The Poor Get Poorer: the Fate of California’s Hospitals Under the Affordable Care Act0

iStock_000013550840SmallThis article appeared in California Health Law News, Volume XXXII, Issue 3, Fall 2014/Winter 2015

[1] By Samuel R. Maizel[2] and Craig B. Garner[3]

Introduction

Distressed hospitals in California operate on small or non-existent profit margins.[4] For many of these hospitals, Medicare and Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California) are the largest payors.[5] The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (the “Affordable Care Act”)[6] was designed in part to increase the number of insured nation-wide,[7] the result of which logically should have been positive for California hospitals. Any cause for celebration, however, must first prevail over the cost containment provisions firmly entrenched in the Affordable Care Act, as these regulations created new concerns for California’s financially distressed hospitals.[8] Included among the multitude of threatening provisions in the Affordable Care Act are:

  1. A complete recalibration of Medicare disproportionate share payments (“DSH”) to hospitals[9];
  2. A reduction in Medicare revenue up to 1.5% during Fiscal Year 2015 (and 2.0% by Fiscal Year 2017) for hospitals which perform poorly under the Hospital Value Based Purchasing (“VBP”) Program[10]; and
  3. A penalty of as much as 3.0% for the hospitals which fail to meet the standards set forth in the Hospital Readmission Reduction Program (“RRP”).[11]

In addition to a penalty up to 2% for lapses in inpatient quality reporting and similar penalty relating to outpatient quality reporting, [12] a 2% cut in Medicare due to sequestration[13] as well as a penalty for those hospitals which fail to attest for “Meaningful Use”,[14] collectively the potential for any hospital to lose more than 10% of its Medicare revenue creates daunting challenges, especially with those institutions in California already struggling financially not to mention lacking the resources to establish the necessary infrastructure to compete in this era of change.[15]Read more →

The Nexus Between Compliance and Reputation0

This article first appeared in Corporate Compliance Insights on December 11, 2014.

reputation conceptual meter“It is easier to cope with a bad conscience than with a bad reputation.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

The past few years have been fraught with litigation for the health care industry, with major companies feeling the sting of compliance in both their reputations and their pocketbooks. In early November, Stryker settled hip implant litigation for more than $1 billion. In 2012, GlaxoSmithKline paid $3 billion to settle claims of overcharging, kickbacks and other health care transgressions, while, Abbott Laboratories paid $1.5 billion and Johnson & Johnson $1.2 billion, both for alleged violations of law. Even so, during the first week of November 2014, Stryker traded at its 52-week high, as Abbott and Johnson & Johnson traded near their 52-week high, though GlaxoSmithKline dipped near its 52-week low. GlaxoSmithKline’s downward trend began before a court in Changsha, China fined the company $500 million after a bribery conviction, coupled with the company’s pending bribery charges in the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Poland. Sadly, bribery charges are not uncommon in today’s health care market, as can be seen by the events of 2013, when prosecutors in Poland investigated Stryker, and those in 2014, when Abbott settled claims in India. China also fined Johnson & Johnson in 2014 for bribery charges, with a penalty of just over $3 million.Read more →

HIPAA Privacy in Emergency Situations0

iStock_000019241379SmallThis State Bar of California Health Law E-Bulletin was published on November 19, 2014.

In response to concerns about the spread of Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) issued a bulletin clarifying the ways in which the HIPAA Privacy Rule applies in emergency situations. Designed to protect the privacy rights of patients’ protected health information (“PHI”), OCR is mindful that in certain events health care providers must balance privacy rights with the need to protect the nation’s public health. The Privacy Rule provides for certain exceptions on a daily basis:

*  The Privacy Rule permits covered entities to share patient information without authorization when it is necessary to treat the patient (or to treat different patients).

*  Public health authorities and other parties responsible for ensuring public health and safety have access to PHI. This includes possible disclosure to a public health authority, at the direction of a public health authority, or to individuals at risk of contracting or spreading a disease or condition.

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Medicare’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program0

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This November 10, 2014, e-Bulletin is from the Health Law Committee of the Business Law Section of the California State Bar.

In its third year, Medicare’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (“RRP”) penalized hospitals for certain excess readmissions, including those relating to acute myocardial infarction (AMI), heart failure (HF), pneumonia (PN), total hip arthroplasty (THA) and total knee arthroplasty (TKA). On October 1, 2014 (the beginning of the new fiscal year for the federal government), the total amount for which a hospital may be penalized increased to 3 percent (up from 2 percent in fiscal year 2014 and 1 percent in fiscal year 2013). In addition to the increased penalty, this year Medicare also introduced four new measures for inclusion in the Hospital RRP: (1) coronary artery bypass grafts (CABG) surgery; (2) chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); (3) percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI); and (4) other vascular conditions.

