Urgent care network to pay $12.5M in billing fraud case

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/legal-regulatory-issues/urgent-care-network-to-pay-12-5m-in-billing-fraud-case.html?utm_medium=email

Different Types of Fraud and Abuse found in Medical Billing - Leading Medical  Billing Services | medicalbillersandcoders

A company that owned and operated more than 30 urgent care centers has agreed to pay $12.5 million to resolve overbilling allegations, the Department of Justice announced Sept. 3. 

UCXtra Umbrella, which did business in Arizona as Urgent Care Extra, previously admitted to engaging in healthcare fraud and monetary transactions derived from unlawful activity. The company admitted that it had billing procedures in place that caused its providers to overstate the complexity of the medical services provided to patients. This resulted in falsely inflated reimbursement rates from health insurance companies, according to the Justice Department. 

The company also admitted that staff were encouraged to order tests and procedures that may not have been medically necessary to justify higher billing codes and reimbursement. 

Health insurance companies overpaid the company by an estimated $12.5 million due to the fraud scheme, according to the Justice Department.

 

 

Walmart files plans for standalone clinic in Florida

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/capital/walmart-files-plans-for-standalone-clinic-in-florida.html?utm_medium=email

Walmart Health: A Deep Dive into the $WMT Corporate Strategy in Health Care  | by Nisarg Patel | Medium

Walmart plans to open a 6,500-square-foot standalone clinic in Middleburg, Fla., according to the Jacksonville Record & Observer, which cited plans filed with the local water management district. 

The new clinic is part of the expansion Walmart Health announced July 22. The new health center will offer primary care, urgent care, labs, imagining, counseling, optical and hearing services, according to the report. A timeline for when the clinic will open has not been released.

In addition to expanding into Florida, Walmart Health is also planning to open a few clinics in the Chicago market. The company already has freestanding health centers in Georgia and Arkansas. 

 

 

 

 

Consumer confidence declines as COVID surges

https://mailchi.mp/86e2f0f0290d/the-weekly-gist-july-10-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

 

Just as consumer confidence was approaching pre-COVID levels in early June, cases began surging in many parts of the country. The graphic below shares highlights from a recent Morning Consult poll, which found reduced consumer confidence in participating in a range of activities, like dining out or going to a mall.

The poll also showed a significant consumer divide based on political affiliation, with Republicans’ confidence levels for many activities being twice that of Democrats. It remains to be seen whether the current surge will result in consumers pulling back on healthcare utilization the way they are beginning to for other activities.

A coalition of healthcare organizations is urging consumers to continue social distancing but “stop medical distancing”—in hopes that the new surge will not lead patients to avoid needed medical care. While cell tower data at thousands of hospital facilities suggest volumes may be stalling again, we anxiously await the latest national data on outpatient visit and elective procedure volumes.

We’d predict the surge will exacerbate consumer discomfort with “waiting” in healthcare settings—urgent care clinics, emergency departments and the like—though we’d expect the reduction in utilization to be less severe and more regionally varied this time around. 

Let us know what you’re seeing!

 

 

 

 

Meeting growing consumer demand for “care anywhere”

https://mailchi.mp/7d224399ddcb/the-weekly-gist-july-3-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

 

While COVID-19 provided a big push for doctors and health systems to rapidly expand telemedicine visits and other kinds of remote patient interactions, many report that they are now seeing telemedicine visits decline sharply, as in-person visits return.

While it’s natural to be glad that “things are returning to normal”, backing off virtual care is short-sighted, as recent experiences have set new expectations for patients. Survey data shows consumers like using telehealth services, both because they’re more convenient (65 percent) and help avoid COVID infection (63 percent)—and 51 percent say they would continue using them after the pandemic ends.

We’re increasingly convinced that virtual physician visits are just one part of a continuum of care that can be delivered in the convenience and safety of the patient’s home. The graphic below highlights the range of consumer-focused virtual care solutions, from asynchronous chat interactions all the way to hospital care delivered at home.

Health systems that can deliver “care anywhere”—an integrated platform of virtual services consumers can access from home (or wherever they are) for both urgent needs and overall health management, coordinated with in-person resources—have an unprecedented opportunity to build loyalty at a time when consumers are seeking a trusted source of safe, available care solutions.

