Articles Posted in Affordable Care Act

us-capitol-building-2-431642-m.jpgAs part of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) continued efforts to combat Medicare fraud, federal charges were recently brought against 90 individuals across the nation for false billings to Medicare, totaling $260 million dollars. These charges were the result of a collective task force comprising federal, state, and local agencies and the use of data analysis and increased community awareness. This takedown marks the seventh national takedown conducted by the federal Medicare Fraud Strike Force. The goal of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force is to protect taxpayer resources and senior citizen rights by combating fraud and abuse in the Medicare system for personal gain. The 90 individuals charged in this takedown were out of Miami, Houston, Los Angeles, Detroit, Tampa and Brooklyn, and 27 of them are medical professionals.
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hammer-to-fall-673264-m.jpgMedical device companies, pharmaceutical companies or other health care related companies or vendors often seek consulting or personal services from doctors. Physicians should be cautious in such arrangements to avoid legal issues under federal law. Where fair market value compensation is paid for such services, there may be no issue under, for example, the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS). However, arrangements that involve excessive compensation can lead to legal problems and reporting issues.

Physician personal service arrangements may fall within the AKS safe harbor found in 42 C.F.R. § 1001.952(d). Such services provided by the physician must be legitimate and necessary and must meet the following requirements:

1. A written agreement states the specific services and compensation for the services;
2. The term of the agreement must be at least one year; and 3. The compensation must be for fair market value and not fluctuate based on volume or value of the business generated
Transparency in many such arrangements is required by law. The Physician Payment Sunshine Act (PPSA) was enacted pursuant to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009 (ACA). The PPSA requires manufacturers of medical supplies, devices and drugs paid for by certain government programs (e.g. Medicare) to report to the federal government payments made to health care providers, including physicians, that exceed $10 or aggregate payments over $100 annually. Payments covered include consulting fees, royalties, stock options, gifts, entertainment, and other items of value or forms of consideration, subject to a fine of $10,000 per failure to report.
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whistle-718988-m.jpgControlling healthcare costs is essential to the economic security of the United States. Total healthcare spending in the U.S., already an astronomical $3 trillion dollars in 2013, is expected to grow almost 6% annually through 2022.1 Spiraling healthcare costs is an obvious problem on many levels, including the fact that, through Medicare, the federal government is the single largest purchaser of healthcare in our third party payer system. Total Medicare spending is expected to increase from $523 billion in 2010 to $932 billion by 2020.2

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or “Obamacare,” has frequently been in the spotlight for website issues and intense political debate over the law. However, a less publicized – but critical – aspect of the ACA is its intended role of curbing the rise in our nation’s healthcare costs.3
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hospital-room-449234-m.jpgMedicare payments to community health centers are expected to increase by as much as $1.3 billion over the next five years, according to Bloomberg News, based on a new prospective payment system. On April 30, 2014, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) rendered a Final Rule that, among other things, implements methodology and payment rates for a prospective payment system (PPS) for federally qualified health centers (FQHC), effective October 1, 2014. The Final Rule stems from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) provisions to establish a new payment system for FQHC services under Medicare Part B (supplemental medical insurance) based on prospectively set rates.
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dark-dollar-2-1193021-m.jpgShopping savvy largely derives from the discomfort of parting with money. If health insurance pays all (or most) of the bill for healthcare services, why should the patient care what the cost of the healthcare is, how such cost is calculated, or how cost might be reduced? But as a patient begins to spend money out-of-pocket for healthcare, his attention to cost and his interest in how cost is determined and what alternatives might save money quickly increase. When his money is spent, he tends to want to know more about his medical bills, what the details are and, ultimately, how price is calculated. Historically, how healthcare is priced has been all but impossible for consumers to ascertain. Now, there is a push in the healthcare industry toward greater pricing transparency, which may dovetail well with increasing financial responsibility placed upon patients for their healthcare costs. Many experts argue that greater price transparency will lead to more intelligent “shopping” by patients for their healthcare, which in turn may (at least theoretically) put downward pressure on healthcare costs.
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us-capitol-building-2-431642-m.jpgHouse Republicans gained the support of 27 Democrats and passed The Suspending the Individual Mandate Penalty Law Equals Simple (SIMPLE) Fairness Act (H.R. 4118), a bill that would delay for one year the Affordable Care Act (ACA) individual mandate penalty tax for those failing to buy health insurance before the deadline this month. As reported recently in the Washington Post, while destined to fail in the Democratic-controlled Senate, this Bill nonetheless underscores mounting pressure upon the Administration and Democrats in an election year, as the troubled healthcare law struggles to get traction in its implementation and with voters. Republicans want mileage in November from increasing public confusion and disenchantment about the ACA. They seize upon much publicized trouble spots of ACA implementation, such as the disastrous rollout of the website, cancelled policies, patients unable to stay with the doctor they prefer, and higher insurance premiums.

