Cooperating for better care.

CMS

Tag Archives

Feds join lawsuit alleging UnitedHealth engaged in massive Medicare fraud

By FRED SCHULTE

Kaiser Health News

The Justice Department has joined a California whistleblower’s lawsuit that accuses insurance giant UnitedHealth Group of fraud in its popular Medicare Advantage health plans.

Justice officials filed legal papers to intervene in the suit, first brought by whistleblower James Swoben in 2009, on Friday in federal court in Los Angeles. On Monday, they sought a court order to combine Swoben’s case with that of another whistleblower.

Swoben has accused the insurer of “gaming” the Medicare Advantage payment system by “making patients look sicker than they are,” said his lawyer, William K. Hanagami. Hanagami said the combined cases could prove to be among the “larger frauds” ever against Medicare, with damages that he speculates could top $1 billion.

UnitedHealth spokesman Matt Burns denied any wrongdoing by the company. “We are honored to serve millions of seniors through Medicare Advantage, proud of the access to quality health care we provided, and confident we complied with program rules,” he wrote in an email.

Burns also said that “litigating against Medicare Advantage plans to create new rules through the courts will not fix widely acknowledged government policy shortcomings or help Medicare Advantage members and is wrong.”

Medicare Advantage is a popular alternative to traditional Medicare. The privately run health plans have enrolled more than 18 million elderly and people with disabilities — about a third of those eligible for Medicare — at a cost to taxpayers of more than $150 billion a year.

Although the plans generally enjoy strong support in Congress, they have been the target of at least a half-dozen whistleblower lawsuits alleging patterns of overbilling and fraud. In most of the prior cases, Justice Department officials have decided not to intervene, which often limits the financial recovery by the government and also by whistleblowers, who can be awarded a portion of recovered funds. A decision to intervene means that the Justice Department is taking over investigating the case, greatly raising the stakes.

“This is a very big development and sends a strong signal that the Trump administration is very serious when it comes to fighting fraud in the health care arena,” said Patrick Burns, associate director of Taxpayers Against Fraud, based in Washington, a nonprofit supported by whistleblowers and their lawyers. Burns said the “winners here are going to be American taxpayers.”

Burns also contends that the cases against UnitedHealth could potentially exceed $1 billion in damages, which would place them among the top two or three whistleblower-prompted cases on record.

“This is not one company engaged in episodic bad behavior, but a lucrative business plan that appears to be national in scope,” Burns said.

On Monday, the government said it wants to consolidate the Swoben case with another whistleblower action filed in 2011 by former UnitedHealth executive Benjamin Poehling and unsealed in March by a federal judge. Poehling also has alleged that the insurer generated hundreds of millions of dollars or more in overpayments.

When Congress created the current Medicare Advantage program in 2003, it expected to pay higher rates for sicker patients than for people in good health using a formula called a risk score.

But overspending tied to inflated risk scores has repeatedly been cited by government auditors, including the Government Accountability Office. A series of articles published in 2014 by the Center for Public Integrity found that these improper payments have cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.

“If the goal of fraud is to artificially increase risk scores and you do that wholesale, that results in some rather significant dollars,” Hanagami said.

David Lipschutz, senior policy attorney for the Center for Medicare Advocacy, a nonprofit offering legal assistance and other resources for those eligible for Medicare, said his group is “deeply concerned by ongoing improper payments” to Medicare Advantage health plans.

These overpayments “undermine the finances of the overall Medicare program,” he said in an emailed statement. He said his group supports “more rigorous oversight” of payments made to the health plans.

The two whistleblower complaints allege that UnitedHealth has had a practice of asking the government to reimburse it for underpayments, but did not report claims for which it had received too much money, despite knowing some these claims had inflated risk scores.

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said in draft regulations issued in January 2014 that it would begin requiring that Medicare Advantage plans report any improper payment — either too much or too little.

These reviews “cannot be designed only to identify diagnoses that would trigger additional payments,” the proposal stated.

But CMS backed off the regulation’s reporting requirements in the face of opposition from the insurance industry. The agency didn’t say why it did so.

The Justice Department said in an April 2016 amicus brief in the Swoben case that the CMS decision not to move ahead with the reporting regulation “does not relieve defendants of the broad obligation to exercise due diligence in ensuring the accuracy” of claims submitted for payment.

