inform the government of the facts which underlie the allegations of his complaint; and (2) he must have direct and independent knowledge of the allegations underlying his complaint. Abrogating our earlier precedent, we conclude that it does not matter whether he also played a role in the public disclosure of the allegations that are part of his suit. We also hold that the district court erred in its application of the rule that a whistleblower must be the first to file an action seeking reimbursement on behalf of the government based on the fraudulent scheme.

According to one lawyer interviewed here, the impact of the decision to reverse 25-year old case precedent, though important, may be limited to older cases, "since 2010 amendments to the False Claims Act have further clarified the 'original source' requirements. 

Additional history -- and predicting clarifications --  about the public disclosure provisions of the False Claims Act comes from Albany Law Emeritus Professor Beverly Cohen, in an article from Mercer Law Review, titled "Trouble at the Source: The Debates Over the Public Disclosure Provisions of the False Claims Act's Original Source Rule."   For more, see Professor Cohen's interesting article (in my own law school's law review, I was happy to discover!), "Kaboom! The Explosion of Qui Tam False Claims Under the Health Reform Law."

July 17, 2015 in Crimes, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)