Monday, October 22, 2018

Medicare for All in the 2018 Midterms

Medicare for All is gaining more attention as more candidates for office are including that in their platforms for the 2018 midterms. Kaiser Health News ran this article, Politicians Hop Aboard ‘Medicare-For-All’ Train, Destination Unknown.  According to the article, starting primarily with Senator Sanders in his run for president, it seems that many are now using Medicare for All in their platforms, but do we really know what it entails?

After decades in the political wilderness, “Medicare-for-all” and single-payer health care are suddenly popular. The words appear in political advertisements and are cheered at campaign rallies — even in deep-red states. They are promoted by a growing number of high-profile Democratic candidates, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York and Rep. Beto O’Rourke in Texas.

Republicans are concerned enough that this month President Donald Trump wrote a scathing op-ed essay that portrayed Medicare for all as a threat to older people and to American freedom.

It is not that. But what exactly these proposals mean to many of the people who say they support them remains unclear

Are we using single payer and Medicare for All interchangeably? Appropriately? What do we even mean?  "In precise terms, Medicare-for-all means bringing all Americans under the government’s insurance program now reserved for people 65 and over, while single-payer health care would have the government pay everyone’s medical bills. But few politicians are speaking precisely."

The article explains that in polling, health care concerns rank right up there at the top, but there doesn't seem to be one unified plan supported by everyone. But then, there is an important part of the message that may not be absorbed by voters-the potential for tax increases. The article focuses on other alternatives used to provide health care for everyone, in countries such as the U.K. and Canada, which are very close to single-payer systems. The article also notes the impact on jobs if the US were to move to a single-payer system.

Some candidates do offer specifics but others don't. How important are the details at this point? You may be surprised:

[One] pollster ... suggested that policy details simply aren’t as relevant in a midterm year and that for now we shouldn’t expect a candidate’s support for Medicare-for-all to be anything more than a way to signal his or her values. But she suggested that will change in the run-up to 2020, adding, “When we head into the presidential election, people will probably be pickier and want more details.”

That gives politicians and voters a few years to decide what they mean and what they want when they say they support Medicare-for-all or single-payer health care. For now, it’s hard to read too much into promises.

 

October 22, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 15, 2018

Demand for Nursing Homes Dwindling?

The New York Times ran an article on the demand for nursing home beds.  In the Nursing Home, Empty Beds and Quiet Halls opens by explaining that a once vibrant facility now stands closed due to a drop in demand.  According to the article, "[t]he most recent quarterly survey from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care reported that nearly one nursing home bed in five now goes unused. ... Occupancy has reached 81.7 percent, the lowest level since the research organization began tracking this data in 2011, when it was nearly 87 percent."  The occupancy rate has been trending downward; concomitantly facilities close, and according to the article, somewhere between 200-300 annually close.  The article points out what you are likely thinking-with the number of baby boomers wouldn't the demand be increasing rather than decreasing?

The article hypothesizes as to why this may be occurring and suggests:

  • Increased regulations and more financial belt-tightening

  • Hospitals' use of observation status,which thus affects Medicare coverage for subsequent SNF care.

  •  

    More surgeries on an out-patient basis

  •  

    Increasing number of Medicare Advantage plans.

  • Increased competition through other housing options

     

  • The shift to Medicaid covering care in the community, with "Money Follows the Person [having] moved more than 75,000 residents out of nursing homes and back into community settings."

The article speculates whether this trend will reverse itself once the boomers start reaching 80 and beyond. The article also discusses whether the lower demand provides more options for those in need of nursing home care.

October 15, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Medicare Advantage Plans Shifting Financial Risk to Drs?

According to a recent Kaiser Health News article,  Medicare Advantage Plans Shift Their Financial Risk To Doctors,   Medicare Advantage (MA) Plans pay medical groups "a fixed monthly payment ... to cover virtually all of their members’ health needs, including drugs and physician, hospital, mental health and rehabilitation services."

This model — known as “full-risk” or “global risk” — is increasingly used by Medicare plans such as Humana and UnitedHealthcare to shift their financial exposure from costly patients to WellMed and other physician-management companies. It gives the doctors’ groups more money upfront and control over patient care. ... As a result, they go to extraordinary lengths to keep their members healthy and avoid expensive hospital stays.

