Monday, August 22, 2016

Turning Silver Into Gold? Another "Advancement" in Non-Institutional Senior Care

The New York Times on Sunday had an exceptionally well written and important article about the latest trend in senior care.  For-profit companies are now allowed to participate in PACE, the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, a Medicare- and Medicaid-approved program designed to permit innovation in care that doesn't require residence in high-priced settings such as traditional nursing homes.  Sarah Varney writes:

Inside a senior center here [in Denver], nestled along a bustling commercial strip, Vivian Malveaux scans her bingo card for a wining number.  Her 81-year-old eyes are warm, lively and occasionally set adrift by the dementia plundering her mind.

 

Dozens of elderly men and women -- some in wheelchairs, others whose hands tremble involuntarily -- gather excitedly around the game tables.  After bingo, there is more entertainment and activities: Yahtzee, tile-painting, beading. 

 

But this is no linoleum-floored community center reeking of bleach.  Instead, it's one of eight vanguard centers owned by InnovAge, a company based in Denver with ambitious plans.  With the support of private equity money, InnovAge aims to aggressively expand a little-known Medicare program that will pay to keep oldr and disabled Americans out of nursing homes.

The feature-length article details how "private equity firms, venture capitalizes and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have jumped" onto the PACE niche. For more on this important development, read Private Equity's Stake in Keeping the Elderly at Home.

My thanks to Laurel Terry and Karen Miller for sharing this article with us. 

August 22, 2016 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Medicare Enrollment Periods

Investment News ran a timely article about the various Medicare enrollment periods. The alphabet soup of Medicare enrollment periods explains the initial enrollment period and special enrollment periods. It also explains succinctly how employer group health plans and Medicare interface as far as the special enrollment period.

If you have coverage through your employer or your spouse's employer consider:

• The employer provided health plan needs to be with a group of 20 or more insurance eligible members. If the group is smaller than 20, Medicare Parts A and B must be primary and cover 80% of costs. The employer plan only covers 20%. In those cases, many folks are better served by leaving the employer plan and signing up for Medicare Part D and a supplemental plan.

• The employer coverage needs to be Medicare Part D creditable, meaning that the employer coverage includes a prescription drug benefit comparable to Medicare Part D. The employer or insurance plan can provide the Medicare creditable coverage notice. Get a copy of this letter every year when your employer coverage renews. That way no one is caught off guard down the road. If a plan has not been Medicare creditable, lifelong penalties of 12% per year are levied when the individual enrolls in Medicare Part D.

Once the person leaves a health plan and is entitled to Medicare, it is important to remember a few key factors:

• Sign up for Medicare as soon as possible. Medicare enrollment can begin three months before employer coverage ends.

• While there is an eight-month window to sign up for Medicare Parts A and B, there is no primary health coverage until Medicare enrollment is complete. Even COBRA coverage is secondary coverage to Medicare. That means Medicare Parts A and B cover 80% of costs, leaving COBRA to pay 20%. The result is that when Medicare-eligible individuals do not have Medicare Parts A or B they are left to pay 80% of their costs out-of-pocket.

• If someone misses the eight-month SEP window after leaving employment, they will have to wait an extended period to of time to enroll, have coverage gaps and pay lifelong penalties.

 

August 17, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Tackling the Issue of "Avoidable Deaths" in Long-term Care Settings

Pennsylvania attorney Douglas Roeder, who often served as a visiting attorney for my former Elder Protection Clinic, shared with us a detailed Penn Live news article on what the investigative team of writers term "avoidable deaths" in nursing homes and similar care settings.  The article begins vividly, with an example from Doylestown in southeastern Pennsylvania:

Claudia Whittaker arrived to find her 92-year-old father still at the bottom of the nursing home's front steps. He was covered by a tarp and surrounded by police tape, but the sight of one of his slim ankles erased any hope it wasn't him.  DeWitt Whittaker, a former World War II flight engineer, had dementia and was known to wander. As a result, his care plan required him to be belted into his wheelchair and watched at all times. Early on Sept. 16, 2015, Whittaker somehow got outside the Golden Living home in Doylestown and rolled down the steps to his death.

 

"It wasn't the steps that killed him. But the inattention of staff and their failure to keep him safe," his daughter said.

