HOSPITALS GIVE UNTIL IT HURTS

This article, Hospitals Give Until It Hurts, first appeared in California Healthcare News on April 10, 2018.

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“The formula ‘two and two make five’ is not without its attractions.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky

A 2005 report surveyed 1,771 personal bankruptcy filings, half of which cited medical expense as the cause.  For those suffering from an illness that preceded bankruptcy, individual out-of-pocket medical expenses averaged close to $12,000, and those qualifying as “medical debtors” were 42% more likely to experience lapses in health insurance coverage. This serves as the backdrop to what is commonly known in health care as “charity care” or “hospital fair pricing policies.”  Consumer advocates blamed hospitals as the cause of this financial epidemic, fueled by the absence of any law or regulation regarding the prices that uninsured and underinsured consumers/patients paid for health care, not to mention the collection practices employed by those entities insisting upon payment for services rendered.

Health Care By Robin Hood

Fundamentally there should be nothing wrong with accepting from those patients without financial means less money than wealthier patients for similar services. Certain laws are inconsistent with this medical benevolence, such as one federal statute that prohibits health care providers from submitting a bill for payment substantially in excess of that entity’s usual charges for these items or services.  The penalty for violating this law, 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7(b)(6), is possible exclusion from Federal health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. The California Court of Appeal, Fifth District, offered another reason why hospitals should refrain from such generosity, specifically after the seminal 2014 decision in Children’s Hospital of Central California v. Blue Cross of California (226 Cal. App. 4th 1260). After decades of fighting between non-contracting providers and insurance companies, the best advice the judicial system had to offer in defining “reasonable value” was past agreements to pay and accept a particular price.

Nevertheless, legislators believed the ways in which hospitals should bill the uninsured could not be left to chance, and in 2005 California passed Assembly Bill 774 which required hospitals to develop a policy specifying how it will determine financial liability for services rendered to financially qualified patients and those patients without any insurance.  In part, AB 774 (1) placed limitations on billing and collection practices for hospitals as well as their billing agents, (2) required hospitals to submit to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) their plan to comply with the new obligations, and (3) charged the Office of the Attorney General with enforcing transgressions. … Read more →

The Upside to Broken

This article The Upside to Broken first appeared in California Healthcare News on January 9, 2018.

iStock_000020087330LargeThe world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”  — Ernest Hemingway

When in Colorado

Just outside Aspen, Colorado, an elevated system dependent upon variations in tension on a rope that bends and flexes over sheaves and around bullwheels transports trusting passengers 1,500 feet up the side of a mountain. Each of these sky travelers has a front-row seat to the possible danger and calamity that can at any time strike immediately below, but only an observant few notice Aspen Valley Hospital during their journey upward. Fewer still realize this health care facility is an outpatient department of neighboring Aspen Valley Hospital. Located in rural Snowmass Village, Colorado, this tiny adjunct treats most injuries and illnesses that manifest on the mountain, leaving everything else typically handled by an acute care hospital to the main facility eight miles away in Aspen proper. Heedless of weather conditions and current events, Aspen Valley Hospital soldiers on in its commitment to honor the Hippocratic Oath.

Death by Taxes

As it does so, the American health care system finds itself on the defense against yet another partisan attack, this time in the form a massive tax code overhaul. In the process of implementing record-breaking tax cuts throughout the national economy, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act effectively eliminates the Individual Mandate provisioned under the Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”). Five years ago, in the seminal decision National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius, Chief Justice John Roberts and the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the ACA’s Individual Mandate. This was not accomplished through the Commerce or Necessary and Proper Clauses of the U.S. Constitution, but rather through Congress’s authority to lay and collect taxes (U.S. CONST., art I, § 8, cl. 1).  While not quite the same beast as the repeatedly failed “repeal and replace” challenges the nation’s health care system withstood earlier in 2017, this most recent foray is at least legally proper. The question that still remains, however, is exactly how will health care in the United States change in 2018, when fiscal repercussions end against those Americans who fail to maintain minimum essential health insurance coverage?

