By: Jon Jablon, Esq.
Our consulting team recent came across a network agreement that had the interesting nuance of indicating that the provider would bill amounts that were in line with market standards.
Language like that is a killer. There’s no way around it. It’s so ambiguous as to be all but useless when trying to decide which amounts are properly billed. What exactly are the appropriate market standards? Who is empowered to decide that? When the payor and medical provider inevitably have wildly different opinions on that, how can they possibly resolve the matter when the contract language is so infuriatingly unhelpful?
In this example, the provider had unbundled certain charges, and argued that the market did in fact bear that billing methodology, since most private payors such as this one accepted it – and therefore it was proper pursuant to the contract. The plan, however, contended that a large portion of the provider’s business (and a large part of the total local market) was made up of Medicare claims, and CMS guidelines do not bear that type of unbundling – and therefore it was not proper pursuant to the contract.
Due to this tragically-unclear contractual provision, the payor and provider have been forced to either compromise (which neither wants to do), or take it to court (which neither wants to do, either). It’s going to come down to which option the parties hate less.
Another tragic aspect of this story is its moral. The moral of the story should be to make sure you read your contracts and have them reviewed by an expert prior to signing – but as many of us have found out the hard way, it’s not always possible to view a copy of the provider-facing network agreement. If the payor agreement that you sign talks about billing standards, make sure they’re clear and unambiguous; if it doesn’t, try asking to see the provider agreement. The worst anyone can say is no.
Food for thought: if you’re being asked to sign your name to terms that are clearly ambiguous, or terms the other party won’t even show you, maybe that vendor is not the right fit for your business…
By: Andrew Silverio, Esq.
Last month, the Missouri Hospital Association released a study which highlighted some alarming numbers relating to the rates of suicidal thoughts and actions among children covered by Missouri’s Medicaid program (available at https://www.mhanet.com/mhaimages/policy_briefs/PolicyBrief_SuicidalityChildren_0319.pdf). Among the studies key findings was a notable increase it suicidality amongst Medicare-covered children, along with a decrease in average length of inpatient admissions after the state made a switch from traditional fee-for-service Medicaid to a managed care structure in May 2017. The study looked at 18 months of data prior to the change, and 19 after.
Specifically, the study notes that after the transition from a fee-for-service model to managed care, the average length of stay at psychiatric hospitals for children and adolescents fell from 12.5 days to 7.3, and the 60 day suicidality rate among that same population nearly doubled (30, 60, and 90 day suicidality rates all saw jumps of between 81.7% and 93.2%). The disparities in services authorized are troubling as well – the percentage of admissions which were denied jumped 7.9 times from 3.3% to 26.4%.
Of course, there’s disagreement on the extent to which these numbers can be attributed to the switch in payment model – the Missouri Health Plan Association, which represents the three managed care Medicaid plans in Missouri, has slammed the report according to Kaiser Health News. The disparities make sense to Joan Alker, director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, however, who says “Managed care is an effort to save money and that is done by getting rid of unnecessary care or coordinating care better, but a lot of managed care organizations cut corners.”
Whether the managed care structure is being administered poorly, unsuited for this patient population as a whole, or completely irrelevant to these alarming findings, the impact on an incredibly vulnerable patient population is too significant to ignore, and the state should consider getting to the bottom of it to be a top priority. If you think you need an independent health plan consultant, contact Phia Group, today!
By: Erin Hussey, Esq.
There has been a lot of talk lately about the progressive push for Medicare-for-All. For instance, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) is seeking to introduce an updated bill called the Medicare for All Act of 2019. If passed, this bill would transform the U.S. health care system as it would essentially create a “single-payer” system run by the government. Medicare-for-All has also created a lot of uncertainty. For example, Medicare does not cover certain long-term care and does not include coverage for hearing, dental, vision or foot care, but supposedly the bill proposes to add some of these benefits.
Given the uncertainty of how a Medicare-for-All model would work in the U.S., there could be more support for a bill that was introduced on February 13th, called the Medicare at 50 Act. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) introduced this bill which details a Medicare buy-in option for Americans ages 50 to 64, who have not reached the Medicare eligible age of 65. This would allow individuals in that age range to buy Medicare plans instead of purchasing on the Obamacare marketplaces if they do not have coverage through their employer, or as an alternative option if they do have coverage through their employer. Stabenow believes this will allow for lower premiums than what is offered on the individual market and the bill would allow those who qualify for the marketplace subsidies to utilize those funds to buy into Medicare. She also believes the bill would get bipartisan support and that it’s something that could work right now, whereas Medicare-for-all is a more drastic undertaking for the U.S.
To add another layer to the above, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) re-introduced a bill on February 14th called the State Public Opinion Act. This bill would allow those who are not already eligible for Medicaid to buy into a state Medicaid plan regardless of their income.