The article is especially critical of recent data coming from for-profit nursing homes in Pennsylvania, pointing to inadequate staffing as a key factor:

In general, according to PennLive's analysis, Pennsylvania's lowest-rated nursing homes are for-profit facilities. Half of the state's 371 for-profit homes have a one-star or two-star rating – twice the rate of its 299 non-profit nursing homes.  The reason for that discrepancy, experts say, isn't complicated: Studies have found that for-profit nursing homes are more likely to cut corners on staffing to maximize profit.

Spokespeople from both the for-profit and nonprofit segments of  the industry are quoted in the article and they push back against the investigators' conclusions.  

I have to say from my own family experience that while adequate staffing in care settings is extraordinarily important, older residents, even with advanced dementia, often have very strong opinions about what they prefer.   My father is in a no restraint dementia-care setting, with a small cottage ("greenhouse") concept and lots of programming and behavioral interventions employed in order to avoid even the mildest of restraints. It was a deliberate choice by the family and my dad walks a lot around the campus and has his favorite benches in sunny spots. 

The trade-off for "no restraints" can be higher risk.  Residents, including my father, are sometimes stunningly adept at escape from carefully designed "safety"plans, such as those necessary in the summer heat of Arizona. Family members often remain essential members of the care team.  For example, this summer I plan my daily visits at the very hottest part of the day, in order to help try to lure my father, a late-in-life sunshine worshiper, back into the cool.  I watch the staff members exhaust themselves intervening with other ambulatory and wheelchair residents who are constantly on the move.

None of this "care stuff" is easy, but certainly the Penn Live article paints a strong picture for why better staffing, better financial resources, and more reality-based plans are necessary.  For more, read "Failing the Frail." Our thanks to Doug for sharing this good article. 

August 3, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, Property Management | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

HHS Guidance for Care in the Most Integrated Setting

Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights issued guidance in late May, 2016 for long term care facilities. The guidance, Guidance & Resources for Long Term Care Facilities: Using the Minimum Data Set to Facilitate Opportunities to Live in the Most Integrated Setting " is on using the minimum data set (MDS) so "residents receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs."

There are 3 recommendation sections  of the guidance (actually there are 4, but the 4th deals with further resources).  Why did OCR issue this guidance?

OCR has found that many long term care facilities are misinterpreting the requirements of Section Q of the MDS. This misinterpretation can prevent residents from learning about opportunities to transition from the facility into the most integrated setting. We are therefore providing a series of recommendations for steps that facilities can take to ensure Section Q of the MDS is properly used to facilitate the state’s compliance with Section 504 and to avoid discrimination.

The recommendations include a discussion of the importance of knowing about local resources and community based services, ensuring compliance with applicable civil rights laws ("[b]ecause Section Q is designed to assist residents in returning to the community or another more integrated setting appropriate to their needs, proper administration of Section Q of the MDS can further a state’s compliance with civil rights laws.") and the importance of maintaining up-to-date policies and procedures, and training employees.

 

 
 
 

August 2, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tough Talk about Health Care Fraud

McKnight's News is a publication for insiders in the long-term care industry, reaching professionals who operate nursing homes, extended care sites, CCRCs and more. John O'Connor, who has been with McKnight's for more than 20 years, recently published  a candid editorial about factors affecting health care fraud in the industry.  He writes:

[G]iven how easy it is to cheat these days, we probably shouldn't be terribly surprised that so many operators give in to temptation. That's especially the case when it comes to invoice preparations. 

 

Let's be honest: How hard is it to put a resident in a higher RUGs category than is probably accurate? Or to bill for therapy services that were not actually delivered? Or to have therapists working overtime doing services that never should have occurred in the first place? And that, my friends, is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

 

Throw in stiff competition, incentives that reward upcoding, a dearth of interested investigators and good old-fashioned human greed, and what we have here is a breeding ground for creative accounting.

For more, read "It's Time for 'The Talk' About Healthcare Fraud."  

August 2, 2016 in Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Medicare Part D 10 Essential Facts

Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) published 10 Essential Facts About Medicare and Prescription Drug Spending on July 7, 2016. Here are some of the 10 facts, in no particular order.

