Supreme Court hears case over disproportionate share hospital payments

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/supreme-court-hears-hospital-case-over-disproportionate-share-hospital-payments?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWW1KbFlXUTRPV1V6WlRjeSIsInQiOiJ1VTVCYWtvaUMwRXRLbGd2N1BTSlhLVjYrT0VjdEpVdUlKc0hhaEVYZ3d1UjdORUp3RzkrNWd6Zjl0elwvSkwyMlwvMkxDSjZxN3I0alVzV1ZwbjZ0R0xBU3o4QWZpUlhsdkl0czMxMWY5MUVuV1hpWUxNeDhEXC9rcjg2Y01nYXA5VCJ9

Hundreds of millions of dollars in reimbursement are at stake; $3-4 billion from 2005 to 2013.

The Supreme Court was expected to hear oral arguments today over notice and rulemaking requirements for Medicare reimbursement.

The outcome of Azar vs. Allina Health Services could greatly affect reimbursement for hospitals that serve a disproportionate share of low-income patients. The DSH payment calculation is based on the percentage of low-income patients served.

The government wants to add Part C, or Medicare Advantage beneficiaries into the calculation, a move hospitals fear would decrease payments based on their belief that MA members are, on average, wealthier than Medicare Part A beneficiaries.

But the lawsuit is about how the Department of Health and Human Services went about attempting to implement its rule.

The hospitals in the lawsuit argue that HHS is required to conduct notice and comment rulemaking before providing the instructions to a Medicare administrative contractor that makes the initial determinations of payments due under Medicare. Medicare uses private contractors to administer its reimbursements to providers.

The case went to the District of Columbia Circuit Court, which vacated the rule. The hospitals argue that after the circuit court’s decision, CMS simply tried to make the same change without undertaking notice and comment.

The judge in the District of Columbia Circuit Court case was Brett Kavanaugh, who as Supreme Court Justice, is recusing himself in the HHS case Azar vs. Allina Health.

WHY THIS MATTERS

CMS’s proposed rule changes affect hundreds of millions of dollars in reimbursement for hospitals. The government estimates that the DSH payments from 2005 to 2013 totaled $3 to $4 billion, according to SCOTUSblog.

Hospitals suing HHS said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “botched” attempted rulemaking in 2004, when the department tried to change the standard governing Medicare payment to hospitals nationwide for services furnished to low-income patients.

The Medicare Act requires the agency to engage in notice-and-comment rulemaking, the hospitals argue.

HHS disagrees, saying the Medicare Act does not require HHS to issue formal notice-and-comment rulemaking prior to changing the DSH calculation formula. Doing so would cripple the Medicare program, requiring the agency to use rulemaking for any change in its lengthy and detailed operations manuals, it argues.

The hospitals involved in the lawsuit are Allina Health System and its affiliated hospitals, Abbott Northwestern, United, and Unity; Florida Health Sciences Center; Montefiore Medical Center; Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York-Presbyterian/Queens; New York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital; and New York and Presbyterian Hospital.

ON THE RECORD

“The agency botched that rulemaking: the final rule was not the ‘logical outgrowth’ of the proposed rule, and the D.C. Circuit vacated it,” Allina and other health systems said.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in court documents, “As the government has explained, respondents’ theory, if adopted, has the potential to substantially undermine effective administration of the Medicare program, not least because its rationale would encompass not just the Medicare fractions at issue here but nearly every instruction to the agency’s contractors, including those contained in the Provider Reimbursement Manual.”

 

 

How seniors are being steered toward private Medicare plans

https://www.axios.com/medicare-advantage-tilting-scales-7db28dd2-25af-4283-b971-21a61fa59371.html

Illustration of a wheelchair on one side of a seesaw with a hand pressing down the other side.

Today is the final day when seniors and people with disabilities can sign up for Medicare plans for 2019, and consumer groups are concerned the Trump administration is steering people into privately run Medicare Advantage plans while giving short shrift to their limitations.

Between the lines: Medicare Advantage has been growing like gangbusters for years, and has garnered bipartisan support. But the Center for Medicare Advocacy says the Trump administration is tilting the scales by broadcasting information that “is incomplete and continues to promote certain options over others.”

The big picture: The government has talked up the benefits of Medicare Advantage plans in emails to prospective enrollees during the past several weeks, the New York Times recently reported. Enrollment is approaching 22 million people, and there are reasons for its popularity.

  • Many MA plans offer $0 premiums and extra perks that don’t exist in standard Medicare, like vision and hearing coverage and gym memberships. MA plans also cap enrollees’ out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Traditional Medicare, by contrast, has higher out-of-pocket costs that usually require people to buy supplemental medical policies, called Medigap plans, as well as separate drug plans.

