Sunday, November 23, 2014
From Kaiser Health News, this report of "confusion, frustration and resistence," associated with California's first six months of efforts to move 500,000 low-income seniors and disabled persons into managed care:
"'The scope and the pace are too large and too rapid for what is supposed to be a demonstration project,' said Dr. William Averill, executive board member of the Los Angeles County Medical Association, which filed a lawsuit to block the project. 'We are concerned that [the project] is ill-conceived, ill-designed and will jeopardize the health of many of the state’s most vulnerable population – the poor, the elderly and the disabled.'
There is a lot riding on the pilot — the largest of its kind in the nation. The patients involved are among the most expensive to treat – so-called 'dual eligibles,' who receive both Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, and Medicaid, which provides coverage for the poor. Over the three years of the demonstration project, California is focusing on 456,000 of the state’s 1.1 million dual eligibles.
State officials acknowledge some transition problems but say the project will provide consumers with more coordinated care that improves their health, reduces their costs and helps keep them in their homes. In addition, officials estimate the program could save the state more than $300 million in fiscal year 2014-2015."
For more, read "California's Managed Care Project for Poor Seniors Faces Backlash," by Anna Gorman.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Earlier this month, Yale Law School hosted a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the passage of Medicare and Medicaid. The program speakers were encouraged to examine the precedents set by these two major programs, against the backdrop of recent health care reform initiatives. Videos from sessions on "The Law of Medicare and Medicaid at 5o" are now available to the public, including segments on:
- Medicare, Then and Now
- Historical Context, Legislation & Administration
- Policy Making and Innovation
- Health Law Federalism, Especially After NFIB
- Looking Ahead
In addition, the presentation by keynote speaker Ezekiel Emanuel, Vice President of Global Initaitives and Chair, Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania is available.
The video segments, while interesting, may be a little difficult to sit through, as they are not edited, and some of the speakers are not using the microphones. Fortunately, Professor Allison Hoffman from UCLA School of Law and others have written a wonderful series of pieces, stemming from the Yale program sesssions, and the articles are posted on Health Affairs Blog.
Friday, November 14, 2014
The November issue of AARP's Bulletin carries a special Medicare cover story, "Inside the Medicare Strike Force" by Rick Schmitt. The article details recent successes by a Justice Department unit formed in 2007:
"The strike force has grown from a single outpost in Miami in 200 to nine cities, with the support of 40 of the 100 attorneys in the fraud section of the Justice Department. . . . Just this September, some 280 prosecutors and agents from around the country attended a Justice Department workshop in Washington, D.C., to learn the finer points of investigating and prosecuting Medicare cases. Increasingly, the crackdown has the look of a major narcotics operation, complete with electronic surveillance and frequent use of informants and cooperating witnesses. Defendants' assets are now routinely seized before trial. Sentences are being measured in decades; even some older beneficiaries are being prosecuted. Agents are backed by forensic accountaints, health care professionals and data acquisition analysts who have a pipeline to Medicare contractors' billing information."
A side bar to the main feature focuses on Peggy Sposato, describing her as a "fraudster's worst enemy," through use of her data analysis skills to create systematic review of billing records. Her methods successfully trace unlawful Medicare payments. Her career as a fraud buster "began in the mid-1990s after a career as a geriatric nurse."
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
The October 2014 issue of the American Bar Association's Health Law Section publication, The Health Lawyer, has an interesting lead essay, one that I believe would be useful both for practitioners and law students to read. D. Gary Reed, Associate General Counsel for Humana Inc., argues that there are two distinctly different versions of the Medicare Advantage program of health coverage, the version he believes was intended by Congress and the version "found in pleadings, briefs and court decisions."
Attorney Reed starts with a concise statutory overview of coverage under Medicare Part C, leading to introduction of his central thesis: "Litigants and courts too often depend on prior case law for their understanding of the Medicare statute, rather than on the statute itself."