  • "Medicare accounts for a growing share of the nation’s prescription drug spending: 29% in 2014 compared to 18% in 2006, the first year of the Part D benefit."
  •  "Prescription drugs accounted for $97 billion in Medicare spending in 2014, nearly 16% of all Medicare spending that year."
  • "Medicare Part D prescription drug spending – both total and per capita – is projected to grow more rapidly in the next decade than it did in the previous decade."
  • "As a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicare beneficiaries are now paying less than the full cost of their drugs when they reach the coverage gap (aka, the “doughnut hole”) and will pay only 25% by 2020 for both brand-name and generic drugs."
  • "High and rising drug costs are a concern for the public, and many leading proposals to reduce costs for all patients – including Medicare beneficiaries – enjoy broad support."

To read all 10 facts and review the corresponding charts and explanations, click here.

July 28, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Do you know a Geriatrician?

If your answer is no, you don't know a doctor who specializes in geriatric medicine, then take heart, you aren't alone. One would think, with the sheer number of baby boomers aging away, that there would be a number of doctors specializing in geriatric medicine.  Kaiser Health Network (KHN) and West Virginia Public Broadcasting ran a story on July 13, 2016 about the lack of geriatricians.  Few Young Doctors Are Training To Care For U.S. Elderly  reports that West Virginia is 3rd in the country with a sizeable elder population, but only has 36 geriatricians practicing in West Virginia.   It's not just West Virginia, though, who needs more geriatricians.  "The deficit of properly trained physicians is expected to get worse. By 2030, one in five Americans will be eligible for Medicare, the government health insurance for those 65 and older."

The lack of geriatricians is not due to the lack of training programs in the U.S. "The United States has 130 geriatric fellowship programs, with 383 positions. In 2016, only 192 of them were filled." Why is this, you ask? According to the story, one reason may be the cost of a medical education and "they think that they need to get into something without the fellowship year where they can start getting paid for their work."  An audio of the story is also available here.

July 27, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Article: "Life, Death and Medicare Fraud: The Corruption of Hospice..."

Georgetown University's American Criminal Law Review recently hosted a symposium on health care fraud and one of the articles to come out of that program is by University of Alabama Law School Adjunct Professor James F. Barger, Jr. His article uses the 2013 criminal case of U.S. v. Kolodesh, which resulted in a "guilty verdict on all thirty five counts," to examine "the general trend of Medicare Hospice fraud enforcement actions."   The author reports:

The vast majority of False Claims Act hospice cases in which the United States has intervened have settled in favor of the United States without consideration by a jury, and every criminal hospice fraud prosecution by the United States to date has resulted in a guilty plea or a conviction by jury. Every such case—whether civil or criminal—was initiated by a whistleblower under the public-private partnership of the False Claims Act.

 

The FCA’s whistleblower provisions have been highly effective at detecting fraud and recovering misappropriated Medicare dollars, but deterrence and prevention remain unattained goals.

 

The calculated business decision to settle False Claims Act allegations has proven over time to have a neutral-to-positive effect on corporate profitability in the hospice sector. For-profit hospice giants such as SouthernCare and Odyssey, who have paid eight figure settlements, have rebounded quickly and actually gained position over their competitors.....

 

Nevertheless, while the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act have proven extremely effective at discovering hospice fraud and at recovering at least some of the lost Medicare funds, alone the statute has demonstrated very little deterrent effect. Outside of a legislative overhaul of the Medicare Hospice Benefit, the only effective deterrent scheme will be for enforcement officials to supplement their use of the civil False Claims Act with traditional criminal fraud statutes. For this to work, however, criminal penalties must be imposed not only on the relatively small-scale players, like Matthew Kolodesh and Home Care Hospice, but also on the mega hospice companies and their executives and owners.

For more, read "Life, Death and Medicare Fraud: The Corruption of Hospice and What the Private Public Partnership Under the Federal False Claims Act is Doing About It," published in the 2016 issue of the American Criminal Law Review.

July 27, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Who Spends Most on End of Life Care?

The answer might surprise you.  It turns out that the older the person, the less the person spends Kaiser Family Foundation reports in a recently released Medicare data note. Medicare Spending at the End of Life: A Snapshot of Beneficiaries Who Died in 2014 and the Cost of Their Care was published July 14, 2016.

