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 →

Why We Must Care About Medicare0

California Healthcare News published this article, Why We Must Care About Medicare, on October 11, 2016.

istock_000015363174_large“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” – Walt Disney

A Federal Circuit Court of Appeal recently commented, “Medicare is, to say the least, a complicated program.” United States health insurance for people 65 and older has 37,000 separate guidance documents online at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), myriad federal regulations expounding upon 50 years of statutory direction, and a legion of Federal Court decisions adding even more detail. To be sure, health care providers should exercise great caution before sharing in Medicare’s $650 billion annual fund. Unfortunately for those ambivalent about Medicare with all of its complexities, not to mention anyone who outright hates the program, resistance is probably futile. … 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 →

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 →

HIPAA: Society’s Modern Day Prohibition0

This article, HIPAA: Society’s Modern Day Prohibition, was first published in California Healthcare News on May 4, 2015.

HIPAA: Society’s Modern Day Prohibition
HIPAA: Society’s Modern Day Prohibition

Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants willing to be dethroned.” – James Joyce, Ulysses

Codified in American Law through Article Three of the United States Constitution and evolving through changing times by way of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, the right to trial by jury remains a sacrosanct keystone of our nation’s legal system. Even so, there exists a degree of delicacy with which the judicial system evaluates the facts of any given case, and all involved must remain mindful that at times pertinent information may not be available for consideration. Significant violations of judicial filtering may result in the end of deliberations, known more abrasively as a “mistrial.”

The judicial system understands all too well that information cannot be honestly disregarded or ignored once heard, and does its best to account for the imperfections of the human mind. To enforce the Constitutional tenets of trust and truth upon which the faith of a jury must rest, today’s health care providers find themselves held to a unique standard of scrutiny when dealing with issues of privacy.Read more →

Advancing Health Care The Old-Fashioned Way0

This article, Advancing Health Care the Old-Fashioned Way, was first published by Healthcare Innovation News on February 8, 2015.


Stethoscope and hourglass with book.“Nothing recedes like progress.”
— Edward Estlin (e.e.) Cummings

Though cutting-edge technology serves as the foundation for modern American healthcare, an accurate measure of progress must consider the occasional conflict between society and science. Even as yesterday’s medical miracles give way to what are now considered “state of the art” practices, it is the duty of health care providers to remain mindful of both sides of the equation, balancing the capabilities of today’s technologies with the needs of today’s patient. If society and science are not in sync, patient care will suffer, and sometimes we can only advance healthcare through old-fashioned methods. For example, radiology information systems (RIS) and picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) collaborate to deliver dynamic and brilliant medical images to any healthcare provider around the globe with access to a desktop computer or mobile device. And yet, if these technologically advanced tools of the trade fail to employ the appropriate methods of encryption as they transmit digital health information to a doctor’s iPad as he or she vacations on the island of Tristan da Cunha, or worse, send this sensitive information to the hard drive of any one of the island’s 297 permanent residents living in the recesses of the Atlantic Ocean, a data breach occurs. This is no small matter for the hospital of today, and could easily result in a series of fines that could force the shutting of its doors for a single infraction.

Read more →

A Brave New Medicare0

This article, A Brave New Medicare, was first published in California Healthcare News on February 4, 2015. 

Caduceus background“Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead.” —Aldous Huxley

Next month the Affordable Care Act turns five, and by all accounts the influence of this historic legislation will forever change the landscape of health care in the United States, regardless of its ultimate fate. As each passing year introduces thousands of new regulatory pages to an already expansive body of federal and state law, praise for what has come to be known as health care reform is only rivaled by the relentless partisan calls for its repeal.

Recognition of the Affordable Care Act’s more laudable accomplishments should not be overlooked, especially the elimination of preexisting conditions, an overall reduction in the number of uninsured, and, according to some experts, findings that point to an actual slowing in health care spending at a national level. On the other hand, we as a nation must also be mindful of any collateral damage caused by reform, especially when considering that the immediate statistical data used to document the success of reform tends to present itself easily, while the longer-term, potentially less favorable information upon which the Affordable Care Act can also be judged may take decades to unfold.Read more →

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 →

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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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.

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.

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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 →