Reed writes clearly and offers helpful citations. He points out that the Medicare statute is, at best, intimidating to the "uninitiated" and the confusion is made worse by inconsistent use of citations to provisions of the legislative Act, rather than to the United States Code.
He offers an "ABCs of Medicare" followed by a more detailed examination of the subparts of Part C, and describes what it means to "opt out." He outlines his approach to how the Medicare Advantage program is intended to function, using examples to show how he believes courts have gotten it wrong. He argues there is "no such thing as a Medicare Advantage insurance policy." The misconception that there is a "policy," he says, "lulls general practitioners and provider collection counsel into suing for breach of the nonexistent Medicare Advantage insurance policy, instead of pursing the exclusive Medicare appeals process."
Reed contends that "[t]ime and money spent by Medicare Advantage organizations defending litigation driven by these misconceptions diverts resources from caring for aged and disabled Medicare beneficiaries." He says "a contributing factor may be the dearth of authoritative materials -- text books, law review articles, or the like -- that explain and contextualize the program in readily understandable terms."
After reading the article, I ask whether a fair implication arises from the apparently significant numbers of claims being made, even if incorrectly and in the wrong forum. Doesn't that suggest there could be real problems with Medicare Advantage? Reed writes that it is important to understand, and to use available statistics to demonstrate, that "the Medicare appeals process exists and is actually available to Medicare Advantage enrollees." But is Medicare Advantage meeting the real needs of health care service users in this program?
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
I recently read an HHS Inspector General report about Medicare paying for HIV drugs ... for the dead....The OIG report, Medicare Paid for HIV Drugs for Deceased Beneficiaries, released on Halloween (shades of trick or treat), is available here as a pdf.
OIG report # OEI-02-11-00172 focuses on HIV drugs and the prompt for the investigation was "ongoing concerns about Medicare paying for drugs and services after a beneficiary has died."
The report found that under the existing policy (which allows this to occur), Medicare continued to pay for HIV drugs for 150 decedents. Medicare cuts off payments "for drugs with dates of service more than 32 days after death [because] CMS's practices allow payment for drugs that do not meet Medicare Part D coverage requirements. Most of these drugs were dispensed by retail pharmacies."
Why just look at HIV drugs because isn't it likely that this continued payment could be occurring beyond just this group of drugs? CMS agrees that "these "findings have implications for all drugs because Medicare processes PDE records for all drugs the same way. Considering the enormous number of Part D drugs, a change in practice would affect all Part D drugs and could result in significant cost savings for the program and for taxpayers."
The OIG report recommends a change in practice to "prevent inappropriate payments for drugs for deceased beneficiaries and lead to cost savings for the program and for taxpayers. CMS concurred with [the OIG] recommendation."
Monday, October 27, 2014
Has anyone else noticed an uptick in eye-catching articles from the Washington Post? Maybe it it just that they are writing about things I'm interested in, but I also notice that I'm getting more recommendations from readers, based on Post pieces. Nice to see this resurgence in a traditional news source.
Along that line, the Washington Post has been running a series on the "Business of Dying," looking at hospice and finding lots of areas for concern. Sunday's piece focuses on the inconsistencies among hospice providers, with gaps in services that may be hard for families to respond to, especially in the midst of end-of-life trauma.
The Washington Post has now published on line an interactive "Consumer Guide to Hospice," co- written by Dan Keating and Shelly Tan. You can search by state or by provider -- and it is free!
Monday, October 20, 2014
Earlier this month, CMS announced that it was going to update and improve the Nursing Home Compare site, which should result in more accurate information available for consumers. According to the October 6, 2014 press release, "the expansion and strengthening of the agency’s widely-used Five Star Quality Rating System for Nursing Homes will improve consumer information about individual nursing homes’ quality."
Starting in January, "CMS and states will implement focused survey inspections nationwide for a sample of nursing homes to enable better verification of both the staffing and quality measure information that is part of the Five-Star Quality Rating System." CMS is also adding to the quality measures used. Also CMS will be doing some "focused survey inspections" for verification purposes of the information that is being submitted.