The Justice Department concluded in the brief that the insurers “chose not to connect the dots,” even though they knew of both overpayments and underpayments. Instead, the insurers “acted in a deliberately ignorant or reckless manner in falsely certifying the accuracy, completeness and truthfulness of submitted data,” the 2016 brief states.

The Justice Department has said it also is investigating risk-score payments to other Medicare Advantage insurers, but has not said whether it plans to take action against any of them.


Trump’s CMS pushes back against bundled payments

knee

The CMS has delayed the expansion of a major bundled- payment pilot, Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement, and implementation of its bundled-payment initiatives for cardiac care to Oct. 1, 2017, from July 1, according to an interim final rule posted to the Federal Register. It also again delayed the effective date of a final rule detailing the  implementation process  for CJR and other bundled-payment programs, to May 20, 2017 from March 21.

The agency is considering delaying  implementation of all bundled-payment initiatives even further, until 2018.

Modern Healthcare speculated that the Trump administration’s “move to delay these initiatives raises questions about the future of government initiatives to usher healthcare out of fee-for-service operations and into a new age of value-based payment.”

The new secretary of health and human services is Tom Price, M.D., who had a very lucrative career as an orthopedic surgeon and has been a major investor in some medical companies. CMS ultimately reports to him and President Trump.

To read more, please hit this link.


Providers complain about lack of guidance on ‘observation’ status

 

Modern Healthcare reports that  providers say that the lack of guidance from CMS about a new rule mandating that hospitals notify Medicare patients why they are receiving “observation” care could cause hospitals to lose billing privileges and patients.
Beneficiaries must spend three consecutive nights as admitted patients in a hospital  for Medicare to cover subsequent skilled-nursing facility costs; observation days don’t count.

The publication reported that  as of March 8 hospitals had to begin “giving out the notices, which alert patients that they received observation care rather than being admitted as an inpatient. CMS estimates as many as 1.4 million beneficiaries will receive the notices every year, and they are meant to cut down on the surprise bills observation patients tend to receive.”

“The CMS requires hospitals to give patients a reason for their observation status, but the CMS has declined repeated requests from hospitals to suggest language that providers should use. Providers are concerned that the vague instructions put them at risk of auditor citations.”

“The stakes are huge in that without guidance from CMS, each auditing organization is left only with their personal interpretation if a hospital is in compliance or not,” Ronald Hirsch, M.D., a vice president at R1 Physician Advisory Services, a consulting firm on billing matters for providers, told Modern Healthcare.

The publication added that a CMS spokesman declined to comment on the issue, but pointed to an FAQ document on the agency’s Web site “that encourages providers to use their clinical judgment when writing the notices and make them ‘reasonably understandable’ to the beneficiary.”

To read more, please hit this link.

 

 


Should standards be lowered for safety-net hospitals?

 

The federal government sometimes withholds money from safety-net hospitals because they fail to meet certain standards.

A piece in governing.com asks whether those standards should, at least in some cases, be lowered.

Penalties “handed down by CMS are part of the Affordable Care Act {and} are meant to motivate hospitals to correct procedures so as to avoid patient safety violations. But the problem with these penalties, some health policy experts say, is that they don’t take into account the particular challenges that individual hospitals face.”

“Most of the penalized hospitals take care of the poorest and sickest,” Ashish Jha,  M.D., a  Harvard professor who focuses on patient safety, told the news service.

“Jha and others argue that CMS should add a risk adjustment factor. Until then, safety-net and academic-centered hospitals {with the most challenging patients} will continue to get slapped with the most penalties.”

“Adding to the hospitals’ exasperation is the fact that there is little information about whether the penalties have actually improved health outcomes.”

To read the piece, please hit this link.

 


Change in CMS primary-care program seen scaring away some providers


Looking at the future evolution of the MSSP

evolve

In HealthcareDIVE,   Farzad Mostashari, M.D., and Travis Broome write about the continuing evolution of the Medicare Shared Savings Program. Dr. Mostashari is founder and CEO of Aledade Inc., where Mr. Broome is the lead policy person. Dr. Mostashari is the former national coordinator for health information technology at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

”{M}ore investment and more fine-tuning will be required if we are to strengthen the MSSP and use it to help power the transformation of Medicare to a value-based system.

