Exiling the Poor from the Insurance Market

July 22, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Hospitals, Medicaid, Medicare 

pasquale_frank_lg1John Roberts’ jurisprudential wizardry in NFIB has been compared with the artistic genius of pro wrestlers and rappers. Poor Americans in states newly empowered to resist the ACA’s Medicaid expansion may need even more ingenuity to get themselves insured. Both Kevin Outterson and my colleague John Jacobi have observed the perplexing predicament imposed on the poor in states that keep Medicaid 1.0, and resist Medicaid 2.0. From Jacobi’s post:

The reform provides insurance subsidies through tax credits. The credits are calculated on a sliding scale, according to household level, for people with income up to 400% of FPL [the federal poverty line] — subsidizing more generously someone earning 200% of FPL, for example, than someone earning 350% of FPL. But, under 26 USC 36B(c)(1), credits will not be distributed to those with incomes below 100% of the FPL. Why? Because Congress assumed states would take up the Medicaid expansion, obviating the need for exchange-based subsidies for the very poor. . . .Bottom line: states rejecting Medicaid 2.0 will not only forego about 93% federal funding for the program between 2014 and 2022, but they could also be depriving the poorest of the uninsured from any shot at coverage — potentially affecting millions nation-wide.

Georgia hospitals are already worried about the “unexpected prospect of lower reimbursements without the expanded pool of patients” to be covered by the Medicaid expansion:

Last year, Georgia hospitals lost an estimated $1.5 billion caring for people without insurance. The promise of fewer uninsured is what led the national hospital industry to agree to the health law’s $155 billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts over a 10 year period. The Medicaid curveball comes at a time when Georgia hospitals are already in the throes of a massive industry transformation to improve quality and efficiency driven by market forces as well as the new law. Hospitals face lower payments from insurers and pressures to consolidate. One in three Georgia hospitals lose money. All are busy preparing for new standards under the law that, if not met, could mean millions of dollars in penalties.

It’s hard to imagine how hospitals like Grady can continue to act as a safety net in that environment. The article notes that “Georgians already pay for the cost of care provided to people without insurance through higher hospital bills and inflated insurance premiums.” If that trend continues, all the states refusing Medicaid 2.0 may end up doing is shifting the cost of the Medicaid expansion population from national taxpayers to Georgians with insurance. The superwealthy Americans of Marin County and Manhattan ought to send Georgia Governor Nathan Deal a thank you note for keeping Georgians’ problems for Georgians themselves to solve.

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No mandate? OK, but be prepared to pay

March 29, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Health Law, Health Reform 
Thomas "Tim" Greaney, Saint Louis University School of Law

Thomas "Tim" Greaney, Saint Louis University School of Law

[Ed. Note: This commentary was published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on Wednesday, 3/28, by  long time contributor to HRW, Thomas "Tim" Greaney, Chester A. Myers Professor of Law and co-director of the Center for Health Law Studies and John J. Ammann, director of Legal Clinics at St. Louis University School of Law.]

This week the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing three days of oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care reform legislation. The pivotal question, whether a federal mandate to buy health care insurance can pass muster under the Commerce Clause, is one that has divided the lower courts and generated a backlash against this vital legislation.

Polls suggest that a strong majority of citizens agree with most of the specific provisions of the health care reform law, though many harbor doubts about its constitutional basis. While we believe there is ample precedent supporting the constitutionality of the law, it is worth considering whether a mandate-free health care reform law would be fairer or more effective. We think not.

Congress unquestionably could have avoided any serious constitutional questions by offering a carrot rather than the stick of a monetary penalty. For example, the law could have made the premiums for government-provided insurance such as Medicare less expensive for those who voluntarily purchase private insurance when they are young. While such an approach may strike some as more equitable, it would undermine effective health care reform. Indeed, this thought experiment exposes the short-sightedness of allowing unrestricted choice to trump all else in the health care debate.

