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Senior and Post-Acute Healthcare News and Topics

Conference Presentation – Fixed

Sorry – heard from a few that the presentation did not land on the Reports and Other Documents page.  It is safely there and for convenience, embedded here as well.  A quick note: The presentation was given in September, before the release of the SNF Conditions of Participation Final Rule.  The slides will reflect the “anticipation” of the release.  The presentation is “as given”.


October 13, 2016 Posted by | Policy and Politics - Federal, Skilled Nursing | 1 Comment

Conference Presentation

In September, I spoke at the Kairos Health conference in Pennsylvania on request/behalf of HCPro.  The topic was on upcoming/current regulatory and compliance issues in Post-Acute Care.  By request, I am providing the presentation on this site.  Readers can find it on the Reports and Other Documents Page.  The title is “Upcoming Post-Acute Regulatory Issues”.  It is free for viewing or download.  As always, questions, comments, etc. feel free to comment to this post or drop me a note at the email address provided on the Author page of this site.

October 13, 2016 Posted by | Policy and Politics - Federal, Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New SNF Conditions of Participation: Implementation Timeframes

About ten days ago, I published a post regarding the new Federal Conditions of Participation for SNFs.  This long awaited regulatory update includes new, revised, and existing regulations published in final rule form last week (October 4).  The post is here for reference

The questions frequently asked regarding the new CoPs (since release) are around implementation dates.  As readers will note, whether in my post or in the actual Final Rule, enforcement is in phases spanning a three year time frame – November 2016 through 2018. Recall that the CoPs in the Final Rule are the broad law changes.  Implementation requires specificity found (typically) in the Interpretive Guidelines – the actual “regs”.  We aren’t there yet and given the breadth of change in certain instances, time is necessary for regulations to be written and providers to comply.  Hence, the phasing.

I have posted below, the implementation timeframe for reference.  This guide is available via this post and is hosted on the Reports and Other Documents page on this site. I have articles forthcoming (soon) here and on other sites regarding implementation strategies and tips.  In the meantime, readers can always forward a question via comment to this post or to my e-mail address noted on the Author page.  Remember: If you want an answer direct, please provide a current, working e-mail address.  I do respond to all questions and comments as efficiently as I can.

The timeframe document is here:



October 11, 2016 Posted by | Policy and Politics - Federal, Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CMS Releases Final Rule on SNF Conditions of Participation

The long-awaited final rule on the revised/new SNF Conditions of Participation is set for publishing on October 4 in the Federal Register. The public inspection version is available now, including the comments from the Proposed Rule at this link:  The whole document is over 900 pages.  The salient portions that include the regulatory changes/summary of provisions is the first 14 or so pages.

Two things to remember for policy readers and folks in the industry.  First, what is available is the “law” not the interpretive guidelines that expands on the law in a way that creates enforcement regulations and the roadmap or “how to”.  The Final Rule is absent this information.  CMS still needs to develop this element.  Second, implementation will occur in phases.  The first phase is set for November 28, 2016 with minor changes that most providers should be ready for or are parts (related or integrated) from annual rule releases/updates (CMS updates PPS for each provider segment annually) already disclosed.  For example, QMs that translate into this rule regarding unnecessary drugs, antipsychotics-psychotics, etc.  These are now encapsulated in the rule but frankly, not new in scope.  The second phase is November 2017 and the third phase, 2019.

In November of last year, concurrent with the release of the Proposed Final Rule, I wrote a piece and did a webinar for HCPro on this topic.  The written piece is here:  In my review of the two, what I though would move forward fundamentally “intact” did. What I was concerned about however, didn’t change much based on the over 10,000 comments.  There is definitely, a “Camel’s nose under the tent” element with regard to staffing requirements; though not an overt regulation.  The devilish elements are around the “facility assessments” for  staff adequacy and competency, etc. and the food service requirement to meet individual preferences plus serve nutritionally adequate, palatable meals, etc.  As one of the main issues in any environment remains food (always a certain number of complaints), this one could prove very, very prickly when it comes to survey/enforcement.  The summary of changes/provisions is below, as published.

  • Basis and scope (§483.1)

 We have added the statutory authority citations for sections 1128I(b) and (c) and section

1150B of the Social Security Act (the Act) to include the compliance and ethics program,

quality assurance and performance improvement (QAPI), and reporting of suspicion of a

crime requirements to this section.

  • Definitions (§483.5)

 We have added the definitions for “abuse”, “adverse event”, “exploitation”,

“misappropriation of resident property”, “mistreatment”, “neglect”, “person-centered

care”, “resident representative”, and “sexual abuse” to this section.

  • Resident rights (§483.10)

 We are retaining all existing residents’ rights and updating the language and organization

of the resident rights provisions to improve logical order and readability, clarify aspects

of the regulation where necessary, and updating provisions to include advances such as

electronic communications.