Of the 2.6 million people who died in the U.S. in 2014, 2.1 million, or eight out of 10, were people on Medicare, making Medicare the largest insurer of medical care provided at the end of life. Spending on Medicare beneficiaries in their last year of life accounts for about 25% of total Medicare spending on beneficiaries age 65 or older. The fact that a disproportionate share of Medicare spending goes to beneficiaries at the end of life is not surprising given that many have serious illnesses or multiple chronic conditions and often use costly services, including inpatient hospitalizations, post-acute care, and hospice, in the year leading up to their death. (footnotes omitted)

The authors examine the data on a number of points, with explanations and corresponding charts. Among their findings

Our analysis shows that Medicare per capita spending for beneficiaries in traditional Medicare who died at some point in 2014 was substantially higher than for those who lived the entire year, as might be expected. It also shows that Medicare per capita spending among beneficiaries over age 65 who die in a given year declines steadily with age. Per capita spending for inpatient services is lower among decedents in their eighties, nineties, and older than for decedents in their late sixties and seventies, while spending is higher for hospice care among older decedents. These results suggest that providers, patients, and their families may be inclined to be more aggressive in treating younger seniors compared to older seniors, perhaps because there is a greater expectation for positive outcomes among those with a longer life expectancy, even those who are seriously ill.

In addition, we find that total spending on people who die in a given year accounts for a relatively small and declining share of traditional Medicare spending. This reduction is likely due to a combination of factors, including: growth in the number of traditional Medicare beneficiaries overall as the baby boom generation ages on to Medicare, which means a younger, healthier beneficiary population, on average; gains in life expectancy, which means beneficiaries are living longer and dying at older ages; lower average per capita spending on older decedents compared to younger decedents; slower growth in the rate of annual per capita spending for decedents than survivors, and a slight decline between 2000 and 2014 in the share of beneficiaries in traditional Medicare who died at some point in each year.

The report is also available as a pdf here.

July 25, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Catastrophic Insurance for Long-Term Services & Supports?

In early June, the Urban Institute released a brief that examines whether  Catastrophic Insurance Improve Financing for Long-Term Services and Supports. The abstract explains

A catastrophic insurance program could improve the way long-term services and supports are financed. The program would require enrollees who need care to wait a few years before they could collect benefits, but then it would provide those benefits as long as necessary. Our modeling results show that such a program could reduce Medicaid spending and provide financial relief to hard-pressed states. It could also reduce out-of-pocket spending for families facing catastrophic costs and fund new services and supports. By setting aside funds to cover future spending, a catastrophic insurance program could also raise national saving.

As we well know, paying for long-term care is a challenge for many. As the authors note, "[c]urrently, most people with LTSS needs rely mostly on unpaid family caregivers for assistance. If they need more help, they generally pay out of pocket until they exhaust their financial resources and then turn to Medicaid. New financing approaches could combine public insurance for catastrophic LTSS costs with initiatives to promote private long-term care coverage for other expenses. Our projections suggest that these options could significantly reduce Medicaid spending and provide better financial protection for older people who develop LTSS needs."

Looking at the ways long-term care is financed by many, the authors consider whether an insurance model might be the answer

New LTSS insurance programs could provide better financial protection to people with disabilities; improve the care they receive; and reduce Medicaid costs, which are creating financial problems for many state governments. By setting aside funds today to cover future LTSS spending, new insurance programs could raise national saving. And they could provide families with stronger incentives to save by reducing reliance on Medicaid, which discourages saving because it only pays benefits to people with virtually no wealth outside of their home. The effectiveness of any new insurance program, of course, depends on its particular features, such as eligibility requirements, the size of the daily benefit, and the financing mechanism.

The authors examine a few models to gauge their workability and conclude

An LTSS catastrophic insurance program that requires enrollees with LTSS needs to wait a few years before collecting benefits but then extends those benefits as long as necessary could substantially improve the way LTSS needs are financed in the United States. Such a program could reduce Medicaid spending, providing financial relief to hard-pressed states. It would also reduce out-of-pocket spending for families facing catastrophic costs and fund new services for older adults with LTSS needs, although these impacts would be somewhat smaller than those from a similar-sized program that provided front-end, but time-limited, benefits. By setting aside funds today to cover future LTSS spending, a new catastrophic insurance program could raise national saving. And it could provide families with stronger incentives to save by reducing reliance on Medicaid, which discourages saving because it only pays benefits to people with virtually no wealth outside of their home. 

Program details need further analysis. We modeled only a few options, and alternative designs could have different effects. For example, a new insurance program could provide larger daily benefits, which would reduce Medicaid and out-of-pocket spending more than the plan we modeled but would also require more funding. Or new programs could require enrollees to wait even longer to receive benefits than the program we modeled, which would offset less Medicaid and out-of-pocket spending but cost less. Our research is only the first step in the analysis required to design new LTSS financing programs, but it illustrates the potential power of our simulation tool in demonstrating how new options can interact with existing programs.

