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 →

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 →

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 →

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 →