  • Freedom from abuse, neglect, and exploitation (§483.12)

 We are requiring facilities to investigate and report all allegations of abusive conduct.

We also are specifying that facilities cannot employ individuals who have had a

disciplinary action taken against their professional license by a state licensure body as a

result of a finding of abuse, neglect, mistreatment of residents or misappropriation of

their property.

  • Admission, transfer, and discharge rights (§483.15)

 We are requiring that a transfer or discharge be documented in the medical record and

that specific information be exchanged with the receiving provider or facility when a

resident is transferred.

  • Resident assessments (§483.20)

 We are clarifying what constitutes appropriate coordination of a resident’s assessment

with the Preadmission Screening and Resident Review (PASARR) program under

Medicaid. We are also adding references to statutory requirements that were

inadvertently omitted from the regulation when we first implemented sections 1819 and

1919 of the Act.

  • Comprehensive Person-Centered Care Planning (§483.21) *New Section*

 We are requiring facilities to develop and implement a baseline care plan for each

resident, within 48 hours of their admission, which includes the instructions needed to

provide effective and person-centered care that meets professional standards of quality


 We are adding a nurse aide and a member of the food and nutrition services staff to the

required members of the interdisciplinary team that develops the comprehensive care


 We are requiring that facilities develop and implement a discharge planning process that

focuses on the resident’s discharge goals and prepares residents to be active partners in

post-discharge care, in effective transitions, and in the reduction of factors leading to

preventable re-admissions. We are also implementing the discharge planning

requirements mandated by The Improving Medicare Post-Acute Care Transformation Act

of 2014 (IMPACT Act) by revising, or adding where appropriate, discharge planning

requirements for LTC facilities.

  • Quality of care (§483.24)

 We are requiring that each resident receive and the facility provide the necessary care and

services to attain or maintain the highest practicable physical, mental, and psychosocial

well-being, consistent with the resident’s comprehensive assessment and plan of care.

  • Quality of Life (§483.25)

 Based on the comprehensive assessment of a resident, we are requiring facilities to ensure

that residents receive treatment and care in accordance with professional standards of

practice, the comprehensive person-centered care plan, and the residents’ choices.

  • Physician services (§483.30)

 We are allowing attending physicians to delegate dietary orders to qualified dietitians or

other clinically qualified nutrition professionals and therapy orders to therapists.

  • Nursing services (§483.35)

 We are adding a competency requirement for determining the sufficiency of nursing staff,

based on a facility assessment, which includes but is not limited to the number of

residents, resident acuity, range of diagnoses, and the content of individual care plans.

  • Behavioral health services (§483.40)

 We are adding a new section to subpart B that focuses on the requirement to provide the

necessary behavioral health care and services to residents, in accordance with their

comprehensive assessment and plan of care.

 We are adding “gerontology” to the list of possible human services fields from which a

bachelor degree could provide the minimum educational requirement for a social worker.

  • Pharmacy services (§483.45)

 We are requiring that a pharmacist review a resident’s medical chart during each monthly

drug regimen review.

 We are revising existing requirements regarding “antipsychotic” drugs to refer to

“psychotropic” drugs and define “psychotropic drug” as any drug that affects brain

activities associated with mental processes and behavior. We are requiring several

provisions intended to reduce or eliminate the need for psychotropic drugs, if not

clinically contraindicated, to safeguard the resident’s health.

  • Laboratory, radiology, and other diagnostic services (§483.50) *New Section*

 We are clarifying that a physician assistant, nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist

may order laboratory, radiology, and other diagnostic services for a resident in

accordance with state law, including scope-of-practice laws.

  • Dental services (§483.55)

 We are prohibiting SNFs and NFs from charging a Medicare resident for the loss or

damage of dentures determined in accordance with facility policy to be the facility’s

responsibility, and we are adding a requirement that the facility have a policy identifying

those instances when the loss or damage of dentures is the facility’s responsibility. We

are requiring NFs to assist residents who are eligible to apply for reimbursement of dental

services under the Medicaid state plan, where applicable.

 We are clarifying that with regard to a referral for lost or damaged dentures “promptly”

means that the referral must be made within 3 business days unless there is

documentation of extenuating circumstances.

  • Food and nutrition services (§483.60)

 We are requiring facilities to provide each resident with a nourishing, palatable, well balanced

diet that meets his or her daily nutritional and special dietary needs, taking into

consideration the preferences of each resident. We are also requiring facilities to employ

sufficient staff, including the designation of a director of food and nutrition service, with

the appropriate competencies and skills sets to carry out the functions of dietary services

while taking into consideration resident assessments and individual plans of care,

including diagnoses and acuity, as well as the facility’s resident census.

