Articles Posted in Michigan Healthcare News

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A bill amending Title XVIII of the Social Security Act will be proposed soon, marking the culmination of bipartisan efforts in the House of Representatives. Representatives Glenn Thompson (R-Penn.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) are prepared to announce a new telehealth bill, titled the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2014, which would reduce the Social Security Act’s current limitations on reimbursable telemedicine technologies.

Currently, the Social Security Act only permits reimbursement for telemedicine uses in rural health professional shortage areas (HPSAs) and non-Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). Not only are these qualifications limiting, they are also difficult to discern. For example, in the 2000s, the Health Resource and Service Administration (HRSA) eliminated the “rural HPSA” category from its designations, resulting in confusion regarding the correct application of the term. The forthcoming bill seeks to slowly resolve these reimbursement complications through a cost-effective, four-year plan:

  • Within six months of the bill’s passage, it would mandate that Medicare provide coverage for telemedicine in urban areas with a population of 50,000 or less. Additionally, the six month period would be used to increase care sites to include retail clinics.
  • Two years following the bill’s passage, Medicare coverage would expand to urban areas with a population of 100,000 or less. Furthermore, the bill would include home telehealth to the list of care sites, while expanding reimbursable services to encompass physical and speech therapy.
  • Lastly, after four years have passed, the bill would make telemedicine reimbursable across the United States.

In addition to the four-year plan, the bill seeks to officially add remote patient monitoring (RPM) to the Social Security Act’s list of reimbursable services. The bill defines RPM as “the remote monitoring, evaluation, and management of an individual with a covered chronic health condition . . ., insofar as such monitoring, evaluation, and management is with respect to such condition, through the utilization of a system of technology that allows a remote interface to collect and transmit clinical data between the individual and the responsible physician . . . or supplier.” By offering government reimbursement for RPM services, thereby expanding RPM use, the bill hopes to increase Medicare savings over time.

Also, the Representatives’ bill would task the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) with developing standards for remote patient monitoring. Finally, the United States comptroller would be directed to conduct a study within two years of the bill’s passage, to determine the efficacy and estimated Medicare savings from the expansion of telemedicine applications.

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Last week, the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA) announced the Statistical Sampling Pilot Program (Pilot Program). The Pilot Program offers Medicare providers an alternative route, along with the Settlement Conference Facilitation Pilot, to reach a final determination for claims pending at the administrative law judge (ALJ) hearing level without enduring the 2-3 year delay for hearing. Although the Pilot Program offers a time-saving and perhaps more efficient option for Medicare providers, engaging in the Pilot Program also comes with risks as Medicare providers may “put all of their eggs in one basket” and rely on a single ALJ to issue a decision that affects a large volume of claims. In some cases, the provider may know the identity of the ALJ prior to agreeing to statistical sampling, but in other cases the provider will not.

The Pilot Program is available to Medicare providers that have requested an ALJ hearing following a Medicare Qualified Independent Contractor (QIC) reconsideration decision. At this time, the ALJ hearing requests must either be assigned to an ALJ or must have been filed between April 1, 2013 and June 30, 2013 and it must meet all jurisdictional requirements, including that it was filed timely. In order to be eligible for the Pilot Program, the Medicare provider must have a minimum of eligible 250 claims and the claims must be one of the following: (1) pre-payment claim denials; (2) post-payment non-RAC claim denials; or (3) post-payment RAC claim denials from one RAC. In addition, claims that are assigned to different ALJs or were requested in different consolidation groups may be incorporated into the request for statistical sampling.

A Medicare provider that meets the eligibility requirements for the Pilot Program may request statistical sampling by submitting a “Request for Statistical Sampling” form that is available on OMHA’s website. The provider must also submit a spreadsheet, a template is also available on OMHA’s website, that provides detailed information about the claims requested to be included in the statistical extrapolation.

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On June 26, 2014, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed into law SB 690, allowing a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant to treat a patient without a physician’s referral. Pursuant to the new law, which goes into effect January 1, 2015, physical therapist may now treat self-referring patients without a prescription from a physician under the following circumstances: (1) for up to 21 days or 10 treatments, whichever comes first; or (2) the patient is seeking physical therapy services to prevent injury or promote fitness. With the signing of SB 690, all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, now provide for some kind of direct access to physical therapists.