As the article notes, there is a financial incentive for the health care providers with this model, and experts disagree whether it results in better care or less care for patients. As the article notes, beneficiaries choose an MA plan and pick doctors within the plan, often without knowing if the MA plan has delegated oversight of the beneficiaries' health to these physician groups.  And the impact of this full-risk approach should not be understated:

Nearly one-third of the 57 million Medicare beneficiaries are covered by private Medicare Advantage plans — an alternative to government-run Medicare — and federal officials have estimated that the proportion will rise to 41 percent over the next decade. The government pays these plans to provide medical services to their members.

The “global risk” system has been used in South Florida and Southern California since the late 1990s and nearly half of Medicare Advantage members in those regions get care in the model. The use has spread further in the past two years as large physician companies have become more common, and about 10 percent of Medicare Advantage plan members across the nation are in them now, health consultants say.

... 

Under the “global risk” arrangements, the health plans give the physician companies the bulk of their Medicare funding when they take on the mantle of being financially responsible for all patient care.

 Keep an eye on this -- it's important.

October 9, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Save Medicare Now and Midterm Elections

The Center for Medicare Advocacy (full disclosure-I'm on their board) has unveiled a new website, Save Medicare Now.

The call to action explains that "Medicare as we know it is under attack. Current efforts and proposals will privatize Medicare and increase costs.  Against the wishes of most Americans, some lawmakers want to cut Medicare benefits, driving up costs to you, and making health care and prescription drugs even less affordable." (emphasis in the original). The website covers "why now", stories, facts, "take action" and has a link to donate.  The "take action" page includes questions to ask Congressional candidates and an action kit, among other tools. Test your Medicare IQ on the facts page.  And if you want to feel the urgency, look at the countdown clock to the midterm elections on the home page.

October 4, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Other | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 1, 2018

Medicare Advantage Costs Dropping

Last week, CMS released an updated fact sheet on the outlook for Medicare Advantage plans for 2019.  2019 Medicare Advantage and Part D Prescription Drug Program Landscape   provided some udpates:

offered in 2019:

  • Enrollment in Medicare Advantage is projected to be at an all-time high in 2019 with 22.6 million Medicare beneficiaries. This represents a projected 2.4 million (11.5 percent) increase from 20.2 million in 2018. Based on projected enrollment, 36.7% of Medicare beneficiaries will be enrolled in Medicare Advantage in 2019.
     
  • Medicare Advantage premiums, on average, have steadily declined since 2015 from the actual average premium of $32.91. For 2019, CMS estimates the Medicare Advantage average monthly premium will decline by $1.81 to $28.00 from 2018.
     
  • Approximately 83 percent of Medicare Advantage enrollees will have the same or lower premium in 2019 if they continue in the same plan. About 26 percent of enrollees staying in current plans will see their premiums decline in 2019. Approximately 46 percent of enrollees in their current plan will have a zero premium in 2019.
     
  • Access to Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plans will remain nearly universal, with about 99 percent of Medicare beneficiaries having access to at least one health plan in their area. All Medicare beneficiaries will have access to at least one stand-alone prescription drug plan. 
     
  • ... 
  • Due to new flexibilities available for the first time in 2019, nearly 270 Medicare Advantage plans will be providing an estimated 1.5 million enrollees new types of supplemental benefits:
    • Expanded health-related supplemental benefits, such as adult day care services, and in-home and caregiver support services; and
    • Reduced cost sharing and additional benefits for enrollees with certain conditions, such diabetes and congestive heart failure due to the agency’s reinterpretation of uniformity requirements. 
       
  • Access to important supplemental benefits, such as dental, vision, and hearing continues to grow. 

Read the entire fact sheet here.

 

October 1, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, September 17, 2018

Hospitals Selling Insurance?

The Tampa Bay Times ran this story recently,  In Florida and everywhere, a big shift is underway. It’s changing the way we go to the doctor.  "Hospitals are getting into the insurance end of the business. Insurers, along with drug stores, are delivering front-line health care...And consumers, confronted with blurring lines and a host of new options, may need a scorecard to keep up. The shifting ground continues to change where and how they go to the doctor." The article notes the trend of insurers buying doctors' practices with the result of a coordinated group of medical offices providing health care under the company's name.  The article also notes the drug stores' offerings of health care services, so you can get more than just a prescription filled. 

