Why Compliance Plans Make Sense

Clipboard with Checklist and Red PenHas your practice implemented a compliance program or considered improving an existing one?  Is it really necessary?  Prior to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), the necessity for physician practices to develop compliance plans was merely voluntary.  However, the ACA will now require physician practices to have a fraud and abuse compliance plan in place as a condition of continuing to participate in Medicare or Medicaid programs.  Because the government first published guidelines in the year 2000 for the voluntary use of compliance plans in physician practices and has subsequently enacted a mandate in the ACA for compliance plans, many physician practices are proactively implementing them.  While this compliance plan mandate may be viewed by physicians as yet another administrative burden and expense to the practice, it can have many benefits as well.  Implementing an effective compliance program can have the result of not only reducing liability risks, but can also allow a practice to reap monetary benefits.  In fact, it could be more costly for the practice not to have one! Continue reading

The Preventionists Are Coming!

paul-revereThe popular conception in healthcare is that (1) a new law was passed, (2) it changed everything, and (3) in a bad way.  Over time, however, it should get clearer that, while there was a law passed, the law alone is not driving changes to our healthcare system: it’s our own demographics and behavior.  Most of the tax dollars currently fueling our healthcare system (and arguably our economy) are tied to an aging Boomer population that are soon to drop off the income producing cliff into the Medicare population.  Bye bye income earners; hello ridiculous public healthcare expenditures.  Though it is true that the timing for expanding public spending on healthcare (with the federal mandates aimed at employers and Medicaid eligibility expansion) could not be more poorly timed, the situation is more of a “Perfect Storm” than a surgical strike.

The financial stress of our changing population and of a historic utilization based healthcare system is causing our healthcare system to morph in every way.  “Health insurance,” with increasing cost, copays and deductibles and reduced benefits, is quickly ceasing to look like your father’s 80/20 major medical plan and starting to look more like catastrophic coverage.  Fee for service compensation is fast becoming “spoken” out of existence.  There are more “pay for performance,” “case rate” and other outcome and risk based compensation models than you can shake a stick at.  The simple truths are: payers have to deliver more with less; and patients have to bear more and more of their healthcare expenses. Continue reading

HIPAA Omnibus Final Rules and Penalties

On Friday January 25, 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services published the Final Rule modifying the HIPAA privacy, security, enforcement, and breach notification rules under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (“HITECH”) and the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (“GINA”) as well as other modifications to the HIPAA rules. (See 45 CFR Parts 160 and 164, Federal Register Volume 78 Number 17.)

The omnibus rule actually contains four final rules. The first final modifications to HIPAA which were mandated by “HITECH” include modifications intended to improve the Rules which were issued as a proposed rule on July 14, 2010 include six modifications.

The first omnibus final rule includes direct liability modifications for business associates of covered entities for compliance with certain HIPAA privacy and security rule requirements. Strengthening of limitations on the use and disclosure of protected health information, expanded individuals’ rights to receive electronic copies of their health information, modification and redistribution of entities privacy practices protocols, modification of individual authorization forms and other requirements to facilitate research and disclosure of child immunization proof to schools as well as to enable access to decedent information and lastly the enforcement rules have been modified to address violations such as non-compliance with HIPAA rules due to willful neglect.

The second omnibus final rule adopts changes to the HIPAA enforcement rule that increase the civil monetary penalties in a tiered manner.

The third omnibus final rule involves the breach notification for unsecured protected health information under the “HITECH” act. This rule replaces the prior rules “harm” threshold with a more objective standard.

Finally, the fourth rule prohibits most health plans from using or disclosing genetic information for underwriting purposes.

These final rules take effect this month on March 26, 2013. Covered business entities and business associates must comply with the applicable requirements by September 23, 2013. The penalties for violating the final rules are now as follows:

TABLE 2 – CATEGORIES OF VIOLATIONS AND RESPECTIVE PENTALTY AMOUNTS AVAILABLE

Violation Category – Section 1176 (a)(1)

Each Violation

All such violations of an identical provision in a calendar year

(A)  Did Not Know(B)   Reasonable Cause

(C)   (i)Willful Neglect-Corrected

(C) (ii) Willful Neglect-Not Corrected

$100-$50,0001,000-50,000

10,000-50,000

50,000

$1,500,0001,500,000

1,500,000

1,500,000

Providers need to be aware of the penalties for violating the rules as we most recently reported to you the office of civil rights will not hesitate in sanctioning providers for violating the Act in amounts in excess of $1.5 million.