Yes, but: Federal marketing materials rarely mention MA’s tradeoffs.

  • MA plans limit which doctors and hospitals people can see, and they require prior approval for certain procedures. Provider directories also are loaded with errors.
  • MA plans spend less on care, yet continue to cost taxpayers more than traditional Medicare. Coding is a major problem.
  • People who enroll in MA often can’t buy a Medigap plan if they later decide to switch to traditional Medicare. And others, especially retirees leaving their jobs, may not even realize their employers are enrolling them in Medicare Advantage.

Where it stands: The Affordable Care Act slashed payments to MA insurers, but other Obama administration policies bolstered the industry. And now the Trump administration is helping it even more.

  • Obama officials built the chassis for today’s bonus system, which has been lucrative for plans (and likely wasteful, according to federal auditors).
  • A bipartisan 2015 law that adjusted Medicare payments to doctors killed the most popular Medigap plans, starting in 2020 — a move experts say could indirectly drive more people to MA.
  • HHS championed MA in a new policy document this week, on the heels of positive marketing.

What we’re hearing: Wall Street is beyond bullish on the major MA insurers like UnitedHealth Group and Humana. Supporters of MA like the idea of treating Medicare more like a marketplace, where people have to shop for a plan every year, but experts are worried about how it will affect the average enrollee.

“We know people don’t” actively engage in health insurance shopping, said Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation who recently wrote about MA. “It’s just too hard.”

 

 

 

Misconceptions About Health Costs When You’re Older

https://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/misconceptions-about-health-costs-when-youre-older/

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Some significant expenses decline as we age: Most mortgages are eventually paid off, and ideally children grow up and become self-supporting.

But health care is one area in which costs are almost certain to rise. After all, one of the original justifications for Medicare — which kicks in at age 65 — is that older people have much higher health care needs and expenses.

But there are a few common misunderstandings about health costswhen people are older, including the idea that money can easily be saved by reducing wasteful end-of-life spending.

Half our lifetime spending on health care is in retirement, even though that represents only about 20 percent of a typical life span. Total health care spending for Americans 65 and older is about $15,000 per year, on average, nearly three times that of working-age Americans.

Don’t expect Medicare to provide complete protection from these expenses.

Traditional Medicare has substantial gaps, leaving Americans on the hook for a lot more than they might expect. It has no cap on how much you can pay out of pocket, for example. Such coverage gaps can be filled — at least in part — by other types of insurance. But some alternatives, such as Medicare Advantage, aren’t accepted by as many doctors or hospitals as accept traditional Medicare.

On average, retirees directly pay for about one-fifth of their total health care spending. Some spend much more.

One huge expense no Medicare plans cover is long-term care in a nursing home.

Over half of retirement-age adults will eventually need long-term care, which can cost as much as $90,000 per year at a nursing home. Although most who enter a nursing home don’t stay long, 5 percent of the population stays for more than four years. You can buy separate coverage outside the Medicare program for this, but the premiums can be high, especially if you wait until near retirement to buy.

Although Medicare is thought of as the source of health care coverage for retirees, Medicaid plays a crucial role.

Medicaid, the joint federal-state heath financing program for low-income people, has long been the nation’s main financial backstop for long-term care. Over 60 percent of nursing home residents have Medicaid coverage, and over half of the nation’s long-term care is funded by the program.

That isn’t because most people who require long-term care have low incomes. It’s because long-term care is so expensive that those needing it can frequently deplete their financial resources and then must turn to Medicaid.

recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic found that, on average, Medicaid covers 20 percent of retiree health spending. The figure is larger for lower-income retirees, who are more likely to qualify for Medicaid for more of their retirement years.

A widely held view is that much spending is wasted on “heroic” measures taken at the end of life. Are all the resources devoted to Medicare and Medicaid really necessary?

First, let’s get one misunderstanding out of the way. The proportion of health spending at the end of life in the United States is lower than in many other wealthy countries.

Still, it’s a tempting area to look for savings. Only 5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries die each year, but 25 percent of all Medicare spending is on individuals within one year of death. However, the big challenge in reducing end-of-life spending, highlighted by a recent study in Science, is that it is hard to know which patients are in their final year.

The study used all the data available from Medicare records to make predictions: For each beneficiary, it assigned a probability of death within a year. Of those with the very highest probability of dying — the top 1 percent — fewer than half actually died.