We will be watching to see how these bills play out and to see how much support they receive from both sides of the aisle.
Plan sponsors of self-funded health plans have a lot to think about. From deciding which services to cover to making tough claims determinations, there are lots of moving parts to consider and be mindful of. Plans that utilize reference-based pricing are in the same boat, of course, except they have added even more moving parts to their benefits programs.
As many plans that use reference-based pricing are aware, some claims need to be settled with providers to eradicate balance-billing. A claim initially paid at 150% of Medicare may need to be ultimately paid at 200%, for instance, pursuant to a signed negotiation between the health plan and the medical provider. Fast-forward two months later, to when the plan receives notice from its stop-loss carrier that the carrier is only considering 150% of Medicare to be payable on the claim, and the extra 50% of Medicare (which can be a significant amount!) is excluded.
When the plan asks why it isn’t receiving its full reimbursement, the carrier quotes its stop-loss policy and the plan document. The former provides that the carrier will only reimburse what is considered Usual and Customary – and the latter provides that Usual and Customary is defined as 150% of Medicare, by the Plan Document’s own wording. The carrier’s liability, therefore, is limited to 150% of Medicare. The plan’s has chosen to pay more than that. Even though it’s for a very good cause, the stop-loss insurer may deny that excess payment amount. In this example, there is a “gap” between the plan document and stop-loss policy such that the plan has paid a higher rate than what the carrier is obligated to pay.
For this reason, it is so incredibly important for plans that are using reference-based pricing to talk to their stop-loss carriers. Some carriers will say “we don’t care – your SPD says 150%, so we’ll reimburse 150%,” but other carriers will say “we understand that reference-based pricing saves us money, and we understand that it’s not always as simple as paying 150% and walking away – so we’ll work with you in terms of reimbursement.” Other carriers still will agree to place a cap on reimbursements higher than what’s written in the Plan Document; in other words, if the plan provides that it’ll pay 150% of Medicare, the carrier may agree to reimburse settlements up to 200% of Medicare, if applicable and if necessary.
There are lots of options for how a stop-loss carrier might react to reference-based pricing, and the only way to find out is to have a conversation. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know (until it’s too late, that is).
Moral of the story? If you’re going to adopt reference-based pricing – whether full network replacement, carve-outs, out-of-network only, or any other type – put stop-loss high up on the laundry list of considerations.
By: Krista Maschinot, Esq.
It is no secret that this country has an opioid epidemic that has a rising death toll and price tag attached to it. According to the Center for Disease Control, there were approximately 63,632 deaths resulting from drug overdoses in 2016 with 40% of those deaths involving prescription opioids.1 A study conducted by Altarum, a health care research non-profit, found that the opioid epidemic, for years 2001-2017, cost this country $1 trillion.2 The total cost includes not just lost tax revenue and spending on health care, but also of lost wages, lost productivity, and social service costs.3
President Trump, earlier this week, signed into law H.R. 6, the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act (the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act), legislation that the president states will put an “extremely big dent in this terrible, terrible problem.” This bi-partisan legislation passed the Senate by a vote of 98-1 and the House by a vote of 396-14. The hope is that this legislation will reduce the estimated 1,000 people treated in emergency rooms each day for opioid misuse and reduce the number of overdose deaths each year. Highlights include:
A summary of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act can be found at https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/6.
Critics of the legislation claim it does go far enough to help the rising problem as it does not provide enough funding for addiction treatment.
Have you considered ways in which your health plan can help combat this problem? Perhaps by offering non-drug treatments for pain such as acupuncture, physical therapy, yoga therapy, or psychological interventions? Reach out to our consulting team at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
By: Philip Qualo, J.D.
The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 requires group health plan sponsors and employers that provide prescription drug coverage to disclose to employees and dependents eligible for Medicare Part D whether the plan's coverage is creditable or non-creditable. Prescription drug coverage is creditable when it is at least actuarially equivalent to Medicare's standard Part D coverage and non-creditable when it does not provide, on average, as much coverage as Medicare's standard Part D plan. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has provided a Creditable Coverage Simplified Determination method that plan sponsors can use to determine if a plan provides creditable coverage.
The notice requirement applies to all employers and health plans who offer prescription drug coverage, regardless of size, whether insured or self-funded, Affordable Care Act (ACA) grandfathered status or whether the plan pays primary or secondary to Medicare. Accordingly, the notice obligation is not limited to retirees but also Medicare-eligible active employees, COBRA participants and their respective dependents.