  • Specialized rehabilitative services (§483.65)

 We have added respiratory services to those services identified as specialized

rehabilitative services.

  • Administration (§483.70)

 We have largely relocated various portions of this section into other sections of subpart B

as deemed appropriate.

 We require facilities to conduct, document, and annually review a facility-wide

assessment to determine what resources are necessary to care for its residents

competently during both day-to-day operations and emergencies. Facilities are required

to address in the facility assessment the facility’s resident population (that is, number of

residents, overall types of care and staff competencies required by the residents, and

cultural aspects), resources (for example, equipment, and overall personnel), and a

facility-based and community-based risk assessment.

 Binding Arbitration Agreements: We are requiring that facilities must not enter into an

agreement for binding arbitration with a resident or their representative until after a

dispute arises between the parties. Thus, we are prohibiting the use of pre-dispute

binding arbitration agreements.

  • Quality assurance and performance improvement (QAPI) (§483.75)

 We are requiring all LTC facilities to develop, implement, and maintain an effective

comprehensive, data-driven QAPI program that focuses on systems of care, outcomes of

care and quality of life.

  • Infection control (§483.80)

 We are requiring facilities to develop an Infection Prevention and Control Program (IPCP)

that includes an Antibiotic Stewardship Program and designate at least one Infection

Preventionist (IP).

  • Compliance and ethics program (§483.85) *New Section*

 We are requiring the operating organization for each facility to have in effect a compliance

and ethics program that has established written compliance and ethics standards, policies

and procedures that are capable of reducing the prospect of criminal, civil, and

administrative violations in accordance with section 1128I(b) of the Act.

  • Physical environment (§483.90)

 We are requiring facilities that are constructed, re-constructed, or newly certified after the

effective date of this regulation to accommodate no more than two residents in a bedroom.

We are also requiring facilities that are constructed, or newly certified after the effective

date of this regulation to have a bathroom equipped with at least a commode and sink in

each room.

  • Training requirements (§483.95) *New Section*

 We are adding a new section to subpart B that sets forth all the requirements of an

effective training program that facilities must develop, implement, and maintain for all

new and existing staff, individuals providing services under a contractual arrangement,

and volunteers, consistent with their expected roles.

Stay tuned.  I will have more forthcoming as survey guidelines come out, implementation is sorted, etc.

September 30, 2016 Posted by | Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Webinar on Preventing Hospitalizations/Re-Hospitalizations

Next week – Wednesday, October 5 – I am conducting a webinar on behalf of HCPro on the subject of preventing unnecessary hospitalizations.  The program will cover all care transitions with a particular emphasis on inpatient admissions.  Below is a quick summary about the program.

The new quality measures are out, and there is a renewed emphasis on reducing the risk of avoidable hospitalizations and readmissions. Across a number of regulatory elements beginning this year, hospitalization and readmission rates from SNFs will be measured and ultimately factored into the SNF landscape via reimbursement penalties and star ratings.

At the conclusion of this program, participants will be able to: 

  • Identify the steps that lead to readmissions and what can be done to lessen or eliminate the risk 
  • Increase their awareness of the tools available to reduce the risk of readmissions 
  • Use best practices to improve care coordination 
  • Know which key elements produce readmissions and how to limit or remove them, including medication reconciliation, care conference structure/strategy, care pathways, disease management programs, and communication tools 

Registrants get the session content plus handouts which include usable QA tools, care pathways, etc.  Any readers interested in this subject area are encouraged to attend and/or share the link with their colleagues. The program link for registration, etc. is below.


September 28, 2016 Posted by | Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Post-Acute Providers and Narrow Networks: Join, Form or Wait

As alternative payment models expand and the options clarify, the post-acute segment of the health care spectrum faces a series of strategic questions, primarily;

  1. Join a network that exists or is forming be it part of an ACO, a SNP, a preferred provider organization in a Managed Medicaid state, or part of a bundled payment initiative
  2. Form one de novo – a SNP, a PACE, etc.
  3. Wait and see what evolves as certainly, much will change over the next two to four years.

One consideration that cannot be overlooked is that CMS plans on aggressively pursuing additional “value-based payments” at the expense of fee-for-service arrangements presently in-place.  The process, if consistent with what has occurred in terms of roll-out/roll-forward, suggests a pace that will include new initiatives (e.g., bundled payments) every 12 months. Simultaneous or parallel to this movement, states continue to push forward on various hybrid Medicaid options including managed Medicaid plans, hybrid plans for dual eligible individuals, and the encouragement of more SNP and PACE options with some states offering incentives for formation (PACE Innovation Act allows for different program options with different benefit structures across more population categories.  Also provides program opportunities for for-profit organizations).