Portal not “Port-All”

doorBy: David Hirshfeld

Whether as a means of satisfying the Stage 2 “meaningful use” requirements of the HITECH Act, or in an effort simply to enhance the efficiency of their practices, many of our clients have been implementing electronic medical records software that includes patient portals.  A “patient portal” is an electronic doorway between patient and practice.  Portals often allow patients to check and download their own treatment records, and to use digital messages as a means of communicating with clinicians.  Portals can be awesome tools with which to enhance your practice, but they need to be implemented thoughtfully.

A portal is often an excellent way in which to add operational efficiencies that reduce costs, increase patient satisfaction, and increase positive outcomes; BUT, if not carefully monitored, they can become inadvertent points of entry for information, the meaning of which can only be appreciated when delivered in a face-to-face office visit, where other aspects of the patient’s condition would be evident (e.g. pallor, swelling, confusion).

Portals should be limited to more benign encounters, such as: patient registration, financial clearance, medical history, appointment scheduling / confirmation, specialty referrals, notification of test results, online bill payment, non-narcotic prescription renewals, follow-up of specific conditions for which there has been a course of in-person treatment that included an agreement as to the use of the portal for follow-up.

I recommend that practitioners train their patients how and to what extent they should use the portal by presenting patients with a “Terms of Use” agreement (that they must sign); and by reminding patients of the Terms of Use if and when they use the portal for an encounter that should have been handled by an in-office visit.

A good “Terms of Use” agreement ought to convey the following information to patients before they use the portal:

  • Identify the proper subject matter to be communicated through the portal and, just as important, the types of communications that should NOT be made through the portal.
  • In addition to communication, what other functions the portal will make available to the patient (e.g. what records can patients view, can they download, can they transmit to other providers, refill prescriptions, help practice to monitor an ongoing condition, etc.).
  • The portal is highly secure, more secure than conventional email, and should be the only way that patients should convey information to the practice other than in-person or, perhaps, on the telephone.
  • Everything conveyed to the practice through the portal will become part of the patient’s medical record.
  • Not only the physician, but other clinicians and practice staff may read communications made through the portal.
  • How quickly, and in what format, will the practice respond to patient communications made through the portal.
  • Whether and on what terms the practice will allow access to records of its minor patients.
  • How modifications to the “Terms of Use” and portal functionality will be conveyed to patients.
  • A primer, as simple as possible, on how to effectively use your practice’s portal.

Portals can be awesome tools with which to enhance your practice; but they need to be implemented thoughtfully, and in conjunction with patient training.

 

ACO Challenges Are Formidable

Final-ACO-RulesHanging this nation’s cost cutting/quality enhancing hopes on Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) is bound to be frustrating and disappointing.  The ACO model seriously lacks sufficient real world grounding and is no magic pill.  Things like resources, operational capability and alignment (of financial incentives and direction) seem to have been overlooked or undervalued.

The ACO model is based on one fundamental assumption:  an expanded role of primary care physicians can slow cost increases and ensure better coordination of care.  That assumption is flawed for two reasons:  first, there is a large and growing primary care shortage; and second, the financial incentives in healthcare have driven a system based on acute, episodic interactions, leading to enormously fragmented clinical training and care.

We not only have inadequate resources to drive change away from acute, fee for services based care, but rather we lack resources that drive wellness. As one physician with a large hospital system recently said:  “We physicians are not trained to provide healthcare.  We’re trained to intervene when things go bad.”  Asking healthcare professionals and facilities to drive a model based on outcomes and resource consumption is theoretically possible, but a remarkable leap of faith (and training) is required, given they have made their livings off of sick people for so long.  That’s not to say that changing financial incentives from acuity to wellness and outcomes won’t work.  It’s just going to require training and proof that the players can make money with the new mandates.

As far as operations go, those with the greatest access to management, capital, IT and such are also the most expensive—hospitals.  It makes sense that the core objective of healthcare reform is to “squeeze the toothpaste tube” backwards from hospital to specialist to primary care physicians, but it’s a great leap of faith to expect that hospitals will or even can control costs.  In a healthcare system where providers admittedly are rewarded for doing more with more expensive things, the sharp turn required by the new law will require more than just a new law.  With all the current hospital-driven physician acquisitions, the increasing role of hospitals on the ACO issue looks at times more like turf guarding than any real cost-saving, quality enhancing move.

At the end of the day, all players have to answer the question “Did they reduce cost and enhance quality?”  It seems convincing that moving away from the fee for service model will change behavior.  We just need to make sure (1) there are sufficient resources to implement the change, and (2) financial and clinical issues are well balanced.  Time will tell, but meanwhile the current irony is that the most expensive link in the chain is best situated to actually operationalize the ACO concept.

