2019 September

Fraud + Abuse

There have been some eye popping headlines lately about the use of kickbacks to induce physicians and others to refer patients. Apparently, the FBI has just scratched the surface.

Kickbacks are career ending for healthcare professionals and cause significant issues for the company and investors involved. As someone who has experienced the organizational fallout, it’s a lesson that you don’t easily forget.

I worked for an organization under the first OIG settlement for use of kickbacks and other practices deemed abusive. What I learned is that people cross the line when they are under pressure to meet financial targets. 

Investors expect two things from leaders: growth and/or profitability. So I thought it might be helpful to frame the fraud and abuse risks that way too.

Growth:

A focus on growth increases the risk of kickbacks. To minimize the risk, you should have a process in place to:

1/ Identify all your potential referral sources. 

Potential referral sources are physicians, organizations owned by physicians or a family member and others who can influence patients.

2/ Review all the payments made to the potential referral sources to ensure they are supported by a contract. Contracts need to be reviewed for:

  • The nature of the agreement
  • The payment to ensure it reflects fair market value for the services rendered
  • The documentation requirements

3/ Review the documentation for services provided to ensure the services were actually provided in accordance with the contract.

4/ Educate those contracting with a potential referral source on the risks and requirements.

Profitability:

The shading things some people will do for their own gain is almost limitless. 

To minimize risk you need to be constantly looking at the financials, asking questions and validating the answers when something looks off.

With that said, the most vulnerable numbers are the revenue numbers.

1/ Trend and benchmark the charges

2/ Review the number of changes to the charges and the timing of the changes

3/ Review the methodology for contracted write-offs and discounts 

4/ Watch for deviations from the methodology

Potential issues:

1/ Out-of-network strategy 

2/ Over utilization

3/ Additional outlier payments 

4/ Tucking and smoothing to meet financial targets

All of these issues are problematic. The underlying reason and business practices will tell you how problematic.

The Risk is Real

For me, the most memorable cases is that of Richard Scrushy, Founder of HealthSouth and felon. Yes – felon.

Richard and his inner circle intentionally misstated HealthSouth’s revenue numbers by $2 Billion before the problem was uncovered.

The numbers alone make it memorable. However, the problem surfaced just after we launched our online training programs that focused on all the processes needed to accurately report revenue. The case validated our why.

The government is now using data and AI to catch fraudsters. It’s a good time to make sure your I’s dotted and T’s crossed and that you have a process in place to keep them dotted and crossed.

Evolution vs. Revolution

We’re getting more insight into as to where political and business leaders are looking for ideas to help lower the cost of healthcare in the US. 

LA Care came up this week because it’s a public option currently available on the California exchange that competes for members with insurers offering plans in the same service areas. It is operating similarly to how a Medicare public option would be expected to operate. 

Many leaders see LA Care as evolutionary because since inception the plan has been slowly improving the health and welfare of their members and reducing the cost of healthcare. The biggest issue that remains is healthcare reimbursement.

LA Care utilizes county resources as well as physicians and other healthcare providers contracted with commercial payers. Consequently, the plan hasn’t been able to lower their contracted rates and cost of healthcare enough to make their model truly transformative.

The Medicare public option could be revolutionary but it is unlikely to get industry support given that many of the largest healthcare companies are publicly traded and have a financial responsibility to their shareholders.

Change is going to happen whether you want it or not.

~Ed Catmull, Co-Founder of Pixar

A Radical Challenge

If you subscribe to the Weekly Rush then you know, I have been reading Creativity Inc lately. One of the stories that the author Ed Catmull shares in the book is about giving his creatives at Pixar a radical challenge to lower the cost of their production. No easy task given the talent and complexity of the processes involved.

Ed was surprised by the positive response to the challenge. Reportedly, his creatives took it on and took the challenge to a whole new level once they understood how they fit into the bigger picture.

60% of Americans don’t necessarily want a single payer system but they want to pay less for their healthcare. Rather than fighting against the use of Medicare rates, as an industry we should embrace it as our radical challenge to lower the cost of healthcare.

The opportunity to address a problem is often missed because we don’t get to the root cause and understand all the implications to fix it. Instead we often layer on more solutions and consequently, more cost.

Vendors don’t help matters because they don’t want to address staff reductions as a benefit of their solution. It’s a sensitive issue and often a roadblock to closing a sale.

To embrace the challenge, we need to need to look at everything we do with a fresh lens and question:

  • Does the task still need to be done?
  • Does the process/system work well? If not, what’s the problem?
  • What needs to change or what could be changed to fix the problem or streamline the process to make the task even easier?
  • Could a vendor change the user interface or packaging to make the process easier?
  • If you eliminate the task or make a process easier, how do existing resources get redeployed?
  • What is the impact on total cost and revenue?

If you’re saying there is no way to reduce cost and make money if you only receive Medicare rates. Ask yourself why not? Make a list of all your reasons and challenge every single one.

It’s not about just improving what we do now. Constraints challenge people to think about what they are doing and to create better ways to do it.