In a universe where the actuarial resides, eliminating the Individual Mandate is a death sentence that will ultimately collapse the ACA’s fiscal sustainability. In other, more practical realms, a health care system within which younger, healthier patients have no motivation to obtain insurance totally undercuts the already diminishing number of payers to wreak havoc in the form of health insurance premium hikes, necessary or not. The nation’s already depleted health care arsenal against such a response from payers is practically useless, as it is left with only unthinkable options such as the return of preexisting conditions and elimination of premium parity restrictions, the justification for which is either “some lose” or “everyone loses.” This is hardly an enviable position from which to defend itself. … Read more →

A Place for Death In Health Care

California Healthcare News first published this article on October 10, 2017.

A place for death in health care“Art is the tree of life.  Science is the tree of death.”  — William Blake

When President Obama signed the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010, the word “death” appeared in the 903 pages of Public Law 111-148 a mere fifteen times. However, the concept of death plays an integral role in defining the institution of health care in the United States, often in the form of increased funding from or on behalf of a health care provider to forestall its inevitable arrival. At the same time, health care has an abundance of codified rules and regulations, and hospitals and providers must adhere to a stringent standard of care governing the provider-patient encounter.  Within this equation, death is a total wild card, and the inestimable stress it places upon our health care system remains completely unpredictable.

A Matter of Life and Death

If health care’s primary function is to challenge death, Medicare bears the brunt in this modern age, especially when it comes to crafting the rules that govern care for nearly one out of every five U.S. residents, not to mention the additional 22% of the population who receive benefits under state Medicaid programs. Between federal statutes, federal regulations, administrative decisions and Medicare’s online billing manual, it was likely easier to procure a second coin for a return trip with Charon back across the rivers Styx and Acheron than it is to actually understand the infrastructure within which the United States spent $646 billion for Medicare and $545 billion for Medicaid in 2015, the equivalent of 40% of the national health expenditures for that year. … Read more →

An Unhealthy Congressional Mess0

The Los Angeles Daily Journal first published this articleAn Unhealthy Congressional Mess, on July 27, 2017.

Wooden puppet with a headache
Wooden puppet with a headache

“Genius is finding the invisible link between things.” — Vladimir Nabokov

The scope of medical technology is continually evolving. In 1967, a South African surgeon removed the heart from a twenty-five-year-old female car-accident victim and placed it into the chest of a fifty-five-year-old male dying of heart disease.  The surgery was the first success of its kind, and the patient lived for an additional eighteen days. Ten years later at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, a heart transplant recipient survived fourteen months after surgery. Seven years after that, Columbia surgeons performed the first successful pediatric heart transplant. Centuries in the making, this particular miracle of modern medicine today boasts 3,500 annual heart transplants world-wide who live an average of fifteen years longer thanks to earlier trials.

The successes of modern medicine are the product of painstaking research, unprecedented and sometimes unavoidable patience, and a bit of good fortune, but the innumerable losses of the past lie in the shadows of each monumental breakthrough. The national infrastructure within which this fantasy becomes reality, however, appears to exist in stark contrast to the very reason behind its purpose.  In many ways, the chaos inherent in the current process by which Congress attempts to alter the course of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), exacerbated by any presidential “inspirations” delivered in messages of 140 characters or less, has transformed the stark reality of today’s health care structure into something far more surreal than swapping hearts, at least to those limited few who actually understand the status of the ACA as the Republican controlled Congress attempts to unravel it. … Read more →

The Senator Will See You Now0

California Healthcare News first published this article “The Senator Will See You Now” on July 11, 2017.

The Senator Will See You Now“It occurred to me that my speech or my silence, indeed any action of mine, would be a mere futility.”  — Joseph Conrad

On May 4, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act of 2017 (“AHCA”) by a picayune margin of just four votes. Commonly referred to as the most recent legislation designed to “repeal and replace” the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”), the Senatorial counterpart to the ACHA, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (“BCRA”), today rests in the hands of 52 Republican, 46 Democratic and 2 Independent U.S. Senators, as the nation waits for word on the fate of the ACA and President Obama’s legacy in the spectrum of health care reform.