Under the new law, when a physical therapist is treating a patient without a prescription from a physician, the physical therapist must refer the patient to a physician if the physical therapist has reasonable cause to believe that symptoms or conditions are present that require services beyond the physical therapist’s scope of practice. In addition, the law provides that the physical therapist must consult with a physician if the patient does not show reasonable response to treatment in a time period consistent with the standards of practice. The new law also provides that the physical therapist must determine that the patient’s condition requires physical therapy before delegating physical therapy interventions to a physical therapist assistant.

According to the House Committee’s summary of Senate Bill, these rule changes “do not create an open door to [physical therapy] services; a patient would need to obtain a prescription if more than 10 visits or three weeks of treatment were needed.” Moreover, as provided in concurrently adopted Senate Bills (SB691-SB694), an insurer would not be mandated to provide coverage for treatment that was not provided pursuant to a prescription from a physician.

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Earlier this week, the boards of Beaumont Health System, Botsford Hospital, and Oakwood Healthcare approved a merger agreement to form a new $3.8 billion nonprofit organization–Beaumont Health. The deal, which still requires state and regulatory approval, would create the region’s largest health system with 8 hospitals, 153 outpatient care sites, 5,000 physicians, 33,093 employees and 3,500 volunteers. Beaumont Health expects to receive approval by the Federal Trade Commission and Michigan Attorney General in time to close the transaction by this fall.

Beaumont Health joins the long list of mergers between hospital systems over the recent years as many hospitals seek to reduce costs and improve patient care through more streamlined operations, increase bargaining power with insurance companies, and take advantage of the cost-saving incentives included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

When news of the merger first broke, Fox 2 Detroit interviewed Wachler & Associates partner Andrew Wachler, who explained that the merger could allow patients access to each hospital’s specialization, while allowing the hospitals to share costs. As Mr. Wachler explained, this type of cost sharing typically leads to improved health care quality and reduced costs.

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Technological advancements that allow for quicker and more secure electronic communication have encouraged telemedicine. The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) defines telemedicine as “the practice of medicine using electronic communications, information technology or other means between a licensee in one location, and a patient in another location, with or without an intervening healthcare provider.” Telemedicine technologies allow for easier access to health care in rural areas, as well as nearly immediate contact with specialists for individuals involved in an emergency situation. However, widespread usage of telemedicine is still developing and most states have yet to take the appropriate legislative initiative to enact guidelines for state medical boards and health providers to follow when implementing telemedicine systems. As a result, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), acknowledging the benefits that telemedicine offers, decided to step in.

On April 26, FSMB adopted a Model Policy for the Appropriate Use of Telemedicine Technologies in the Practice of Medicine (Model Policy). The Model Policy comes as a result of the collaborative efforts of the FSMB-appointed State Medical Boards’ Appropriate Regulation of Telemedicine (SMART) Workgroup. The SMART Workgroup, made up of state medical board representatives and telemedicine experts, was tasked with creating uniform guidelines for state medical boards and health providers after:

  • Conducting a comprehensive literature review of telemedicine services and proposed and/or recommended standards of care;
  • Identifying and evaluating existing telemedicine standards of care developed and implemented by state medical boards;
  • Revising the FSMB’s 2002 policy.

In the absence of state legislation, the Model Policy offers a uniform approach to guide state medical boards and health providers in several essential areas.

First, the SMART Workgroup emphasized that the physician-patient relationship is integral in maintaining the integrity of medical care. The Model Policy notes that, before giving any medical advice, physicians utilizing telemedicine should first:

  • Fully verify and authenticate the location and, to the extent possible, the requesting patient;
  • Disclose and validate the provider’s identity and applicable credential(s); and
  • Obtain appropriate consents from requesting patients after disclosures regarding the delivery models and treatment methods or limitations, including any special informed consents regarding the use of telemedicine technologies.

In addition, the Model Policy notes that an appropriate physician-patient relationship has not been established when the physician’s identity is unknown to the patient. Furthermore, a patient must not be randomly assigned to a physician, but rather have a choice, whenever appropriate. So long as the standard of care is met, the physician-patient relationship can be established using telemedicine technologies.

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In the past year, thousands of health care providers across the country have been excluded without cause from their insurance plan’s provider networks. The proliferation of narrow networks – defined as health insurance plans that limit the doctors and hospitals available to their subscribers – has caused a backlash amongst providers, who claim the insurers’ terminations will squeeze beneficiaries on access to care, and disrupt longstanding patient-physician relationship, emergency department care, and referral networks.