”First, CMS needs to tailor the risk for MSSP ACOs so that it is enough to motivate, but not sink a small practice. It’s critical that the risk small practices take on bears some relationship to the financial resources of the ACO and its members. If it’s too much so that a bad year that happens because of an external event – such as an epidemic or disaster – can sink even the most well-intentioned practice, then no one will enter into an ACO arrangement.”

“”Second, we need an accurate way to measure whether or not an MSSP ACO creates value. The best way to do that is through a difference-in-difference approach. In this, the key question asked is: Did a Medicare beneficiary get better care at lower cost in the ACO than if that same Medicare beneficiary had not been in the ACO? To get closer to this difference-in-difference approach, CMS needs to move away from national inflation updates and artificial risk-scoring methodologies to regional inflation updates and direct risk scoring.”

”Third, CMS should continue to seek to simplify the program. For example, while we appreciate the work that was done in Track 1+, it is quite possible all of the same benefits could have been accomplished by adding just a few lines of changes to Track 2 without the need to create a whole new track. This would have been both simpler and created a better business case for physicians to move towards risk.”

To read more, please hit this link.


The future of CMS payment models

space

Print (c. 1902) by Albert Robida showing air travel over Paris in the year 2000 as people leave the opera.

The trouble with the future is that it’s so much less knowable than the past.”

 John Lewis Gaddis, ”The Landscape of History”

The authors of an article in Health Affairs look at future CMS payment models based in part on recent payment evolution. Among the predictions:

Population-based models and disease-specific models will continue to develop.

”As ACOs mature and stabilize, opportunities exist to expand them to cover more lives and allow more providers, payers, and organizations to participate in accountable care. More established ACOs will need to expand the spectrum of healthcare providers they work with including behavioral- health, post-acute care and pharmacy providers, and will need to consider the socioeconomic needs—like transportation, housing, and education—of their patient populations.”

”CMS has relatively few disease-specific models, which offers an opportunity to take knowledge gained from current programs and expand to other diseases and co-morbidities through either specialty ACOs or bundled payment programs. The Oncology Care Model and the Comprehensive End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Care Model are two examples of disease-specific models. The ACO movement has focused around primary and general care, but ACOs are most successful when they include providers that are involved at all levels of patient care, including specialists.”

More efforts to show bigger cost-savings

As the healthcare culture shifts to adopting value-based care, ”opportunities exist for more payment models and models that involve higher levels of risk, although mandatory demonstration models are unlikely to continue” if, as expected, Tom Price, M.D, becomes health and human services secretary.

”As ACOs demonstrate success and more physicians have confidence in accountable care, ACOs can move from shared savings-only to taking on more risk.”

Efforts to encourage growth of multi-payer, state and wider- region initiatives

”Multi-payer initiatives spread cost among different payers—for example, commercial and Medicaid—and provide a shared incentive to improve quality and care. When multiple stakeholders work together toward a common goal, collaboration is rewarded and patients benefit. State and regional initiatives also allow states greater flexibility in implementing programs that work best for their populations.”

”Maryland, Vermont and Colorado serve as examples of state multi-payer initiatives. Each of these state’s programs are designed to improve primary care through promoting care coordination, health management, patient-centered care, and disease prevention.”

Concurrent models will be developed

”For some physicians, particularly specialists, aligning different payment models might make more sense than being restricted to a single model. For example, participating in different bundled-payment programs could benefit a specialist who has less influence than a primary-care physician over a patient’s overall health management. CMS has an opportunity to provide clarity and guidance to physicians on which models work best together for different types of physicians or practices.”

To read more, please hit this link.


10 things about CMS bundled-payment rule

 

Becker’s Hospital Review has done a handy 10 things to know about CMS’s final rule on a mandatory bundled-payment program for coronary-artery-bypass surgery and its expansion of the existing Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement program. To read whole article, please hit this link.

Here they are, stripped down:

1. “Under the final rule, acute care hospitals in certain markets will be accountable for the cost and quality of care provided to heart attack, coronary bypass and surgical hip and femur fracture patients beginning with hospitalization and extending 90 days after discharge.”

