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 →

A Time to Kill HIPAA1

This article “A Time to Kill HIPAA” first appeared in the Daily Journal on May 5, 2017.

iStock_000006020673Large“Sarcasm:  the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.” – Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky

Imagine a world in which a basic identification card contained a lifetime of medical information, immediately accessible during a routine physical or life-threatening emergency. The technology behind such seeming science fiction could heal a fragmented health care system, affording providers access to critical information in a timely manner to ensure the highest standard of care with maximum efficiency.  Only a few years ago, such inefficiencies inherent at the core of American health care provision resulted in as much as $226 billion in increased spending annually, yet salient health care information remained just out of a provider’s technical reach.

The greatest obstacle standing between American health care and the elusive, omnipotent digital medical record turns 21 this summer, the equivalent of a modern-day Methuselah in an industry defined by zeros and ones. Born the same year Google launched and the price of gasoline was $1.22 per gallon, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) sought to improve portability and continuity of health insurance coverage by, among other things, adopting standards for organizations to develop ways in which electronic health transactions could improve health care while also addressing the security of electronic health information systems. HIPAA’s privacy component debuted in 1999, followed by a series of modifications in 2002, as well as the addition of a security rule in 2003 and an enforcement rule addendum in 2006.  Changes in health care and technology during the first decade of HIPAA ultimately led to the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which specifically focused on the privacy and security concerns associated with electronic transmission of health information by strengthening the civil and criminal enforcement components within HIPAA.

Together, HIPAA and HITECH revolutionized the way health care providers (also known as “covered entities”) and the non-clinical entities with which they teamed (also known as “business associates”) shared and made available for use patient health information (PHI). With such broad definitions of “breach” and the resultant draconian punishments for noncompliance, HITECH sent the act of sharing health care information back in time in many ways, forcing providers to rely upon the United States Post Office to deliver highly personal, often time-sensitive, sometimes life or death information, while improvements were made to the infrastructures within which electronic and facsimile transmissions took place. Purportedly simplified in 2013 through even more regulatory modifications, modern day HIPAA regulation affords practically no room for error for those who utilize technology as a way to improve the delivery of health care in the United States. As it turns out, we have come to learn that health care is more about perseverance than perfection.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 →

PBS’s ‘This Emotional Life’: Mental Health and the Family Tree0

The Huffington Post first published this article on September 20, 2010.

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”— Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy

Thanks to the recent closing of many mental health facilities as a result of today’s tough economic times, the subject of mental illness has been getting a lot of attention lately. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 26.2 percent of Americans aged 18 and older — that’s one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Though no one likes to think of the possibility, the chances that a family will at some time face the specter of mental illness within its ranks are all too real.

While concern for those directly plagued by psychiatric issues is certainly a priority, surprisingly little information is geared toward the effect such an illness has on the loved ones and friends of the sick patient. Unlike cancer or heart disease, whose conditions can be qualified, psychiatric disorders continue to stand as an enigma to much of the modern world. This often leaves those closest to the patient wondering both how to feel and what to do when dealing with the ramifications that are sure to present themselves.

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 →

Health Care Is Not One Word Or One Person0

This articleHealth Care Is Not One Word Or One Person, first appeared in the Los Angeles Daily Journal on February 24, 2016.

Health care is not one word or one person

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” — Oscar Wilde

With the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court has lost a brilliant legal scholar and formidable protector of the U.S. Constitution. Scalia both earned respect and instilled fear during his 30-year tenure supervising America’s political climate. While his legacy ought to take precedence during this time of mourning, widespread panic over the future of health care reform threatens to overshadow the passing of Scalia the individual in favor of highlighting the ways in which his unexpected death may advance partisan agendas.

History has shown that a single justice can have a dramatic effect on the formation and defense of policy. In 1896, Justice John Marshall Harlan disagreed with those Supreme Court justices who believed that the Constitution allowed “equal but separate” public transportation accommodations for black and white citizens. His solitary dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson argued otherwise, stating that the Constitution did not create a “superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens” in the United States, and that the Constitution was itself color-blind. Fifty-eight years later, a unified Supreme Court made history with Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in holding that “separate but equal” had no place in public education.Read more →

Health Care’s Adventures in Wonderland0

This article by Craig B. Garner[1] and Jessica Weizenbluth[2], Health Care’s Adventures in Wonderland: Provider Agreements for Electronic Records, was first published in February 2016 in California Health Law News.

iStock_000068974059_Large“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”[3]

I.  INTRODUCTION

Y93.J1: Activity, piano playing[4]

Today’s health care provides its own spin on the word “complex,”[5] while at the same time forging possible paths to what may be “unwinnable” scenarios.[6] For the modern physician[7], the universe within which he or she exists requires updated definitions for words such as “complex” and “challenging,” especially as that “perfect storm”[8] also known as health care reform continues to age. Somewhere in between the 2015 Physician Quality Reporting System (“PQRS”)[9], the Physician Value Based Payment Modifying Policies (“VBP”)[10] and tenth revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (also known as ICD-10),[11] physicians find themselves still struggling to adopt electronic health records (“EHR”) in practice.[12]

As technology continues to evolve, there remains a general landscape with which those in the health care field must familiarize themselves. Even from this challenging vantage point, providers still have opportunities to bolster their position and practice their craft as they continue down the digital path and adopt an EHR system for which the Federal Government established incentive payments.[13]Read more →