The question oft asked these days is given the above, where to next for an SNF, a HHA, or even an ALF or Hospice? The answer starts with the market area and the dynamics within the market.  The trends I see are truly unique and different region to region, market to market, state to state. For example, in certain states and regions, ACOs exist, are up and running, and have experience under their “belt”.  In other states, ACOs are just forming or in some cases, re-forming post a distasteful experience and opportunities are fresh.  In still other states, ACOs don’t exist and perhaps trial balloons have floated but nothing has persisted to conclusion.

The market factors that drive (majority of) network formation and thus, the maturity of the formation, the opportunities and the palate for additional or new ventures are;

  • How much “managed” Medicare and Medicaid exists in the state, region, etc. and for how long.  In markets with a large penetration of Medicare Choice plans, narrow networks and the experience and acceptance between providers is greater.
  • Are ACOs up and running and/or forming.  The more they are or are developing, the greater the interest in and opportunity for, network enhancement and development
  • The market experience with early-phase, bundled payments via BPCI – the precursor to the current bundled payment initiatives.  Similarly, whether the region is participating in the CCJR initiative or will in the new cardiac bundled payments.

No matter the dynamics of the market however, certainty does exist that post-acute providers must move to adapt to a value- based payment paradigm.  How much risk a provider can and will accept depends on the provider, its existing care management acumen, its infrastructure maturity and its financial/capital position.  Similarly, the evolution period that predominates the post-acute world now requires balance.  This period is still fee-for-service heavy yet, transitioning (depending on regions, markets) to value-based payments.  Providers must manage and excel at both though strategies to succeed in  both are not mutually exclusive.  Additionally, while payments are evolving, the compliance requirements are not.  Oddly enough, the forthcoming revised Federal Conditions of Participation for SNFs will not in any way, provide accommodation for providers that work heavily in a transitional, post-acute world.  The regulations are long-term care driven and heavily so in some cases wholly anathema to the transitional care world that is evolving.

Assumptively, this episode of care, value-based payment world is not going away.  What this means is that survival in such a world for any post-acute provider is to avoid reactive strategy (defensive), instead applying resources and energy in the direction of the change.  What I advise, before I answer the questions posed in the title, is as follows;

  • Know your market and critically evaluate the landscape.  What is going on in terms of Medicare Advantage plans, ACOs, etc.?  If not done, have an in-depth conversation with hospital and physician referral partners regarding their approaches, strategies, etc. to  bundled payments.  Don’t  be surprised however, if a level of vapor-lock exists.   Be willing to forebear the task and direct some additional dialogue.
  • Assess your organization critically.  Where are your quality ratings and measures (stars, etc.)?  How does your organization manage its lengths of stay, key quality measures (falls, hospitalizations, wounds, patient satisfaction, etc.)?  Where is your HIS/MIS at?  Can you communicate with other providers, provide physicians access, etc.?
  • Can your organization make investments financially in infrastructure and staff realignment while still caring for a payer mix that is predominantly fee-for-service?  Can you survive lower margins perhaps even losses while you transition?  You may have extra staff temporarily, different staff, and more capital investment than typical.
  • Can you laterally partner or downstream?  For example, an SNF needs to find a HHA partner.  What synergies in the market exist?  Can (or will or already is) the SNF be in the HHA  business?  How about outpatient?  How about physicians?  Partner?  Employ? Joint venture (careful here)?

Concluding: To the questions(s) posed in the title.  Join?  Yes, particularly if the provider is single site or limited sites in a region.  Again, I am assuming the provider is prepared to join (I’ll summarize at the end).  Source complimentary networks and get in and watch for opportunities in the market and within the network to develop additional product/service lines.

Form?  Not unless the provider has mass, expertise and enough geographic span and parallel partner alignment to manage a population of at-risk individuals for capitated payments.  This is a step that requires significant infrastructure and capital.  A provider must have enough outlets and partners to manage population risk across a group exceeding normally, 10,000 lives (ideally larger).  The common network models applicable for post-acute providers looking to form their own network are SNPs and PACE programs.

Wait?  I can’t recommend waiting as doing so will leave any provider at peril of being left-out as networks continue to evolve.  This said, a play cautiously strategy is fine provided that the provider or group is diligent and active in gauging networks and negotiating.  A wholesale “wait and see what happens” is an ill-advised strategy.

Final Note: By prepared to join a network I mean minimally, having the following pieces with experience and data as applicable.