Notices of creditable or non-creditable coverage must be provided before the Medicare Part D annual enrollment period, which commences on October 15. Disclosure of whether prescription drug coverage is creditable or not allows individuals to make informed decisions about whether to remain in their current prescription drug plan or enroll in Medicare Part D plan during the enrollment period. The required notices may be provided in annual enrollment materials, separate mailings or electronically. Whether plan sponsors use the CMS model notices or other notices that meet prescribed standards, they must provide the required disclosures no later than Oct. 14, 2018. Individuals who do not enroll in Medicare Part D during their initial enrollment period and subsequently go at least 63 consecutive days without creditable coverage will generally pay higher premiums if they enroll in a Medicare drug plan at a later date.
It is important to note that Medicare-eligible individuals must be given notices of creditable or non-creditable prescription drug coverage at other times throughout the year as well. The notice must be provided: (1) before the effective date of coverage for any Medicare-eligible individual who joins an employer plan (2) whenever prescription drug coverage ends or creditable coverage status changes and (3) upon the individual’s request.
In addition to the to the notice distribution requirement, plan sponsors that provide prescription drug coverage to Medicare-eligible individuals must also disclose their Part D creditable or non-creditable prescription drug coverage status directly to CMS annually, no later than 60 days after the beginning of each plan year.
By: Patrick Ouellette, Esq.
Price transparency has never really been synonymous with health care. In fact, Kelly Dempsey wrote just more than a year ago about how a lack of clear and timely information on hospital billing practices continues to contribute to skyrocketing care costs, and the industry is currently no closer to a resolution. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced that it is attempting to address the issue by revising the pricing disclosure rules currently in place to ensure data is accessible to patients in a consumable format.
CMS responded to cross-industry stakeholders’ calls for greater price transparency by requiring that hospitals post their standard charges in a readable format online. This is not a complete revelation in the sense that hospitals have been required by law to establish and make public a list of their standard charges and individuals had the option to formally request their data in order to gain access. However, effective January 1, 2019, CMS updated its guidelines to specifically require hospitals to make public a list of their standard charges via the Internet in a machine-readable format, and to update this information at least annually, or more often as appropriate.
CMS issued the mandate through its Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) and the Long-Term Care Hospital (LTCH) Prospective Payment System (PPS) Final Rule:
While CMS previously required hospitals to make publicly available a list of their standard charges or their policies for allowing the public to view this list upon request, CMS has updated its guidelines to specifically require hospitals to post this information on the Internet in a machine-readable format. The agency is considering future actions based on the public feedback it received on ways hospitals can display price information that would be most useful to stakeholders and how to create patient-friendly interfaces that allow consumers to more easily access relevant healthcare data and compare providers.
It remains to be seen (1) how much pushback there will be from providers; and (2) whether having the information provided will be complete enough to ensure better care decisions on the part of individuals. Moreover, this new rule does not change the fact that hospitals may still bill patients based on their respective internal chargemaster rates. However, this news still represents a positive step forward toward transparent pricing, and thus greater competition, in health care.
By: Brady Bizarro, Esq.
The Affordable Care Act has endured quite the onslaught in the past year and a half. From seeing its outreach budget cut in half to the elimination of the individual mandate, Obamacare has really taken a beating. Now, the Trump administration has dealt another destabilizing blow to the healthcare law. On Saturday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that it would be forced to suspend some $10.4 billion in so-called “risk-adjustment payments” to insurance companies. These payments were designed to stabilize insurance markets by offsetting the cost to insurers who took on sicker, costlier patients.
This move came because of a February ruling by U.S. District Judge James Browning which held that the Department of Health and Human Services could not use statewide average premiums to come up with its risk-adjustment formula. In the view of the court, the agency wrongly assumed that the Affordable Care Act required the program to be budget-neutral. The Trump administration promised to appeal this federal court ruling, but in the meanwhile, it announced its decision to suspend billions in payments to insurance companies.
While the suspension of risk-adjustment payments directly impacts the fully-insured market, it will inevitably have a spillover effect into the self-insured market. Insurers have indicated that if these payments are not restored, they will be forced to raise premiums in 2019. You can bet that they will look to make up losses in their self-insured lines of business as well. That said, since healthier, less-costly employees tend to be in self-insured plans, the effect may not be so bad. Plans with more costly groups of employees will suffer far more.
Importantly, the Trump administration could issue a new administrative rule to address the concerns raised by the federal judge in New Mexico. It is unclear if the administration will respond, or will wait to fight the battle at the appellate level.
A few months ago, if I had told you that a republican governor of a deeply conservative state was ignoring Obamacare and was shut down by the Trump Administration, you may have called me crazy. Yet, that is exactly what the Trump Administration did to the state of Idaho on March 8, 2018. To understand why, we need to understand the bigger picture and what was really at stake in this fight.
