Medicare Fraud and For-Profit Hospitals- A Story That Never Ends

Sunday, CBS’ Sixty Minutes took a close look at Health Management Associates (HMA) a for-profit hospital chain that, according to its employees, has “relentlessly pressured its doctors to admit more and more patients—regardless of medical need—in order to raise revenues”

“We talked to more than 100 current and former employees and we heard a similar story over and over,” CBS correspondent  Steve Kroft reported.  Emergency room physicians were told “that if they didn’t start admitting more patients to the hospital, they would lose their jobs.” The orders came from the top:

With 71 hospitals in 15 states, HMA is the fourth-largest for profit chain in the country. Last year it raked in revenues of nearly $5.8 billion;  half of that came from Medicare and Medicaid. In other words, taxpayers were footing the bill for a large share of those unnecessary hospitalizations.

Patients also paid. As one doctor observed: “If you are put into the hospital for reasons other than a good, justifiable medical reason, it puts you at significant risk for hospital-acquired infections and what we would refer to as ‘medical misadventure’” (i.e. “preventable medical errors)

     :                           “Putting Heads on Beds” –An Old Story

 The piece was shocking. But it is not a new story. It is an old story. To be more precise, it is a never-ending story. In Money-Driven Medicine: The Real Reason HealthCare Costs So Much, I profiled several for-profit hospital companies that did just what Health Management Associates has done: “put heads on beds”– even though the patients didn’t need to be hospitalized.

At Tenet, in Redding, California, patients weren’t just hospitalized, they underwent heart surgery. An investigation would reveal that in many cases, they “had no serious cardiac problems whatsoever.”

 A FBI affidavit estimated that in one-quarter of all cases, Tenet’s two “rainmaker” heart surgeons were slicing  open patients who should never have been on an operating table. Other doctors tried to alert the hospital’s administration. They were ignored.

Some of those patients did not survive. Others were crippled. All suffered psychological trauma. 

                    HCA:  Florida Governor Rick Scott’s Back-Story                       

In 1997, Health Corporation of America (HCA) made headlines when FBI agents swarmed HCA offices in five states, and found evidence that at HCA, executive salaries hinged on meeting financial targets such as “growth in admissions and surgery cases.”
Continue reading

8 COMMENTS SO FAR -- ADD ONE

The Newest Health Wonk Review—on Health Affairs

Chris Fleming hosts the latest edition of Health Wonk Review, a compendium of recent posts on health care blogs.

On Managed Care Matters, Joe Paduda offers 5 predictions for health care in 2013.  He’s convinced that all but a handful of states will expand Medicaid. (“The pressure from hospitals and providers will be overwhelming.”) He also predicts that “The feds and CMS will get even more aggressive on Medicare and Medicaid fraud.”  (For what it’s worth, I think he’s right on both counts.)

                                       Food for Thought

Some posts are likely to stir controversy, either because they’re rebutting the conventional wisdom, or because they’re questioning some deeply held beliefs.  I think these posts are important because they define issues that we should all think about.

Over at Colorado Health Insurance Insider, Louise Norris examines the question of whether smokers should pay more for their health insurance.  Under the ACA, smokers can be charged up to 50 percent more than nonsmokers.  . . .

“Norris prefers the carrot over the stick,” Fleming observes, “endorsing the requirement that all plans cover tobacco cessation programs as part of the ACA’s preventive services mandate, although she cites evidence showing that implementation of this requirement has been inconsistent. “ (It’s worth noting that tobacco cessation programs work. “Sticks,” behavioral psychologists tell us, just aren’t nearly as effective.) 

The Hospitalist Leader’s  Brad  Flansbaum suggests that our emphasis on getting everyone vaccinated during a severe influenza (and claims about Tamiflu) may well amount to “oversell.”  Eye-opening.

 At the Innovative Health Media Blog  David Wilson writes: “The Medicare Annual Wellness Visit  (AWV) is the perfect vehicle to address the increasing need for early detection of cognitive impairment.  The AWV” gives physicians the opportunity “to provide such a screening and receive reimbursement for it .

“Once a patient shows the need for additional testing physicians can use self-administered computerized tests to perform the additional screening without referring the patients to another doctor or office,” he adds. “ This also creates additional reimbursement for physicians.” 

MM–I can’t help but ask: “Since we have no cure or effective treatments for Alzheimer’s (or most forms of senile dementia) do you really want to know that, in three or four years, you may  be diagnosed with full-blown Alzheimer’s?”

Certainly, seniors who want this testing should have access to it. Perhaps, one day, accumulated data will help researchers understand the disease. But Medicare patients should know that they can say “No” There is no requirement that this be part of your Annual Wellness visit.

On the Health Business Blog, another David Wilson has published a post that is likely to be even more controversial. He argues that “The Nursing Shortage is a Myth.”

We have plenty of nurses,  Wilson suggests. In fact, in the future, he writes, “robots will be replacing nurses “just as robots have replaced “paralegals” and “actuaries.” (“Insurance companies used to hire tons of them, but their work can be done much more efficiently with computers.”)

Over at Wright on Health, Brad Wright takes a look at the recent Institute of Medicine report comparing health in the U.S. to health in other wealthy nations. He notes that data on preventable deaths among young people points to the importance of public health interventions, including reducing access to guns.

  Continue reading

4 COMMENTS SO FAR -- ADD ONE