  • Ratings at 3 Stars or better – ideally 4 or higher particularly in markets where multiple 4 star or better providers exist.
  • A great QAPI program that monitors outcomes and tracks and trends quality data and quality measures plus patient satisfaction.  Minimally, the provider should have data and analysis on infections, falls, wounds, hospitalizations, response times, other care transitions, length of stay, etc.
  • A procedure and personnel to care manage referrals through a full episode of care.
  • A process of sharing quality data and communication on patient care and service issues across provider segments.
  • HIS/MIS at a level that allows certain functional connectivity between providers such as lab/diagnostics, hospital, physicians, pharmacy, etc. such that patient information can be communicated and acted upon.
  • Parallel service partners (either owned or contracted with) across, up and down stream – physicians, hospitals, pharmacy, HHA, hospice, outpatient, etc.
  • Care algorithms to support best practices for outcomes on key patient profiles (minimally, bundled payments) plus supportive protocols for key co-morbidities such as COPD, CHF, diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, depression, and other source acquired pressure injuries and infections.  The latter are necessary to minimize re-hospitalization risk.
  • Care staff trained and using INTERACT tools and versed in physician communication protocols, ideally from a source such as AMDA.

September 14, 2016 Posted by | Home Health, Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CMS Proposes Additional Bundled Payments: The Post-Acute Implications

On July 25, CMS released a proposed rule to create additional bundled payments/DRG focused EPMs, targeted for July 1, 2017.  The announcement/proposed rule is consistent with CMS’ and the Administration’s goal to migrate up to 50% of all traditional FFS (fee-for-service) payments to alternative models by 2018.  As with the CJR (bundled payments for hip and knee replacements), the comment period is relatively short.  Similarly, the likelihood of CMS deviating much in terms of timelines and methodology (payment) from the proposed rule is slim.  The view is that CMS has foretold providers of these initiatives, created a pathway or road map via analogous alternative models (BPIC and ACOs), and developed a systematic approach to the operational elements of the initiatives sufficient for providers to adapt and move forward.

Bundled Payments for Coordinated Cardiac and Hip-Fracture Care

As in the CJR initiative/rule, CMS has identified certain DRGs that it believes via evidence and study,  present opportunities for cost reduction and improved quality outcomes emanating from initial hospitalization through an episode of care equaling 90 days.  Following a near identical road map or path used with CJR (hip and knee replacement), CMS will provide the originating hospital with a target payment goal based on a regionally weighted average  with a small, statistically smoothed reduction.  This targeted value is the cost benchmark for the applicable DRG plus all related costs for a period totaling 90 days, encompassing the hospital originating stay.  Functionally, the payment equals the hospital inpatient stay, post-acute services, outpatient services, certain physician and supply components, etc. (aka the Episode Payment or “bundled payment”).  Below is a summary of the DRGs that make up the new “bundles” and the methodology in terms of how this initiative is set to work.

  • Includes cardiac care elements/DRGs for myocardial infarction and coronary artery bypass graft procedures (MI and CABG) plus an orthopedic element for hip/femur fractures and surgeries that is an addition or augment to the CJR.  The cardiac elements are mandated for hospitals in 98 MSAs (anyone who wants the list or wants to know about a particular region, contact me as provided on this site).  The hip/femur element is only applicable in the CJR regions; the original 67.
  • The related DRGs are:
    • Myocardial Infarction (MI): DRGs 280-282
    • Coronary Artery Bypass (CABG): DRGs 231-236
    • Surgical Hip Femur Fracture Treatment (SHFFT): DRGs 480-482
  • The Hospital is paid a calculated amount based on a regional target by applicable DRG
  • The amount is equal to the cost of the care at the hospital and the target, reflects the total expected cost for the complete episode of care (hospital, physician, post-acute).  The actual payment to the hospital is the target amount minus a quality measures discount equal to 1.5 to 3%.  Based on actual performance, savings can be returned as an incentive or recouped.
  • Post-acute providers bill per fee schedule.
  • In year 1, CMS reviews the costs per episode, the applicable quality indicators and patient satisfaction results. The review is against expected costs and quality standards.
  • In year 2, CMS reviews the same data and if the costs and quality are equal to or better than expected, the hospital can receive an incentive payment. If worse, the hospital will see a payment reduction (capped at 5% in year 2, moves to 10% in year 3 and 20% in following years).
  • Hospitals after year 1, can contract with post-acute providers to share risk (gains and losses) if the post-acute providers meet certain quality standards (3 star or better).
  • The whole initiative is slated for a 5 year period after which, CMS will review.