The idea of the federal government using a carrot rather than stick to prompt certain behavior has a long and unquestioned pedigree in the law. Indeed, the federal government uses positive incentives in many aspects of American life to mandate compliance with its rules. For example, if states want federal highway funds, they have to follow federal transportation regulations. If states want federal education funds, they have to adopt federal guidelines such as those under the No Child Left Behind law.
Read more.

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Ruane v. Levy: Both Sides of the Bar Meet in Health Care Fraud and Abuse Class

March 15, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fraud & Abuse, Health Law 
Pictured, from left: Bruce A. Levy, Director, Criminal Defense Department, Gibbons P.C.; Maureen A. Ruane, Chief, Health Care & Government Fraud Unit, US Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey; Chris Zalesky, Vice President of Global Policy & Guidance for Johnson & Johnson

Pictured, from left: Bruce A. Levy, Director, Criminal Defense Department, Gibbons P.C.; Maureen A. Ruane, Chief, Health Care & Government Fraud Unit, US Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey; Chris Zalesky, Vice President of Global Policy & Guidance for Johnson & Johnson

[Ed note: This article was authored by John Barry '13, a second year law student pursuing a Health Care Concentration at Seton Hall Law.  A native of New York, he graduated in 2005 from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree is psychology.]

Recently, Professor Zack Buck’s Health Care Fraud and Abuse class was treated to a spirited panel on the current state of health care fraud, prosecution and defense.  The panel, meeting again this year to allow students an opportunity to hear details about actual practice from both sides of the bar, was moderated by Chris Zalesky, the Vice President of Global Policy & Guidance for Johnson & Johnson in the Office of Health Care Compliance & Privacy.  Zalesky has more than 20 years of experience in regulatory affairs, quality assurance and research and development functions within the medical device and pharmaceutical industries. He has also taught as an Adjunct here at Seton Hall Law.

The panel included Maureen Ruane, Assistant U.S. Attorney and Chief of the Health Care & Government Fraud Unit for the United States Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey, and Bruce Levy, an attorney with the firm of Gibbons, P.C.  Ruane served as Assistant United States Attorney from 1998 to 2004, and returned to the office in 2010 after working as a partner in the law firm of Lowenstein Sandler.  Levy, also formerly an Assistant U.S. Attorney, currently focuses his practice at Gibbons on criminal, civil, and administrative cases arising from federal and state health care fraud investigations, health care compliance, The False Claims Act and qui tam cases, corporate investigations, and white collar criminal law.

Touching on a wide variety of topics, Ruane explained that the “sea of health care fraud is so deep” that it affects all aspects of the American health care system, from hospitals to physicians to pharmacies and all other health care providers.  Many of the fraud prosecutions that flow through Ruane’s office come in the form of qui tam actions under the False Claims Act.  Coming from a Latin phrase meaning “[he] who sues in this matter for the king as [well as] for himself,” a qui tam action is a unique fixture of the False Claims Act that allows private citizens to act as whistleblowers and sue health care corporations for perpetrating fraud on the government.  The whistleblower, or “relator,” stands to gain a percentage of the civil damages awarded against the corporations.

Having seen countless relators over her time with the government, Ruane was in a rather unique position to speak about the underlying motivations behind the people who sue on behalf of “king and self.”  Contrary to common thinking, Ruane explained that whistleblowers generally did not act out of greed or a desire to hurt the company.  In fact, she felt the opposite:  most relators were actually intensely loyal to their companies and had usually tried to voice their concerns multiple times in-house before bringing a complaint to the attention of government prosecutors.