What is driving this evolution? The article offers "[d]riving many of the changes is the Affordable Care Act, which helped usher in a shift in thinking about the cost of health care. Hospitals are penalized more often by insurance companies and the government when patients have more frequent stays. The focus now ...  is keeping patients out of the emergency room... population growth, new technology, government rules and evolving patient preferences."

This is a significant shift in the role of insurance companies in the provision of health care. Just think about the ramifications.

September 17, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Attracting Adequate, Qualified Staff: The Impact of Payment Issues in Long-Term Care

I've been reading articles for several weeks about a "troubled" nursing home in Connecticut where staff members were reportedly being paid late, and not receiving payments on related benefit claims (including health care and pensions).   

The reports sound unusually mysterious, with indications of an executive's "loan" to a related charity from operating reserves.   Suddenly more than $4 million was apparently restored to a key pension account:  

As News 12 has reported, federal agents raided the center back in May. When the raid happened, that account was down to $800. For years, workers have complained about missing retirement money. In a lawsuit, the Labor Department claims the facility's owner illegally funneled their money into his own private charity.

 

Now, according to new court documents, the $4 million was unexpectedly deposited into the pension account last week. It's unclear where the money came from, and even the bankruptcy trustee running the facility was unsure.

 

"I don't truly know the source, but I do know that there's $4.1 million in this bank," bankruptcy trustee Jon Newton said at a court hearing yesterday.

 

But in a recent court hearing, owner Chaim Stern's lawyer said the money "was meant to represent the $3.6 million transferred from the (retirement) plan to Em Kol Chai." That's the charity authorities say Stern controls.

 

Workers may not get as much of that money as they think. Bridgeport Health Care has a long list of creditors, and they could potentially get a share.

 

News 12 reported back in July that part of the facility, called Bridgeport Manor, is shutting down. Lawyers say they hope to wrap that process up within a month.

For more read:  Millions Mysteriously Appear in Account of Troubled Nursing Home.

September 11, 2018 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Senator Letter to CMS on SNF Staffing Ratings

Senator Ron Wyden has sent a letter to the CMS  administrator about CMS' staffing ratings of SNFs. His letter points out discrepancies between self-reported data and the newly required payroll data that leads to his concerns that the correctness of the information shared with residents and families

Senator Wyden has asked five  questions, seeking replies by August 24, 2018.

  1. What are the requirements and safeguards CMS has in place to ensure SNFs provide accurate information as part of the 5-Star Quality Rating System. How are these requirements enforced?
  2. Please provide an analysis of the difference in staffing levels of SNFs between the self-reported methodology and the payroll data methodology?
  3. What does CMS plan to do in the instances where payroll data illustrates the self-reported staffing data was inaccurate?
  4. Would CMS consider updating the current staffing quality measures to, in addition to measuring average staffing levels, take into account inappropriate fluctuations in staffing that may lead to patients receiving inadequate care?
  5. Would CMS consider measuring patient and/or family satisfaction as part of the 5-Star Quality Rating System?

 

 

August 16, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Webinar-Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes

Register now for a free webinar from the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long Term Care.  The webinar is scheduled for September 5, 2018 at 2 edt.  Here is some info about the webinar

Join this webinar to learn about sexual abuse in nursing homes.  Presenters will discuss a variety of topics to help you recognize the signs of sexual abuse and immediately respond to it. 

We will examine the full scope of sexual abuse in nursing homes, including: (1) its prevalence, (2) the physical and social signs of sexual abuse, (3) who is most at risk, and (4) who the perpetrators are.  In addition, you will learn the protections the federal nursing home rule provides for nursing home residents against this abuse and how to respond to the needs of victims.  Finally, we will equip you with concrete knowledge on how ombudsmen can advocate for nursing home residents who are victims of this type of abuse, including hearing from a special presenter on the ombudsman role in the Washington Alliance to End Sexual Violence in Long-Term Care

To register, click here

August 14, 2018 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Webinars | Permalink

Monday, August 13, 2018

Should Legislation Mandate Care Facility Staffing Ratios?