 

July 10, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Consolidation of Long-Term Services & Supports-What if?

Our good friend and prolific author, Professor Marshall Kapp, let us know about his most recent article, Speculating About the Impact of Healthcare Industry Consolidation on Long-Term Services and Supports.  The article is published as the lead article in volume 25, issue 2 of the Annals of Health Law.   Here is the abstract of the article

The current health industry consolidation movement promises to exert an important and powerful array of effects on numerous different population groups seeking or receiving health services in a variety of different health care settings. Particularly regarding the potential impact of health industry consolidation on individuals contemplating, seeking, or obtaining long-term services and supports (LTSS), little is yet known but much may be plausibly speculated. This article joins in that speculation, but attempts to advance the constructive consideration of the topic by offering some suggestions for a research agenda to investigate specific empirical questions about consolidation’s impact on LTSS and thereby generate evidence and knowledge that can be used to either reduce or prevent negative aspects of consolidation for LTSS, on one hand, or foster and facilitate the achievement of positive effects, on the other.

Professor Kapp concludes:

The current, and probably continuing, consolidation of health services providers, producers, and sellers of healthcare products, as well as third-party payers for health services and products, inevitably will exert a variety of impacts on healthcare consumers generally and within specific contexts. Actual and potential consumers of LTSS, as well as their families, are likely to be affected in unique ways, differing to a large extent depending on the way that respective groups of consumers now finance their own LTSS. Little significant data is available yet regarding such effects, but speculation nonetheless abounds. This article joins in this basically uninformed but plausible speculation exercise but, I hope, adds constructively to the discussion by suggesting the rudiments of a health services research agenda that leads eventually to evidence-informed public policy making and private sector conduct that optimizes consolidation’s impact on consumers’ interests in access to, affordability of, and quality received in the realm of LTSS.

Thanks Marshall for letting us know and congratulations on the publication!

 

July 7, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Special and Supplemental Needs Trust To Be Highlighted At July 21-22 Elder Law Institute in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania each summer, one of the "must attend" events for elder law attorneys is the annual 2-day Elder Law Institute sponsored by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute.  This year the program, in its 19th year, will take place on July 21-22.  It's as much a brainstorming and strategic-thinking opportunity as it is a continuing legal education event.  Every year a guest speaker highlights a "hot topic," and this year that speaker is Howard Krooks, CELA, CAP from Boca Raton, Florida.  He will offer four sessions exploring Special Needs Trusts (SNTs), including an overview, drafting tips, funding rules and administration, including distributions and terminations.

Two of the most popular parts of the Institute occur at the beginning and the end, with Elder Law gurus Mariel Hazen and Rob Clofine kicking it off with their "Year in Review," covering the latest in cases, rule changes and pending developments on both a federal and state level.  The solid informational bookend that closes the Institute is a candid Q & A session with officials from the Department of Human Services on how they look at legal issues affected by state Medicaid rules -- and this year that session is aptly titled "Dancing with the DHS Stars." 

I admit I have missed this program -- but only twice -- and last year I felt the absence keenly, as I never quite felt "caught up" on the latest issues.   So I'll be there, taking notes and even hosting a couple of sessions myself, one on the latest trends in senior housing including CCRCs, and a fun one with Dennis Pappas (and star "actor" Stan Vasiliadis) on ethics questions.

Here is a link to pricing and registration information.  Just two weeks away!

 

July 5, 2016 in Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Veterans | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Saving Medicare $ by Raising Eligibility Age?

Traditional Medicare Versus Private Insurance: How Spending, Volume, And Price Change At Age Sixty-Five , an article published in Health Affairs, discusses one topic that we hear periodically-that is, raising the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67. The abstract explains:

To slow the growth of Medicare spending, some policy makers have advocated raising the Medicare eligibility age from the current sixty-five years to sixty-seven years. For the majority of affected adults, this would delay entry into Medicare and increase the time they are covered by private insurance. Despite its policy importance, little is known about how such a change would affect national health care spending, which is the sum of health care spending for all consumers and payers—including governments. We examined how spending differed between Medicare and private insurance using longitudinal data on imaging and procedures for a national cohort of individuals who switched from private insurance to Medicare at age sixty-five. Using a regression discontinuity design, we found that spending fell by $38.56 per beneficiary per quarter—or 32.4 percent—upon entry into Medicare at age sixty-five. In contrast, we found no changes in the volume of services at age sixty-five. For the previously insured, entry into Medicare led to a large drop in spending driven by lower provider prices, which may reflect Medicare’s purchasing power as a large insurer. These findings imply that increasing the Medicare eligibility age may raise national health care spending by replacing Medicare coverage with private insurance, which pays higher provider prices than Medicare does.