According to the Center for Medicare Advocacy October 16, 2014 weekly alert, a new law, "[t]he Improving Medicare Post-Acute Care Transformation Act of 2014 (IMPACT Act of 2014) ... supports one of the key changes –providing funding to implement a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires nursing home staffing data reported on Nursing Home Compare to be electronically-submitted and "based on payroll and other verifiable and auditable data."
Check it out!
Monday, August 25, 2014
In a feature article on Medicare's "star ratings," the New York Times reports that some nursing homes are able to "game the system" through self-reports of data that fail to include complaints filed with state agencies. The article uses examples to show that even five star ratings, the highest available, can be obtained despite pending state investigations into serious allegations of mishandled care. The ratings by Medicare were intended to provide an objective measure for consumers and in recent years a growing proportion of nursing homes have obtained higher ratings.
"But some nursing homes are not truly improving. Instead, they have learned how to game the rating system, according to ]New York Times] interviews with current and former nursing home employees, lawyers and patient advocacy groups. Nationally, the proportion of homes with above-average ratings has risen steadily. In 2009, when the program began, 37 percent of them received four- or five-star ratings. By 2013, nearly half did.
The Times analysis shows that even nursing homes with a history of poor care rate highly in the areas that rely on self-reported data. Of more than 50 nursing homes on a federal watch list for quality, nearly two-thirds hold four- or five-star ratings for their staff levels and quality statistics. The same homes do not fare as well on the sole criterion that is based on an independent review. More than 95 percent of the homes on the watch list received one or two stars for the health inspection, which is conducted by state workers."
For more, see "Medicare Star Ratings Allow Nursing Homes to Game the System" by Kate Thomas.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
We have blogged previously on hospice, and a new article adds to the body of literature on the subject. The Journal of Palliative Medicine published an article by Dr. Joan Teno, Dr. Michael Plotzke, Dr. Pedro Gozalo, and Dr. Vincent Mor, A National Study of Live Discharges from Hospice. The study recognizes that there are various reasons that a person may leave hospice care, such as "patients decide to resume curative care, their condition improves, or hospices may inappropriately use live discharge to avoid costly hospitalizations." The abstract offers the following conclusion-about 20% of "hospice patients are discharged alive with variation by geographic regions and hospice programs. Not-for-profit hospices and older hospices have lower rates of live discharge." Why is it important to study this? As the introduction to article points out, there are instances when a provider may improperly discharge a patient and the timing can be telling: improper admission to hospice at the beginning or an effort to avoid costs. Building on existing research, this study finds similar results in some areas, but makes some important conclusions that deserve additional study
Provide and state variation raises concern that live discharges are not driven by patient preference but by provider and market behavior. Hospice programs that exceed their aggregate reimbursement caps (a marker for hospices with an excessive average hospice length of stay) had nearly double the rate of live discharges compared to hospice programs that did not exceed their aggregate cap.
The authors suggest there are certain red flags that should alert regulators that more careful scrutiny is needed for a specific hospice.
A hospice program with a high rate of live discharges deserves regulatory scrutiny especially when they have a pattern of hospitalization and hospice readmission. With increased hospice competition or potential future changes in hospice payment policies, hospices may change their enrollment and pattern of live discharges to maximize their profitability. Potentially, live hospice discharges represent a vulnerability of the Medicare Hospice Benefit. Hospices with high rate of these patterns of live discharges should trigger further regulatory review that examine whether their hospice enrollees were eligible, adequately informed about the Medicare hospice benefit before electing hospice, and whether the hospice program did a good enough job of advance care planning to avoid hospitalizations.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
The Washington Post ran a fascinating article on a particular Medicare scam. A Medicare Scam That Just Kept Rolling was published August 16, 2014 and focuses on power wheelchairs. The article offers a detailed look at how this particular scam worked.
