Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Administration pandering to big business insurers is like hiring a pedophile as a babysitter

A proposed Medicaid regulation published in the Federal Register on May 6 takes on new ominous overtones in light of the recent Administration-backed policy brief submitted to the Supreme Court.

Sara Rosenbaum, head of the Health Policy Department at George Washington University, calls the rule "a model of inaction," a purpose of which is "to establish what might charitably be characterized as an information-gathering exercise." Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, Rosenbaum continues

Even this information-gathering exercise is wanting. The proposed rule exempts Medicaid managed care from review, despite the fact that the access statute protects all beneficiaries, including the 70% who receive their care through managed care plans. Moreover, the proposed rule gives states an inordinately long 5 years to measure access within their residual fee-for-service programs, which overwhelmingly serve the beneficiaries with the most severe physical and mental health conditions.

Why would federal policy exclude seventy percent of Medicaid beneficiaries from any evaluation of how well a state's Medicaid program is conforming to federal law? That would be like taking a census and excluding seventy percent of the population. The proposed rule explains that managed care organizations are already covered under a different section of federal law, and that is sufficient to ensure their compliance.

Managed care contracts are being farmed out across the country to provide services to children, families, the elderly and people with disabilities. These are the people who would be unrepresented in these state evaluations, allowing for-profit corporations to continue to abuse children and steal their federal funding with impunity.

Six federal civil rights investigations, a state-issued "corrective action plan", and extensive reporting to CMS of violations of federal regulations have shown, at least in Hawaii, that managed care Medicaid insurers ignore federal laws with impunity.

Of the six federal civil rights actions, at least four have targeted one company, Unitedhealthcare, which operates in Hawaii as "Evercare." The company reported a 20% increase in quarterly Medicaid/Medicare revenues between September 20, 2010 and March 31, 2011, during which Medicaid/medicare membership only increased 5%. One quarter of the company's policyholders generate 55% of the company's premium revenues.

New Jersey has recently announced they are turning all their Medicaid families over to mandatory "managed care organizations." Two of the four providers are Unitedhealthcare and Amerigroup, both with documented histories of criminal Medicaid fraud investigations.

Wellcare reached a settlement over criminal Medicaid fraud accusations in every state in which they operated in May. They apparently have retained all these contracts, and even got rate increases of up to 3% from four of the states.

The company told the SEC that in exchange for their settlement over Medicaid fraud, the federal government had agreed "to release and refrain from instituting, directing or maintaining any administrative action seeking to exclude the Company from Medicare, Medicaid and other federal healthcare programs." Quite a "get out of jail free" card, but also in keeping with the pattern of Administration pandering to big business health insurers.

CMS, the division of HHS that administers Medicaid and Medicare, is a watchdog with no teeth: they can document violations of federal law but cannot enforce them. The only action CMS can take against a state is to withhold the federal payment share. That was tried in Alaska and backfired, creating more human misery than it alleviated.

Rosenbaum cautions at the end of her article that regardless of what form the potential regulation takes in the end,

it would not even remotely amount to the type of comprehensive federal enforcement scheme that would justify a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn generations of Constitutional precedent and foreclose access to the courts by millions of beneficiaries and the health care providers who serve them.

Would any parent in their right mind hire a pedophile as a babysitter? Why is President Obama pushing a federal policy "arguing that the courts are closed to private individuals where Medicaid-access litigation is concerned" while surreptitiously shoveling millions of medically vulnerable Americans into programs run by apparently criminal companies?

It is uncannily similar to what has happened here in Hawaii, where turning over the state's Medicaid waiver program to two for-profit corporations produced a 36% rise in the death rate within the first year. State legislation sitting on our governor's desk would deprive everyone on Medicaid of external appeals of medical denials from their health insurer. That legislation has been openly supported by Unitedhealthcare and Wellcare, the latter even admitting in court to having written a sister bill. A Unitedhealthcare attorney moaned on TV that these appeals (almost all of which are finding on behalf of the children) were costing the company too much money.

If all of this comes to pass as federal Medicaid policy, there will be no record of how badly and corruptly corporations are saving money by deciding services based on profit not need.

Please sign our petition. We have to stop this from happening.

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I'm the mom of a child with disabilities. Hannah's first neurologist said she might never develop beyond the level of a 2 month old infant, and there wasn't anything I could do about it. The brain damage was just too severe. Nine years later, she walks, uses a touchscreen computer and I've just been shown she can learn to construct sentences and do simple math with the right piece of technology. Along the way, I discovered I needed to teach myself what Hannah's rights to services really were. Learning about early intervention services led to reading about IDEA and then to EPSDT. I've been waiting for the Obama administration to realize the power and potential of EPSDT for the medical rights - including the right to stay at home with their families - of children with disabilities. The health reform people talk about long term care, and the disability people talk about education and employment, but nobody is talking about EPSDT. So I am.