A subscription is required to access the full article.

June 30, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

More on Observation Status

Last week Kaiser Health News (KHN) ran an update about Medicare's Observation Status, reminding readers that the requirements of the NOTICE Act go into effect on August 6, 2016.  Medicare Releases Draft Proposal For Patient Observation Notice explains that CMS has asked for comments on the draft notice it created for hospitals to use to explain observation status to patients. One expert quoted in the KHN article "said the notice is written for a 12th-grade reading level, even though most consumer materials aim for no more than an eighth-grade level. It 'assumes some health insurance knowledge that we are fairly certain most people don’t have.'" Others interviewed for the article expressed concerns about the draft of the notice and whether it goes far enough.  A sample of the draft notice can be viewed in the article. The comment period closed on June 17, 2016 and the article notes that the final CMS notice isn't expected until shortly before the law becomes effective.

June 29, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Medicare Appeals

The GAO issued a new report on improving the Medicare Appeals process for original Medicare.  Medicare Fee-For-Service: Opportunities Remain to Improve Appeals Process  was released on June 9, 2016.

Here is what the GAO found:

The appeals process for Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) claims consists of four administrative levels of review within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and a fifth level in which appeals are reviewed by federal courts. Appeals are generally reviewed by each level sequentially, as appellants may appeal a decision to the next level depending on the prior outcome. Under the administrative process, separate appeals bodies review appeals and issue decisions under time limits established by law, which can vary by level. From fiscal years 2010 and 2014, the total number of filed appeals at Levels 1 through 4 of Medicare's FFS appeals process increased significantly but varied by level. Level 3 experienced the largest rate of increase in appeals—from 41,733 to 432,534 appeals (936 percent)—during this period. A significant portion of the increase was driven by appeals of hospital and other inpatient stays, which increased from 12,938 to 275,791 appeals (over 2,000 percent) at Level 3. HHS attributed the growth in appeals to its increased program integrity efforts and a greater propensity of providers to appeal claims, among other things. GAO also found that the number of appeal decisions issued after statutory time frames generally increased during this time, with the largest increase in and largest proportion of late decisions occurring at appeal Levels 3 and 4. For example, in fiscal year 2014, 96 percent of Level 3 decisions were issued after the general 90-day statutory time frame for Level 3.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and two other components within HHS that are part of the Medicare appeals process use data collected in three appeal data systems—such as the date when the appeal was filed, the type of service or claim appealed, and the length of time taken to issue appeal decisions—to monitor the Medicare appeals process. However, these systems do not collect other data that HHS agencies could use to monitor important appeal trends, such as information related to the reasons for Level 3 decisions and the actual amount of Medicare reimbursement at issue. GAO also found variation in how appeals bodies record decisions across the three systems, including the use of different categories to track the type of Medicare service at issue in the appeal. Absent more complete and consistent appeals data, HHS's ability to monitor emerging trends in appeals is limited and is inconsistent with federal internal control standards that require agencies to run and control agency operations using relevant, reliable, and timely information.

HHS agencies have taken several actions aimed at reducing the total number of Medicare appeals filed and the current appeals backlog. For example, in 2014, CMS agreed to pay a portion of the payable amount for certain denied hospital claims on the condition that pending appeals associated with those claims were withdrawn and rights to future appeals of them waived. However, despite this and other actions taken by HHS agencies, the Medicare appeals backlog continues to grow at a rate that outpaces the adjudication process and will likely persist. Further, HHS efforts do not address inefficiencies regarding the way appeals of certain repetitious claims—such as claims for monthly oxygen equipment rentals—are adjudicated, which is inconsistent with federal internal control standards. Under the current process, if the initial claim is reversed in favor of the appellant, the decision generally cannot be applied to the other related claims. As a result, more appeals must go through the appeals process.

