Tag: centers for medicare and medicaid services

GAO’s 159th Report on Medicare/Medicaid Fraud Finds Anti-Fraud Measures ‘Inadequate’

Today, the Government Accountability Office will release a new report on fraud in Medicare and Medicaid.  By my count, it is the 159th report the GAO has issued on fraud in these programs since 1986.  According to the Associated Press:

The federal government’s systems for analyzing Medicare and Medicaid data for possible fraud are inadequate and underused, making it more difficult to detect the billions of dollars in fraudulent claims paid out each year, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Government Accountability Office report said the systems don’t even include Medicaid data. Furthermore, 639 analysts were supposed to have been trained to use the system - yet only 41 have been so far, it said.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services - which administer the taxpayer-funded health care programs for the elderly, poor and disabled - lacks plans to finish the systems projected to save $21 billion. The technology is crucial to making a dent in the $60 billion to $90 billion in fraudulent claims paid out each year.

In this article for National Review, I explain that there are reasons why those tools are, and will remain, “inadequate and underused.”

How Dare Conservatives Stand athwart ObamaCare Yelling, Stop!

In a column for Kaiser Health News, Michael L. Millenson, President of Health Quality Advisors LLC, laments that conservatives in the U.S. House are approaching ObamaCare like, well, conservatives.  He cites comments by unnamed House GOP staffers at a recent conference:

The Innovation Center at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services? “An innovation center at CMS is an oxymoron,” responded a  Republican aide…”Though it’s great for PhDs who come to Washington on the government tab.”

There was also no reason the government should pay for “so-called comparative effectiveness research,” another said.

“Everything’s on the chopping block,” said yet another.

No government-funded comparative-effectiveness research?  The horror!  For my money, those staffers (and whoever hired them) should get a medal.

Millenson thinks conservative Republicans have just become a bunch of cynics and longs for the days when Republicans would go along with the left-wing impulse to have the federal government micromanage health care:

After all, the McCain-Palin health policy platform in the 2008 presidential election called for coordinated care, greater use of health information technology and a focus on Medicare payment for value, not volume. Once-and-future Republican presidential candidates such as former governors Mike Huckabee (Ark.), Mitt Romney (Mass.) and Tim Pawlenty (Minn.), as well as ex-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, have long promoted disease prevention, a more innovative federal government and increased use of information technology. Indeed, federal health IT “meaningful use” requirements can even be seen as a direct consequence of Gingrich’s popularization of the phrase, “Paper kills.”

He even invokes the father of modern conservatism, William F. Buckley, as if Buckley would disapprove of conservatives standing athwart ObamaCare yelling, Stop!

Millenson’s tell comes toward the end of the column, when he writes:

traditional GOP conservatives… [have] eschewed ideas in favor of ideological declarations.

Eschewed ideas in favor of…ideas?  My guess is that what’s really troubling Millenson is that congressional Republicans are eschewing left-wing health care ideas in favor of freedom.

Better late than never.  Now if only GOP governors would do the same.

Columbus Dispatch: ObamaCare = Malpractice

Popular discontent with ObamaCare extends even so far as the traditionally left-of-center Columbus Dispatch editorial page:

Almost daily, the ill effects of the health-care overhaul passed by Congress last month are becoming apparent. As employers and government bureaucrats analyze the law’s effect on bottom lines for the private sector and for government, the alarm bells are ringing.

The tragedy is that these ill effects could have been and should have been calculated before the law was passed, not after.

In fact, many of them were prophesied before passage of the bill, but the prophets were ignored by President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress. That’s because their uppermost goal was not to pass the best health-care bill possible but merely to pass anything that could be called “health-care reform” and could be claimed as a political victory by a president desperate for one.

The latest analysis of the bill’s likely effects comes from the Office of the Actuary in the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The report by Chief Actuary Richard S. Foster says that, far from reducing the cost of health care, the overhaul will add $311 billion to the nation’s health-care costs over the first decade the law is in effect…

As the weeks roll by, more and more unintended and should-have-been-anticipated consequences of this ill-conceived law will be revealed.

This should be no surprise, considering that the law was slapped together behind closed doors without proper testimony and vetting by health-care, financial and insurance experts, and is a patchwork of political and special-interest deals rammed through Congress using procedural gimmicks.

The nation deserved something much, much better than this.

Read the full editorial.  Repeal the bill.

A Little Less Poetry, a Little More Economics

A good friend sent me an article on “patient-centered health care” written by Dr. Donald Berwick, President Obama’s intended nominee for administrator of the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services. What an improvement an administrator like this will bring compared to his predecessors! Right? The article is called What ‘Patient-Centered’ Should Mean: Confessions Of An Extremist (requires login).

I have no doubt of Berwick’s sincerity, but the essay gives me little hope for progress. It doesn’t mention, for example, parity in the tax treatment of employer-purchased and individually purchased health insurance.