“This shows that it’s just very hard to know in advance who will die soon with much certainty,” said Amy Finkelstein, an M.I.T. economist and an author of the study. “That makes it infeasible to make a big dent in health care spending by cutting spending on patients who are almost certain to die soon.”

That does not mean that all the care provided to dying patients — or to any patient — is valuable. Another study finds that high end-of-life spending in a region is closely related to the proportion of doctors in that region who use treatments not supported by evidence — in other words, waste.

“People at high risk of dying certainly require more health care,” said Jonathan Skinner, an author of the study and a professor of economics at Dartmouth. “But why should some regions be hospitalizing otherwise similar high-risk patients at much higher rates than other regions?”

In 2014, for example, chronically ill Medicare beneficiaries in Manhattan spent 73 percent more days in the hospital in their last two years of life than comparable beneficiaries in Rochester.

“There absolutely is waste in the system,” said Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. But, he argues, waste is present throughout the life span, not just at the end of life: “We have confused that spending as end-of-life spending is somehow wasteful. But that’s not right because we are terrible at predicting who is going to die.”

Of course, beyond any statistical analysis, there are actual people involved, and wrenching individual decisions that need to be made.

“We should do all we can to push waste out of the system,” Dr. Jha said. “But spending more money on people who are suffering from an illness is appropriate, even if they die.”

 

 

DOJ recovered $2.5 billion in 2018 healthcare false claim cases

https://medcitynews.com/2018/12/doj-recovered-2-5-billion-in-2018-healthcare-false-claim-cases/?utm_campaign=MCN%20Daily%20Top%20Stories&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=68616131&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–fq1sdxIB88xY-ain-FJhljI6XCajKx4jjImF-6g7OJCDVEtx0Bo9c1pP788k3hLe6ehxSYBoP-w51DLgGo5izH2qh5g&_hsmi=68616131

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to the DOJ, this is the ninth consecutive year that the organizations’ civil healthcare fraud settlements and judgments have exceeded $2 billion.

As part of the federal government’s increasing focus on issues of healthcare fraud, particularly in the Medicare space, the U.S. Department of Justice recovered $2.5 billion in settlements and judgments from False Claims Act Cases over the past year.

According to the DOJ, this is the ninth consecutive year that the organizations’ civil health care fraud settlements and judgments have exceeded $2 billion.

While the $2.5 billion number represents federal losses, the DOJ also said it also helped recover significant funds for state Medicaid programs

“Every year, the submission of false claims to the government cheats the American taxpayer out of billions of dollars,” Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio said in a statement.

“In some cases, unscrupulous actors undermine federal healthcare programs or circumvent safeguards meant to protect the public health … The nearly three billion dollars recovered by the Civil Division represents the Department’s continued commitment to fighting fraudsters and cheats on behalf of the American taxpayer.”

The False Claims Act has its roots in groups trying to defraud the military during and after the Civil War and was significantly strengthened since 1986 when Congress increased incentives for whistleblowers to file lawsuits alleging false claims.

In healthcare, organizations across the industry were hit with False Claims cases including drug companies, medical device manufacturers, payer organizations and healthcare providers.

The single largest recovery over the past year was a $625 million settlement paid by drug wholesaler AmerisourceBergen to resolve a number of claims including that the company illegally repackaged injectable cancer drugs into pre-filled syringes and billing multiple doctors for individual drug vials.

The DOJ also brought cases against drug companies who increased drug prices by funding Medicare co-payments meant to serve as a check on healthcare costs.

In one instance, United Therapeutics Corporation paid $210 million over allegations that it illegally used a foundation to funnel co-pay obligations for Medicare patients taking its drugs. Pfizer paid nearly $24 million in a similar case, with the government alleging that the company raised the price of a cardiac drug called Tikosy by 40 percent over three months

One major case against Massachusetts-based medical device company Alere resulted in a $33.2 million settlement over allegations that it sold unreliable diagnostic devices meant to detect acute coronary syndromes, heart failure, drug overdose and other serious conditions.

On the provider side, the DOJ recovered $270 million from DaVita subsidiary HealthCare Partners Holdings for upcoding and providing inaccurate information to inflate Medicare Advantage payments.

Another major case was against former health system Health Management Associates which allegedly engaged in major Medicare fraud including illegal kickbacks to physicians for referrals, incorrect billing for observation and outpatient services and inflated facility fees.

When it comes to health plans, the government’s case against UnitedHealth Group over allegations that it knowingly obtained inflated risk adjustment payments for its Medicare Advantage beneficiaries is still ongoing.