Alignment is critical.  Financial alignment will require the players to believe they can all thrive in the new ACO model, yet physicians are historically leery of any hospital driven system.  In fact, given that hospitals are driving the ACO bus at the moment, the biggest fear among physicians is that they will be left out.  Even among physician-driven ACOs, the tension between primary care physicians and specialists is intense.  How much of any savings will go to primaries vs. specialists is no less divisive than the issue of the hospital/physician split of the shared savings.

Even more critical is the apparent lack of consideration given to the need for patient participation.  Where is the financial incentive for healthy patient choices and the disincentive for unhealthy patient choices?  Moreover, in a culture where more is more, why would anyone want to receive care from an organization that gets more by giving less?  Given further the ability of patients to wander in and out of ACOs and yet charge their ACO with the costs of non-ACO providers (who arguably have no stake at all in reducing expenses), the forecast for patient alignment is gloomy, but their buy in is critical.  It is difficult to see where patients have any stake in this change and would even be inclined to choose to be served by an ACO.  Many noted theorists have drilled on the glaring lack of patient alignment.  Rama Juturu and recent Wall Street Journal editorialists/economist Clayton Christensen have been outspoken about the need to enlist patients in the drive from intervention to prevention.  Patients that flock to ACOs (or whatever) will only do so if they see what’s in it for them.  The only thing an ACO can sell is results, outcomes.  And that’s gonna take time to measure and to sell.

At the end of the day, the threat of ACOs (and any vehicle to control healthcare costs more effectively) isn’t that they won’t work.  It’s that cost concerns will outstrip clinical ones.  While it can be argued that the employment of physicians by traditionally adverse players (like hospitals) will likely reduce the tension between them, it is precisely that tension that has always held the threat of “money over quality” at bay.  What will happen as hospitals and other healthcare players employ more and more physicians?  One can only hope that it is not silence and that, as found in some well established systems in the Midwest and West, respect for the different and necessary roles of ensuring both quality and economic survival will balance out, regardless of the healthcare delivery model that emerges.

Hospital Physician Recruitment on the Rise Again

In an effort to stay competitive, hospital physician recruitment deals are on the rise.  These arrangements are permitted under applicable federal law (the Stark Law) and are a core tool in hospitals’ tool chest.  These arrangements generally involve the hospital “loaning” to the physician or to a practice employing the doctor the costs associated with that doctor joining.  Since the ramp up costs associated with hiring or a physician just relocating to a new community can be steep (especially as payer contracts can take many months to set in place), hospital financial assistance can be critical.  How do they work?  Simple—

1.The hospital guarantees, based in part on MGMA salary surveys and other cost data sources, that the physician will collect at least $X each month for a period of normally up to 12 months;

2.The doctor agrees to remain in the hospital’s service area for 2-3 years, during which time, the amount loaned by the hospital is forgiven.

Though it may sound too good to be true, there are drawbacks, including:

1.There are pretty severe limitations placed on noncompetes for hospital recruited physicians which can be daunting to practices hiring them;

2.Unless carefully worded and negotiated, recruited physicians may find themselves with high expectations and little delivered in terms of the marketing and other support required to create a successful practice.  Not being financially successful is no defense to the requirement of staying in the hospital community for several years to write off the loan;

3. Some hospitals offset their business risk by taking any excess earnings (the collections exceeding the guaranteed amount) for months after the 12 month guarantee period, a period when collections should be substantially higher than during the early phases of the recruitment.

Practices entering into a hospital recruitment arrangement need to be careful in their physician contracts to pass as much financial risk as possible to the recruited doctor.  A recruited doctor that decides he or she no longer likes the new community can leave the practice holding the bag for a huge amount of money which has not yet been forgiven.

Recruited physicians need to be careful about the risk passed off to them in their employment contracts if they are joining an existing practice, since the practices typically benefit by receiving enough money to cover all of the new physician’s salary, benefits and overhead.

Regulation Postponed: March 1, 2013 Health Insurance Exchange Notice Delivery Requirement

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires employers to provide all new hires and current employees with a written notice about ACA’s health insurance exchanges (Exchanges), effective March 1, 2013.
On Jan. 24, 2013, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that employers will not be held to the March 1, 2013, deadline. They will not have to comply until final regulations are issued and a final effective date is specified.

The DOL anticipates issuing the regulations in late summer or fall of 2013. The DOL, it its announcement, cites two reasons for the delay.First, the Exchange Notice (Notice) should be coordinated with the educational efforts undertaken by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance on “minimum value” requirements. Delaying the Notice will achieve that goal. The DOL also cites its intent to provide employers with sufficient time to deliver the Notice at a time that will be meaningful to the employees receiving it. When ready, the DOL will produce a generic Notice which will meet the law’s requirements.