Beshear says his managed-care plan is saving money and improving health outcomes; state points finger at hospitals

Six months ago, Gov. Steve Beshear applied an intensive plan to solve Medicaid managed-care implementation issues. On Thursday, he said the system is working more effectively for both providers and managed care organizations. He also said hospitals’ complaints were overstated and some of them need to adapt to the new system, which will be two years old Nov. 1.

Gov. Steve Beshear

“There will still be a few—be they hospital or individual medical providers—who will say the program doesn’t work, but it’s tough to refute the facts,” Beshear said at a news conference and in a press release. All but three states use managed care to save money and improve health.

Beshear asked each managed-care organization (MCO) to meet with every hospital in their networks to look over their accounts receivable to resolve billing disputes. “The final analysis—the MCOs and hospitals agreed that what was actually disputed and owed was a tiny fraction—just 2 percent of the original $346.6 million claim,” the release says in boldface type.

The Kentucky Hospital Association said in a news release Friday, “The overwhelming majority of hospitals still report significant dollar amounts owed to them by the MCOs in unpaid claims. . . . While hospitals have seen a slight improvement in current claims processing and a slight decline in overall accounts receivables since the Governor issued his directive to the MCOs to clean up these claims, the amount of unpaid claims actually owed to hospitals (not billed amounts) is 60 to 70 percent higher compared to unpaid bills in October 2011 before managed care was implemented.”

Beshear ordered that complaints about MCOs’ payments be handled by the Department of Insurance instead of the Department for Medicaid Services. He said it has closed or nearly closed two-thirds of the 1,935 complaints it received. “Most complaints were related not to prompt pa y— which is what hospitals alleged — but instead related to claim denials, prior authorization disputes or unsatisfactory settlement offers,” the release says.

The Insurance Department said MCOs often failed to offer a good explanation for denying claims. The Medicaid agency “sent corrective action plans to Coventry and Wellcare,” the two MCOs operating outside the Louisville region. They will report progress each quarterly.

In general, the reviews didn’t find that MCOs were holding payments on a regular basis, but concluded that Coventry Cares did not follow the state law requiring prompt payment if insurance claims. The Insurance Department has proposed that the company pay a civil penalty of $9,000.

Managed care has reduced “unnecessary ER use and inpatient hospital days in favor of more consistent disease management and prevention,” Audrey Tayse Haynes, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said in the release. Kentucky has many people who go to the ER 10 times or more in a year, contributing to total ER expenses of $340 million for Medicaid. Unfortunately, Haynes said, some hospitals have used ERs to create revenue to support operations, “even advertising the average wait time in their ERs on their websites. For some communities, the ER has been the de facto primary care center.” Haynes said hospitals have to put together a new business model that “dovetails with the goal of preventive care and wellness instead of high-cost emergency treatment.”

The hospital association said it supports the state’s efforts to reduce ER abuse, but “That project does not and will not solve the ongoing problem of WellCare and Coventry continuing to pay hospitals only $50 for emergency room care by reclassifying, on average, 50 percent of all ER patients, as non-emergency — under criteria they refuse to share with hospitals.”

The implementation of the managed health care plan has saved money and improved health care, Beshear said. Per-patient costs are below predicted amounts and new enrollment is the same or declining. In November 2011, budget analysts predicted that the state would save $1.3 billion in the next two years, and “to date, Kentucky is still on target to meet that savings amount,” the release said.

Statistics about health show the improvements to the system. For example, there has been a 93 percent increase in consultations to stop smoking, a 33 percent increase in flu vaccines for children, huge increases in mammograms and screenings for heart problems, and a 17 percent decrease in amputations (often because of untreated diabetes), and nearly an 11 percent decrease in CT scans.

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