At Medicaid Forum, you could cut the tension with a scapel
By Molly Burchett and Al Cross, Kentucky Health News


Posted on January 1, 0001 12:00 AM



At the latest in a series of forums on Medicaid managed care, state officials said the new system has improved the quality of care, but you could cut the tension with a scalpel in the packed auditorium at the University of Kentucky as they fielded complaints and questions and urged the providers to work out the problems with managed-care companies themselves.

Gov. Steve Beshear and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services say the forums are designed to improve relations between providers and the managed-care organizations, but reactions from capacity crowd of health care providers and staff -- reactions that included a roomful of laughter about the MCOs' low count of transferred phone calls from providers -- suggested that the state’s solutions to providers' problems with the companies aren’t quite the solutions sought by providers.

Kentucky's transition to Medicaid managed care
In 2011, Kentucky was faced by spiraling Medicaid costs that gave the state two options: cut reimbursement rates to providers by a third or moving from a fee-for-service model to a managed- care system, in which MCOs get a specified fee for each patient they manage and use the money to pay providers, said Lawrence Kissner, commissioner of the Department for Medicaid Services.

The change is driving improvements in health for Medicaid clients while saving the state money, said Kissner: It has increased well-child visits for children aged 3-6 from 2 percent to 53 percent, has increased diabetes testing from 6 percent to 59 percent, and has improved adult access to preventative and ambulatory health services.
MCOs also have numerous quality initiatives underway, said Kissner, including one in improving anti-depressant medication management and compliance. One company, Wellcare, has worked to improve oral health through a campaign that offered $10 gift cards for dental visits, but no one hears about this, he said.


What we've heard are complaints from physicians, hospitals, pharmacies and other health-care providers who aren’t getting some claims paid in a timely manner, or at all. Providers say manage care's complicated pre-approval process, designed to limit costs, delays critical treatment for patients and adds unsustainable administrative burdens.

State officials' response: meet with the MCOs
Kissner said the new system denies 6 percent of providers' requests for pre-authorization, compared to the fee-for-service model that only denied 1 percent of such requests, but he say that's about the same as other states that use managed care.

About 20 percent of providers' claims have either been denied or suspended. In the first 14 months of managed care, 22 million of the 28.3 million claims, or 78 percent, were paid within 30 days. Kissner said 4.9 million (17 percent) were denied in 30 days and 1.2 million (4 percent) were suspended; he did not mention the monetary amount of the denied or suspended claims.

Meetings with MCOs are part of the plan Beshear outlined after vetoing House Bill 5, which the last session of the General Assembly passed to help providers receive prompt payments from MCOs. The plan also requires the state Department of Insurance to investigate payment complaintsand to conduct audits of this process. The department began this work in April and says it does not yet have statistics about 'clean claim' approval rates.

However, audits by the state's managed-care branch have shown Kentucky Spirit and Coventry Cares to be deficient in their financial management, and the state has implemented "corrective action plans" to address those deficiencies, said Kissner.

Providers' response to dispute-resolution plan
It may be an unwelcome change for providers as they now may have to set up consultations with MCOs to receive the money owed to them. They may ask: How many other business-to-business contracts require the service provider to meet face-to-face with the payor in order for the provider to be paid for contracted services that have already been provided? They argue that delayed payments and fee cuts could place stretch medical practices and hospitals so thin that those needing care might be at more risk.

One provider in the audience addressed this concern, asking how general dentists are supposed to continue giving high-quality care to all patients if their fees are getting cut, but their expenses are going up? None of the officials on the panel answered the question.

Another audience member asked about provider fee cuts, and after the microphone was passed around to Kissner, he said the reductions are a part of the transition process to managed care, which was initiated to avoid a 35 percent Medicaid rate cut.

"When managed care enters into a a fee-for service environment, there's savings in a variety of pockets," Kissner said. "How do they control costs and try to make a profit in the system?"

The forum wrapped up with question from another skeptical audience member: Will this really make a difference?

"Well, you tell me, said Haynes. "And I'm sorry for those of you that feel like it will not make a difference because everyone in this room would have seen a 35 percent cuts in your rate, in all rates, had we not gone to managed care. Not only that, our folks were not getting healthier, and we have proof of that." In her opening remarks, she said the state has spent billions of dollars on health care for the poor without seeing an improvement in the state's health status, so a different approach was needed.

Future forums
Kissner said the forums between the MCOs and providers are expected to resolve disputes by January, the deadline given to the cabinet by Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, during a meeting of the joint Administrative Regulations Review Subcommittee. Damron and other legislators have "vowed to lead a legislative revolt" if the administration doesn't fix these late payment issues between providers and MCOs by then, reports Ronnie Ellis of CNHI News Service.

All the managed-care forums follow the same agenda, which can be found along with additional information at the Medicaid website. The forum for Region 2 will be held June 20 at the Main Lodge of Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park (20781 Pennyrile Lodge Road., Dawson Springs).

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.




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