I'm a fan of WITF-Radio's Smart Talk program even though it often "interferes" with my work day, as I linger to catch the entire broadcast. I'm such a fan that even when I'm out of town, I'll often listen to the program via live streaming or podcasts -- and when I'm the western part of the U.S. I can listen live without feeling guilty because of the time difference (3 hours in the summer ).  One of the recent broadcasts had me listening twice.

The program began with a report on pending legislation in Pennsylvania, that could mandate lower patient-to-nurse ratios in hospitals.  During the current legislative session, the two key items are House Bill 1500 and Senate Bill 214.  A coalition of Pennsylvania nurses hand-carried a petition with 10,000 signatures to the Capitol demanding support for  better staffing at hospitals.  On the radio program the speakers -- all nurses -- agreed about the need for adequate coverage, but disagreed about whether mandated ratios were the right solution.  Not surprising is opposition to mandated ratios coming from the hospital industry representatives; however the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association also resists mandatory ratios, arguing such ratios are "not flexible enough."  HB 1500 would call for different ratios according to the type of unit, such as ratio of one nurse for every two patients in the neo-natal intensive care unit, with a higher ratio of 1 to 4 permitted in a pre-surgical unit.  

The program drew a lot of callers.  In fact there were so many callers, host Scott LaMar deferred plans for a different topic for the second half of the hour-long program in order to continue the staffing discussion.  What I found particularly interesting was that many of the callers wanted to talk about staffing ratios in rehab facilities and nursing homes, not "just" hospitals, and part of the conversation was about whether the key ratios should consider all care staff and not focus solely on registered nurses.  Here is the link to the podcast:   

https://features.witf.org/stpodcast/feed/podcast/

The calls reminded me of one terrifying, long night in a hospital with a relative after she had emergency surgery.  She was "allowed" to use the toilet in the bathroom, rather than a bed pan, but because she wanted to go frequently, the night time staff began insisting she use a bedpan, so that they wouldn't  have to attend her in the bathroom.  The staff was hostile to my efforts to help (and in fact, I didn't have a clue as how best to help), but also would have left their patient perched uncomfortably on the bed pan for a half hour or more if I hadn't intervened. She began refusing to use her call button, insisting I help her to the bathroom, even though she was still attached to various lines and monitors.  It was a catch-22 situation for me as a family member -- and also for the overworked staff. I remember my one firm conviction that night was that without a family member with her, we would have been adding broken bones to the list of woes for my loved one because of the staffing issues. 

August 13, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 10, 2018

Filial Friday: N.D. Nursing Home's Claim Against Adult Children for Father's Unpaid Bills Set for September Trial

According to news reports, here and here,  three siblings are facing a September 2018 trial date after being sued by a North Dakota nursing home for more than $43,000 in unpaid costs of care for their father, incurred during a seven month stay at the facility.  The children maintain they have no contractual obligation with the nursing home, and were not involved in their father's application for Medicaid, nor did they receive disqualifying gifts from their father.   A denial of a Medicaid application can arise if there is an uncompensated transfer of assets within a five year look back period, or because of certain other unexplained failures to use the father's "available" resources to pay for his care.  

A North Dakota's statute, N.D.C.C. Section  14-09-10, with language that can be traced back to filial support laws of  Elizabethan England,  provides: 

It is the duty of the father, the mother, and every child of any person who is unable to support oneself, to maintain that person to the extent of the ability of each. This liability may be enforced by any person furnishing necessaries to the person. The promise of an adult child to pay for necessaries furnished to the child's parent is binding.

One news report quotes the executive director of the North Dakota Long Term Care Association, Shelly Peterson, as saying nursing homes use the law to go after adult children in only one circumstance:  "When parents transfer income or assets to their children, and then the parents don't qualify for Medicaid."  The director is reported as further contending that "facilities are 'legally obligated' under Medicaid to pursue every avenue possible to collect that debt, including suing, before they can get reimbursed from the state Department of Human Services for a debt that cannot be recovered."

According to some sources, local legislators, aroused by this suit, are looking at whether North Dakota should continue to permit nursing home collections under North Dakota's indigent support law.  Such laws have been blocked or repealed in most other U.S. states.  North Dakota and my own state, Pennsylvania, are the two most notable exceptions. 

My reaction to the news articles on this case is "something doesn't add up here" and some key facts seem to be missing. 