 

 

Thinking through the new continuum of urgent care

https://mailchi.mp/d594e7a0c816/the-weekly-gist-june-19-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

About ZOOM+Care | On-Demand Healthcare Unlike Any Other

We’ve both received care from of Portland, OR-based Zoom+Care when traveling, and are big fans of its highly efficient, consumer-centric clinic design and urgent care model. We’ve heard reports from across the country that urgent care visits have been slow to rebound as in-person healthcare services have reopened (no surprise that people are reticent to return to a care setting where sitting in a waiting room next to a coughing patient is often part of the experience).

We wondered if Zoom+Care, with scheduled appointments and operations that largely eliminate the wait, had fared any better, and recently we caught up with Torben Nielsen, the company’s CEO, to hear about his experiences across the past three months. As COVID-19 hit in March, Zoom+Care quickly eliminated self-scheduled visits and took many of its 50 clinics offline, requiring all patients to be triaged virtually before any in-person care. The company had a robust chat visit function already in place, and like most health systems, quickly brought video and phone visits online in the first weeks of the pandemic.

They’ve now delivered more than 30,000 virtual visits. With 34 percent of virtual visits coming from patients in markets where Zoom+Care does not have clinics, telehealth has driven rapid expansion into new markets, presenting both opportunities (virtual demand highlights where to site new clinics) and challenges (the need to quickly develop referral relationships for the 10-20 percent of telemedicine patients who would benefit from in-person follow-up).

Telemedicine visits have continued to grow even as self-scheduling was turned back on and in-person volume returned. Nielsen thinks centralization will be a big part of their ongoing virtual care strategy. Over the years Zoom+Care learned that chat visits required a different provider skill set, necessitating a dedicated team—and the same is true of phone and video visits. They’re also exploring what specialty care can be managed virtually, and the best modes to deliver it.

Case in point: it’s no surprise that a visually-oriented specialty like dermatology is well-suited for virtual. But with the grainy images of videoconferencing software, telemedicine falls far short of chat-based care, where a patient can send a high-resolution image and text back and forth with the provider. Given that payment for chat visits falls fall short of video visits, Zoom+Care is now exploring new relationships and economic models to support a multimodal, multispecialty care model.

A fascinating conversation, and confirmation that creating the ideal access platform will require not just layering telemedicine on top of the existing “physical” clinic footprint, but redesigning the entire care journey to create a seamless and connected access experience.

 

 

 

 

The patients stayed away—will they come back?

https://mailchi.mp/9f24c0f1da9a/the-weekly-gist-june-5-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Emergency Department Patient Resources

new analysis from the CDC this week confirmed what we have been hearing anecdotally from health systems for several weeks—as the coronavirus lockdown took hold, there was a precipitous drop in visits to hospital emergency departments. According to the study, visits were down by 42 percent in the month of April compared to the previous year, and despite a rebound in May, were still 26 percent lower than a year ago. Visits in the Northeast dropped the most, as did those among women, and children under 14.

Although visits for minor ailments and symptoms declined the most, even more disconcerting was the drop in visits for chest pain, echoing the concern we’ve heard in many parts of the country that many patients may have suffered minor heart attacks without being treated, or may have waited to be seen until significant damage had been done.

As non-emergent visits have begun to return to many facilities, we continue to hear that emergency department and urgent care volume remains relatively low.

Survey data indicate that patients are fearful of becoming infected with coronavirus if they visit healthcare facilities—especially, it seems, ones where they’ll be forced to wait.

While many providers are investing in messaging campaigns to assure patients it’s safe to return, this nightmarish first-person account by one healthcare insider provides a useful cautionary tale.

Visiting a surgeon for a pre-op consult, she found the experience of visiting a COVID-era hospital downright dystopian. Simply touting safety precautions by itself won’t make patients more comfortable—they’ll need to see and feel that measures are in place to make time spent in a care setting as efficient and reassuring as possible. Otherwise, like the insider in question, they’ll take their business elsewhere. There’s work to be done.

 

Already Taxed Health Care Workers Not ‘Immune’ From Layoffs And Less Pay

Already Taxed Health Care Workers Not ‘Immune’ From Layoffs And Less Pay

Already Taxed Health Care Workers Not 'Immune' From Layoffs And ...

Just three weeks ago, Dr. Kathryn Davis worried about the coronavirus, but not about how it might affect her group of five OB-GYNs who practice at a suburban hospital outside Boston.