 

 

Policy upheaval, tech giant disruption and megamergers: Healthcare Dive’s 10 best stories of 2018

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/policy-upheaval-tech-giant-disruption-and-megamergers-healthcare-dives-1/543390/

Mobile health records and nurse protests also grabbed readers this year.

This year in healthcare was marked by sweeping changes, including seemingly constant vertical and horizontal consolidation, led by the $69 billion CVS grab of Aetna and Cigna’s $67 billion acquisition of Express Scripts.

As 2018 wound down, a federal judge took an ax to the Affordable Care Act as the Trump administration kept up its efforts to undermine the law, with CMS expanding short-term health plans many say are built to subvert the ACA. Elimination of the individual mandate penalty, Medicaid expansion and rising premiums all likely contributed to declined enrollment on ACA exchanges as well.

The administration encouraged states to use waivers to expand controversial Medicaid work requirements and proposed site-neutral payments, rattling health systems of all sizes that were already struggling under ferocious operating headwinds. Hospitals cut back on services and invested heavily in lucrative outpatient facilities in an attempt to reclaim volume.

Tech companies Apple and Amazon pushed further into the space, with the former focusing on mobile health apps and the latter focusing on, well, almost everything.

But that’s just scratching the surface. Here is a curated list of Healthcare Dive’s top stories from the last year.

    1. Optum a step ahead in vertical integration frenzy

      After a 2017 marked by failed horizontal mergers, vertical consolidation came into vogue during the year, led by CVS-Aetna, Cigna-Express Scripts and Humana-Kindred.

      Some smart observers saw a predecessor to these unions in UnitedHealth Group’s Optum: a pharmacy benefit manager plus a care services unit that employs over 30,000 physicians, using data analytics to capitalize on consumerism and value-based care.

      Our piece on Optum’s solid foothold in the space, and its likelihood of staying ahead of the nascent competition, was Healthcare Dive’s most-read article in 2018. Read More »

    2. New Medicare Advantage rules hold big potential for pop health

      A novel Medicare Advantage rule giving payers more flexibility to sell supplemental benefits to chronically ill enrollees sparked a fair amount of interest in our readers.

      The rule offered up a slate of new opportunities for insurers such as UnitedHealthcare and Humana that can now work with rideshare companies to provide transportation to medical appointments, air conditioners for beneficiaries with asthma and other measures around issues like food insecurity in a broad shift to recognizing social determinants of health. Read More »

    3. Apple debuts medical records on iPhone

      Outside players such as Apple, Amazon and Google moved forward in their bids to disrupt healthcare in 2018. Apple rang in the New Year with its announcement that customers would now be able to access their medical records on the Health app following months of speculation and buzz.

      The move looks to put access to personal, sensitive data back in the patients’ hands, an objective a lot of the entrenched healthcare ecosystem can get behind as well. Heavy hitters on the EHR side (Epic, Cerner, athenahealth) and the provider side (Johns Hopkins, Cedars-Sinai, Geisinger) are taking place in the initiative. Read More »

    4. At least 14 states have legislation addressing safe staffing currently, but California is the only one to implement a strict ratio at one nurse per every five patients. Looking to 2019, in Pennsylvania voters elected a governor who has voiced support for state legislation. Read More »
    5. More employers go direct to providers, sidestepping payers

      Employers ramped up their cost-containment creativity in 2018. One method? Cutting out the middleman and forging direct relationships with providers themselves, whether it’s contracting with an accountable care organization to manage an entire employee population or a simple advocacy role to fight for payment reform.

      Aside from some correlated CMS interest, big names forging inroads in the arena include General Motors, Walmart, Whole Foods, Boeing, Walt Disney and Intel, all with various levels of investment.

      Although only 6% of employers are doing so currently, 22% are considering solidifying some sort of provider relationship for next year according to a Willis Towers Watson survey. It’s also likely the Amazon-J.P. Morgan-Berkshire Hathaway venture will look at direct contracting in its (still vague) mission to lower employer costs. Read More »

    6. Amazon Business’ medical supply chain ambitions: 4 things to know

      Amazon’s B2B purchasing arm reached out and grabbed the healthcare supply chain this year, shaking a once-predictable business model.

      Under intense operating headwinds, supply chain professionals looked to trim the fat from traditional distribution and supplier models in 2018. Some looked to Amazon Business, which generated more than a billion dollars in sales its first year alone by relying on its marketplace model, streamlined ordering and a “tail spend” strategy.

      1. Healthcare Dive discussed this and more with global healthcare leader at Amazon Chris Holt in an exclusive interview that drove a lot of interest. Read More »

GE, Medtronic among those linking with hospitals for value-based care

Value-based care was a buzzword over the past year, with providers, payers and healthcare execs across the board looking (or saying they’re looking) for ways to cut costs and improve quality.