  • First, if the father was in the nursing home for 7 months, who did the children think was paying for his care?  I can't imagine no one in the family asked that question for that period of time (although certainly Medicaid applications can take time to process and perhaps the denial came in after the father's death). 
  • What was the basis for any denial for Medicaid?  I've seen Medicaid denied for inability of the applicant (or applicant agent) to track down some old resource, such as a demutualized life insurance policy. Also, what is the source of the contention that Medicaid law "requires the facility to sue" to collect the debt?  I'm not aware of any such rule at the federal level.
  • Is there another member of the family involved in the application -- someone other than the three target children --  or is there another family member involved in any "transfers" causing an alleged ineligibility period?  In the U.S., filial support laws don't prioritize collection, nor require recovery from so-called "bad" children, rather than more "innocent" children.
  • Finally, why weren't there care planning meetings with the family that included discussions of costs of care?  It always raises a red flag for me when the "first" alleged notice of such a claim arises after the death or discharge of a resident.  

Perhaps we will hear the results of the trial or any settlement, and thus hear a more complete picture of how these bills came to accumulate.  

  

August 10, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 6, 2018

Rutger Law's Reid Weisbord Proposes "Postmortem Austerity" Measures


Professor Reid Weisbord
, who serves as vice dean and the Judge Norma L. Shapiro Scholar at Rutgers Law School in Newark, has a new and very timely essay posted on  Stanford Law Review OnlineWeisbord_imgThe provocative premise should certainly spark responses! 

From the abstract:

This Essay proposes a novel policy of "postmortem austerity" to address the unsustainable, rapidly escalating cost of federal entitlement programs following the 2017 tax reforms. If Social Security and Medicare continue on their current path to insolvency, then they will eventually require austerity reforms absent a politically unpopular tax increase.

 

This Essay argues that, if austerity becomes necessary, federal entitlement reforms should be implemented progressively in a manner that minimizes displacement of benefits on which individuals relied when saving for old age. A policy of postmortem austerity would establish new eligibility criteria for Social Security and Medicare that postpone the effective date and economic consequences of benefit ineligibility until after death.

 

All individuals would continue to collect federal entitlements during life, but at death, wealthy decedents would be deemed retroactively disqualified from part or all of Social Security and Medicare benefits received during life. The estates of such decedents would then be liable for repayment of disqualified benefits.

For the full essay, read Postmortem Austerity and Entitlement Reform, published July 16, 2018.

August 6, 2018 in Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, August 2, 2018

More on Hiring ALJs as result of Executive Order

We blogged last week about the July 10, 2018 executive order that exempted the hiring of ALJs from the competitive process used up until then. NPR and the Washington Post did stories about the impact of the executive order on the ALJ hiring process, offering to some extent, two competing views of the outcome.

In Trump moves to shield administrative law judge decisions in wake of high court ruling explains the process typically used by federal agencies: "[w]hile individual agencies generally post their job vacancies and then assess and select candidates, they hire ALJs from a central list of applicants the Office of Personnel Management deems qualified." Referencing the recent Supreme Court decision that held that an ALJ for the SEC was not correctly appointed, the ALJ "therefore was not authorized to decide in the case, which involved a penalty against an investment adviser. [Further] [t]hat decision opens the door to similar challenges across all agencies since their ALJs were selected in the same way, often by a lower-level official who had relatively little choice of candidates from the list, said James Sherk, special assistant to the president for domestic policy" who indicated in an interview that a large number of challenges on that point have been filed and that the executive order will hopefully "protect agencies against challenges to the legitimacy of their ALJs."  The article also discusses the potential for politically-based hiring decisions. It also notes that certain hearing offiers are called ALJs;  but the executive order won't "apply to hiring of immigration judges or other agency-level hearing officers who in some contexts are generically referred to as administrative law judges...."

NPR's story,  Trump Changes How Federal Agency In-House Judges Are Hired notes that the ALJs covered include Medicare.  Focusing more on the potential political ramifications of the executive order which basically makes the ALJs political appointees, the NPR story quotes "the president of the American Constitution Society [who] in a statement specifically pointed to possible repercussions with the Social Security Administration. 'Administrative law judges handle Social Security disability cases. This administration is on record as wanting to lessen benefits. It's likely that a political ALJ appointed by this administration would rule against the beneficiaries and deny claims.'"