Working as defense counsel, Levy voiced the concerns of private industry, in particular about the lack of guidance in the current law.  He stressed that many pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, physicians and health care providers feel as if they are trying to act within the bounds of the law when in reality those boundaries are more blurry than clear.  As an example, Levy talked about how he felt the need for clearer guidance on pharmaceutical marketing of “off-label” medications.   When the Food and Drug Administration approves a medication for use in the U.S. health care market, the drug is approved for a specific use or indication.  However, clinical studies often show beneficial uses for medications for additional aliments, and it is legal for physicians to prescribe the drugs for these other uses.  In addition, Medicare and many private insurers will pay for use of a medication for different indications than what the FDA approved, in effect, subsidizing “off-label” use. There are thus competing federal agency views on medications, with the FDA only approving the drug for a particular use, but the Center for Medicare Services alternatively approving use of the drug for other, off-label uses.  Problems arise because there are complex, and Levy felt unclear, regulations as to how pharmaceutical companies may represent or market the drug for off-label use.  Levy explained that he felt new legislation was required to give clear guidance to the industry.

Both Ruane and Levy, approaching the bar from different perspectives,  engaged in lively conversation and took questions from the audience, giving students numerous real-world examples of the theories and topics they learn about in class.  As might be imagined, bringing with them contrasting prosecution and defense-side perspectives, the two often approached the same issues from opposing viewpoints, providing a unique experience for the class.  However, the one thing they both agreed on was that with rising health care costs directly on the government’s radar, aggressive prosecution of health care fraud will not slow down any time in the future.

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Medicare Payment, a System in Need of Fixing

January 8, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Medicare, Physicians 

band-aid_close-up[Ed. Note: We are pleased to welcome Andy Braver, Esq. back to Health Reform Watch. Andy is a health care attorney who recently completed an LL.M in Health Law at Seton Hall Law. Prior to entering the LL.M. program, Andy spent five years as a healthcare provider, running a state of the art medical diagnostic imaging center.  During that time, he dealt with many important health law issues faces by providers today, including Fraud and Abuse, Medicare and Medicaid licensing and reimbursement, state and private accreditation organizations, private payers, electronic health records, and HIPAA and other privacy issues, to name just a few.]

Medicare’s fee for service payment system has many problems that need fixing.  While recent studies have predicted that Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) may very well achieve better care and lower costs, any savings generated as a result of these new groups of providers will be just a drop in the bucket solution to a vast problem.

Medicare was projected to spend over $500 billion on patient care in 2010.  Notwithstanding the fact that the White House Office of Management and Budget believes $36 billion of the Medicare and Medicare Advantage payments made in 2009 were improper.

The problem is, there is no distinction made for the provision of quality medical care.  Conversely, there is no check in the system to make sure that the care provided is inadequate.  If you provide the service, you get paid.

I realize that in many areas of medicine, it is difficult or even impossible to create a system to accurately and impartially judge the adequacy of care provided.  How in fact do you measure the ‘quality’ of healthcare?  Do you look at the structure of an entity, its organization and ability to provide what is generally regarded as good care?  Or do you look at the actual process or provision care, measuring relative malpractice claims among other objective factors?  Many believe that better outcomes suggest better care.  While I do not believe that outcome or evidence based medicine is the answer to every problem, it certainly can be a solution to some of these challenges.

There are differences in the Medicare program based on geography, and local coverage determinations and reimbursement rates, whether using the PPS or RVU systems (Part A & B), vary greatly across the country.  That part of the system makes sense by taking into account cost of living, cost of employment, property costs, and local tax rates.

In my mind, however, these processes fail because they do not further take into account advances in technology, or reward investment in the future.  For example, Medicare pays the same amount of money for an MRI exam regardless of the type of machine that was used to take the picture, and without a thought given to the type of storage system employed by the medical provider.  Imagine a facility with a two decade old system, state licensed and able to take pictures, with a machine equivalent to the first generation digital camera I owned 15 years ago, and printed pictures that are stored in a file room.  Then imagine a state of the art facility with an HD camera taking high resolution digital pictures, stored in an electronic file system, in a format that is able to be sent electronically to specialists all around the country (or world), and accessed by the patient quickly and securely on the internet.  Are those two pictures worth the same to Medicare?  There certainly is increased value to the patient in the ‘new’ system.  Better picture quality undoubtedly leads to better diagnostic capability (better medicine), and fewer picture redos over time; long-term storage and record portability is certainly going to lower future treatment costs if the issue is a chronic one.  HITECH and the new EHR incentive programs recognize the importance of electronic medical records, but it remains to be seen how those requirements will affect licensing and reimbursement rates.  Will there be a license ranking and a tiered payment system based on perceived quality or outcome?