Although legal barriers stemming from the Anti-Kickback Statute and Stark Law persist, medical technology companies jumped on the bandwagon, with big names like GE, Philips and Medtronic coupling with hospitals to promote VBC initiatives. Read More »

  1. How Amazon, JPM, Berkshire Hathaway could disrupt healthcare (or not)

The combination of the e-commerce giant, a 200-year-old multinational investment bank and Warren Buffet’s redoubtable holding company joining forces to take on healthcare costs spooked investors in traditional industry players. The venture added a slew of big names to its C-suite, including Atul Gawande and Jack Stoddard for CEO and COO, respectively. Read More »

 

 

 

A Brief Look at Medicare Market Share for Six Major Metro Areas

https://www.markfarrah.com/mfa-briefs/a-brief-look-at-medicare-market-share-for-six-major-metro-areas/

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Medicare Advantage plans continue to be an attractive option for the rapidly increasing senior population.  As of November 2018, total Medicare Advantage (MA) membership stood at over 21.6 million, representing approximately 34% of the 63.7 million Americans eligible for Medicare.  Health plan enrollment and market share data are important metrics for health insurers to assess in order to identify opportunities and make better business decisions about products and services.  Companies not only look at their own market positions but also routinely analyze competitor membership to evaluate relative market share.  Industry analysts often assess market share at the county or metropolitan statistical area (MSA) level in order to gain a more complete competitive picture of the market.  This brief presents an overview of Medicare market demographics and market share data, with a focus on health plan market position for six major metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the U.S.

Competition and Market Share

For the purposes of this brief, MFA first looked at the competitive mix in the Medicare and Medicare Advantage markets through analysis of enrollment figures from the Health Coverage Portal™ and Medicare Business Online™ by metropolitan areas in the United States. 

  • Seniors have a choice between coverage offered by original Medicare and Medicare Advantage (MA).  While potential market size is an important metric, understanding the insurance preferences of seniors requires a closer look at enrollment within each area.  How seniors are behaving as consumers varies greatly among the metropolitan areas.  To shed more light on these differences, Mark Farrah Associates calculated the penetration rate for original Medicare & Medicare Advantage plans.  Penetration rate is calculated by dividing the number of plan members by the number of those eligible for Medicare.  The penetration rate provides the overall market share which can be used to analyze seniors’ choice between sticking with original Medicare and choosing a Medicare Advantage plan.
  • There is a greater degree of variability across the top 6 MSAs when considering original Medicare vs. Medicare Advantage penetration rates, per the chart above. The Chicago MSA has the highest original Medicare rate at just over 70.9% with the lowest Medicare Advantage penetration rate (24.1%). Similarly, Philadelphia is well below the national average with a Medicare Advantage penetration rate of 28.1%.  One reason for the lower Medicare Advantage penetration in both Chicago and Philadelphia is the popularity of Medicare Supplement plans in both Illinois and Pennsylvania. On the other hand, Miami is currently sitting with only 41.5% of those eligible enrolled in original Medicare with the highest penetration rate of the 6 MSAs in the Medicare Advantage market at 53.5%. Los Angeles also records above average Medicare Advantage popularity with almost a 48% penetration rate.
  • Based on MFA’s county estimates, the above table provides the top Medicare Advantage companies and their corresponding market share in each of the top MSAs. UnitedHealth Group appears to have a strong foothold in 5 of the MSAs above, except for the Philadelphia MSA. Humana also has a large presence across the selected MSAs.

Conclusion

Eligibility, geographic location, income levels and overall health status of a population are just a few determinants of Medicare penetration in a particular area.  While further demographic insight would be required to discern why Medicare and Medicare Advantage penetration is higher in some areas more than others, it is clear that the competitive mix among these MSAs indicates varying degrees of consumer choice.  Nonetheless, the Medicare market continues to grow as more and more Americans of the Baby Boom generation enter retirement age.  As always, Mark Farrah Associates will monitor enrollment trends and industry shifts in this highly competitive segment.

 

 

 

Healthcare Triage: Medicare for All and Administrative Costs

https://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/healthcare-triage-medicare-for-all-and-administrative-costs/

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Political talk is getting more and more serious around Medicare for All in the United States. The argument, as usual comes down to costs. One of the advantages that proponents always bring up are the very low administrative costs of Medicare. Are those low costs for real? Would they hold up if everyone was in the system? Healthcare Triage looks at the facts.