 

 

August 2, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Social Security | Permalink

Monday, July 30, 2018

SNF Staffing and Resident Care

Yesterday I blogged about a story in Kaiser Health News on the payroll reporting by SNFs that Medicare uses to determine staffing levels. KHN also has examined the data to see if there is a correlation between staffing and a resident's care. Mining A New Data Set To Pinpoint Critical Staffing Issues In Skilled Nursing Facilities notes that "[i]n April, Medicare began using [the payroll records, known as the payroll-based journal or PBJ] to rate staffing for more than 14,000 skilled nursing facilities (SNFs). The PBJ data gives a much better look at the how staffing relates to quality of care than the less precise — and too easy to inflate — staffing data Medicare had been using since 2008, which were based on two-week snapshots of staffing homes provided to inspectors. The data show staffing and occupancy on every day — an unprecedented degree of granularity that allows for new levels of inquiry."

The author offers

Low staffing is a root cause of many injuries in nursing homes. As I wrote in the article published in The New York Times based on the data: “When nursing homes are short of staff, nurses and aides scramble to deliver meals, ferry bedbound residents to the bathroom and answer calls for pain medication. Essential medical tasks such as repositioning a patient to avert bedsores can be overlooked when workers are overburdened, sometimes leading to avoidable hospitalizations.”

The author describes in detail the decisions that were made in crunching the data, using "two intersecting principles: to reflect residents’ lived experience as accurately as possible, and to be fair to the facilities. When in doubt, [the author] erred on the side of caution."

As an aside, the author notes the acronym for Payroll-Based Journal is PBJ!

 

July 30, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Statistics | Permalink

Staffing Ratios Impact Medicare SNF Ratings

A recent story in Kaiser Health News reports that almost 10% of SNFs have lower ratings because of staffing ratios. 1,400 Nursing Homes Get Lower Medicare Ratings Because Of Staffing Concerns explains that "Medicare has lowered its star ratings for staffing levels in 1 in 11 of the nation’s nursing homes — almost 1,400 of them — because they either had inadequate numbers of registered nurses or failed to provide payroll data that proved they had the required nursing coverage ...." This information is reported as a result of the ACA, where in the past, the SNFs just reported staffing numbers.  The results of this reporting change are interesting. "The payroll records revealed lower overall staffing levels than homes had disclosed, particularly among registered nurses. Those are the highest-trained caregivers required to be in a nursing home, and they supervise other nurses and aides. Medicare mandates that every facility have a registered nurse working at least eight hours every day."

One industry representative quoted in the article noted that there is a "workforce shortage."  There is a caveat to using the information, as the article explains. "Medicare concedes that because the payroll system is geared toward reporting hourly work, salaried staff may not always be reflected correctly, especially if they were working overtime. But Medicare had warned the nursing homes in April that the downgrades would be coming if facilities continued to show no registered nurses on duty. The agency noted it has been preparing nursing homes since 2015 for the new payroll system."

Kaiser analyzed the data and in the article notes a difference between for-profit and non-profits as far as staffing numbers.  The article also notes daily fluctuations in staffing, and especially fluctuations in staffing on weekends.

Staffing data is very useful for families in choosing a nursing home so this new data collection is definitely a step in the right direction!

July 30, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Indiana Appellate Court Compels Accident Settlement Funds Be Paid To Special Needs Trust

On July 26, 2018, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that a trial judge was wrong in refusing to fund a severely injured adult's special needs trust with $6.75 million in funds from settlement of tort suit. 

The trial judge had resisted, saying he disagreed with the legislative policy for special needs trusts, calling it a "legal fiction of impoverishment" that unfairly shifted costs of care to taxpayers.  The trial judge would allow only $1 million in settlement funds to be placed in trust.  

In the final paragraphs of In re Matter of Guardianship of Robbins, the appellate court concluded:   

The trial court may well have a genuine disagreement with the policy decisions of our state and federal legislators, but it is still bound to abide by them. . . . 