The GAO recommended:

To reduce the number of Medicare appeals and to strengthen oversight of the Medicare FFS appeals process, we recommend that the Secretary of Health and Human Services take the following four actions:

1. Direct CMS, OMHA, or DAB to modify the various Medicare appeals data systems to

a. collect information on the reasons for appeal decisions at Level 3;

b. capture the amount, or an estimate, of Medicare allowed charges at stake in appeals in MAS and MODACTS; and

c. collect consistent data across systems, including appeal categories and appeal decisions across MAS and MODACTS.

2. Implement a more efficient way to adjudicate certain repetitive claims, such as by permitting appeals bodies to reopen and resolve appeals.

 A pdf of the full report is available here.

 

June 26, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Social Security & Medicare Trustees 2016 Reports Released

It's that time of the year! The Social Security Trustees and the Medicare Trustees released their 2016 reports.  There is always a lot of information in these reports, but what everyone wants to know is when these programs are "running out" of money. According to the Social Security Trustees 2016 report, the SSDI and Retirement funds (combined) are "good" through 2034, although individually the SSDI fund isn't as robust, with its solvency at risk in 2023. 

Here is an excerpt from the summary:

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 was projected to postpone the depletion of Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund by six years, to 2022 from 2016, largely by temporarily reallocating a portion of the payroll tax rate from the Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund to the DI Trust Fund. The effect of updated programmatic, demographic and economic data extends the DI Trust Fund reserve depletion date by an additional year, to the third quarter of 2023, in this year's report. While legislation is needed to address all of Social Security's financial imbalances, the need remains most pressing with respect to the program's disability insurance component.

The OASI and DI trust funds are by law separate entities. However, to summarize overall Social Security finances, the Trustees have traditionally emphasized the financial status of the hypothetical combined trust funds for OASI and DI. The combined funds satisfy the Trustees' test of short-range (ten-year) close actuarial balance. The Trustees project that the combined fund asset reserves at the beginning of each year will exceed that year's projected cost through 2028. However, the funds fail the test of long-range close actuarial balance.

The Trustees project that the combined trust funds will be depleted in 2034, the same year projected in last year's report....

As far as Medicare, the Trustees report solvency through 2028. Here are two excerpts from the Trustees Report (in Section II.A.)

Short-Range Results

The estimated depletion date for the HI trust fund is 2028, 2 years earlier than in last year’s report. As in past years, the Trustees have determined that the fund is not adequately financed over the next 10 years. HI tax income and expenditures are projected to be lower than last year’s estimates, mostly due to lower CPI assumptions. The impact on expenditures is mitigated by lower productivity increases.

Looking at the separate programs Part A (HI) and Part B (SMI) the picture for SMI is a bit better

The SMI trust fund is adequately financed over the next 10 years and beyond because premium income and general revenue income for Parts B and D are reset each year to cover expected costs and ensure a reserve for Part B contingencies. A hold-harmless provision restricts Part B premium increases for most beneficiaries in 2016; however, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 requires a transfer of funds from the general fund to cover the premium income that is lost in 2016 as a result of the provision. In 2017 there may be a substantial increase in the Part B premium rate for some beneficiaries. (See sections II.F and III.C for further details.) ...

 

June 22, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Retirement, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Nebraska Mandates Protection for Health Care Whistleblowers

In a recent McKnight's News column, Registered Nurse Pam McKnally wrote an interesting and candid account of "What It's Like to Be a Nurse Whistleblower."  Her experiences with retaliation  -- indeed bullying-- after she complied with laws requiring to her report observations of improper use of narcotics in the workplace led her and others to advocate for changes in the law.

In April 2016, in response to the experiences of McKnally and others, Nebraska enacted changes to state law, prohibiting retaliation against whistleblowers and mandating confidentiality for the identities of anyone making reports of violations by "credentialed" health care providers. Nebraska Legislative Bill 750, amending Nebraska's law that governs a broad range of health care providers, specifies:

An individual or a business credentialed pursuant to the Uniform Credentialing Act shall not discriminate or retaliate against any person who has initiated or participated in the making of a report under the act to the department of [health and human services].  Such person may maintain an action for any type of relief, including injunctive and declaratory relief, permitted by law. 

Further, the law now provides that "The identity of any person making such a report [of suspected violations] or providing information leading to the making of a report shall be confidential" and further, "The identify of any person making a report, providing information leading to the making of a report, or otherwise providing information to the department, a board, or the Attorney General included in such reports, complaints or investigational records shall be confidential whether or not the record of the investigation becomes a public record."