(The above is a cliff-note version covering the major highlights.  I have a client-based, in-depth summary that I can provide to readers.  Contact me via email at or via a comment to this post.  Please provide a current, working email address and I will forward the summary, free of charge)

Within the proposed rule, CMS introduced two additional initiatives;

  • Cardiac Rehab Incentive Payments: A series of incentive payments to get hospitals under the Cardiac initiative to aggressively push patients into cardiac rehab programs during the 90 day Episode. These payments would be made to participants in 45 regions not selected and 45 additional regions selected within the bundled payment program.
    • First 11 cardiac rehab services will include a $25 per service bonus.
    • Services after 11 will include an incentive payment of $175 per service, up through the 90 day episode window.
    • Sessions are limited to 36 one hour periods over 36 weeks with a possible extension of an additional 36 sessions over a longer period if authorized by the MAC (Medicare Administrative Contractor). Intensive sessions are limited to 72 one hour sessions, up to 6 sessions per day, for 18 weeks.
  • A pathway for physicians that participate in bundled payments to qualify for financial rewards under the Quality Payment Program (CHIP and MACRA). Essentially, the methodology creates incentives for physicians that choose to be at a certain level of financial risk for payment loss, to gain incentive payments for meeting certain quality standards and adopting Electronic Health Record Technology.

Post-Acute Implications and Strategies

Unlike CJR, the implications for post-acute providers under the cardiac components are fairly minimal. The typical down-stream referrals (post-acute hospitalization services) for the cardiac components in the rule are minimal.  Most cardiac patients utilize after-care services through the hospital directly; principally for cardiac rehab.  When post-hospitalization discharges include care services, the bulk are through and coordinated with home health.  If more intense periods of inpatient care are required after acute hospitalization, the typical path is discharge to LTAcH or IRF.  This component however, can provide some strategic opportunities for SNFs that want to embrace a cardiac program with proper staffing, technology investments (telemetry), etc.

The SHHFT (hip/femur fracture) initiative is similar in opportunity to the CJR.  It presents SNFs and HHAs with numerous opportunities to partner with orthopedic groups, hospitals, and surgery centers to develop lower cost, high quality, coordinated care programs.  As with CJR, this phase of the bundled payment programs includes regulatory waivers for high quality providers (start ratings 3 and above).  These waivers include the three-day qualifying hospital stay for SNF coverage and the relaxation (requirements) of direct referral relationships that include incentive dollars.

For certain post-acute providers, there may be some opportunity to advance into the cardiac rehab arena.  While the incentive payments are targeted to the hospital, the hospital can pass these along and many may want do to just that.  Hospital cost structures are often too high to reap a modest incentive reward such as provided in the rule, necessitating a partner-type relationship to deliver the actual programming.

Strategically, post-acute providers need to consider the following and position accordingly;

  • As with CJR, star ratings matter.  SNFs and HHAs that want to succeed, garner partner opportunities and referrals should rate/rank 4 or 5 stars.  While three stars can play, the same will be market constricted by the 4 and 5 star programs.
  • Quality matters.  Post-acute providers need to aggressively monitor their outcomes and their patient satisfaction.  I recommend the following at a minimum.
    • QA and reduce as much as possible, any rehospitalization.  To do this, staff need training, tools such as INTERACT, service depth expanded and reviewed, and proper support tools and equipment available.
    • Employ or develop a Care Navigator within your organization (more than one if need be).  I recommend that this position is tasked with handling all critical elements of the initial referral and intake, coordinating all care during the post-acute stay, coordinating discharge including referrals downstream (e.g., SNF to home care), coordinating return physician visits, patient teaching, and all follow-ups on status and questions.  This role should include watching lengths of stay and gathering critical quality measures such as weight loss, wound/skin, falls, infections, etc.
    • Develop and utilize pathways and protocols that correlate to the bundled payment DRGs for the post-acute components.  In other words, if your organization is a SNF, it should have a post-surgical pathway for a femur fracture that covers from admission, pain management, therapies, skin and wound, length of stay, patient teaching, discharge, etc. all laid out in a pathway/decision matrix married to care plans.  Not only are these necessary to assure effective, efficient care; they are great marketing tools.  Collaborate with the hospital, with physician partners and discharge partners to gain a complete perspective.
    • Train and develop staff skills to coincide with the types of patients encompassed by the bundled payment models.  Your SNF or HHA should have expertise in every care element plus ideally, staff that have advanced training and certifications in key disciplines.  For example, an SNF that seeks to take post CABG patients needs RNs with ALS certification and telemetry experience/training.
    • Develop a post-acute continuum.  Playing in the bundled payment arena now and going forward as a post-acute provider will necessitate having a continuum of services.  Bundled payments and being at risk are anathema to truncated, one-off providers.  In other words, an SNF that doesn’t have a HHA component and outpatient component won’t be a referral magnet as the EPMs (episodic payment models) move forward.  I recommend providers that can, acquire or develop their own programs and those that cannot, partner accordingly.  Quality and efficiency are key so if for example an SNF chooses to partner with a HHA, the SNF is warned to find such an agency that will match quality, monitor all elements of outcome data and satisfaction, collaborate on program development, QA, etc.  The same is true for outpatient relationships.