“In medicine we think we’re relatively immune from the economy,” Davis said. “People are always going to get sick; people are always going to need doctors.”

Then, two weeks ago, she watched her practice revenue drop 50% almost overnight after Massachusetts officials told doctors and hospitals to stop performing elective tests and procedures. For Davis, that meant no more non-urgent gynecological visits and screenings.

Late last week, as Davis and her partners absorbed the stunning turn of events, they devised a stopgap plan. The 35 nurses, medical assistants and secretaries they employ would have two options: move from full-time to part-time status or start collecting unemployment. Doctors in the practice would take a substantial pay cut. Davis said she’s hearing from colleagues who may have to permanently close their offices if the focus on crisis-level care continues for months.

“It’s shocking,” she said. “Everyone has been blindsided.”

Atrius Health, the largest independent physician group in Massachusetts, said patient volume is down 75% since mid-March. It is temporarily closing offices, placing many nonclinical employees on furlough and withholding pay for those who remain. The average withholding is 20%, and the company pledges that pay withheld will be returned. The lowest-paid workers, those earning up to $55,000, are exempt.

“What we’re trying to do is piece together a solution to get through the crisis and keep employed as many people as we can,” said Dr. Steven Strongwater, Atrius Health’s CEO.

Atrius cares for 745,000 patients in clinics that often include primary care, specialists, radiology and a pharmacy under one roof.

Strongwater said physician groups must be included when the federal government distributes $100 billion to hospitals from the $2 trillion stimulus package.

It’s not clear if that money will stop the tide of layoffs and lost pay at hospitals as well as in doctor’s offices. A Harvard Medical School physician group will suspend retirement contributions starting April 1.

Beth Israel Lahey Health, the second-largest hospital network in Massachusetts, announced executive pay cuts Monday.

“The suspension of elective procedures and decline in visits to our primary care practices and urgent care centers have resulted in financial challenges,” wrote CEO Dr. Kevin Tabb in an email to employees. Tabb said he would take a 50% salary cut. Other executives and hospital presidents in the system will forgo 20% of their salaries for the next three months.

“Although executive leadership compensation is being reduced, we will never compromise on doing the things that are essential to protect your safety and the safety of our patients,” Tabb told staff.

Dallas-based Steward Health Care has told hospital employees in Massachusetts and eight other states where it operates to expect furloughs focused on nonclinical staff. In a statement, Steward Health Care said it prepared for the pandemic but is experiencing a “seismic financial shock.”

“Elective surgeries are the cornerstone of our hospital system’s operating model — and the negative impact due to the cancellations of these procedures cannot be overstated. In addition, patients are understandably cautious and choosing to defer any nonemergency treatments or routine visits until this crisis has passed.”

Dr. Kaarkuzhali Babu Krishnamurthy, an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School who studies medical ethics, said employers need to think more carefully about the ethics of asking doctors and nurses to live on less when many are working longer hours and putting the health of their families at risk.

“At a time when health care systems are calling on doctors and nurses to do more, this is not the time to be making it more difficult to do that,” said Krishnamurthy.

There’s talk of redeploying laid-off health care workers to new COVID-19 units opening in shuttered hospitals or to patient overflow sites. Tim Foley, executive vice president for the largest health care union in Massachusetts, 1199SEIU, is promoting the development of a staff registry.

“It is more important, now more than ever, to explore all options to maintain the level of urgent care needed across the state and we look forward to working with all stakeholders to do just that,” Foley said in an email.

 

 

 

 

Half of insured adults are skipping primary care visits. Cost a major reason why

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/half-of-insured-adults-are-skipping-primary-care-visits-cost-a-major-reason-why.html?utm_medium=email

Image result for Half of insured adults are skipping primary care visits. Cost a major reason why.

In a given year by 2016, almost 50 percent of adults with commercial insurance hadn’t visited a primary care physician, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

For the study, researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine wanted to better characterize primary care declines among adults. To do so, the study authors analyzed deidentified claims data from a national private insurer that covers roughly 20 million members each year, according to NPR.

They found from 2008-16, adult visits to primary care physicians fell by nearly 25 percent. The decline was largest among younger adults. The proportion of adults with no visits to primary care physicians in a given year climbed from 38.1 percent to 46.4 percent within the same period.

While the number of preventive checkups rose — likely because the ACA made the appointments cost-free — problem-based visits, such as going to a primary care physician for sickness or injury, declined more than 30 percent, according to NPR.