There should be no cause for alarm when it comes to the hospital institution, enveloped as it is by a veritable blanket of seasoned health care practitioners with access to a formidable armory replete with 21st century medicine that defies science fiction, including cutting-edge technology that may have finally surpassed the elusive tricorder.  As the average life expectancy in the United States hovers on the cusp of 79 years, due in part to the acceptance of mental health parity and near elimination of yellow fever, smallpox, malaria, measles and diphtheria, the nation should be proud of its health care system and supportive of the estimated 23% of the nation’s $7 trillion annual budget it consumes.Read more →

The House that Cried Wolf0

This article “The House that Cried Wolf” first appeared in the Daily Journal on May 10, 2017.

iStock_000009605208Medium“The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat.”  – Confucius

An Exercise in Futility?

When it comes to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”), there is one thing on which both proponents and detractors can agree – this curious, far-reaching, highly controversial bill is a survivalist. Fraught with controversy and conflict from its inception, the bill found itself with a target on its back less than one full year after President Obama signed it into law, as the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act,” introduced in January 2011, passed the House of Representatives (the “House”) by a lopsided vote of 245-189. Four months later, a bill to repeal the ACA’s funding for health insurance exchanges passed the House by a similar margin of 55 votes. In 2012, the “Repeal of Obamacare Act” passed the house by a vote of 244-185, followed close behind by a 2013 bill of like-minded intent which passed the House by a vote of 299-195. Still another passed the House in 2015 by a vote of 239-186.  Whether threatened by death from subcommittee or senatorial action, Obamacare nonetheless persevered through these partisan attacks.

Throughout Obama’s tenure, numerous other attempts designed to retard or even sabotage various aspects of the ACA passed the House with flying colors, such as the 2014 bill suspending the Individual Mandate penalty. It was not until 2015, however, that both the House and Senate passed the “Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015,” a bill vetoed by President Obama in early 2016.  Most recently, on May 4, 2017, the House passed the latest attempt to repeal and replace the ACA by a slim margin of four votes (217-213). Fueled by the nation’s enigmatic, 45th President and coming just six months after the Chicago Cubs won their first World series in 108 years, the “American Health Care Act of 2017” (“AHCA”) seems to have everyone’s attention, even if the actual contents of H.R. 1628 remain elusive at best to both experts and laymen alike.Read more →

Intricacies of the Modern Health Care Behemoth0

California Healthcare News first published this article, Intricacies of the Modern Health Care Behemoth, on April  4, 2017.

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“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” – Henry Louis Mencken

Known by some as the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, others by the often sardonic alias “Obamacare,” and most recently highlighted through contentious “repeal and replace” rhetoric, health care reform has reemerged as a hot topic of discussion in households across the country. Those affected by this issue include anyone who (1) is currently sick or has been sick in the past, (2) has a friend or family member that is dealing or has dealt with an illness, or (3) is or knows someone who may one day receive that plastic bracelet bestowing the title of “hospital patient.” Basically, this refers to every American. And yet, so great is the divisiveness on how best to manage health care in the modern age, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) now finds itself in a paralytic state as advocates and critics tangle over the vast complexities at its core. The only commonality is the recognition that there is no simple solution.

Is Health Care Really So Complicated?

Complex by necessity, America’s current health care system may appear elaborate, ridiculous or even labyrinthine in turns, and changing even the smallest fraction involves delving deep into the belly of the beast. For example, Medicare disproportionate share hospital (DSH) adjustment provisions rely upon a statutory formula to calculate DSH patient percentage which is equal to the sum of the percentage of Medicare inpatient days attributable to patients eligible for both Medicare Part A and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and the percentage of total inpatient days attributable to patients eligible for Medicaid by not Medicare Part A. With this in mind, even the health care layman is quick to realize that, in labeling DSH adjustments (DSH Patient Percent = (Medicare SSI Days / Total Medicare Days) + Medicaid, Non-Medicare Days / Total Patient Days), one is forced to learn the equivalent of a new language. … Read more →

Repealing the Affordable Care Act – What Could Possibly Go Wrong?0

California Healthcare News first published Repealing the Affordable Care Act — What Could Possibly Go Wrong? on January 9, 2017.