Recall that Idaho, like many states, is facing a crisis in its state exchanges. The combined effect of the individual mandate’s elimination and rising costs for residents who earn too much money to qualify for Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) subsidies has led many healthy people to drop out of the market, leaving the state exchanges in a crisis. In response, Governor Butch Otter issued an executive order back in January that permitted health insurers in his state to sell health plans on the individual exchange that did not comply with Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) rules. Essentially, the state’s Department of Insurance (“DOI”) would have permitted plans to charge individuals more based on a pre-existing medical condition (or to deny coverage in some cases) and to impose annual and lifetime limits on claims, among other things. Blue Cross of Idaho, the state’s largest insurer, announced that it planned to sell “Freedom Blue” plans based on the new state guidance at as much as fifty percent less than typical ACA plans.
On March 8th, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) warned Idaho that if it did not enforce Obamacare, the federal government would be forced to step in to do so. This reaction surprised more political experts than it did legal experts. After all, why would the Trump Administration come to the defense of Obamacare; a law which the president and his party have long decried? The answer is because much more was at stake than Obamacare; the rule of law itself was at stake.
A fundamental legal principle is that federal laws are the supreme law of the land. This is known as the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Another well-established legal principle is that the federal government cannot commandeer the states to force regulators to enforce federal law. Essentially, states have no obligation to enforce federal law; but if they fail to do so, the federal government must step in. That is, unless the federal government decides not to intervene. Think of the example of marijuana legalization under the Obama administration. In that case, the federal government decided that it was not worth spending millions of dollars to enforce certain federal drug laws (and it largely still maintains that position under the current administration). By contrast, in the case of “sanctuary cities,” the federal government has decided to step in and enforce immigration laws that some states and municipalities are not enforcing.
Despite the different approaches outlined above, many legal experts will tell you that it is dangerous to permit the executive branch to selectively enforce the law when it wants to. That may be why the Trump administration stepped in to block Idaho’s actions. It likely decided that it was not worth setting a precedent in this case, especially because there are still other alternatives that Idaho can pursue to alleviate the issues it is having with rising premiums. We will be following this situation to see how the state responds to this latest setback.
By: Brady Bizarro, Esq.
To say that Massachusetts is a pioneer in healthcare reform is an understatement. Ever since the Commonwealth enacted a healthcare reform law that aimed to provide health insurance to all of its residents over a decade ago, policymakers planned to use elements of that law to build the foundation for national healthcare reform. One of those elements was an employer mandate, called the Fair Share Contribution, which required certain employers in the Commonwealth to provide group health benefits or face a $295 per employee fee.
In 2014, Massachusetts lawmakers repealed the Fair Share Contribution. This was done because the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA”) employer mandate was scheduled to take effect (after a delay). Massachusetts legislators still wanted the revenue the Fair Share Contribution generated, however, so it enacted a new law, called the Employer Medical Assistance Contribution (“EMAC”). EMAC is a tax on employers with more than five employees and it applies whether or not the employer offers health coverage to its employees. This act was meant to subsidize the Commonwealth’s Medicaid program, called MassHealth, and the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (“CHIP”).
Since 2011, approximately 450,000 people have lost their employer-sponsored insurance in Massachusetts. In the same time period, MassHealth enrollment increased by just over 500,000. The MassHealth program is literally drowning the state in debt, and so last year, Governor Charlie Baked signed H. 3822, which has two major components (beginning in 2018):
• It increases the EMAC tax from a max of $51 per employee per year to $77 per employee per year; and
• It imposes a tax penalty or EMAC Supplement on employers with more than five employees of up to $750 per employee per year for each nondisabled employee who receives health insurance coverage through MassHealth or subsidized insurance through the Massachusetts Health Connector (ConnectorCare).
Since the calculation is based on wages and not hours worked, an employer is subject to the penalty for each employee on MassHealth (excluding the premium assistance program) or receiving subsidized care through ConnectorCare regardless of full-time or part-time status. If the employee is enrolled in MassHealth due to a disability, they are not counted.
This legislation should be concerning for Massachusetts employers for a few reasons. First, if an employee chooses to voluntarily forgo an offer of coverage and instead applies and qualifies for MassHealth (excluding the premium assistance program) or subsidized ConnectorCare, the employer is penalized irrespective of the quality or affordability of the coverage that is offered. There is no exemption similar to that provided under the ACA employer mandate under which an applicable large employer (“ALE”) can escape tax exposure by offering coverage that is affordable and provides minimum value. But note that where an employer offers coverage that is both affordable and provides minimum value (as most do per ACA requirements), that employee would not be eligible for subsidized ConnectorCare coverage. Therefore, the EMAC Supplement really only applies to EEs who qualify for and enroll in MassHealth. Second, since employers are advised against asking an employee whether or not they are on Medicaid, the employer will not know its liability until the state’s Department of Unemployment Assistance sends them a letter informing them of their tax liability.
As states across the country feel the pinch of reduced federal funding, they may once again look to Massachusetts as a model to control costs to their Medicaid programs. In this case, however, employers will be squarely in the crosshairs.