Posts tagged ‘Deficit; Medicare’
As the New York Times reports today, people don’t have to improve to qualify for Medicare-covered care in most settings. Unfortunately, older and disabled people are constantly told otherwise – and refused care as a result. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services could fix this pretty easily. Just issue a CMS Ruling stating definitively and clearly that skilled nursing and therapy can be covered to maintain a patient’s condition or slow deterioration. It’s the law. Disseminate the Ruling to all Medicare providers and adjudicators. Post it on the CMS website.
If there’s the will, there’s the way.
Finally, the Center’s long-time concerns about costly misuse of public Medicare funds may be gaining attention. For years we’ve been pointing to Medicare overpayments for prescription drugs and to private Medicare Advantage plans. These huge expenditures help pharmaceutical and insurance industries, not older and disabled people. If these costs were reigned in, billions of dollars would be freed to cover necessary health care and sustain the Medicare program. This week these matters received some much needed publicity:
Prescription Drug Pricing
An excellent and well-timed (given #Epi-gate) article appeared in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association discussing the reason drug costs are so high in the U.S. According to the article, the major cause is the “granting of government-protected monopolies to drug manufacturers, combined with restriction of price negotiation at a level not observed in other industrialized nations.” Thus, state the authors, “providing greater opportunities for meaningful price negotiation by governmental payers” is one of the conclusions. A “possible solution” is described as “Price negotiation: Enable Medicare to negotiate drug prices for individual Part D plans and to exclude coverage for expensive products that add limited clinical benefit; experiment with value-based drug pricing and rational prescribing reimbursement models for Medicare.” For more information, see http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2545691#.V8OQC8OH7Hg.twitter
Medicare Advantage Overpayments
NPR recently published an article from the Center for Public Integrity entitled “Medicare Advantage Audits Reveal Pervasive Overcharges” (August 29, 2016) by Fred Schulte. The article reports on recently-released federal audits of 37 Medicare Advantage (MA) plans relating to overpayments made in 2007. According to the author, these “audits reveal how some private Medicare plans overcharged the government for the majority of elderly patients they treated, often by overstating the severity of certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and depression.”
As discussed in previous Alerts, including one in May 2016 entitled “Government Auditor Finds Billions in Improper Payments to Medicare Advantage Plans Coupled with Inadequate Oversight by Federal Regulator,” MA “upcoding” – when an MA plan reports an enrollee as being more sick than they actually are in order to obtain a higher risk-adjusted payment from the Medicare program – remains a problem that policymakers must address, particularly as they weigh policy proposals that would shift additional costs on to Medicare beneficiaries.
July 14, 2016 – The Center for Medicare Advocacy (CMA) is thrilled to be partnering with The John A. Hartford Foundation to improve care for older adults with long-term and chronic conditions. With the Foundation’s generous two-year grant, CMA will be able to focus on solutions for older adults caught in the web of hospital “outpatient” Observation Status, which reduces access to key health and therapeutic care.
Over the two-year grant period, CMA, will gather existing resources and collect stories from beneficiaries, produce and update advocacy materials, and conduct extensive outreach and education that will improve observation status policy through regulatory change, improved federal guidance, and increased awareness by legislators. The grant funding for this project will also strengthen CMA’s advocacy on other important issues, including increasing access to oral health care for older adults.
“Outpatient” Observation Status is a policy created by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to classify certain very short hospital stays for billing purposes. The intent was to identify, and pay less for, these stays.
Medicare hospital patients are increasingly classified as “outpatients” on Observation Status, rather than admitted inpatients. This is true even for patients who are in the hospital for many days, for diagnosis, tests, nursing, physician care and treatment. Unfortunately, Observation Status results in myriad unintended consequences. For example, Medicare coverage for post-hospital nursing home care is often entirely unavailable for Observation patients since it requires a 3-day prior inpatient hospital stay. Thus, Observation Status “outpatients” are ineligible for Medicare nursing home coverage even if they were in the hospital for many days or weeks.
Hospital Observation Status has profound consequences for the quality and cost of care available for older, vulnerable Medicare patients. It also harms hospitals and nursing homes, the Medicare appeals process, the integrity of the Medicare program – and shifts costs to State Medicaid budgets. With support from The John A. Hartford Foundation, CMA will be able to enhance efforts to reduce the harm caused by Observation Status and to advocate for better care for older adults.
“We are very pleased to support the passionately driven and highly expert staff at CMA, led by the indomitable Judith Stein,” said Terry Fulmer, PhD, RN, FAAN, president of The John A. Hartford Foundation. “As our Foundation works to create age-friendly hospitals and health systems, CMA’s important policy work will raise visibility and diminish the negative impact of the Observation Status classification of older hospitalized adults through outreach and education.”
As Drew Altman of Kaiser Family Foundation wrote in the Wall Street Journal (4/15/2016):
“To some degree many changes long sought by conservatives are already happening incrementally: More than half of Medicaid beneficiaries are in private managed-care plans. Almost one-third of Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in private Medicare Advantage Plans this year, rather than the traditional program, and the share is projected to grow to more than 40% by 2026. The same is true of private health insurance. Conservatives complain about the ACA, but their preferred vision of health insurance–with high deductibles and lots of “skin in the game” plans–is dominating in the marketplace. The trend is reinforced by many of the policies being sold in the ACA’s insurance marketplaces.”
We agree it’s important to find a permanent solution to the physician payment formula (“Sustainable Growth Rate” or SGR), but the Bill passed by the House of Representatives today is not the answer. It isn’t balanced. It asks too much from beneficiaries without providing enough in return. It asks nothing from pharmaceutical or insurance companies. It continues the ever-increasing privatization of Medicare by increasing costs for beneficiaries for traditional Medicare and Medigap plans. It adds unnecessary costs for the Medicare program and taxpayers.
Of the portion of the SGR costs that will be off set, roughly half (approximately $35 billion of the total $70 billion over 10 years) would come from Medicare beneficiaries through changes that will increase their out-of-pocket costs for health care, including:
• Adding deductibles to Medigap plans purchased by new Medicare beneficiaries starting in 2020;
• Further means-testing premiums for higher-income beneficiaries; and
• Overall increases in Part B premiums.
While the SGR package would make the low-income, Qualified Individual (QI), program permanent, which we strongly support, and would minimally increase and temporarily extend important funding for beneficiary education and outreach, it does not address other key issues that serve as barriers to care. For example, instead of repealing the annual outpatient therapy caps, the process to seek an exception to the cap is extended for another two years. Instead of addressing hospital Observation Status, the Bill further extends enforcement of the so-called “two-midnight” rule.
In short, Medicare beneficiaries would pay too much, with too little in return. Major drug and insurance industries pay nothing, and stand to gain a great deal. As the SGR debate moves to the Senate, we hope further balance and improvements for beneficiaries will be made.
2015 is a year of anniversaries important for all families: 50 years of Medicare. 50 years of Medicaid. 80 years of Social Security.
To honor the Medicare and Medicaid anniversaries, Senator Wyden introduced a Sense of the Senate Resolution today that should pass unanimously. It celebrates Medicare (and Medicaid) by resolving to protect a real Medicare program for future generations. Importantly, the Resolution states:
“… Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that—
(1) all efforts to improve Medicare and Medicaid must support and build upon President Johnson’s vision ‘‘to assure the availability of and accessibility to the best healthcare to all Americans, regardless of age or geography or economic status’’;
(2) Medicare’s guaranteed benefit is a lifeline to millions of Americans and must remain intact for this and future generations;
(3) Medicare should not be transformed into a voucher program, leaving seniors and people with disabilities vulnerable to higher out-of-pocket costs;”
Sen. Wyden’s three Medicare commitments deserve support from every lawmaker who really cares about Medicare and fair access to health coverage for all older and disabled people. That was Medicare’s promise in 1965. It’s up to us, and today’s lawmakers, to ensure it remains Medicare’s promise in 2015. We hope all members of Congress will start by committing to Sen. Wyden’s Medicare resolutions.
Since 1965, Medicare has opened doors to health care and increased economic security for hundreds of millions of older people, people with disabilities, and their families.
2015 will also usher in a new Congress. Many of its leaders and members will likely champion plans to further privatize Medicare. These proposals will likely surface despite increasing reports that Medicare costs and the federal deficit are declining, and that traditional Medicare costs less than private Medicare. Once again we will likely hear about plans to transform Medicare to “Premium Support” (a voucher towards the purchase of private insurance). We will probably read about proposals to increase the age of Medicare eligibility, decrease the value of Supplemental Medicare Insurance (Medigap), redesign Medicare to make it “simpler” (but less useful for most beneficiaries). We urge you to listen carefully for these and other such plans. And respond!
Since 1986, the Center for Medicare Advocacy has been on the front lines, advocating for people who depend on Medicare and for a comprehensive Medicare program for future generations. As we mark Medicare’s 50th anniversary, help us ensure its promise to advance access to healthcare. Help us explain what’s true and what’s not, where real savings exist, and when the true interests of beneficiaries are at stake. Help us ensure a real Medicare program lasts for another 50 years.
Be part of our Medicare Truth Squad. Ask us if you have questions. Spread the word – on Twitter, Facebook – in conversations! The future of a comprehensive Medicare program may depend on it.