Repealing the Affordable Care Act What Could Possibly Go Wrong?“Necessity is not an established fact, but an interpretation.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Evolution or Devolution?

In a constant state of flux, the American health care system has struggled to exist in the present since the introduction of Medicare in 1965.  Both in terms of medical care and its delivery, our nation’s health care system must continually evolve if it is to keep up with advances in science, technology and the treatment of disease, as well as the way we access these advances. As a result, each generation’s health care must balance providing that which has come to be expected with the need to expand coverage and modern methods of care.  As a nation, we depend upon those in highest office to monitor such changes, adding provisions where applicable and paring down what is no longer practical. Much of the divided nation fears that come January 20, 2017, Barack Obama’s legacy, the Affordable Care Act, may find itself vulnerable to a single stroke of the pen, potentially leaving millions of Americans without meaningful access to medical care. Others will celebrate as Donald John Trump accepts the role of 45th President of the United States. The only immediate certainty for modern American health care is that both sides will continue to argue whether the Affordable Care Act is a frivolous luxury or a social necessity. … Read more →

Supreme Court Decision Adds More Confusion to False Claims Act0

This article, Supreme Court Decision Adds More Confusion to False Claims Act, was first published July 12, 2016 at California Healthcare News.

Wooden puppet with a headache

“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” — Dante Alighieri

As modern medicine continues its attempts to bridge the gap between body and mind to provide more comprehensive care for patients, so too must the Federal Government address this gray area while endeavoring to regulate care for those less tangible medical issues of the mind.  The already elaborate labyrinth known as the Medicare Act has recently grown even more chaotic under the recent Supreme Court decision Universal Health Services, Inc. v. United States (ex rel. Escobar), which further blurs the line between false and fraudulent claims.

Teenage Medicaid beneficiary Yarushka Rivera sought guidance at Arbour Counseling Services in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The facility diagnosed Rivera as bipolar, although the Arbour “Ph.D.” rendering this opinion failed to disclose that her degree was from an unaccredited Internet-based college, or that Massachusetts had rejected her application for licensure as a psychologist. Twenty-three other Arbour “clinicians” also lacked the purported mental health professional licensures Arbour professed to represent. Not surprisingly, the service’s “prescribing psychiatrist” was in fact a registered nurse who lacked the credentials to do so. Arbour also misrepresented various payment codes, such as “family” or “individual” therapy, and it was discovered to have lied in its attempt to garner National Provider Identification (NPI) numbers for its non-practitioners. Needless to say, Rivera’s mother Carmen Correa and stepfather Julio Escobar were not pleased upon learning of the facility’s transgressions from an Arbour counselor five years into Rivera’s treatment.Read more →

Health Care’s Unfinished Bridge0

This article, Health Care’s Unfinished Bridge, was first published in California Healthcare News on April 5, 2016.

Health Care's Unfinished Bridge“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell

Every era relies on the intuition of a talented few in its search for scientific breakthroughs. Herodotus rejected the notion the Earth was flat, and in particular its description on the Shield of Achilles in Homer’s Iliad. Some 29 centuries later, science has reduced the labors of Homer to little more than myth, though philosophy still honors the epic, from its very first word (“μῆνῐν” or “wrath”) to its lesson addressing the value of balancing excessive pride with the fear of anonymity. Similarly, advances in technology have greatly benefited medicine in recent generations, as doctors increasingly approach diseases of the body from a tangible perspective. However, the treatment of diseases of the mind continues to be far more speculative in nature, serving to highlight the chasm between these two seemingly similar but ultimately disparate fields. This in turn presents a complex issue for both medical practitioner and mental health provider. … Read more →