I certainly hope that payments are tiered when advanced technology is used, but not according to self-assessment rankings and quality benchmarks.  I would argue that medicine is the one area where any kind of ranking and result (or outcome) based assessment is virtually impossible.   People are not cars, and JD Power cannot provide meaningful answers when it comes to medicine; there is no way to objectively determine a specific course of treatment for a particular patient is better at one hospital versus another.  No two patients are the same, though it is entirely possible they might both drive the same car.  Determining quality in healthcare is exceedingly difficult.  Patient bases are different, whether because of socio-economic reasons, or geography.  So do you then look to the education of the physician to determine quality?  We don’t do the same for lawyers?  Or do we?  Do you look at healthcare structure (how an entity is organized, its equipment, etc…) to determine quality?  Or process (the # of lawsuits against it, for example)?  Better outcomes alone do not mean better healthcare, and none of these items taken alone should affect licensing of healthcare providers.  In the end, this highlights the fact that designing a system that is fair and without major flaws may never be possible with so much money in the system and with so many parties having opposed interests. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to fix the expensive and broken (the status quo is unsustainable), it just means that attainable reform could very well mean significantly less unfairness and less major flaws. Because ultimately, in this context, the perfect may be the enemy of the good.

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Dr. Donald M. Berwick, Formerly of CMS: an Exit Interview Worth Considering

December 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized 
Ceramic Waste statuettes, Giridhar Appaji Nag Y

Ceramic Waste statuettes, Giridhar Appaji Nag Y

It is received wisdom amongst Human Resource professionals that the exit interview–that which is had when an employee is departing –is an invaluable tool in understanding and improving an organization.

That said, Dr. Donald Berwick has left the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, after 17 months of serving as its head.

His parting assessment?

According to the New York Times Dr. Berwick says

that 20 percent to 30 percent of health spending is “waste” that yields no benefit to patients, and that some of the needless spending is a result of onerous, archaic regulations enforced by his agency.

The official, Dr. Donald M. Berwick, listed five reasons for what he described as the “extremely high level of waste.” They are overtreatment of patients, the failure to coordinate care, the administrative complexity of the health care system, burdensome rules and fraud.

“Much is done that does not help patients at all,” Dr. Berwick said, “and many physicians know it.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2009 we spent $2.4863 trillion on health care.

I’m going to write that out because as I’ve long maintained, most people (myself included) have difficulty understanding what a billion dollars is (ten, one hundred millions, or a thousand million), no less a trillion (ten, one hundred billions or a thousand billions )–nor 2.4863 of them.

That’s

$2,486,300,000,000.

Let’s just think conservatively for the moment and suppose, hypothetically, that contrary to all that Human Resources talk about frankness in departure, Dr. Berwick was disgruntled and doubled his numbers:

So instead of 20 to 30% waste we’re looking at 10 or 15%

10% = $248.63 billion or $248,630,000,000  in waste.

15% = 372.945 billion or $372,945,000,000 in waste.

And if he’s approximately right? If somewhere between “20 percent to 30 percent of health spending is ‘waste’ that yields no benefit to patients”

25% = $621.575 billion or $621,575,000,000 in waste.

Some context is in order. What can you do with a wasted (10%) 248 or (25%) 621 billion dollars?  This below, is from the Congressional Budget Office. The 2009 numbers are actual, the rest of the years are outlay projections– in billions. And no, that’s not a typo– Social Security cost $678 billion, Medicaid $251 billion.

cbo-spending

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