Insurers and proponents of the ACA view the individual mandate as critical to the financial mechanics of the health insurance reform intended by the ACA, namely expansion of insurance coverage to most Americans irrespective of health conditions and without lifetime or annual caps on benefits. With the new law’s imposition upon insurers of a requirement that they insure all Americans — even the most high-cost patients — it is important that the young and healthy, whether they need insurance or not, pay insurance premiums to help fund the insurers’ cost of paying for the health care of unhealthy Americans. Hence the law’s controversial individual mandate that everyone obtain coverage and pay insurance premiums or, alternatively, pay a penalty tax based on household income. The penalty is to begin this year, phased in at 1 percent of taxable income, then 2 percent in 2015, and 2.5 percent in 2016.
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medical-equipment-1342025-m.jpgThe Affordable Care Act (ACA), widely known as “Obamacare,” will create new opportunities for primary care doctors (and some specialists) who weigh starting or converting to a direct primary care model. At first blush direct care medicine practices, also known as “concierge,” “boutique” and “retainer-based” practices, which charge patients a monthly or annual membership fee and tend to exclude (or limit) third party payer involvement (one of the strong points for pursuing the model), would seem limited as an opportunity by the ACA’s objective of getting everyone “insured.” But the opposite may prove to be the case. Actually, the ACA may drive a strong need for new concierge medicine doctors.

A New Era of High Deductibles

While a stated goal of the ACA is to decrease the number of uninsured Americans, a consequence of the ACA will likely be that many newly insured patients under plans obtained via the new insurance exchanges will soon realize that due to very high deductibles, much or all of the costs of treatment (i.e., all non-preventive care) incurred over the course of a year must be paid out of pocket by the insured. For a typical household in Richmond County, Georgia, for example, as of this writing there are 18 plans available via the exchanges: 7 “Bronze Plans,” 6 “Silver Plans,” 4 “Gold Plans,” and 1 “Platinum Plan.” For the Bronze Plans, the annual deductibles range from $4,000 to $6,300. It is widely expected that most people will seek to minimize their premiums and opt for one of the Bronze Plans, only two of which have annual deductibles of less than $5,000.

What will that mean? That will mean most doctor visits (excluding preventive care) will be paid out of pocket by the “insured” patients who presently may not realize what is in store for them by way of doctor bills. As the public becomes aware of how the ACA will actually work for them (i.e., even though they are “insured” they are writing checks for doctor bills), the appeal to consumers of concierge options will increase. As recently reported in the Wall Street Journal, “People with deductibles of $5,000 or more should think about how many times a year they typically see the doctor and for what, keeping in mind that annual checkups are free under the ACA. If doctor visits typically cost $150 and the patient has six appointments a year, a concierge practice offering the same services for $40 or $50 a month might be cheaper.” Pros and Cons of Concierge Medicine (November 1, 2013).
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dollars-1412644-m.jpgThe price Americans will pay for Affordable Care Act (ACA) changes may include lost wages and job benefits due to the price tag of ACA compliance for employers. It may seem to many like a good and noble thing to require insurers to insure everyone irrespective of health conditions and the attending financial risks and costs the insurer must assume; to make all individuals buy health insurance, irrespective of whether they want or need it; and to force employers to provide what the government decides says is the right kind of health insurance to employees. But nothing is free or without consequence, especially sweeping legislation intended to overhaul healthcare. Unfortunately, while the ACA will undoubtedly benefit many Americans, the true costs of the ACA will prove unaffordable for many employers and likely result in lost wages and job benefits for many Americans.

For example, the University of Virginia and United Parcel Service recently informed employees that it would no longer offer healthcare coverage to employee spouses able to obtain insurance from other sources. UVA announced what it described as “major changes” in their health plan options to employees and explained the changes were necessary based on UVA’s projections that the ACA will result in $7.3 million in additional costs associated with its health plans in 2014 alone. UVA is attempting to defray the cost of complying with the ACA by cutting health benefits to many spouses. UPS indicated that costs of complying with the ACA contributed to its need to drop spouse coverage, which will affect as many as 15,000 employees. UPS explained that due in part to the ACA, it is “increasingly difficult to continue providing the same level of health care benefits to our employees at an affordable cost.” Other employers have limited non-management workers’ hours to 29.5 for the purpose of circumventing ACA requirements that are triggered by having 50 or more “full time” employees (i.e. 30 hours or more, under the ACA). For example, Forever 21 recently announced to its employees that effective August 31 they would not be full-time employees.
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889854_freedom_2.jpgSteve Brenton, President of the Wisconsin Hospital Association, released a forceful judgment of the Obama Administration’s decision to delay by at least one year implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) employer mandate, calling it a “dogs breakfast.” As reported in the Milwaukee Business Journal, Brenton cited five very negative consequences he believes the delay will achieve:

– The delay energizes ACA opponents and reinforces to an already skeptical public the view that implementation will likely be uneven at best and a ‘third world experience’ at worst”;

– The delay “raises obvious questions” about the possibility of delaying other provisions, including the individual mandate, which Brenton said seems likely to be another casualty in the coming months;

– The delay will cost the federal treasury $10 billion in fines and penalties according to Congressional Budget Office projections;

– What he called a “meltdown of mandates” lessens the probability that new coverage will climb to anywhere near the numbers the Obama administration predicted in 2009 when touting the law and;

– The decision adversely impacts the viability of the insurance exchanges, which are foundational to the ACA.

The ACA requires companies that have 50 or more full-time equivalent employees to provide health insurance coverage that is “affordable” to their employees and meets minimum value standards. Under ACA rules, coverage is “affordable” if an employee’s share of premium costs for employee-only coverage is less than 9.5% of yearly household income. The minimum value standard is met if the health plan’s share of the total costs of covered services is at least 60%. The reporting requirements for employers (to demonstrate whether and how they meet these and other ACA requirements) haveleft company decision makers shaking their heads in frustration about how to meet the law’s requirements. The delay is intended to give government officials more time to sort it all out, apparently. According to Mark J. Mazur of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, by virtue of the delay, employers will not be required to make any shared responsibility payments until 2015.

Kathryn Johnson of the IRS Office of Associate Chief Counsel (Tax Exempt & Government Entities) authored a guidance document to provide “transition relief through 2014 for the information reporting and Shared Responsibility Provisions. The guidance document states that “proposed” rules for reporting requirements are expected to be published this Summer, and further explains:

T]his relief will provide additional time for time for dialogue with stakeholders in an effort to simplify the reporting requirements consistent with effective implementation of the law. It will also provide employers, insurers, and other reporting entities additional time to develop their systems for assembling and reporting the needed data. Employers, insurers, and other reporting entities are encouraged to voluntarily comply with these information reporting provisions for 2014 (once the reporting rules have been issued) in preparation for the full application of the provisions for 2015. However, information reporting under §§ 6055 and 6056 will be optional for 2014; accordingly, no penalties will be applied for failure to comply with these information reporting provisions for 2014.

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1334532_ambulance.jpgOn May 31, 2013, the Boards of Trustees of The Federal Insurance and Federal Supplementary Medicare Insurance Trust Funds (Boards of Trustees) issued the most recent report (the “Report”) on the financial condition of the U.S. Medicare Program. The Board of Trustees oversees the financial operations of the Medicare Part A and Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI), which is Medicare Part B and D. The Social Security Act requires the Board of Trustees to report annually to the Congress on the financial status of the Medicare Program. The Report is 280 pages packed heavily with information and actuarial data analyzing the crippled patient, the U.S. Medicare Program, concluding that the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will not run out of money until 2026, two years later than the last projection. The slightly improved forecast (from the prior report) is due apparently to slower growth in U.S. health care costs, according to current the Board’s analysis.

But whether and when the Medicare Program will go broke is apparently not possible to determine with reasonable certainty. There are too many variables. The Board, comprising or advised by the best the best minds on the subject, have said as much. The Board concedes in the Report:

Projections of Medicare Costs are highly uncertain, especially when looking out more than several decades. One reason for the uncertainty is that scientific advances will make possible new interventions, procedures, and therapies. Some conditions that are untreatable today will be handled routinely in the future. Spurred by economic incentives, the institutions through which care is delivered will evolve, possibly becoming more efficient. While most health care technological advances to date have tended to increase expenditures, the health care landscape is shifting. No one knows whether these future developments will, on balance, increase or decrease costs.

The Report, p. 2.
The Report further indicates that the ACA “The ACA introduced even larger policy changes and projection uncertainty. . . . This legislation [the ACA] contains roughly 165 provisions affecting the Medicare program by reducing costs, increasing revenues, improving benefits, combating fraud and abuse, and initiating a major program of research and development to identify alternative provider payment mechanisms, health care delivery systems, and other changes intended to improve the quality of health care and reduce costs.” Id.
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