For 2015, the formula employed by CMS to calculate the readmissions penalty is:

Aggregate payments for excess readmissions =

[(sum of base operating DRG payments for AMI) x (Excess Readmission Ratio for AMI-1)] + [(sum of base operating DRG payments for HF) x (Excess Readmission Ratio for HF-1)] + [sum of base operating DRG payments for PN x (Excess Readmission Ratio for PN-1)] + [(sum of base operating DRG payments for COPD) x (Excess Readmissions Ratio for COPD-1)] + [(sum of base operating DRG payments for THA/TKA) x (Excess readmissions Ratio for THA/TKA-1)].

Aggregate payments for all discharges = sum of base operating DRG payments for all discharges. Ratio = 1 – (Aggregate payments for excess readmissions/Aggregate payments for all discharges.) Readmission Adjustment Factor for 2015 is the higher of the ratio or 0.9700, all of which is based on claims data from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2013.

In California, 223 hospitals (64 percent) were penalized, with the average penalty being 0.41 percent. By comparison, 307 hospitals nationwide lost the maximum amount (1 percent) of their patient reimbursements in fiscal year 2013, and only 18 hospitals lost the maximum amount (2 percent) in fiscal year 2014. This year, 39 hospitals will receive the largest penalty (3 percent).  A complete listing of hospital results for fiscal year 2014–2015 is available at this link (courtesy of Kaiser Health News).

California’s Annual Data Breach Report0

statebarlogoThis November 7, 2014, e-Bulletin is from the Health Law Committee of the Business Law Section of the California State Bar.

In the October 2014 California Data Breach Report, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris offers a number of recommendations to protect the 38 million consumers in California, the same state where 17 percent of 2012 data breaches in the United States occurred and with a 28 percent increase in 2013. Some key findings from the AG’s report include:

  • In 2013 the AG’s Office received 167 data breach reports.
  • The retail industry reported the most breaches in 2013 (26 percent). Health care made up for 15 percent of statewide breaches in 2013.
  • More than half of the 2013 breaches (53 percent) were caused by computer intrusions (malware and hacking). The remaining breaches resulted from physical loss or theft of laptops or other devices containing unencrypted personal information (26 percent), unintentional errors (18 percent) and intentional misuse by insiders (4 percent).
  • Between 2012 and 2013, lost or stolen hardware or portable media containing unencrypted data made up the majority of breaches in the health care sector (70 percent).

Read more →

The Problem With Value-Based Purchasing0

This article first appeared in AHLA Weekly on October 31, 2014.

1379617_thumbnailFrom its inception on October 1, 2012,[1] the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) Program shifted Medicare’s paradigm to emphasize performance over costs in determining hospital reimbursement.[2] Reducing the overall Medicare reimbursement to hospitals by an estimated $1.4 billion for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015,[3] the VBP Program was quick to secure the attention of the nation’s health care providers. Technically “budget neutral,”[4] the VBP Program will return this same $1.4 billion to hospitals the following year in the form of performance incentives.[5] According to the federal government: The program’s “benefits will be seen in improved patient outcomes, safety, and in the patient’s experience of care. However, [the federal government] cannot estimate these benefits in actual dollar and patient terms.”[6]

As the federal government waits to assess the accuracy of its prediction, the FY 2015 reduction of 1.50% will finally level off at two percent (2%) in 2017.[7] An additional two years, however, are unnecessary to evaluate the VBP Program under fundamental accounting principles when using a general overview into the ways in which successful and profitable companies operate. Viewed from this perspective, the VBP Program is fundamentally flawed, and data from 2015, 2016, or 2017 will not present opportunities for correction. This article suggests that while smaller hospitals may bear the greatest collateral damage from the VBP Program, larger systems may suffer as well. The number of hospitals forced into financial distress or insolvency by the Hospital VBP Program remains to be seen, although consideration should be given to the number of hospitals lost to their communities it would take to undermine the projected benefits relating to outcomes, safety, and the overall patient experience. … Read more →

Just As Fragile As A Patient0

This article was first published on October 30, 2014 in the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

iStock_000036113648Large“Where there is a why, there is a how.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

The American hospital has evolved greatly over the past 100 years, from the almshouse once visited mainly by the desolate and poor as a last resort to that enigmatic, cutting edge institution which today forms the foundation of modern American health care. Advances in technology and medical science have transformed what were once terminal illnesses into minor health inconveniences, with the real battles against serious health threats typically occurring inside the four walls of a patient’s local hospital. The modern hospital has become such a beacon of hope that in 1986 Congress passed laws granting nearly everyone an unrestricted entitlement to emergency medical treatment at most acute care facilities.