Whether the changes to Nebraska law, especially in the absence of a specific statutory sanction for retaliation or breach of confidentiality, will be effective to address the backlash experienced by McNally will bear monitoring.  She cautions:

I resigned, as my work life was intolerable, and it was clear that I was about to get fired. The EOC investigated my claims. The costs in employee hours and attorney fees, plus fines for violations can be astronomical. Had the situation been handled differently by the Human Resource department, the outcome may have been much different.

 

It is time for employers to stop blaming and discrediting professionals who simply follow the law and advocate for themselves and their patients....

 

When nurses are happy they work hard. They are loyal and seek out constructive ways to help their organization deal with conflict. In long-term care, Medicare and Medicaid cuts mean money needs to be saved now more than ever. Keeping a business viable includes mitigating the need for attorneys and dealing with nurse turnover.

June 15, 2016 in Crimes, Current Affairs, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Will President Obama be Remembered as a Leader in Fighting Healthcare Fraud?

The Office of Inspector General issues regular reports to Congress, and the most recent report indicates that for the period of October 1, 2016 to March 31, 2016,  the total amount of expected recoveries arising from allegations of healthcare fraud was $2.77 billion.  That number is "up" by a billion dollars over the first half of fiscal year 2016.  

Here's a link to the most recent OIG report and here's a link to a recent article about the numbers in McKnight's Long Term Care News

 

June 8, 2016 in Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Elder Care: A Non-Crisis Approach to Crises?

Recently I was at a dinner party with academics from across the spectrum of my university.  As often happens, a group of us seated together for the meal swapped basic information about what we do in our day jobs.  It was a fun group of art professors, special education specialists, and even an agricultural economist.  We talked art and politics across the board.  I had at first identified myself only as a professor at the law school, but during a lull in the conversation I explained my area was "law and aging" generally and more specifically the work of elder law attorneys.  Ears perked up.  

I had that experience that I suspect doctors have all the time. Everyone at the table had a question or story to tell of their family's recent aging  issue.  And as I listened, I recognized a common theme among these skilled, thoughtful professionals.  I kept hearing that we knew "mom" or "aunt" or "grandpa" was getting older, and we offered help, but the help we offered either wasn't enough or was rejected outright.  And often, the second part of their stories involved a "crisis."  A particularly poignant example was the caring granddaughter who cooked and froze two weeks of meals for her frail, housebound grandmother, only to realize that her grandmother's "little bit of confusion" resulted in her opening all of the 14 days of dinners on the very first day.  It precipitated a diabetic crisis for the grandmother, as well as the loss of the majority of the food.

Over the dinner, I was surprised to find myself talking a lot about what is dementia (and does it differ from Alzheimer's) and whether it can be distinguished from "temporary" conditions that cause short term confusion.  Everyone at the table was searching for answers and admitting they didn't know enough before the crisis event.  And I could completely empathize, because even with some 20 years of being fairly deeply immersed in elder care issues, I am regularly surprised by some new topic or challenge in my own family.

I had good reason to think about the party conversation again while listening to WITF-FM Public Radio's Smart Talk program on June 2.  The program's guests were Dr. Linda Rhodes, the former Secretary of Aging for Pennsylvania, and Joan Krechmer, a geriatric care manager and the executive director for Jewish Family Services, in York, Pennsylvania and the topic was "Caring for Mom, Dad and Kids." Lots of people calling in and writing with very specific questions, and many of the questions were triggered by both crisis events and chronic care issues.  

An example of one question was from a family member who was told the family had "24 hours" to decide about a skilled nursing facility when their loved one was being discharged from the hospital. "There is barely time to do the research" the program guests were talking about.  And that is true. Even though federal law imposes a protocol on hospitals about discharge notices, and even provides a mechanism for informal appeal, which if triggered properly can automatically result in more time, most people simply won't know about that short-term remedy in advance.

The Smart Talk radio program is part of a larger series of events on the topic of family care-giving, including airing of the PBS television documentary on Caring for Mom & Dad and in-person sessions at area locations to talk about advance planning and identify resources in advance of a crisis.   

Linda Rhodes, the former PA Secretary of Aging has written her own book, Caring for Aging Parents: The Essential Guide. 

June 2, 2016 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Life Care Centers of America: Legal Updates