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 →

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’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 →

Killing HIPAA0

This article, Killing HIPAA, first appeared in California Healthcare News on February 8, 2016.

iStock_000012752406_Large“When truth is buried, it grows. It chokes. It gathers such an explosive force that on the day it bursts out, it blows up everything with it.” -Emile Zola

The issue of confidentiality when applied to modern American healthcare is fraught with differing objectives, creating myriad complications as the needs of each attempt to merge together in their search for common ground and compromise. To arrive at a sense of clarity, we must look to those exceptions that define the fundamental system of rules at the heart of our nation’s health care structure, as the conflicting areas to be found within shed light on the vulnerabilities of the concept as a whole. The demands of federal statutes aside, gray areas abound, since attorneys can breach the duty of confidentiality in response to threats against life or to prevent substantial bodily harm, physicians must answer to certain matters of public health before protecting the secrets of the patient, and spouses can freely tell all when it comes to the actions of their partner, even if the words between them remain protected. … Read more →

The Health Care We Are Left With0

This article, The Health Care We Are Left With, was first published in Corporate Compliance Insights on January 6, 2016.

iStock_000007436109_Medium“Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”  Winston Churchill

Since the inception of the Affordable Care Act (the ACA) six years ago, the nation’s struggle over the proper provision of health care has been fought on many fronts, with both sides remaining passionately true to their convictions. As is the case with many of our nation’s historic battles, the American people may be remiss to disregard the impact of these struggles upon the evolution of our current health care structure. Like the January 3, 1777 Battle of Princeton during the American Revolution or the October 8, 1962 Battle of Perryville in the Civil War, many smaller events that appear understated or unimportant often have a long term impact. Instances where both patients and providers initially underestimated would-be tenets of the ACA can offer as much insight as outright Congressional mistakes in crafting the law. On the cusp of the iron anniversary for health care reform, this article offers examples of both the ACA’s shortcomings and successes. After all, too much of the planet’s most common element (at least by mass) can cause cirrhosis of the liver or arthritis, while a deficiency in iron can result in anemia. The following are topics that were resolved in 2015, as well as those for which 2016 may bring some clarity.Read more →

Health Care Unhinged0

This article, Health Care Unhinged, first appeared in California Healthcare News on November 3, 2015.

iStock_000054577884_Large“And though she’s not really ill | There’s a little yellow pill | She goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper | And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day.” — Sir Michael Philip Jagger and Keith Richards

To date, there exists no thermometer to measure vacillations in a person’s mental health, which is a good thing for febriphobics, and generally speaking, neither acetaminophen nor ibuprofen can cure mental illness, especially if the diagnosis is pharmacophobia. Unlike a fractured bone or sinus infection, ailments of the mind tend to be subjective and therefore more difficult to gauge. Just as a diagnosis of schizophrenia relies on a spectrum, psychotic examples range from hallucinations to speech impediments (even for glossophobics), and bipolar affective disorder by definition alternates between periods of elevated mood and depression. While the tenth revision of the medical classification system known as the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10) contains more than 14,400 different physical health concerns, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), still hovers around a paltry 300 disorders from which to choose.

We Know What We Do Not Know

The dearth of clearly identifiable mental disorders is a disheartening factor for the 3.1% of American adults who have presented with serious psychological distress within the past 30 days, or the 1.5 million hospital inpatients discharged with psychosis as the primary diagnosis, the average length of stay for whom was 7.2 days (and this not fast enough for those inpatients with nosocomephoia). Add to such dismal figures some 63.3 million visits to doctors (not including iatrophobics), as well as emergency departments or other outpatient clinics, and top off the numbers by including the 41,149 suicides that took place in 2013 (which equates to 13 deaths by suicide for every 100,000 people), one does not need a PsyD to identify a serious problem.Read more →

Medicare – Bridging the Gap Between Ridiculous and Sublime0

This article, Medicare — Bridging the Gap Between Ridiculous and Sublime, was first published in California Healthcare News on July 13, 2015.