Problem-based visits saw out-of-pocket costs increase 31.5 percent during the study period, which could have affected the decline, according to researchers. Additionally, visits to alternative sites like urgent care clinics grew by 46.9 percent in the study period.

“Our results suggest that this decline may be explained by decreased real or perceived visit needs, financial deterrents, and use of alternative sources of care,” the study authors concluded. 

 

 

 

U of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics CEO: ‘Everything in healthcare doesn’t need to be done by a hospital CEO’

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/u-of-iowa-hospitals-clinics-ceo-everything-in-healthcare-doesn-t-need-to-be-done-by-a-hospital-ceo.html

Despite branching out through nearly 60 outpatient clinics, the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics in Iowa City — which includes the only comprehensive university medical center in the state — by and large remains a healthcare destination.

As such, demand for inpatient services hasn’t waned, but has kept on par with the surge in outpatient demand that the entire industry is seeing, Suresh Gunasekaran, the CEO of University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics and associate vice president for the University of Iowa Health Care, told Becker’s Hospital Review.

That’s not to say strategic threats don’t exist. The biggest ones threatening the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics are retail medicine providers that cherry-pick services but aren’t able to provide coordinated care, Mr. Gunasekaran said.

“It’s great that today there’s more convenient care being provided by retail providers. The biggest threat, though, is if healthcare consumers start believing that getting disconnected care is worth it,” he said. “We’re in the business of connected care.”

Tackling this challenge will require input from all parties, not just the hospital CEO, he said. Here, Mr. Gunasekaran expands on how University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics is facing the threat of uncoordinated retail medicine, and answers questions on board oversight and the changing role of the hospital CEO.

 

Question: What do you consider your biggest strategic threat?

Suresh Gunasekaran: Major threats are those healthcare services that don’t believe in team-based care, that focus on cherry-picking a corridor of healthcare without thinking about the health of the whole person.

There’s unmet demand in communities for [accessible healthcare]. If Walmart is willing to offer a clinic, they may be the only clinic for 20 miles. What I’d hope is these kinds of Walmart and CVS providers look at how they partner with players like us. In that sense, we don’t view retail medicine as a threat as much as an opportunity. But when they’re not collaborative, that’s a threat to us. It’s only good if the care is coordinated.

Q: U of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics has its own retail clinics. How do they play into the larger consumerism trend healthcare is seeing?

SG: We’re in our fifth year of offering retail urgent care clinics. We offer a setting that’s lower cost and very competitive with other retail clinics. We’ve seen a lot of uptake and growth within this model, but it’s our ability to say: Hey, urgent care and retail healthcare absolutely have a place, but they need to be connected to our lab in radiology and to our specialists.

The next frontier for us is how to partner with other retail clinics. It’s easy to partner with yourself, but it’s more challenging to make it work with others.

Q: U of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics is a state agency, so your board is really the board of regents of the state of Iowa. Have you faced increased pressure from the board to take up any initiatives?

SG: The board of regents has asked we keep a couple issues front and center. There continues to be inadequate maternal healthcare resources for the young moms of Iowa, with more and more hospitals unable to recruit staff to deliver babies. Data shows maternal death is increasing in Iowa, which is a very, very troubling statistic. So we are bringing the full strength of the University of Iowa together on this. We just got a huge research grant from the federal government to create better models for maternal health across the state.

Mental health is another area, and a huge area of priority for our governor. We are looking at expanding our residency program to rural areas that are underserved for mental health. Other things we’re looking at is the workforce shortage and social determinants of health.

Q: How do you think the CEO role will evolve over the next decade? Will we see more hospital CEOs take stances on bigger public issues?

SG: Hospitals within the healthcare industry have [historically] been very insular. You almost could run your business without worrying about the rest of the system. Now with healthcare reform and greater governmental and employer scrutiny of healthcare costs, folks are asking hospital systems to answer for what’s going on in a broader industry. And of course, CEOs have to embrace that journey.

Are we going to get involved in those multiple different steps? Not just access to care, not just the pricing of care, not just care coordination, not just how to get the community to get engaged in their own health. The CEO of the future has to have a stance on all of these, because it’s impossible to go where we need to go without being involved.