The wheelchair scam was designed to exploit blind spots in Medicare, which often pays insurance claims without checking them first. Criminals disguised themselves as medical-supply companies. They ginned up bogus bills, saying they’d provided expensive wheelchairs to Medicare patients — who, in reality, didn’t need wheelchairs at all. Then the scammers asked Medicare to pay them back, so they could pocket the huge markup that the government paid on each chair.
This eye-opening article points out that the depth and breadth of the scam remains largely unknown, but is on its way out.
But, while it lasted, the scam illuminated a critical failure point in the federal bureaucracy: Medicare’s weak defenses against fraud. The government knew how the wheelchair scheme worked in 1998. But it wasn’t until 15 years later that officials finally did enough to significantly curb the practice.
The article is accompanied by a video that shows in "four easy steps" how to perpetrate a Medicare scam as well as a sidebar with slides showing how the power wheelchair scam works. Variations of the scam are more than 40 years old and have morphed with the times.
If you aren't shaking your head in wonder now, consider why these scams can happen:
[F]or Medicare officials at headquarters, seeing the problem and stopping it were two different things.
That’s because Medicare is an enormous system, doing one of the most difficult jobs in the federal government. It receives about 4.9 million claims per day, each of them reflecting the nuances of a particular patient’s condition and particular doctor’s treatment decisions.
By law, Medicare must pay most of those claims within 30 days. In that short window, it is supposed to filter out the frauds, finding bills where the diagnosis or the prescription seem bogus.
The way the system copes is with a procedure called “pay and chase.” Only a small fraction of claims 3 percent or less — are reviewed by a live person before they are paid. The rest are reviewed only after the money is spent. If at all.
The whole thing is set up as a kind of honor system, built at the heart of a system so rich that it made it easy for people to be dishonorable.
The article talks about comparisons--the amount of money spent on power wheelchairs as compared to the total amount of dollars spent in the Medicare universe and although the amount spent on wheelchairs is a lot, it's a small amount in that universe. The article mentions the steps the government has taken to end the motorized wheelchair scam such as competitive bidding and rent-to-own. So if the wheelchair scam is on the decline, what's the next one? According to the article, orthotics and prosthetics. Stay tuned...
Monday, August 11, 2014
The Washington Post recently completed a disturbing three-part series on hospice. To analyze the quality of services rendered to terminal patients, the reporters reviewed "Medicare billing records for more than 2,500 outfits, obtained an internal Medicare tally of nursing care in patients near death and reviewed complaint records at hundreds of hospices." The Post tracks data pointing to staff shortages, lack of coordination in care, failure to provide sustained assistance during critical periods, and the potential for Medicare to incentivize such gaps through perverse funding priorities.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
John Washlick, a shareholder with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in Philadelphia and Princeton, provides a concise and useful overview of laws that form the basis for claims of "fraud" or "abuse" associated with Medicare and Medicaid in the most recent issue of Pennsylvania Bar Quarterly (April 2014, available also on Westlaw). The abstract to his article, "Health Care Fraud and Abuse," provides:
"Medicare and Medicaid combined comprise the largest payer of health care services in the world, and account for over 20 percent of all U.S. government spending. As a result, efforts to combat fraud and abuse in these programs have become a congressional and administrative priority. This article will address four significant federal fraud and abuse laws: (i) Anti-Kickback Statute, (ii) "Stark" Anti-Referral Law, (iii) Civil Monetary Provisions, and (iv) False Claims Act (Civil and Criminal). The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly referred to as the "Affordable Care Act" significantly strengthened each of these laws, including increased funding to step up enforcement actions. There are other federal and state statutes that are aimed at curbing fraud and abuse and they should not be ignored when reviewing a financial arrangement between or among potential referral sources."
A useful guide, especially when reading about multi-million dollar settlements in whistleblower cases growing out of nursing home care, home care, hospice care, and pharmaceutical sales, such as the Omnicare settlement reported on the Elder Law Prof Blog today.
