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Press Releases

TDVA Veteran’s Homes All Receive 5-Star Ratings from U.S. News & World Report

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs; March 6, 2015:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder joins the Tennessee State Veterans Homes (TSVH) Board in celebrating the announcement from U.S. News & World Report 2015 which names the Tennessee State Veterans Homes in Murfreesboro, Humboldt and Knoxville among the best in the country.

U.S. News and World Report rated more than 16,000 nursing homes using data research on nursing home safety, health inspection and staffing. The source of the data originates from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). In 2014, CMS issued five star ratings to the Tennessee State Veterans Home in Murfreesboro, the W.D. “Bill” Manning Tennessee State Veterans Home in Humboldt and the Senator Ben Atchley Tennessee State Veterans Home in Knoxville.

“Tennessee State Veterans Home residents are among some of the most fascinating and precious people I have ever met and they deserve the most compassionate and highly qualified care possible,” Grinder said. “I applaud the hard working and caring administrators and staff of each home for their commitment to excellence in care.”

“The federal rating system has been revamped to raise performance targets for care and I am proud that our staff not only makes the grade, but they make a difference,” TSVH Executive Director Ed Harries said. “Raising the bar on quality care is what our residents need and deserve and we are committed to continue this tradition.”

“Five stars will get these high quality homes noticed, but it is the residents and their stories of heroism that motivate the staff to offer nothing short of their best,” TSVH Board Chair Mayor Rogers C. Anderson said. “The warmth of these homes make them unique, memorable and worthy of national recognition.”

The future Brigadier General Wendell H. Gilbert Tennessee State Veterans Home at 250 Arrowood Drive in Clarksville is expected to open in the summer of 2015.

The waiting list for admissions has been opened and interested potential residents can contact Admissions Director Brittany Irvin at (615) 895-8850 ext. 1013. Eligibility requirements are listed on the Tennessee State Veterans Home website.

Applications for open positions at the new Clarksville location are now being accepted. Information regarding open positions will be listed on www.tsvh.org and will also be posted at the Tennessee Career Center at Clarksville at 523 Madison Street, Suite B.

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Featured

Improper Release of Health Info Highlighted in Federal Report

The private health information of more than 13,000 Tennessee Medicare recipients was released to the public by a state contractor — the most wide-ranging breach nationally uncovered by federal investigators.

A just-released report, from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, found 14 breaches of protected health information between 2009 and 2011 by the federal agency that administers Medicare and Medicaid. The largest breach of records took place in Tennessee.

Those are exactly the kind of records that, if in the wrong hands, can lead to medical identity theft, a scam that hurts both those on Medicare and the taxpayer. Scams run the gamut from the simple, when thieves use someone’s medical information to get prescription drugs, to the complex, when sham doctors’ offices use the information to bill the government for quick cash.

“The information obtained can be used to file false claims under Medicare or TennCare,” Yarnell Beatty, the Tennessee Medical Association’s director of legal and government affairs told TNReport. TennCare is the state’s version of Medicaid, the healthcare program for the poor. “Even one breach is cause for concern.”

The report stated that medical identity theft “can lead to erroneous entries in beneficiaries’ medical histories and even to the wrong medical treatment” and “may also lead to significant financial losses for the Medicare Trust Funds and taxpayers.”

Beatty also noted that given the millions — and perhaps billions — of Medicare transactions each year, some breaches are to be expected.

If the breaches are a concern, so was how federal officials’ reacted in wake of those breaches, according to the report. Medicare recipients at risk of having their medical information stolen were notified, but it appears those notifications left much to be desired.

From the report:

The notifications for these breaches often were missing required information. Notably, the notification letters for six of the breaches did not explain how the contractors were investigating the breach, mitigating losses, or protecting against further breaches. … Moreover, notification letters for half the breaches, including the largest breach [in Tennessee], were missing either the date the breach occurred or the date it was discovered.

Many times, the information inadvertently released included beneficiaries’ names, Medicare identification numbers, dates of birth, diagnoses and services received.

The Tennessee breach affected 13,412 beneficiaries. A printing error by a Medicare contractor caused the notices to be sent to incorrect addresses, according to the report.

Most of the breaches, including the one in Tennessee, were accidental, according to the report, but one of the 14 breaches was found to be criminal in nature.

“You can’t totally eliminate human error, although you strive to,” Angie Madden, the director of eHealth Service at the Tennessee Medical Association, said.

But Madden pointed out a silver lining. She said that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services — the federal agency that oversees both those entities and was the subject of the report — “have done a fairly good job of education the public and beneficiaries” when it comes to fraud.

Click here to find out more about Medicare fraud.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Oct. 25 to make clear that the printing error leading to the data breach was made by a Medicare contractor.

Trent Seibert can be reached at Trent@TNReport.com or on Twitter at @trentseibert.

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Featured Health Care Tax and Budget

TennCare Cuts Expected, Haslam Wants Feds To Release Funds

On a day when he met with his health and wellness task force, Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday lamented the predicament the federal government has put Tennessee in on $82 million in TennCare funds.

First, the feds said they goofed and owed the state the money due to an accounting error. Now, they say they owe the money but that it might take an act of Congress to release the funds, creating a delay.

Haslam isn’t happy.

“We were really disappointed,” Haslam said. “They had told us. They said, ‘We owe you that money.’ There was no question about that.

“The question was how they were going to refund it to us, and now they said, ‘Well, we do owe it to you, but we can’t pay it back to you without some specific legislation,’ which doesn’t seem right to me.”

The Haslam administration originally had planned for an 8.5 percent reduction for certain providers in TennCare in the state budget. But while a 4.25 percent reduction was put in place beginning this July 1, the rest was postponed to Jan. 1, 2012, since the state expected the funds to come from Washington. Paired with better-than-expected revenues at the time, the state was able to dodge a financial bullet when it amended the original budget plan this year.