 

Here, there are no constitutional concerns preventing the legislature's policy choices from being enforced. Both our federal and state legislators have made an express policy decision to allow for a “legal fiction of impoverishment” by placing assets in a special needs trust, knowing full well that it has the potential to shift expenses to the taxpayer, but trying to ameliorate that cost by requiring that any remaining trust proceeds be repaid to the State upon the disabled person's death. While the trial court is free to disagree as to the wisdom of the legislature's policy choices, the trial court exceeded the bounds of its authority by refusing to enforce this policy choice based on that disagreement.

 

The trial court also refused to place the full amount of the settlement proceeds into the special needs trust because it concluded that the trust was solely for the benefit of the Guardian and Timothy's descendants. This is a mistake of law. As a matter of law, a special needs trust must contain a provision declaring that, upon the death of the disabled trust beneficiary, the total amount of Medicaid benefits must be paid back firstbefore any distributions to heirs are made. 42 U.S.C. § 1396p(d)(4)(A)I.C. § 12-15-2-17(f). Additionally, the special needs trust must be administered for the exclusive benefit of the disabled individual beneficiary for his or her lifetime. . . .  Consequently, it is a legal impossibility that Timothy's special needs trust is designed to “benefit” either the Guardian or Timothy's descendants, and the trial court's conclusion in this regard was erroneous.

The trial court's ruling on the special needs trust was reversed and the case was remanded "with instructions to direct that the full, available amount of settlement proceeds be placed in Timothy's special needs trust."

July 30, 2018 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, Property Management, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Unusual Story Involving Allegations of NH Medicare Fraud and Allegations of Bribery of University Officials

From the publication Inside Higher Ed, a somewhat amazing compilation of allegations.  The July 23 , 2018 article begins:

Philip Esformes is a Florida business executive facing numerous federal charges of Medicare fraud related to the nursing homes and assisted-living centers he has owned. The case took an unusual turn Thursday when the federal government accused Esformes of bribing a basketball coach at the University of Pennsylvania to help get Esformes's son admitted to Penn.

 

The indictment says that Esformes gave $74,000 in cash, plus additional perks such as limo services and rides in private jets, to a basketball coach who then placed Esformes's son on the list of "recruited basketball players," greatly enhancing the son's chances of being admitted. The coach is not identified by name in the indictment and was not charged with anything. Nor was Penn named. But prosecutors in court acknowledged that Penn is the university in question. The coach is Jerome Allen, who led the Penn program for six years and is now an assistant coach of the Boston Celtics.

 

Esformes is in jail, but his lawyer said he would dispute the new bribery charges. The lawyer has acknowledged that payments were made by Esformes to Allen to help Morris Esformes, the son, get better at basketball. But that answer may be complicated for Penn, given that such payments may violate National Collegiate Athletic Association rules. Morris Esformes, who played basketball in high school, did enroll at Penn and is currently a rising senior. He has never played on the basketball team there.

 

Beyond the case against Esformes, the indictment draws attention to the extreme advantage that athletes have in the admissions process -- not just at universities known for winning national championships, but at elite academic institutions that are highly competitive in admissions. . . .

For more, read Indictment Alleges Bribery in Admissions at Penn.  My thanks to colleague Laurel Terry for sending this article our way.  

 

July 24, 2018 in Crimes, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 29, 2018

Hidden Costs for States to Take Over Management of Struggling Care Facilities

A newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania, Nicole Brambila, has another interesting article related to law and aging.  She is examining what happens when struggling nursing home operations require intervention to protect existing residents.   Following the collapse of Skyline Healthcare facilities, which had been operating nine nursing homes in Pennsylvania, state authorities found it necessary to step in, and to hire a temporary manager.  Ms. Brambila begins:

The collapse of the nursing home operator caring for about 800 residents in nine Pennsylvania facilities, including one in Berks County, that required the state step in with a temporary manager will cost $475,000, the contract shows.

 

In April, the Pennsylvania Department of Health stepped in with a temporary manager at nine properties operated by Skyline Healthcare LLC over concerns the New Jersey-based company's finances may have put residents at risk.

 

State officials tapped Complete HealthCare Resources, which manages Berks Heim Nursing and Rehab, to step in as temporary managers until buyers could be found. The contract, obtained by the Reading Eagle under Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law, ended June 9. New owners purchased the Skyline homes last month, but Complete HealthCare stayed on through the transition.

 

The management fee is paid by fines collected from nursing home facilities.