From the Department of Justice, news of the False Claims Act settlement reached with Omnicare Inc., "the nation's largest provider of pharmaceuticals and pharmacy services to nursing homes." The company has agreed to pay $124.24 million "in return for their continued selection" as the supplier of drugs to elderly Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. The claims related to improper discounts allegedly given by Omnicare as incentives for doing business with the company.
According to the DOJ press release, the settlement resolves two lawsuits filed by whistleblowers under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act. "The first whistleblower, Donald Gale, a former Omnicare employee, will receive $ 17.24 million."
DOJ states that since January 2009, it has "recovered a total of more than $19.5 billion through False Claims Act cases," including more than $13.9 billion in cases alleging fraud associated with health care programs.
Monday, July 28, 2014
Recently a former law student who is considering a career change asked me about elder law, wanting to meet with me to discuss what is involved. I'm happy to chat any time with current and former students, especially about elder law, but this time my advice was simple: "Drop everything and go to Pennsylvania's 2014 Elder Law Institute." Indeed, this year saw some 400 individuals attend.
Important to my advice was the fact that ELI is organized well for both "newbies" and more experienced practitioners. After the first two-hour joint session, over the course of two days there are four sessions offered every hour. One entire track is devoted to "Just the Basics" and is perfect for the aspiring elder law attorney. Indeed, I usually sponsor two Penn State law students to attend. As in most specializations, in elder law there will is a steep learning curve just to understand the basic jargon, and the more exposure the better.
One of my favorite sessions is the first, "The Year in Review," a long tradition at ELI and currently presented by Marielle Hazen and Rob Clofine. Marielle reviews new legislation and regulations, both at the state and federal level, while Rob does a "Top Ten Cases" review. Both speakers focus not just on what happened in the last 12 months, but what could or should happen in the future. They frequently pose important policy perspectives, based on recent events.
Among the highlights from the year in review session:
- Analysis of the GAO Report on "Medicaid: Financial Characteristics of Approved Applicants and Methods Used to Reduce Assets to Qualify for Nursing Home Coverage" released in late June 2014. Data collection efforts focused on four states and reportedly included "under cover" individuals posing as potential applicants. The report summarizes techniques used to reduce countable resources, most occuring well within the rules and thus triggering no question of penalty periods. Whether Congress uses the report in any way to confirm or change existing rules remains to be seen.
- A GAO Report on Medicaid Managed Care programs, also released in June, concluding that additional oversight efforts are needed to ensure the integrity of programs in the states, which are already reporting higher increases in outgoing funds than fee-for-service programs.
- The need to keep an eye open for Pennsylvania's Long Term Care Comission report, expected by December 2014. Will it take issue with the Governor's rejection of the Affordable Care Act's funding for expansion of Medicaid?
- Report on a number of lower court decisions involving nursing home payment issues, including a report on a troubling case, Estate of Parker, 4 Pa. Fiduciary Reporter 3d 183 (Orphans' Court, Montgomery County, PA 2014), in which a court-appointed guardian of the estate of an elderly nursing home patient "agreed" to entry of a judgment, not just for nursing home charges, but also for pre- and post-judgment interest, plus attorneys' fees for the nursing home's lawyer of almost 20% of the stipulated judgment, in what was an uncontested guardianship.
In light of the number of nursing home payment cases in Rob's review, perhaps it wasn't a surprise that my co-presenter, Stanley Vasiliadis, and I had a full house for our session on "Why Am I Being Sued for My Parents' Nursing Home Bill?" We examined how adult children (and sometimes elderly parents of adult children in care) are finding themselves the target of collection efforts by nursing homes, including actions based on theories of breach of promise (contract, quatum meruit, and promissory estoppel), fault (common law fraud or statutory claims of "fraudulent transfers), or family status, such as statutory filial support.