But now, with the delay, the other 4.25 percent in cuts will apparently be applied. Haslam referred twice to the amount Monday as about “4 and a half percent,” but an aide pointed out it is the 4.25 percent.

“It’s just wrong that they say, ‘We owe that to you, but we can’t pay you ‘till we pass new legislation,'” Haslam said.

Further, Haslam isn’t confident the state will get its money.

“I’m really not. I wish I was,” he said. “What they had told us last spring was, ‘Definitely we owe it to you. We’ll figure out a way to get that money to you.’ And then the message came back last week, ‘Well, actually, we don’t think we can get it to you without specific legislation.’

“And I think in today’s Washington, specific legislation to send money away out of the federal government to us, even though it’s owed to us, I think will be difficult.”

TennCare officials announced last week they believed it is “highly improbable” the legislation could be introduced and passed in Congress by Jan. 1. So the cuts, which would affect nursing homes, managed care administrative rates, transportation providers, lab and X-ray providers, dentists and home health providers, are expected.

Haslam was asked if the state had any recourse.

“I don’t know that. That’s a really good question. We don’t know that we do,” he said.

The funds are caught in a mix-up involving two federal programs, Medicaid and Medicare. Over 35 years, about 300,000 people applying for disability payments were involved. Federal officials had mistakenly considered the applicants under Medicaid when they should have been covered by Medicare. States have to pay for a share of Medicaid coverage while Medicare is covered by the federal government. TennCare is Tennessee’s version of Medicaid.

But while the state grapples with the federal government, a group tasked with coming up with a plan to improve Tennesseans’ health had its first meeting Monday.

Haslam welcomed his health and wellness task force to Conservation Hall at the Tennessee Residence and formally issued a release announcing the 16 members, who are health care leaders from across the state.

The governor made the case that health is related to education and economic development, and the state has a lousy record on health and wellness in national rankings.

“We have to face facts,” Haslam said. “In Tennessee, we rank 42nd in terms of health and well-being. Some of those are preventable, addressable issues.

“We’ve brought together, I think, some of the finest people from across the state who work on this every day, from different aspects, to see if we can address this.”

Haslam said he wanted a clear strategy that has “measurable outcomes” from the group. He noted that about one-third of the state budget goes to health care costs.

“When we bring back up this budget next year you’ll see again how much involvement we have in health care,” he said.

The task force is chaired by Dr. John Lacey III, chief medical officer for the University of Tennessee. Haslam said he would like to see an outline of a plan from the group in the first half of 2012.

Haslam did say the state has made some recent progress but that the state is still in the 40s when ranked nationally. In a slideshow presentation, Ben Leedle Jr., CEO of Healthways, headquartered in Franklin, said the state had climbed from the ranking of 42nd in 2009 that Haslam mentioned to 40th in 2010.

“To your point, we’re making progress,” Leedle said. “But I want to point out something really important in this data.

“The mid-year 2011 well-being data shows Tennessee has slipped from 40th to 45th. Anybody see what’s probably driving that? Look at the ‘healthy behavior’ line. Dead last in the U.S.”

Categories
Health Care NewsTracker

Dialysis Treatment Investigation Reveals Poor Care, High Costs

The nonprofit website ProPublica last week published a wide-ranging investigation into dialysis treatment in America.

Shoddy treatment practices and unsanitary conditions are not uncommon, ProPublica reported, and in severe cases have resulted in deaths. Furthermore, the costs of caring for patients with kidney failure exceed those in other developed countries that, like the U.S., provide government-funded universal access to treatment.

“A program once envisioned as a model for a national health care system has evolved into a hulking monster. Taxpayers spend more than $20 billion a year to care for those on dialysis — about $77,000 per patient, more, by some accounts, than any other nation.”

Dialysis consumes 6 percent of the Medicare budget,  the article notes — and if ignored that figure promises to grow.

Tennessee has one of this country’s highest rates of diabetes, which is the most common cause of kidney failure.

But even though the U.S. government’s role in dialysis care looms large, the story explains that consumers have not had access to public data that answers questions like whether patients at one clinic are more likely to die or be hospitalized than patients at another.

“Even as government policies have encouraged the spread of corporate dialysis, they have largely denied consumers the chance to use market power to push for better care. Because Medicare is the dominant payer, it has information about dialysis centers that doesn’t exist for other medical providers. Yet the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has not made public key measures such as clinics’ rates of mortality, hospitalization for infection and transplantation. Regulators know how dialysis units perform by these yardsticks. So far, patients don’t.”

Because of ProPublica’s work, though, that should not be the case much longer. After a two-year battle, the website has convinced CMS to make the data available, which ProPublica promises to post shortly.

The story draws a contrast with Italy, where doctors directly manage the delivery of dialysis, spotting and addressing problems. The story suggests that technicians and nurses do much of the direct patient care in the U.S., citing a study showing that Italian patients “had more than five times as much contact with their physicians as U.S. patients.”

But even with more doctor involvement, per-patient costs are lower in Italy’s system, where patients don’t have to reach kidney failure to access the treatment and public hospitals are the treatment providers — in the U.S., two chains, Colorado-based DaVita and Fresenius, a subsidiary of a German corporation, dominate the market, ProPublica reports.

A post by Time highlights a lesson in the four-decade story of universal access to dialysis treatment, which could prove of value as the health care overhaul enacted this spring takes effect:

“The article shows the complexity of providing universal care through for-profit businesses, illustrating how perverse incentives in payment policies create a situation in which patient care is measured in quantity rather than quality.”

a figure that if ignored promises to grow,