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Safeguarding the Pharmaceutical Distribution System0

This October 23, 2014, e-Bulletin is from the Health Law Committee of the Business Law Section of the California State Bar.

statebarlogoIn November 2013, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the Drug Quality and Security Act (the “2013 Act,” Public Law 113-54), which intended to create uniform, national licensing standards for wholesale distributors and third-party logistics providers for the purpose of safeguarding the pharmaceutical distribution system.  In passing this new law, Congress recognized the need for clarity in distinguishing between manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors. To this end, the 2013 Act established uniform, national licensing standards that specifically preempted existing state licensing requirements for participation in the supply chain of pharmaceutical products. … Read more →

Medicare: The Gift That Keeps On Giving0

This article was first published at Corporate Compliance Insights on September 5, 2014.

iStock_000010996009Small“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”  — Dante Alighieri

The end of summer brings with it change across the United States.  Children and many young adults prepare themselves for the new school year, professional baseball players set their sights on what has come to be known as the Fall Classic, and foliage undergoes the first stages of fall’s impending metamorphosis. For America’s health care professionals, August has also become synonymous with the release of the final rule from the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”), which covers the Medicare Program’s Hospital Inpatient Prospective Payment Systems for Acute Care Hospitals (“IPPS”), and sets the rules of the game for those in the field, at least for another year.

Including such updates to the hospital IPPS for operating and capital-related costs as CMS continues to implement the Affordable Care Act, changes relating to graduate medical education (“GME”) and indirect medical education (“IME”) payments, revisions to the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing (“VBP”) Program, the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (“HRRP”), and the Hospital-Acquired Condition (“HAC”) Reduction Program, technical corrections to the provider administrative appeals and judicial review process, expanded use of Medicare Advantage (“MA”) risk adjustment data, not to mention the alignment of reporting and submission timelines for quality measures within the Medicare E.H.R. Incentive Program and IQR Program, this is one millenary regulation not to be missed. For those who may shy away from such Federal Register epics, the following is a brief overview of two critical topics. … Read more →

Medicare: The Perpetual Balance Between Performance and Preservation0

This article was first published in the Journal of Contemporary Health law & Policy on August 1, 2014.

iStock_000039923254Medium“Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.” — Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn

Passed by Congress and signed by President Lyndon Johnson into law in 1965, Medicare has weathered storms from all directions, growing to be the preeminent standard for health insurance in the United States.  The idea of losing Medicare as a vital public benefit still remains the single greatest fear with which each passing generation of Americans must contend, and yet, these challenges over the past fifty years, designed to fortify Medicare’s foundation and ensure its longevity, continue to take a toll on the program.

The most recent climate of reform includes changes implemented by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”).  The PPACA is designed to expand coverage for a broader group of people, yet it adds unprecedented layers of complexity such that it may be but a matter of time before the confusion experienced by today’s providers proves to be Medicare’s undoing altogether.  The decades of trial and error upon which health care in the United States have been built, at least from the point of view of both physicians and lawmakers who watch from the sidelines, may give way to confusion and disruption industry-wide as a result of newly enacted regulations.

Today, Medicare is the preeminent standard for health insurance in the United States, expanding despite fluctuations in the economic, political and social climate since its initial passage.  However, in its struggle toward sustainability, the Medicare Program must understand the resulting consequences as it distances itself further and further from its original simplicity in 1965.

Medicare’s original cost-based system gave way in the 1980s to the Prospective Payment System (“PPS”), an event noted by many with great concern.  Under PPACA, the Medicare system takes another monumental step as it incorporates elements of performance into the PPS.  Formulaic and confusing, Medicare’s recent approach to provider reimbursement has been likened to Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce, a book that some critics warn requires “skeleton keys” to understand.  In many ways, the need for hospitals and physicians to understand these performance-based measures may seem less important when fear of Medicare insolvency looms in the distance,13 especially as it relates to Medicare Part A (hospital insurance benefits for inpatient services) and Medicare Part B (supplemental insurance for outpatient services, among other things).  Irrespective of the fleeting grasp providers may have over PPACA’s new Medicare system, hospitals and physicians alike are mindful that the PPS as they once knew it is gone, replaced in part with the beginnings of a performance-based Medicare in which they may lose precious revenue, one percentage point at a time.

The entire article can be viewed here.