The extensive course materials from all of the presenters, both in hard copy and electronic formats, are available for purchase directly from the Pennsylvania Bar Institute.
July 28, 2014 in Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, July 24, 2014
The CarTalk Guys on National Public Radio have a crazy tradition of breaking their one hour radio program into "three halves" (okay, they have a lot of crazy traditions -- I'm focusing on just one). In that tradition, I'd been thinking about how the practice of "elder law" might also have three halves, but then I realized that perhaps it really has five halves. See what you think.
- In the United States, private practitioners who call themselves "Elder Law Attorneys" usually focus on helping individuals or families plan for legal issues that tend to occur between retirement and death. Many of the longer-serving attorneys with expertise in this area started to specialize after confronting the needs of their own parents or aging family members. They learned -- sometimes the hard way -- about the need for special knowledge of Medicare, Medicaid, health insurance and the significance of frailty or incapacity for aging adults. They trained the next generations of Elder Law Attorneys, thereby reducing the need to learn exclusively from mistakes.
- Closely aligned with the private bar are Elder Law Attorneys who work for legal service organizations or other nonprofit law firms. They have critical skills and knowledge of health-related benefits under federal and state programs. They also have sophisticaed information about the availability of income-related benefits under Social Security. They often serve the most needy of elders. Their commitment to obtain solutions not just for one client, but often for a whole class of older clients, gives them a vital role to play.
- At the state and federal levels, core decisions are made about how to interpret laws affecting older adults. Key decisions are made by attorneys who are hired by a government agency. Their decisions impact real people -- and they keep a close eye on the financial consequences of permitting access to benefits, even if is often elected officials making the decisions about funding priorities. I would also put prosecutors in this same public servant "Elder Law" category, especially prosecutors who have taken on the challenge of responding to elder abuse.
- A whole host of companies, both for-profit and nonprofit, are in the business of providing care to older adults, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, group homes, home-care agencies and so on -- and they too have attorneys with deep expertise in the provider-side of "Elder Law," including knowledge of contracts, insurance and public benefit programs that pay for such services.
- Last, but definitely not least, attorneys are involved at policy levels, looking not only to the present statutes and regulations affecting older adults, but to the future of what should be the legal framework for protection of rights, or imposition of obligations, on older adults and their families. My understanding and appreciation of this sector has increased greatly over the last few years, particularly as I have come to know human rights experts who specialize in the rights of older persons.
Of course, lawyers are not the only persons who work in "Elder Law" fields and it truly takes a village -- including paralegals, social workers, case workers, health care professionals, and law clerks -- to find ways to use the law effectively and wisely. Ironically, at times it can seem as if the different halves of "elder law" specialists are working in opposition to each other, rather than together.
My reason for trying to identify these "Five Halves" of Elder Law is that, as with most of us who teach courses on elder law or aging, I have come to realize I have former students working in all of these divisions, who began their appreciation for the legal needs of older adults while still in law school. Organizing these "halves" may also help in organizing course materials.
I strongly suspect I'm could be missing one or more sectors of those with special expertise in Elder Law. What am I forgetting?
Sunday, July 20, 2014
The growing significance and scope of "elder law" is demonstrated by the program for the upcoming 2014 Elder Law Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to be held on July 24-25. In addition to key updates on Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans and Social Security law, plus updates on the very recent changes to Pennsylvania law affecting powers of attorney, here are a few highlights from the multi-track sessions (48 in number!):
- Nationally recognized elder law practitioner, Nell Graham Sale (from one of my other "home" states, New Mexico!) will present on planning and tax implications of trusts, including special needs trusts;
- North Carolina elder law expert Bob Mason will offer limited enrollment sessions on drafting irrevocable trusts;
- We'll hear the latest on representing same-sex couples following Pennsylvania's recent court decision that struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriages;
- Julian Gray, Pittsburgh attorney and outgoing chair of the Pennsylvania Bar's Elder Law Section will present on "firearm laws and gun trusts." By coincidence, I've had two people this week ask me about what happens when you "inherit" guns.