Although the Affordable Care Act did not create narrow networks, the reform law accelerated the trend by limiting insurer’s ability to continually lower benefits and exclude unhealthy individuals. Without other ways to compete, controlling providers and limiting choice is the insurers’ best way to lower premiums and thus compete on the exchanges. Insurers claim that narrow networks control costs and allow for higher quality, better coordinated care.

In most cases, however, patients choose insurance plans based on the plan’s access to a specific provider network. Patients subscribe and re-subscribe to one-year commitments with the primary intent to access their long-term primary care physicians or other regularly seen providers. Patients often build relationships with these providers over several years, even decades. Now, without notice or the ability to switch their plan, the patients’ physician is suddenly out-of-network and cost-prohibitive.

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Wachler & Associates partner Andrew Wachler appeared on Fox 2 Detroit this morning to discuss the recent announcement that Beaumont Health System, Botsford Health Care, and Oakwood Healthcare have signed a letter of intent to form a new $3.8 billion nonprofit health system.

In his interview, Mr. Wachler described the advantages this affiliation will provide in improving patient care and accessibility. He indicated that it could allow patients access to each hospitals’ various specializations and also allow the hospitals to share technology and capital resources, which in time has the potential to improve quality of care and reduce costs.

Mr. Wachler also explained that the Affordable Care Act, which includes the concepts of bundled payments and Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), incentivizes large health systems to manage care efficiently, and may consequently result in a greater focus on wellness and preventive care.

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Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood of the Eastern District of Michigan sentenced 53-year-old Michigan resident Muhammad Shahab to 50 months in prison and three years of supervised release for perpetrating almost $11 million in Medicare fraud between August 2007 and October 2009. Shahab and his co-defendants were also ordered to pay over $10.8 million in restitution to the Medicare Program.

The Department of Justice Press Release reported that Shahab, who had helped finance and establish two Detroit-area home health agencies, pled guilty to one count of health care fraud back in February 2010. Plea documents revealed that Shahab “admitted that while operating or being associated with both health agencies, he and his co-conspirators billed Medicare for home health visits that never occurred.” Shahab, the leader of the fraud scheme, admitted that he and his co-conspirators falsely used the Medicare numbers and signatures of Medicare beneficiaries who were not homebound or needed physical therapy service on medical documentations. Shahab and his co-conspirators offered cash kickbacks and other inducements to these Medicare beneficiaries in exchange for their participation.

In addition, through kickback payments to physicians and other individuals associated with physicians, Shahab obtained physician referrals for medically unnecessary home health services. Shahab confessed to billing and receiving payments from Medicare for medically unnecessary services and services never rendered.

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On Monday, September 16, 2013, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed into law legislation that will expand Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of Michigan residents. Medicaid expansion is a national effort initiated through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act increases available federal funding for states that choose to expand eligibility levels for Medicaid coverage. Medicaid expansion was made mandatory under the Act in 2010, but in a 2012 Supreme Court decision, Chief Justice Roberts held that Congress may not penalize states that choose not to participate in Medicaid expansion. As a result of this Supreme Court decision, Congress may not take away a state’s existing Medicaid funding.

If Michigan receives approval and federal waivers from the Obama administration, Michigan will have access to more than a billion dollars a year in federal funding. Beginning in 2014, the Medicaid coverage for newly-eligible adults will be fully funded by the federal government for the first three years, and will be phased down to 90% by 2020. The expansion will cover adults that earn up to 133% of the poverty level, which equates to about $15,500 for an individual and approximately $31,000 for a family of four.

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On Tuesday, September 3, 2013, the Michigan House gave final legislative approval to Medicaid expansion under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This legislation, House Bill 4714, is expected to be signed by Governor Rick Snyder in the coming weeks.

The Affordable Care Act increases federal funding for states that increase eligibility standards for Medicaid enrollment. As passed in 2010, Medicaid expansion was mandatory under the Act, but was subsequently made option by a 2012 Supreme Court decision. CMS administration has announced that states do not have a deadline for deciding whether or not to expand, and in addition, states are free to terminate expansion with financial penalty from the federal government.

Federal funds are available as early as January 1, 2014, but Michigan will likely delay implementation until the spring. According to a Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency analysis published in March that examines the Snyder Administration’s proposed expansion of Michigan’s Medicaid program, the state’s decision to expand could cover an additional 400,000 Michigan residents by means of $1.7 billion in federal funding. Wachler & Associates will continue to keep you updated on Michigan’s decision to expand Medicaid enrollment and other significant healthcare law news. Please subscribe to the Wachler & Associates health law blog by adding your email address and clicking “Subscribe” in the window on the top right of this page.