Perhaps the CEO is not that important. At the end of the day when you look at these issues, it’s important that we’re at the table, but the community needs to come first. It’s an opportunity for employers to take the lead. It’s an opportunity for the government to take a lead. Everything in healthcare doesn’t need to be done by a hospital CEO, and in the future, probably isn’t best done by a hospital CEO. We need to be one part of the team.

Q: You’ve been leading the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics for a little over a year now. Is there any piece of advice you would go back and give yourself on day one?

SG: Never lose the voice of the patient. I got that at the end of my first year, and I think that beginning with the voice of the patient would’ve been very, very powerful. It’s somewhat impractical that you show up to a new job, and of course, you’re going to meet the people within your organization first. But never forgetting the voice of the patient and being able to hear who you are in their eyes and in their words would have been very powerful [on day one]. But I’m making up for lost time.

 

‘An Arm and a Leg’: How much for stitches in the ER? Hard to gauge upfront

https://www.news-medical.net/news/20191205/e28098An-Arm-and-a-Lege28099-How-much-for-stitches-in-the-ER-Hard-to-gauge-upfront.aspx

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Sarah Macsalka had heard the stories about how expensive an emergency room visit can be, even for a minor complaint.

http://aca.st/b26519

So when her 7-year-old son, Cameron, tripped and gashed his knee in the backyard, the ER was not where her family headed first. In fact, Macsalka did just about everything she could to avoid paying a big, fat bill to get Cameron’s knee stitched up.

Ultimately, she failed.

Her adventure raises a big question: In a system where consumers are encouraged to “shop” for the best deal in health care, why is it so hard to get simple information, like a price?

On this week’s episode of “An Arm and a Leg,” we get some answers.

Instead of taking her son to the local emergency room for stitches, Macsalka took him to an urgent care clinic, one that provides patients with prices ahead of the service. There, the staff said stitching up Cameron’s knee would cost $150.

But there was a problem. The clinic didn’t have the topical anesthetic the doctor would need to numb Cameron’s skin first.

“And Cameron is like screaming and crying,” Macsalka said. “He doesn’t take pain well.”

So, reluctantly, the family headed to the local emergency room.

Macsalka tried to be a smart shopper there, too. When a staff member came to take her insurance information, Macsalka grilled him about how much the visit would cost.

“He was like, ‘I don’t know. Just walking through the ER [door] costs $600,'” she said.

To Macsalka, that sounded like a “facility fee” — a cover charge of sorts, separate from any health care services. And it sounded pricey. But she was over a barrel.

“The kid is still screaming and crying,” she said. “His knee’s a mess.” She wasn’t about to drive him back to the urgent care place and start over again.

They got the stitches in the ER. And, as it happened, the anesthetic wasn’t very effective.

Macsalka said her son’s screams were ear-piercing. “Yeah, Cameron’s lungs did not give out,” she said. “Those are very healthy lungs.”

As it turned out, Macsalka’s attempts to figure out what the final price would be weren’t very effective either.  A few weeks after the ER visit, she got a bill for the doctor’s services and paid it: $214 after insurance.

Then there was another bill from the hospital. One line: $2,824.

Macsalka went back into smart-consumer mode. She called the hospital billing department and asked if there had been a mistake.

Macsalka said the person she spoke with on the phone told her that “just walking through the doors” of the emergency room cost $4,200. That amount matches a number on her insurance statement — an amount before the insurance company’s negotiated discount.

After that discount, the bill was $2,824 – and because Macsalka’s family had a high deductible, they were responsible for paying it all.

Macsalka said she tried another tactic and asked the billing representative: What if I didn’t have insurance? She said the billing rep told her: In that case, the hospital would accept 10% of its total bill to make sure it collected something. Without a negotiated rate from insurance, the total would have been about $6,000, so 10% would have been about $600.

It was more than Macsalka had hoped to pay. But less than $3,000.

“So I was like, ‘Fine, cool, I’ll take it.’ And she’s like, ‘Oh no. You can’t because it’s already gone through your insurance company. So that’s not an option for you.'”

Having insurance — with a high deductible — meant Macsalka was on the hook for the $2,800 charge.

She wishes someone could have told her the price upfront.

“I would’ve said thank you very much. And walked out and gone back to our lovely urgent care and been like, Cameron, bite on this stick,” she said.

For Episode 4, we also rounded up a hospital consultant and a journalist to better understand the perspectives of the hospital and insurance company.