 

Over the past five years, the state has stepped in more than a dozen times with temporary managers for poor performing nursing homes, at a cost of more than $4.2 million, according to health data provided to the newspaper.

 

The average cost for managing these troubled homes exceeded $335,000.

There is a lot to unpack here, including exactly how a state collects fines from financially defaulting providers.  Other states facing related issues in Skyline operations include Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.  According to the article Skyline recently purchased the some of the properties from Golden Living Centers, also the center of controversies, but then turned around and sold its interest 14 months later.

For the full story, read  "Pennsylvania to pay $475,000 for temporary nursing home manager."  Ms. Brambila seems to be carving out an important niche for her investigatory reporting, by focusing on senior issues. She recently wrote an important series on guardians in the Pennsylvania courts, also for the Reading Eagle, as we described here.   

June 29, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

When Complexity in the Law Is the Biggest Barrier to Home Care

Karen Vaughn, a woman living with quadriplegia in her own apartment for some 4o years, was held against her will in a care facility after hospitalization for a temporary illness. She wanted to go home. The state argued it could no longer find a home care agency that could provide the level of services Ms. Vaughn needed following a tracheostomy  in 2012. 

Ms. Vaughn's case gave a federal district judge in Indiana the opportunity to revisit the Supreme Court's landmark Olmstead decision from 1999. In ruling on cross motions for summary judgment, the court rejected the state's arguments as based on complexity in reimbursement rates, not availability of appropriate care providers.  Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson observed,  in ruling in favor of Ms. Vaughn, that

The undisputed medical evidence establishes that at or near the time of the filing of this Complaint, Ms. Vaughn’s physicians believed that she could and should be cared for at home—both because home healthcare is medically safer and socially preferable for her, and because Ms. Vaughn desires to be at home. . . . That support has continued throughout the pendency of this litigation, through at least April of 2018 when Dr. Trambaugh was deposed. Based on the evidence before this Court, it concludes as a matter of law that Ms. Vaughn has established that treatment professionals have determined that the treatment she requests—home healthcare—is appropriate.
The court traced, and criticized, the Byzantine nature of Medicaid waiver programs that fund portions of home care:
[State] Defendants' own administrative choices—namely, the restrictions they have imposed on Ms. Vaughn’s home healthcare provision pursuant to their Medicaid Policy Manual—have resulted in their inability to find a caregiver, or combination of caregivers, who can provide Ms. Vaughn’s care in a home-based setting. It may be the case that other factors, such as the nursing shortage or inadequate reimbursement rates, contribute to or exacerbate the difficulty in finding a provider. But, at a minimum, Ms. Vaughn has established that Defendants' administrative choices, in addition to their denials of her reasonable accommodation requests, have resulted in her remaining institutionalized.
 
For the full opinion, with the judge admitting frustrations in finding a solution, see Vaughn v. Wernert, USDC, Southern District of Indiana, June 1, 2018.  The judge recognized that the court cannot simply order "return home" as an appropriate remedy, and instead set a "remedy hearing" for July 30 to explore all proposals, while also urging the parties to meet prior to that hearing in hopes of finding a mutually agreeable plan.  If any of our readers hear the result, please do share! Best wishes to Ms. Vaughn.
 

June 28, 2018 in Current Affairs, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Free Webinar-Financial Exploitation & Medicare Fraud

Mark your calendars for a free webinar on Financial Exploitation and Medicare Fraud. The National Center on Law & Elder Rights will be offering this webinar on Wednesday, July 18, 2018 from 2-3 edt. Here's info about the webinar

Medicare fraud hurts individuals and is harmful to the Medicare Trust Fund. The Medicare Trust fund loses between $60 and $90 billion dollars every year to fraud, waste and abuse. Individuals can lose access to Medicare services because their identity has been misappropriated by someone else. Law and aging advocates play an important role in helping older adults prevent, detect, and report Medicare fraud and abuse.

In this free webinar, Financial Exploitation and Medicare Fraud, California’s Senior Medicare Patrol will teach advocates how to identify potential Medicare scams and report fraud and abuse to the Senior Medicare Patrol. Justice in Aging will highlight potential exploitive Medicare practices and outlines strategies to help prevent exploitation. 

To register, click here

 

 

June 27, 2018 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (0)