Johns Hopkins favored out-of-state patients over locals to increase revenue, lawsuit claims

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A former supervisor in the patient appointments department at the Johns Hopkins Health System Corp. has accused the medical system in a lawsuit of prioritizing out-of-state patients over Maryland residents to boost revenue.

Anthony C. Campos said in the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court that his department was directed with the task of “filling the plane” with patients from outside Maryland. The directive to bring in more of these patients came from the highest ranks at the medical system, the lawsuit contends.

In Maryland, hospitals are required under an agreement with the federal government to operate under global budgets assigned to them by the state that limit how much revenue they can make in a given year. The budgets were put in place as part of a broader effort to cut soaring health costs and improve care.

But the budgets only apply to patients who live in Maryland. Any money brought in by treating out-of-state patients is additional revenue for the hospital.

The lawsuit contends that Hopkins is violating a clause in its budget agreement with the state that says hospitals can’t deny services to patients for inappropriate financial reasons. The medical system is also required to provide care that focuses on the community, something the lawsuit contends can’t be done if the emphasis is on patients from elsewhere. The medical system also hid what it was doing from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, which oversees payments through public health programsand the Health Services Cost Review Commission, which sets the hospital’s global budgets, according to the lawsuit.

An attorney representing Campos said he was not available for comment.

“I think Maryland residents will find it highly offensive that Hopkins is pushing out-of-state residents to the front of the treatment line while Maryland residents are forced to the back of the line all in the interest of profits,” said the attorney, Lindsey Ann Thomas, with the law firm of Conti Fenn & Lawrence LLC.

In a statement Wednesday night, Johns Hopkins said the “the complaint is without merit. Safe and high quality care for all patients, regardless of where they live, is our number one priority. Our census shows that the majority of our patients are from Maryland and that the number has steadily increased over the past several years.” ​

The medical institution began pushing for more out-of-state patients in 2015, Campos said in the lawsuit. He pushed back and told his bosses his team was getting complaints and concerns from doctors about the preference being given to out-of-state patients. Campos’ supervisors responded that they were following the orders of senior management, according to the lawsuit.

Priority was sometimes given without taking into consideration which patients were sicker, the lawsuit said.

The tactics to attract these patients became more aggressive over time, the lawsuit said. Johns Hopkins USA, a medical concierge service, was enlisted to help prioritize out-of-state appointments. The medical system began targeting the most profitable departments, including neurosurgery, oncology, otolaryngology, pediatrics and surgery. In some departments, a supervisor was ordered to intervene if an out-of-state patient could not get an appointment within 30 days, and those patients were also given priority on wait lists, the lawsuit said.

In May 2016, the Department of Patient Access was told that 250 to 350 additional out-of-state cases were needed that fiscal year to reach profit targets of $5 million to $7 million, according to the suit.

Campos is asking that the government be awarded damages and Johns Hopkins fined under the False Claims Act. He is also asking for a “percentage of any recovery allowed to him.”

California, North Carolina and New York hit hardest by 340B cuts

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The CMS’ planned $1.6 billion in Medicare cuts to 340B hospitals across the nation will disproportionately impact providers in California, North Carolina and New York, according to a new study.

Slashing the 340B drug discount program, which is intended to lower operating costs for hospitals to give its low-income patients access to drugs, would result in large funding cuts across California, North Carolina and New York hospitals, ranging from $62 million to $126 million, researchers for consultancy Avalere found. Overall, six states will see drug payment cuts of more than $50 million next year.

About 62% of Medicaid disproportionate-share hospitals will experience less than a 5% reduction in Medicare Part B revenue due to the drug cuts, while 6% of impacted hospitals will experience cuts greater than 10%.

But the concurrent increase in non-drug payments will mean that most hospitals will have very minimal changes to their revenues, according to the study. Because the drug-related cuts will disproportionately impact 340B hospitals while the non-drug payment increases will be distributed evenly across facilities, some hospitals would see increased payments while hospitals with high 340B volumes will likely see decreases.

Still, any reduction to the already thin margins of hospitals could spell trouble for providers.

Consumers stand to benefit from the cuts, researchers said. Since Medicare beneficiaries are responsible for a portion of the total drug reimbursement, consumers in California, North Carolina and New York would save a range of $15 million to $32 million. Ten states will have aggregated Medicare beneficiary savings greater than $10 million in 2018.

“The 340B program has become a big business for hospitals,” Avalere President Dan Mendelson said. “As a result, all hospitals in the program have to think about this carefully going into next year.”

Beginning in 2018, Medicare intends to reduce 340B payments from average sales price (ASP) plus 6% to ASP minus 22.5%, which the CMS estimates to be closer to the hospitals’ acquisition cost. With the proposed changes, if a drug costs $84,000, the CMS would pay just over $65,000, instead of the current $89,000. Hospital groups have sued to prevent those cuts and litigation is ongoing.

About half of the hospitals across the country participate in the 340B program, which has been criticized because it does not restrict how hospitals spend 340B money. Critics say that some hospitals use the program to pad profits while rural and critical access hospitals maintain that it’s a vital revenue source and helps support preventive services.

In a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the pharmaceutical supply chain on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Dr. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) said that some hospitals manipulate the program. A financially stable hospital could acquire a physician practice in a rural community and get a 340B distinction for it, he said.

Mandating more transparency on how hospitals use 340B money would prevent abuse, Bucshon said.

“The rules allow the hospitals to pursue these mechanisms aggressively,” said Mendelson. “Some members of Congress believe the rules diverge from the original intent of the program as a way for low-income individuals to access drugs.”