As with CJR, the focus in this next phase is to re-shape how the post-acute provider world interacts with the acute hospital and physician world.  Providers need to re-organize thematically on quality, efficiency and collaboration. The winners (if you will) are the providers that manage the most services, in a coordinate delivery model, that can demonstrate quality with the ability to manage and coordinate care across a myriad of delivery points; seamlessly.


August 5, 2016 Posted by | Home Health, Policy and Politics - Federal, Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Supreme Court, False Claims Act, and Implications for Providers

Nearing the end of the Supreme Court session, the Court issued an important clarification ruling concerning the False Claims Act in cases of alleged fraud.  In the Universal Health Services case, the Court addressed the issue of whether a claim could be determined as fraudulent if the underlying cause for fraud was a lack of professional certification or licensing of a provider that rendered care related to the subsequent bill for services.  In the Universal case, the provider submitted claims to Medicaid and received payment for services.  The services as coded and billed implied that the care was provided by a licensed and/or qualified professional when in fact, the care was provided by persons not properly qualified.  In this case, the patient ultimately suffered harm and death, due to the negligent care.

The False Claims Act statute imposes liability on anyone who “(a) knowingly presents, or causes to be presented, a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval; or (b) knowingly makes, uses, or causes to be made or used, a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim.” It defines “material” as “having a natural tendency to influence, or be capable of influencing, the payment or receipt of money or property.” And it defines “knowingly” as “actual knowledge; … deliberate ignorance; … or reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the information; and … no proof of specific intent to defraud is required.” The last element is key – no proof of intent to defraud is required.

Though providers sought a different outcome, the initial review suggests the decision is not all that bold or inconsistent with other analogous applications.  The provider community hope was that the Court would draw a line in terms of the expanse or breadth of False Claims Act “potential” liabilities.  The line sought was on the technical issue of “implied certification”; the notion that a claim for services ‘customarily’ provided by a professional of certain qualifications under a certain level of supervision doesn’t constitute fraud when the services are provided by someone of lesser professional stature or without customary supervision, assuming the care was in all other ways, properly provided.  The decision reinforces a narrow but common interpretation of the False Claims Act: An action that would constitute a violation of a federal condition of participation within a program creating a condition where the service provided is not compliant creates a violation if the service was billed to Medicare or Medicaid. Providers are expected to know at all times, the level of professional qualifications and supervision required under the applicable Conditions of Participation.

The implications for providers as a result of this decision are many.  The Court concretized the breadth of application of the False Claims Act maintaining an expansive view that any service billed to Medicare and/or Medicaid must be professionally relevant, consistent with common and known professional standards, within the purview of the licensed provider, and properly structured and supervised as required by the applicable Conditions of Participation.  Below are a few select operational reminders and strategies for providers in light of the Court’s decision and as proven best-practices to mitigate False Claims Act pitfalls.

  • One of the largest risk areas involves sub-contractors providing services under the umbrella and auspices of a provider whereby, the provider is submitting Medicaid or Medicare claims.  In these instances the provider that is using contractors must vet each contractor via proper credentialing and then, provide appropriate and adequate supervision of the services.  For example, in SNFs that use therapy contractors the SNF must assure that each staff member is properly licensed (as applicable), trained to provide the care required, and the services SUPERVISED by the SNF.  Supervision means actually reviewed for professional standards, provided as required by law (conditions of participation), properly documented, and properly billed.  The SNF cannot leave the supervision aspect solely to the therapy contractor.
  • Providers must routinely audit the services provided, independently and in a structured program.  Audits include an actual review of the documentation for care provided against the claim submitted, observations of care provided, and interviews/surveys of patients and/or significant others with respect to care and treatment and satisfaction.
  • Establish a communication vehicle or vehicles that elicits reactions to suspicious activity or inadequate care.  I recommend a series of feedback tools such as surveys, focus groups, hotlines and random calls to patients and staff.  The intent is to provide multiple opportunities for individuals, patients, families and staff to provide information regarding potential break-downs in care or regarding outright instances of fraud.
  • Conduct staff training on orientation and periodically, particularly at the professional level and supervisory level.  The training should cover organizational policy, the legal and regulatory framework that the organization operates within, and case examples to illustrate violations plus remedy steps.

July 24, 2016 Posted by | Home Health, Hospice, Policy and Politics - Federal, Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Memorial Day

As we pause for what most Americans consider the beginning of summer and an extended weekend break from work, etc., please never forget those who serve, have served and gave the ultimate sacrifice.  Freedom isn’t free!  To all my brothers and sisters in arms past, present and future my deepest thanks and respect to you for your service


May 27, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

SNFs: Strategies to Mitigate Readmission and Rehospitalization Risk

Across a number of regulatory elements beginning this year (May/June through October), hospitalization and readmission rates (to) post-hospitalization from SNFs will be measured and ultimately, factored into the SNF landscape via reimbursement penalties and Star ratings.  Below is a quick summary of where and when the hospitalization/readmission issues come into play.