2. “The rule expands the existing CJR model to include additional surgical treatments for hip and femur fractures….”

3. “Hospitals will receive retrospective episode-based payments under the new bundles. Hospitals that spend less than the target price for the episode of care while meeting or exceeding quality standards keep the savings achieved. A hospital is required to repay Medicare if the costs exceed the target price.”

4. “The final rule includes a cardiac rehabilitation payment model, which will test whether a payment incentive can increase the utilization of cardiac rehabilitative services….”

5. ”The heart attack and coronary bypass bundled payment model will be mandatory for hospitals in 98 metropolitan statistical areas….”

6. ”About 860 hospitals will participate in the hip- and femur- fracture bundles, which will be tested in the 67 MSAs already selected for the CJR model.”

7. ”The cardiac rehabilitation payment model will be implemented in 90 MSAs, 45 of which were not selected for the heart attack and coronary bypass models….”

8. ”The cardiac bundles and the expanded CJR model qualify as Advanced Alternative Payment Models under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act and the Quality Payment Program.”

9. ”The American Hospital Association said it was pleased with some parts of the final rule, including the flexibility the rule provides regarding MACRA participation. However, the AHA expressed concern about the pace of change. ‘The bundled payment model for cardiac care is the second mandatory demonstration project the agency has finalized in just the past 15 months,’ said the AHA. ‘This is too much, too soon.”‘

10. The bundles will begin July 1, 2017.


HHS nominee seen favoring fellow physicians’ interests

banknotes

When Medscape reported on the nomination of Tom Price, M.D., to be secretary of health and human services, an internist commenting on the story wrote, “FINALLY.”

Many physicians expect that Congressman Tom Price, M.D., a former orthopedic surgeon and longtime promoter of the economic and other interests of physicians, will, in the words of Medscape,  “rescue them from the burdens of Medicare reporting programs, the swift transition to value-based payments, and doctors’ growing inability” to make more money.

American physicians are by far the highest paid in the world.

In fact, Dr. Price is probably in the best position to make these changes and may eventually succeed, says Joe Antos, PhD, a health-policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. But he adds that making such changes would be very challenging and could well take years to accomplish.

As HHS secretary and a physician, Dr. Price could take “a more active role” in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which reports to HHS and creates many of the policies that concern physicians,  Joe Antos, a health-policy analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute,  says.

“Previous HHS secretaries often didn’t have the experience to interpret the complexities of CMS policies and regulations,” Mr. Santos told Medscape. “Price is a clear exception.”

Patrice A. Harris, M.D., chairwoman of the American Medical Association (AMA), is a psychiatrist from Dr. Price’s home state of Georgia and has known him  for 15 years. “Dr Price has always been willing to listen and to hear both sides of an informed debate,” she told Medscape.

Several commentators have predicted that Dr. Price would stop CMS’s move toward value-based payments, which reward quality and outcomes, and return to fee-for-service payments, which comprise the most lucrative system for physicians.

To read the Medscape piece, please hit this link.


Berwick: Push for the Triple Aim will continue under Trump

 

Ilene MacDonald, of FierceHealthcare, writes about the views of former CMS Administrator Don Berwick, M.D., on health policy under the Trump administration.

She writes:

“Trump’s pre-election healthcare platform called for complete price transparency, and elements of the Affordable Care Act also call for transparency to help make the healthcare system easier to understand, creating a more competitive market. That meant CMS had more authority and responsibility to make data more available to the public. That was a difficult journey, Berwick says, because historically CMS kept the data guarded and tightly controlled for research. Over time data has become more available but he’s unsure what the future holds with the new administration.”

Tom Price, M.D. [Trump’s pick for the new head of the Department of Health and Human Services] is a fan of doctors and doctor practices. And doctors are uncomfortable with transparency so I’m not sure which way he will call this,’ Berwick says.”

“Although Berwick isn’t sure what will happen to the star ratings system under the new administration, he says he is certain quality improvement in healthcare and the goal of the Triple Aim to improve individual care, boost the health of patient populations and reduce overall costs, will continue.”

To read all of Ms. MacDonald’s piece, please hit this link.


Page 1 of 8123...Last

Contact Info

info@cmg625.com

(617) 230-4965

Wellesley, Mass