Why don’t we talk about diner-centered restaurants or grocery stores? Because when consumers select restaurants and stores, choose their food, and pay for their choices, “diner-centeredness” is a given. To the extent non-diner-centered food outlets have come into existence, they’ve gone away again as a failed business model. Nobody has to discuss what it means or what artificial process they would use to deliver “diner-centeredness.”

“But health care is essential to life!” some might argue. ”Intellects and government officials must pay health care delivery special attention because without it people would die.”

Pray tell, good hearts, what is food other than an essential of life without which people would die? We regard food provision an “easy” problem because we haven’t made it hard by fettering the market for edibles the way we have health care.

Keep your eye on the ball. If you have to discuss how to get patient-centered health care, you’ve framed the problem wrongly. (The medical metaphor is talking about a symptom and not the disease.)

“Patient-centered” is implicit when the patient is actually at the center. Dr. Berwick should approach the health care delivery problem with a little less poetry and a little more economics.

Health Cost Projections to 2019: The Doc Fix Trick Again

Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) takes the President to task for cooking the books on projected health care costs, most egregiously with the “doc fix” – namely, assuming Medicare slashes physician payments by 21.3% this year and subsequently lets them fall continuously in real terms.

What nobody seems to have noticed is that the same phony “doc fix” taints the new “Health Spending Projections Through 2019” from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, tries to downplay the CMS forecast “that the public sector will start paying more than half of the nation’s health care bill starting in 2012, and that government spending will grow faster than private spending from 2009 to 2019 (an average of 7.0% per year vs. 5.2%).”

Worrying about such spending trends is a foolish “ideological battle over the role of government,” says Altman, because rapid increases in government health spending is “just the byproduct of economic and demographic trends” (recession and an aging population).   “Is government health spending out of control?” he asks; answering “NO” in capital letters.  “The report simply underscores the need to control health care costs in the public and the private sectors alike.”

On the contrary, the reason government health care spending is projected to slow down to 7% a year is, the CMS explains, “due principally to the 21.3% reduction in physician payment rates … mandated in current law.”

Putting aside such “doctored” projections, “health spending by public payers ($1.2 trillion) is projected to have grown much faster in 2009 (8.7 percent) than that of private payers (3.0 percent).”

That was not because of high inflation in costs of medical goods and services (which should not differ much between government and private payers), but because the government has only in recent years been heavily subsidizing health insurance for the unemployed and drug insurance for seniors, and actively expanding the enrollment of Medicaid programs which (being “free”) often lure people out of employer-sponsored plans.

What Congressional Democrats call “reform” is, in fact, much more of the same—more non-poor people getting Medicaid and other subsidies that are yanked away if you work too hard.

No, It’s Not Health Inflation

Describing  runaway entitlement spending as “health inflation” is terribly misleading (even when Rep. Ryan does it), because doing so confuses rising prices with rising utilization of medical goods and services by people who are insulated from actual costs by taxpayer-financed subsidies.

Government subsidies also raise costs to those using private insurance.  The CMS notes that 2009’s 4.6% increase “private health insurance premium spending per employee … resulted in part from an increase in the proportion of high-cost claims—many of whom have temporary COBRA coverage” [emphasis added], which is 65% financed by taxpayers.

By contrast, health inflation per se is projected to be 2.8% this year – comparable to other labor-intensive service industries and also down from 3.2% in 2009 and 3% in 2008.     Morevoer, “out-of-pocket spending is projected to have grown 2.1 percent in 2009, down from 2.8% in 2008.”

What about all the uninformed media fuss about health insurance companies supposedly “asking for” premium increases of “up to” 39%?

If President Obama really wanted to find out how quickly typical health insurance premiums have been increasing, he could have a staffer call the Bureau of Labor Statistics and ask for Table 3A of the “Consumer Price Index Detailed Report Tables Annual Averages 2009.”  It turns out the consumer price index for health insurance premiums fell by 3.2% in 2009.

HHS Bureaucracy Is Not up to the Task

One aspect of the health care debate that has not been sufficiently addressed is how the Department of Health and Human Services will handle all its new responsibilities given the massive fraud and abuse that already plagues its existing programs.

It seems that every week there’s a new report of government health care being bilked. Since what’s reported is typically only what is caught, one can only imagine how much isn’t being caught. Harvard’s Malcolm Sparrow, a top specialist in health care fraud, estimates that up to 20 percent of federal health program budgets are consumed by improper payments, which would be a staggering $150 billion a year for Medicare and Medicaid.

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt did raise the question this week of whether the HHS bureaucracy is up to the task. He notes that the president is yet to choose a nominee to head the HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and he suggests that “the lack of a Medicare nomination suggests that the White House is not giving enough attention to what will happen once Mr. Obama signs a bill.” Well that’s because most politicians are primarily concerned with getting accolades for passing bills, but don’t worry too much about how programs actually work.