  • CJR – aka bundled payments for Hip and Knee replacement, began April 1.  The issue here is that readmissions post-hospital discharge count against the required measurement elements of cost and quality across the 90 day episode of care.  The impact is direct to the discharging hospital but in turn, can impact the willingness of hospitals to discharge to an SNF if the readmission risk is outside the regional quality benchmarks.  Poor performance can impact referrals, go forward partnerships and for those SNFs that can and will participate at-risk in Year 2, access to incentive payments.
  • SNF VBP Value Based Purchasing begins in July of this year with the first measurement period continuing through July of 2017.  Rehospitalization rates for SNFs will be measured (all cause, risk adjusted).  Beginning in October 2018, CMS will reduce Medicare A payments by 2% for SNFs that perform on this measure, below benchmark standards.
  • Five Star – in May/June of this year, new measures are added including rehospitalizations (plus hypnotic use, discharge home, decline in ADL status since admission, mobility in room).  The QMs will be rebased to incorporate these new measures.
  • IMPACT Act – Expected in the SNF PPS final rule for 2016 (April, data collection beginning in October 2017) are four new measures including rehospitalization upon admission and 30 days post discharge from the SNF.  The other elements are discharge to community, drug regimen review and average cost per beneficiary during and after the SNF stay.

Though I have cautioned facilities to pay attention to their hospitalizations/rehospitaliztions for some time now, it isn’t too late (almost) to get started; started in earnest!  Below are my top four recommended strategies to employ ASAP (not in any particular order) to mitigate post-discharge hospitalization risk and post-admission rehospitalization risk.

  1. QA Your Transitions: Every hospitalization/rehospitalization requires a QA analysis of the reasons why, whether such reasons were appropriate/inappropriate, what transpired at the hospital, and most important, what could be done (if anything) to change the events leading to the transition.  The latter element is part of the organization’s QAPI and begets staff training, system change, etc.  The key is to do a true root cause analysis.
  2. Staff Education: As my firm works with facilities constantly, we notice that the largest, single reason for care transitions out of the SNF to the hospital (ER, etc.) is a lack of staff competence in assessment and communication with physicians and families.  The inability to present a clear picture of the resident’s current condition, options, monitoring points, etc. creates confusion for the physician and a sense of insecurity for family, precipitating the transition if for no other reason than perceived “safety”. Plenty of tools exist (contact me for resources) from AMDA (physician communication protocols) to INTERACT.
  3. Advance Care Planning: Too often this subject is viewed as gathering advance directives (code/no code status, Living Wills, DPOaHCs, etc.).  While these are important the real crux or guts of this element is the discussion concerning specificity of care decisions, including hospitalization/care transitions.  Based on my and my firm’s experience, better than half of all care transitions to a hospital are avoidable with proper planning.  Up front, clear conversation with patients/residents and families regarding the SNF resources (what can be done in-house, etc.) and the risks of hospitalization can and will reduce hospital transitions (particularly ER visits).  I suggest developing a communication tool regarding the decision(s) and sharing it with staff, physicians and most important, patients and families.
  4. Algorithms and Pathways: These elements take the vagaries out of the care planning and care delivery process, eliminating what can be and typically  are, transition triggers.  For CJR, we built hip and knee pathways.  These translate to standardized careplans, address the advance care planning elements, discharge points, pain, skin/wound, etc. comorbidities.  As these elements are addressed pre-admission and within 24/48 hours of admission, a clear reduction in transition risk is present.  Likewise, build as many comorbidity (common) algorithms as possible. For example, I recommend pain, anti-coagulation, diabetes, CHF, depression, and bowel/constipation protocols as a start.  Depending on the SNF’s admission profile (typical case-mix), others may be more pertinent.  What we know is that too many transitions occur as a result of an unclear game plan and approach to resident/patient care leaving careplanning gaps, communication gaps, and treatment protocol gaps.

Concluding: A few caveats apply.  Reducing readmission and/or rehospitalization risk starts at a core facility/organization level.  My strategies above assume that the SNF has proper/adequate staff levels and adequate resources in terms of a solid therapy program, medical direction and physician staff.  Additionally, the SNF should have (by now) a functioning QAPI program in place.  Without such a program, the core QA function required to understand transitions and complete a root cause analysis is only an exercise.  Finally, one last tip.  Reducing hospitalizations/rehospitalizations is an organization-wide initiative.  It is not solely a nursing or social services function.  Every discipline has a role and when the root causes of transitions are analyzed it becomes clear quickly, how many little or seemingly minor pieces properly detected and addressed, contribute to reducing this risk element.

April 12, 2016 Posted by | Policy and Politics - Federal, Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments