Photo Courtesy FreeDigialPhotos.net and koratmember

Michigan’s Medicare Fraud Problem Caused By Lax Home Care Regulation

Michigan Lags Behind Other States In Home Care Regulation

Home Care services will play a key role in the ever-changing healthcare system.  With an avalanche of Baby Boomers nearing retirement age, the healthcare system is desperate for services that provide quality care cost efficiently while keeping patients from making costly emergency room visits.

Baby Boomers are also demanding more innovation and service improvements in healthcare just as they have of every other service they have consumed. Skilled Home Care, Hospice and Telemedicine have proliferated as a result.  So much so that lawmakers and policy wonks in Washington are expecting a dramatic increase in Home Care utilization over the next decade.

So what’s holding the rapidly growing home care industry back? Fraud.  New companies have sprung forth to meet demand with many founders having little to no experience in healthcare service delivery. Without the proper expertise to compete by providing quality service, owners turn to fraudulent schemes to make ends meet.

As a deterrent to fraudulent behavior the FBI has made a public spectacle of Medicare fraud busts.  The FBI press releases have had their intended effect but they have also had the unintended consequence of deterring patients form using the service.  That combined with the reluctance of doctors to refer to potentially fraudulent providers has slowed the development of this much needed service.

Falling Short

Most states have faced the fraud problem head-on by requiring companies to apply for a state license in addition to the federal Medicare license.  The extra requirements have served as their own deterrent to Medicare fraud.

Still there are four states in the union that don’t require any additional licensing to operate a home care company.  Michigan, Ohio, Iowa and Massachusetts all refrain from further regulating the home care industry. To their credit Ohio and Massachusetts require additional licensing for the professionals that work in the industry.  However Michigan Home Care Companies remain the least regulated and companies in the state remain a major target of the FBI’s Medicare fraud task force.

A Hot-Bed Of Activity

mcquade
Barbara MCquade, US District Attorney, Eastern District

Since 2013 the FBI’s Medicare Fraud Task force has indicted more than 70 Michigan healthcare professionals for medical fraud worth over $410 million. Even the FBI has noticed that southeast Michigan has become a hot bed for fraud activity.

“For whatever reason I think Southeast Michigan has become an opportune area to operate in,” said F.B.I. Special Agent in Charge Andy Arena. “That’s what this task force is trying to show. That this is not the place to be. Get out.”

The Reasons Fraud Runs Rampant In Michigan

Owners Lack Health Care Service Experience

The increase in fraud could have something to do how easily an entrepreneur can open a home care agency in Michigan. Even with little to no knowledge of the healthcare system.  Potential owners can also obtain a license to operate a home care at a relatively small cost. Normally expensive costs like labor can be purchased cheaply through contractual agreements with payment deferred until after the operator receives the license.

This year the federal agency overseeing Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement (CMS) finally issued a moratorium on new home care licenses. However the move comes after many fraudulent companies are already in operation in Michigan.

Infrequent Inspections

Another factor contributing to fraud is the infrequency of home care regulation provided in the current system.  Federal Medicare regulations require that licensed home care agencies be inspected

Photo Courtesy www.FreeDigital Photos.net David Castillo Dominici
Photo Courtesy www.FreeDigital Photos.net David Castillo Dominici

every two years. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) depend on third-party regulators to facilitate the survey process. Organizations like the Community Health Accreditation Partner (also known as CHAP) and the Joint Commission provide professionals to conducting inspections.  Although all inspectors receive training a shortage of inspectors often puts the process behind schedule.

The gap between inspections (known in the industry as surveys) opens a window of non-compliance with agencies able to ignore regulations without fear of inspection.  During this time agencies often go without key staff like Qualified Administrators, Clinical Directors, Medical Directors and key office staff to cut overhead cost and squeeze more profit out of the bottom line.  This practice adversely effects care and lowers the inter-agency accountability.  Without key healthcare professionals taking an active part in the company, owners often cut corners and open the door for fraud.

Not A Small Problem

The fraud problem isn’t limited to small companies or start-up companies.  Large companies with years of experience have also fallen into fraudulent habits either through malicious intent or negligent.

More regulation, especially in Michigan can help stem the tide of fraudulent behavior. Additional state licensing, requiring licensed administrators and an increase in inspection frequency can help fix a horribly flawed system.  For now consumers should make themselves aware of the warning signs of Medicare fraud as well as asking their lawmakers to increase home care regulations.

The cost efficiency of home care service can go along way to saving the healthcare system.  Until fraud is rooted out however the American taxpayers will have to foot the bill for billions of dollars in increased healthcare cost.