Digital Illustration of a Chair
Between the Ridiculous and Sublime

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” — Salvador Dali

Somewhere in Rural America

Settled in 1845, the city of Sumter rests in the bucolic middle of South Carolina and boasts the only public park in the United States containing all eight known species of swan. Originally named Sumterville, this sleepy, rural Southern town has for nearly one hundred years been home to the Tuomey Healthcare System (“Tuomey”), an acute care hospital also providing a 36-bed nursery, 10 operating suites, Cancer Treatment Center, Tuomey Home Services and a subacute skilled care program. As of 2013, and affirmed in June 2015, Tuomey also faced a record-breaking $237,454,195 judgment for violating federal law.

The path leading up to this verdict was a crooked one. As it attempted to hedge projected losses of more than $15 million at the turn of the millennium over the next fifteen years, Tuomey knew the treacherous landscape into which it entered, and from the outset had no intention of navigating the federal physician self-referral prohibitions (commonly known as the “Stark Laws”) or the Federal False Claims Act (“FCA”) alone. To secure its end, Tuomey consulted with a former Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services, a prominent health care law firm, and its longtime counsel, Nexsen Pruit, who in turn sought assistance from a national consulting firm. While implementing new contracts with local physicians, Tuomey’s lone hold out, Michael Drakeford, M.D., filed the qui tam action in 2005 that resulted in the record-breaking outcome.Read more →

The Abyss of Managed Care0

This article, the Abyss of Managed Care[1]. was first published on June 24 2015, in the State Bar of California Business Law News, Issue 2 (2015).

iStock_000006020673Large“God hates violence. He has ordained that all men fairly possess their property, not seize it.”[2]

Modern American health care affords every hospital patient the inalienable right to emergency treatment,[3] although this same system has yet to create any parallel infrastructure beyond the clinical delivery of such care. While today’s emergency department physicians across the nation have access to cutting-edge, integrated technology-based tools[4] designed to improve patient outcomes by combining advances in medicine with evidence-based clinical guidelines,[5] the science of overseeing managed care patients often appears to be light years removed from the era in which it was born.[6] As a result, American health care has become a system of fundamental brilliance that finds itself limited by gross inefficiencies,[7] a combination that has led to a symbolic, if not actual, nationwide revolution.[8]

At their core, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act[9] and the amendments set forth in the 2010 Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act[10] address the concept of patient access, one of health care’s greatest challenges in recent years.[11] Notwithstanding the 961[12] regulatory pages known as the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,”[13] the relationship between the patient and the entity responsible for covering the cost of care has received surprisingly less attention in comparison.[14]

In California, the recent decision in Children’s Hospital Central California v. Blue Cross of California[15] has been seen by many as the culmination, and by some as the resolution, of conflict between providers and payers within the managed care system.[16] This article focuses on events preceding the Children’s Hospital Central California decision, how the managed care system of private payers has evolved over the past 40 years, and the challenges faced by payers and providers simply trying to coexist.Read more →

CMS Issues ACO Final Rule0

CMS Issues ACO Final Rule

Last week the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) issued its proposed final rule for Accountable Care Organizations (“ACOs”) participating in the Medicare Shared Savings Program (“MSSP”), a program designed to promote accountability for a patient population, foster coordination of items and services under Medicare Parts A and B, and encourage investment in infrastructure and redesigned care processes for high quality and efficient health care service delivery. CMS issued its proposed rule on December 8, 2014, expanding the original rule from November 2011 (76 Federal Register 67802).

The final rule focuses on the following areas:

  1. Data-sharing requirements;
  2. Eligibility relating to ACO participants, providers and suppliers;
  3. Application updates;
  4. ACO legal structure and beneficiary requirements;
  5. Assignment methodology;
  6. Methodology for determining financial performance; and
  7. Program integrity and transparency concerns

The final rule also addresses some of the 275 comments CMS received in response to the December 2014 proposed rule. In response to concerns about the program’s integrity, CMS commented as follows:

“In 2011, Medicare made almost no payments to providers through alternative payment models, but today such payments represent approximately 20 percent of Medicare payments. Earlier this year, the Secretary announced the ambitious goal of tying 30% of Medicare fee for service payments to quality and value by 2016 and by 2018 making 50% of payments through alternative payment models, such as the [MSSP]. . . . With over 400 ACOs serving over 7 million beneficiaries, the [MSSP] plays an important role in meeting the Secretary’s recently articulated goal.”