Monday, August 22, 2011

Medicare already 45% privatized, Medicaid could reach 30% by year's end

The privatization of Medicaid could hit 30% by the end of 2011. Medicare's privatization has already reached 45%.

The so-called Republican war on Medicare and Medicaid was already won a couple of years ago, and the battles waged so publicly now are, in large part, a public relations diversion.

What the Republicans, and apparently the President, don't want us to see is is the amount of government health care funds - between $2 billion and $5 billion every month - that this privatization has diverted to shareholder profits.

That money could be used instead to fund anywhere between 400,000 and 1 million full time jobs in local communities across the country. Every time one of these publicly-traded companies cuts the benefits it pays out, it means jobs have been lost as nurses, home attendants, adult day care, and a host of other local companies that provide equipment and services to the disability community. Meanwhile states have been able to cut their accounting, social work, quality control, regulation monitoring and other positions when the HMO takes over these jobs as part of its contract.

Figures published by the Commonwealth Fund, combined with Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, show the percentage of people receiving Medicaid who are signed up through publicly traded HMOs has gone from 19.6% in 2009 to 27.1% as of June 30, 2011.

New contracts coming into play this year will add at least 1.7 million new people, bringing privatization to 29.8%. The Affordable Care Act is expected to raise Medicaid enrollment by 16 million by 2019, and the Commonwealth Fund concluded that "given recent patterns in state contract awards to managed care plans, it is reasonable to anticipate that plans operated by publicly traded companies will enroll the majority of the expanded Medicaid population."

Of the 47 million signed up for Medicare, 21 million are enrolled in publicly traded HMOs. When compared against the total population of just Medicare's managed care and stand-alone drug benefit, that 21 million becomes 71% of the total number of enrollees in those programs.

We obviously cannot count on our elected officials to stop this insidious process by themselves. They aren't even telling us about it. Please sign our petition demanding legislation to take private profits out of Medicaid and Medicare.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Stopping the privatization of Medicaid and Medicare: Create jobs not profits

This country is in desperate need of legislation to halt the privatization of Medicaid and Medicare.

It is already costing taxpayers $11 billion a month in a subsidy or bailout or whatever you want to call it, that no one has voted on, and is the driving force behind a civil rights war going on right beneath our noses.

Throughout American history, every minority has won its equality through speaking up on is own behalf. The reason nobody knows about this particular civil rights war, is this time the minority cannot speak for itself.

They are our medically vulnerable of any age, those who because of time or disability would be living in institutions if not for Medicaid. Eighty-six percent of the national Medicaid budget is allocated for their care, to pay for the treatments and services to keep our loved ones at home with their families, or in the communities of their choice.

It may be budgeted for their care, but if it's paid to one of ten major for-profit HMOs, anywhere between twenty and fifty (or more) percent is taken out as a sort of middleman fee.

For our families, these cuts translate into reductions of sterile medical equipment, denials of anything from diapers to wheelchairs to communications devices, and reductions in those very services we need in order to keep our loved ones out of institutions. We sacrifice sleep, jobs, friends and the ability to multitask to try to compensate for cuts that were made to raise company profits.

Legislation imposing a 95% health benefits ratio (the percentage of the per person per month premium the HMO receives that is spent on actual health benefits) will do no good. The Administration effectively acknowledged the power of the criminal culture grown up around these HMOs when they gave Wellcare a "get out of jail free" card in April. No expenses they report themselves could ever be trusted.

The best legislation may be to outlaw capitation payments. Go back to a simple fee-for-service program; after all, it worked fine for forty years. All the county and state workers who lost their jobs when the HMO took over can be hired back. These are the people who are best capable of managing the care of someone who is medically vulnerable anyway, not employees of a for-profit HMO.

If the state goes back to writing the checks (more jobs), we eliminate the profit motive, while pumping $11 billion a month into local communities. That could translate into between 400,000 and 1 million jobs across the country. Every time a nurse is hired, a child or grandparent with disabilities is given forty hours a week of home nursing services, something that literally can mean the difference between life and death.

That could also be seen as a million jobs across the country that have been sacrificed in the past three years to keep profits up.

On my other website, I started a survey in January looking for information on how well states were adhering to federal Medicaid regulations. Not adhering means violating, right? While the sample remains small, every state represented so far is violating one federal regulation or another.

Yet the Supreme Court will soon be considering whether anyone signing up for Medicaid should forfeit the right to "federal Supremacy", turning about 50 million people immediately into second class citizens. The White House has also backed a series of proposed Medicaid regulations that implement this anti-regulation of the human and civil rights of our elderly, our adults and our children with disabilities.

Why isn't it child abuse to steal money intended to be spent on keeping children home with their families? Since when can the government abdicate regulatory control over the recipients of federal funds?

Millions like my daughter who have no ability to speak out in support of their own civil rights, are watching control over their life-and-death decisions being sold off to for-profit HMOs.

The first step to stop this insidious destruction of the human rights of the weakest members of our society is to let Congress and the President know that we know what they have been doing without the voters' permission. It is not over-dramatizing to say people have already died, and will continue to do so, until legislation takes the profit out of Medicaid and Medicare.

Please sign our petition here. With the pending Supreme Court decision, and final versions of those proposed new regulations coming up this fall, we need your voice now to help speak up for our children, those who will always be our children and those to whom we were children.

Friday, August 12, 2011

New Administration policy tells states how to auction off local Medicaid programs to for-profit HMOs without violating regulations

ADAPT, a national grassroots disability advocacy group, announced today its outrage over the Administration's latest attack against the human rights of America's medically vulnerable children, adults and senior citizens.

The policy was outlined in a letter sent to State Medicaid Directors by CMS (the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the federal regulatory agency for both Medicaid and Medicare) on Friday, August 5.

Reading between the lines, one purpose of the letter is to outline how states can sell off their Medicaid contracts to for-profit HMOs without violating any pesky federal regulations. Specifically, the letter addresses Medicaid issues only as they relate to the infamous "maintenance of effort" (MOE) regulation imposed under the Affordable Care Act.

At one point, the policy instructions are very explicit:

As detailed in our May 20, 2010 State Medicaid Director Letter, there are a variety of mechanisms available to States to rebalance their long-term support systems for persons with disabilities to achieve compliance with the ADA.

One of the points in the May 20 letter was to laud the "service delivery model" of managed care. These are the managed care contracts auctioned off to the growing for-profit HMO industry. The link to CMS' technical manual for running an honest managed care program does not appear to work any longer.

Government revenue for Medicaid and Medicare is already boosting some of these companies 23% higher for the year than the S&P 500. Unitedhealth, for instance, has successfully mislead both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times into writing that their specular profits are related to performance in their commercial (employer) division.

Over the past three years, Unitedhealth's monthly income from commercial accounts increased by $300,000,000 while their monthly revenue from the government for Medicaid and Medicare increased by $1 billion. Which sector seems more likely to have produced a 313% increase in net earnings?

Last week's Medicaid policy statement is only the latest in a series of events evident of the Obama Administration's extreme pandering to big business HMOs.

Please help us stop this terrible mis-use of public funds.

Poll: Should Medicaid and Medicare be auctioned off to for-profit HMOs?

The disability rights, civil rights, womens rights, family rights, senior rights and healthcare rights advocates need to unite to stop Medicaid and Medicare being sold off to for-profit HMOs. Please take our poll: should Medicaid and Medicare be sold to for-profit HMOs?

Unfortunately, the process has already been underway since the Bush days, reaching almost $11 billion a month in government revenues paid to for-profit HMOS. That amount is growing, for some companies as fast as twenty percent within six months.

I'm the mother of a beautiful and loving soon-to-be 12 year old who is at 24/7 risk of death from epilepsy. Hannah's life was auctioned off to one of these companies (Unitedhealth) in February 2009 so I see every day the impact of its spectacular earnings growth on her daily life. There is a huge disability community on the internet, and I see the impacts there as well. They are intensifying as more and more states are requiring Medicaid recipients with disabilities to join these for-profit HMOs.

They have taken away from us the right of choice.

The companies aren't cutting services to our children because "the budget" has been cut. In fact, if you live in Hawaii, New York, Florida, Georgia and a few other states, your for-profit Medicaid HMO got a premium raise from your state. That's an increase to the budget, not a decrease.

What's getting cut is how much of the premium your Medicaid HMO is being paid for your child that is actually being spent on medical care. The health insurance industry calls it the "Medical loss ratio," I think of it as the "Patient loss ratio", some companies are reasonably straightforward and call it the "health benefits ratio."

If you google "medical loss ratio", you will see that this little number is playing a large role in Washington politicking. I've uploaded a number of articles about it here. The point is, it represents the amount of the premium spent on actual medical costs as a percentage of the premium. If a company reports an 80% MLR to federal regulators, it means they spent only eighty percent of the money allocated for the care of our children (for example), and saved the rest by denying medically necessary services and treatments.

A twenty percent "patient loss ratio" is what these companies brazenly report to the SEC. Federal investigations have revealed companies fraudulently inflating costs by up to 299%, and so a 50% PLR estimate could be conservative.

These companies are stealing from our children, our grandparents, and our communities' most vulnerable populations.

We can't change something we don't know about, so please help us spread the word.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Romney says corporations are people, so why aren't HMO hoodlums who steal from taxpayers in jail?

If corporations are people, as Mitt Romney told a group today, then why aren't the companies caught defrauding Medicaid and Medicare in jail?

Romney's full statement, quoted in today's Huffington Post, is:

"Corporations are people, my friend... of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people. Where do you think it goes? Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People's pockets. Human beings my friend."

"Everything ultimately goes to the people." That sure isn't the case with the big HMOs caught defrauding the taxpayers of billions of dollars intended to provide medical services to children.

I've asked before: if you were an employer and caught an employee stealing from you, would you hire that person again? And if you did and they did it again, would you hire them back a second time...a third time....?

Why is this any different from the Administration continuing to award federal subsidies to corporations already caught stealing from the government?

PR for the health insurance industry has done a great job fogging the mirror on Medicaid and Medicare. They have framed the entire debate in terms of the skyrocketing cost of medical care, the undeserving nature of recipients, and how the public budgets for these programs should be cut.

The problem is reality conflicts rather substantially with this PR "spin."

First, let's get the idea that Medicaid is for the poor or unemployed out of the way. Two-thirds of the national budget goes to keeping children and adults with disabilities, along with the elderly, out of institutions. Our country actually has a wonderful set of laws and regulations designed to keep families together, by providing medically necessary services in the individual's home. When the Medicaid budget starts getting cut, it's this two-thirds that is affected the most, and carries the highest human toll in misery and death.

Second, we need to remember that just because expenses are reported by insurance companies to federal authorities, doesn't mean those figures are accurate. The whistleblower case against Wellcare unsealed last summer reported expenses inflated by up to 299%. In Florida, investigators discovered Unitedhealth had billed the state for more than $2 million of speech therapy for children with disabilities that never took place.

Ironically, the insurance companies use these same inflated costs to justify premium increases in their state Medicaid contracts. In fact, the companies have to show they are losing money on the state contracts to get the rate increase. But if they were losing money in all the states that have awarded increases, how are they continuing to report record profits?

In its first quarter 2011 filing with the SEC, Wellcare said that "Hawaii program rate increases ... we believe have improved the stability of the program." With the company's operating profit jumping from 13.1% to 19.3% just in the past nine months, how much of the raise is being applied towards costs is in serious question.

Meanwhile, when PR flacks and industry reps talk about cutting provider rates, they forget to mention that doing so just increases the corporate HMO's profit margin. The HMO is not a "provider" in this lingo; it has replaced the state accounting and quality control bureaucracies with its own employees. The providers are the nursing agencies, pharmacies, hospitals, medical supply companies, day care centers for people with disabilities and other small businesses that provide direct services to the people needing them.

The biggest myth of all is that the issue that needs to be addressed is how to cut budgets. In essence, we are being asked to make decisions about cutting budgets without knowing how those budgets are spent. It might seem logical to equate Medicaid budgets with how much is spent on medical care, but that leaves out the twenty-to-fifty percent profit the HMO is scooping off the top of every payment they get from the government. Right now that totals somewhere between $2 billion and $5 billion a month, depending on how much fraud is going on.

As quietly as the government has been auctioning off Medicaid and Medicare to for-profit HMOs, the White House has taken steps to let these corporations know that federal regulators won't be watching too closely how these funds are actually spent.

On April 26, the Administration backed an agreement between Wellcare, nine states and the federal government, settling all the Medicaid fraud cases against them for $137 million. In return, the government agreed not to consider Wellcare a criminal and not to hold this non-criminal past against them in any future contract negotiations.

On May 6, the Administration published proposed new Medicaid access regulations that dropped jaws across Washington and the health reform movement. According to Sara Rosenbaum, Chair of the health policy department at George Washington University, "rather than being a forceful implementation of the law, the proposed rule is a model of inaction." She went on to call it "the first sign of the administration’s refusal to intervene" in state Medicaid practices, including those concerned with how government money is being spent. She calls the rule "a model of inaction," the sole remaining purpose of which is "to establish what might charitably be characterized as an information-gathering exercise."

Even this extremely watered down proposed law goes further by exempting everyone enrolled in Medicaid HMOs from inclusion in the five year information study.

Just from the year of statistics I took in college, I know any study that excludes seventy percent of the affected population has dubious accuracy.

Then on May 26, the White House took an action that could end up turning everyone receiving Medicaid into second class citizens. Defying HHS Secretary Sebellius as well as a number of health advocacy groups, Obama backed a "friend of the court" document submitted to the Supreme Court that advocates denying anyone on Medicaid the protection of federal law.

Simon Lazarus of the National Senior Center Law Center wrote:

The brief charts a path for the Supreme Court to permit federal courts to continue routinely to apply federal supremacy to strike down state laws protecting consumers, workers, retirees, bank depositors and others, alleged by business litigants to conflict with federal laws, while arbitrarily withholding identical protection from the vulnerable populations served by Medicaid and other safety net laws.

Rosenbaum warned in Politico that "there’s “no stopping point … in terms of its spillover effects” if the Supreme Court broadly restricts individuals’ access to the courts over state implementation of such a federal program."

If Romney thinks corporations are people, then Obama's actions tell us he values these corporations over the rights of the individual.

The country's most medically vulnerable population has been auctioned off to a bunch of criminal hoodlums with no regulatory strings attached.

Please sign our petition to stop this enslavement.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Wall Street HMOs use fraud, government handouts to pad profits, outgrowing S&P 500 by 25%

After the S&P tumbled yesterday to a year-to-date loss of 10.3%, for-profit HMOs like Unitedhealth, Wellcare, Aetna and Humana remained showing a 13.7 -19.9% gain since January 1. The economy-immune growth of these companies is entirely fueled by government handouts currently running about $11 billion per month.

We have a tendency to talk about Medicaid and Medicare as if budgets and people are the same. We talk about the people who will be affected by Medicaid or Medicare cuts, under the apparent assumption that the budgets are actually paid out to the people. That is what happens in every other country that runs a government health system. It is not, however, what is happening here in the US where our government public health programs - Medicaid and Medicare - are increasingly owned by big business HMOs.

Ten for-profit HMOs control the private Medicaid/Medicare market. Revenues from commercial (employer) accounts over the past three years have been stagnant at best, but Medicaid and Medicare revenues are accounting for 85% of the $2.7 billion per month increase in total premiums received.

The problem is, as the private HMO industry has grown, so has, apparently, criminal Medicaid fraud.

Unitedhealth Group, Wellcare, Amerigroup, and a fourth HMO now merged into Centene (Vista) were all found to be stealing taxpayer money in Florida that was destined for children's health care. According to the Associated Press, the companies also participated in the state's pilot privatized Medicaid HMO plan which, in spite of numerous consumer complaints, has now been expanded statewide.

It was possible to catch this criminal fraud because this specific contract between Florida and the HMOs required 85% of the taxpayer funds received to be spent on healthcare. (Few state contracts require minimum spending amounts from Medicaid contracts).

New bills were signed into Florida law earlier this year by Governor Rick Scott requiring everyone in Medicaid to join a for-profit HMO. The bills do not stipulate any minimum spending requirement, although they do require the HMOs to refund the state anything they make in profit over 5%.

Our experiences in Hawaii with Unitedhealth and Wellcare indicate the likelihood of Florida receiving any rebated profits is laughable. This type of fraud seems to require some sort of collusion between state Medicaid bureaucrats and the corporations, for the former to turn a blind eye to the latter's illegal actions. The potential for fraud is enhanced because there are no viable sanctions for violating federal Medicaid law. (The only sanction is for the feds to withhold all Medicaid payments to a state; CMS tried that in Alaska a couple of years ago and it was considered a debacle).

Unitedhealth testified in Hawaii federal court last year they were losing money on their Medicaid contract with the state. Rumors on the street are that the company is still crying crocodile tears over its purported losses, presumably laughing all the way to bank with (pre-tax) net earnings reaching 8.1% of premium revenue.

Personally, I find it ironic that Florida has accused Unitedhealth of stealing more than $2 million from children by forging speech therapy records, when the company has steadfastly refused to provide my daughter with such therapy since September 2009.

United and Wellcare also seem to have found a way, at least in Hawaii, to ensure audits are nearly impossible. Most of their payments from the state of Hawaii were made outside of the state's auditable medical IT software system.

Recent moves by the White House are increasing the power these HMOs have over people's lives. A "friend of the court" brief submitted by the Department of Justice to the Supreme Court recommends exempting Medicaid recipients from the sovereignty of the "law of the land." A new Medicaid access rule published in the Federal Register essentially guarantees a federal "hands off" policy towards state Medicaid programs and the corporate HMOs with whom they contract.

The end result of all this? Our government is currently paying about $11 billion every month to for-profit HMOs to handle Medicaid and Medicare, with a promise not to let nasty federal regulations interfere with corporate performance. If the HMOs want to skim twenty-to-fifty percent off the top towards corporate profits, no problem. If children and adults with disabilities, who account for more than two-thirds of national Medicaid expenditures, get sicker, have to be institutionalized or even die, no problem.

It's hard to imagine the Navy paying for a battleship and being satisfied with only half of one.

The latest round of SEC filings indicate another 1.7 million people will be herded into for-profit Medicaid HMOs in the next few months. Hawaii is getting ready to put its entire Medicaid program (220,000) up for bid, with both Wellcare and United expected to be bidding. Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie is continuing his abject pandering to both corporations, regardless of the number of federal regulatory and civil rights investigations brought upon the state by the two within the past eighteen months.

This is a federal subsidy that must be stopped. Please sign our petition to put an end to President Obama's pandering to big business HMOs.

Monday, August 8, 2011

HMO spends $627 million in public funds defending against Federal criminal fraud charges

A company whose income derives entirely from taxpayer funds has spent $627.4 million of our money defending itself against federal criminal fraud charges. The figures are reported in Wellcare's SEC filings between January 1, 2009 and June 30, 2011.

Yet, while the S&P 500 is down 10.34% year to date, Wellcare's stock remains up 16.74% even after today's spectacular plummit.

Wellcare is not the only for-profit managed care company continuing to show significant year to date growth. Unitedhealth Group is up 16.44%, Humana up 19.93%, while Aetna, Coventry, Wellpoint, and Centene are all higher year to date.

Ironically, growth in all these companies has been fueled by federal and state tax-payer money. Total Medicare and Medicaid payouts to for-profit HMOs are running almost $11 billion per month. Life and death decisions for more than 33 million Americans, most of them medically vulnerable, have been sold off to these publicly funded HMOs, whose decision making is based more on shareholder profit than medical need.

The Affordable Care Act has tried to put in place minimum spending requirements of 80 to 85% for commercial and Medicare HMOs. Few states require any minimum spending on Medicaid contracts. Limited regulation and an absence of any effective enforcement of how taxpayer money is spent has led to fraudulent reporting of actual medical costs by up to 299%.

Somewhere between $2 billion and $6 billion a month is saved from government-paid premiums for Medicaid and Medicare by the HMOs simply refusing to authorize needed services.

Which brings us back to Wellcare's $627 million in taxpayer money spent defending itself against charges it has been stealing from us taxpayers.

Am I the only person who has a problem with this?

About Me

My photo
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.