Be there or be square! (Who said that first, anyway?)
July 20, 2014 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Retirement, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, June 9, 2014
Last week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a district court's rejection of a proposed Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) settlement for $285 million -- because of the absence of any admissions by defendant Citigroup -- was improper. In SEC v. Citigroup Global Markets, a case that arose from investigations into fraud following the financial industries meltdown, the Second Circuit observed that while the court has an obligation to review consent degrees to determine generally the "legality" of the terms and may consider whether the settlement is "fair and reasonable, to demand admissions as a condition of settlement goes too far.
The Second Circuit said, "It is an abuse of discretion to require, as the district court did here, that the S.E.C. establish the 'truth' of the allegations against a settling party as a condition for approving the consent decrees.... Trials are primarily about the truth. Consent decrees are primarily about pragmatism.... Consent decrees provide parties with a means to manage risk."
In cases where injunctive relief is part of the settlement, the Second Circuit said the trial court is permitted to analyze the enforceability of the terms, as a matter of "public interest."
The Wall Street Journal, in reporting on the June 4 decision, observed that the decision "eases pressure" on prosecutors and regulators "to exact admissions of wrongdoing in settlements with companies."
After reading the SEC-related decision, it would seem the same reasoning would govern settlements of federal Medicare and Medicaid fraud suits, including whistleblower cases, such as the multi-million dollar settlements in recent months involving nursing home care, pharmaceutical sales, and hospice, thus explaining how millions in de facto fines often involve no admissions of wrongdoing.
Or as I sometimes describe such agreements to settle, defendants must decide whether they can live with the financial effect of the monetary terms, and must promise merely to never do again what they say they never did before.
But I worry, will customers -- which in Medicare and Medicaid cases, usually means seniors and disabled persons -- be the ones who pay the downstream price of the settlement, especially without clear admissions of wrongdoing in the past?
Friday, June 6, 2014
Is Community Spouse's IRA Countable in Determining Medicaid Eligibility? Arkansas Supreme Court Says "Yes"
In Arkansas Department of Human Services v. Pierce, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled on May 29 that individual retirement accounts owned by a wife were "countable" in determining her husband's eligibility for Medicaid as a resident in a nursing home in Arkansas. In so ruling, and treating the issue as a matter of first impression in Arkansas, the Court rejected the analysis of a Wisconsin court, and aligned itself with the analysis of a New Jersey Court in determining that the state's decision -- to include IRAs owned by either spouse in the "snapshot" of resources subject to spend-down -- did not violate federal law.
In this case, the community spouse may be significantly affected, depending on her own lifespan. Hoping that her husband of 46 years would improve and not need to stay in a nursing home, it appears she had already paid "privately" for nursing home care for 18 months. With the ruling, if her husband continues to need nursing care, she will be allowed to keep $109,560, and thereby will likely spend much of her IRA savings (totaling about $350,000) towards his care.
This fact pattern arguably explains one of the reasons why Elder Law professionals have turned to Medicaid-qualified annuities and other permitted planning tools, to convert countable "resources" into uncountable "income," thereby better assisting the community spouse in financing his or her own final years, particularly if the community spouse hopes to stay at home as long as possible. Will community spouses get timely, qualified assistance with such planning?
The Center for Medicare Advocacy’s 'Rubber Stamp' suit highlights the fact that 98% of Medicare appeals are denied at the first two levels of review
June 5, 2014 – The Center for Medicare Advocacy filed a complaint in United States District Court in Connecticut yesterday against Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, on behalf of plaintiffs who have been denied a meaningful review of their Medicare claims at the first two levels of appeal. The case was brought as a class action, and the four named plaintiffs represent thousands of Medicare beneficiaries in Connecticut who cannot get a meaningful review of their case, and instead, receive an initial denial of coverage that is essentially “rubber stamped” at both the Redetermination and Reconsideration levels. The problem persists throughout the country.