As I mentioned in an earlier post on this subject, CMS is the reincarnation of a previous HHS bureaucracy with a poor reputation. David Hyman recounts in his book, Medicare Meets Mephistopheles, that in 2001 HHS’s Health Care Financing Administration became CMS in an attempt to rebrand the universally disliked HCFA. CMS Administrator Tom Scully told Congress in 2003:

The fact is, the health care market…is extremely muted and extremely screwed up and it’s largely because of my agency. For those of you who don’t follow CMS, which used to be called HCFA, we changed the name because it was so well loved. I always say it’s kind of like when Enron comes out of bankruptcy, they’ll probably change their name. So, HCFA—Secretary Thompson and I decided to confuse everybody. We changed the name to CMS for a couple of years so people wouldn’t realize we’re actually HCFA. So far, it’s worked reasonably well.

Oh sure, the president is promising that this time it will be different. But Leonhardt relates a story from former CMS administrator Mark McClellan that shows why the president’s promise will be impossible to keep:

[Mark McClellan] likes to tell the story of a Medicare demonstration project that Congress approved in 2003. Once the bill passed, officials had to devise the project’s details, decide how to measure the results and choose the locations. All of that took until 2009. The first round of projects — coordinating care across medical specialties, in Indiana and North Carolina — has only recently started. Years more will pass before the results are in.

Sadly, McClellan’s solution is “adding in a few billion dollars to give Medicare the resources to act more quickly.” In other words, more bureaucracy.

Leonhardt concludes by comparing the HHS bureaucracy to “old-line” private companies:

The agencies that will be managing health reform are often the same ones that have helped build the current system. Many talented people work in these agencies, and unlike the Medicare administrator, they are already in place. But there are all sorts of reasons to be skeptical of how easily a sprawling, existing organization can innovate.

People at old-line organizations tend to rationalize the usual ways of doing business and to worry about the downsides of change. I.B.M. didn’t invent Windows or the Mac. Newspapers didn’t invent Craigslist. Medicare and Medicaid will, to a significant degree, have to reinvent government-provided medical care and, in the process, help create a template for private insurers.

Although I’m sympathetic to this comparison, I’m not completely buying it. Market forces demand that private companies innovate to satisfy customers; otherwise they’re apt to disappear, assuming they don’t get government bailouts. Government bureaucracies face no such forces. As I mentioned, HHS’s previous bungling Medicare/Medicaid bureaucracy simply changed its name and kept right on losing taxpayer money.

Also, in a new CNN.com article, the chief of the FBI’s Health Care Fraud Unit, Rob Montemorra, explains why big government administered healthcare programs are more susceptible to fraud than their private sector counterparts:

One key reason having Medicare information is a virtual “gold mine” for fraudsters, according to Montemorra, is the system’s “pay and chase” system – under the law, Medicare must send out payments within a very short time period.

He said private insurers are better at preventing fraud – although not immune from it – because they’re so much smaller.

Montemorra said the process heightens the potential for fraud and other forms of abuse because the government is more often reacting to cases of abuse instead of preventing them before they happen.

For more on fraud and abuse in government programs, see this Cato essay.

Nice Insurance Company. Shame If Anything Were to Happen to It.

Just days after the health-insurance lobby released a report criticizing the Senate Finance Committee’s health care overhaul (for not expanding government enough!), Democrats and President Barack Obama lashed out at health insurers, threatening to revoke what the Government Accountability Office calls the insurers’ “very limited exemption from the federal antitrust laws.”

Democrats say they’re motivated by the need to increase competition in health insurance markets.  Right.

According to Business Week:

David Hyman, a professor of law and medicine at the University of Illinois College of Law and adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute…considers it unlikely that repeal would fundamentally change the nature of the market. While it might increase competition in some markets, he says, it could actually decrease it in others, such as those where small insurers survive because they have access to larger providers’ data. Changes to the act could therefore hurt smaller companies more than larger ones, he says.

Because the act doesn’t outlaw the existence of a dominant provider but simply prohibits collusion, says Hyman, a repeal would fall short of breaking up existing market monopolies that are blamed for artificially inflating prices. The current move against [the] McCarran-Ferguson [Act], he says, “has more to do with the politics of pushing back against the insurance industry’s opposition to health reform than it does with increasing competition in health-insurance markets.”

Combined with what The New York Times described as the Obama administration’s “ham-handed” attempt to censor insurers who communicated with seniors about the effects of the president’s health plan – the Times editorialized: “the government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had to stretch facts to the breaking point to make a weak case that the insurers were doing anything improper” – it’s hard to argue that this is anything but Democrats threatening to use the power of the state to punish dissidents.

When Republicans were in power, dissent was the highest form of patriotism.  Now that Democrats are in power, obedience is the highest form of patriotism.