Available information indicates that the combined denial rate for home health care coverage (that the plaintiffs in this case were denied) at the first two levels of review is about 98%. However, beneficiaries must complete those levels before they can get a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which provides the first real opportunity for a meaningful evaluation of a claim.
"Older people and people with disabilities are going without necessary care because they’re being wrongly denied coverage and either drop out of the years-long appeals process, waiting for a hearing, or impoverish themselves to pay for care,” said Gill Deford, Litigation Director at the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “The sheer number of beneficiaries who are forced to deal with this time-consuming, meaningless appeals structure compelled us to take action to seek meaningful reviews earlier in the appeals process."
The denial rate at Redetermination and Reconsideration has been increasing in recent years, coinciding with the implementation of a new administrative review process for "traditional" Medicare (Parts A and B). While the new system was intended to make the process more efficient and user-friendly, the actual effect has been to deny beneficiaries an efficient and meaningful review of their claims, requiring them to take claims to the third level of review, an ALJ hearing.
"Most beneficiaries don’t have the resources, time or support to take their claims all the way to an Administrative Law Judge, making the first two levels of review vitally important,” said Judith Stein, Executive Director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. "'Rubber-stamping' appeals deprives a huge number of people a legitimate review process and harms those who depend on Medicare coverage for critical health care and to maintain their quality of life."
To speak with a representative of the Center for Medicare Advocacy about this case, please contact Lauren Weybrew at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Does a resident have a private right of action for violation of key provisions of the federal Nursing Home Reform Act?
For example, federal Medicare/Medicaid Law specifies residents have certain "Transfer and Discharge Rights." A certified nursing facility must permit each resident to "remain in the facility" and must "not transfer or discharge the resident" except for certain specified reasons, usually requiring 30 days advance notice. But what happens if a facility ignores the limitations on acceptable grounds for transfer or discharge, including the 30 day notice requirement?
In its decision on May 12, 2014 in Schwerdtfeger v. Alden Long Grove Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, the federal district court in the Northern District of Illinois ruled that a discharge improper under federal law does not trigger a private statutory remedy. As described in the clearly written decision, an abrupt transfer of the resident from the nursing home into a hospital followed the resident's "verbal dispute with a nurse" and another resident. While federal law permits transfers where there someone's safety or health is endangered, it does not appear from the decision that the nursing home claimed the verbal dispute created such a danger.
Nonetheless, the court dismissed the resident's federal claim, concluding that the statutory language regarding discharge and transfer rights in Medicare and Medicaid law "does not manifest a 'clear and unambiguous' Congressional intention to create private rights in favor of individual nursing facility residents.... The NHRA [Nursing Home Reform Act] provides an administrative process in the state courts rather than a private remedy in federal court."
In so ruling, the federal district court declined to follow the analysis of the Third Circuit in Grammer v. John J. Kane Regional Centers-Glen Hazel, 570 3d 520 (3d Cir. 2008), which as a "matter of first impression" ruled that the NHRA was sufficiently "rights creating" that it could trigger a cause of action regarding quality of care under Section 1983.
My question, reflecting my teaching interests no doubt, is whether the nursing home's discharge was a breach of contract? Most nursing home contracts I've reviewed either directly or indirectly "adopt" the protections of the NHRA as specific rights of their residents. (Indeed, I would be leery of any nursing home that did not do that.) So, even if not a violation of federal law, wouldn't such a discharge breach the contract? I suspect there is probably a court decision or law review article on this topic -- perhaps our readers have a citation?
Of course, in seeking a right to sue directly under the NHRA, the resident was probably also seeking a right to claim attorneys' fees under the civil rights law; breach of contract claims, even if successful, may not make a claimant "whole" because of the likelihood of small consequential damages and no contractual right to seek attorneys' fees. It is not clear from the Schwerdtfeger decision whether a breach of contract claim was alleged, although the federal court did "decline" to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's "state law claims."