Summary: Two KHN stories illustrate how nursing homes and Medicare Advantage health plans share a business rapacity, using no-holds-barred tactics to funnel public health insurance funds to the pockets of shareholders.
Nursing Home Owners Drained Cash During Pandemic While Residents Deteriorated
By Jordan Rau
February 1, 2023
After the nursing home where Leann Sample worked was bought by private investors, it started falling apart. Literally.
Part of a ceiling collapsed on a nurse, the air conditioning conked out regularly, and a toilet once burst on Sample while she was helping a resident in the bathroom, she recalled in a court deposition.
“It’s a disgusting place,” Sample, a nurse aide, testified in 2021.
The decrepit conditions Sample described weren’t due to a lack of money. Over seven years, The Villages of Orleans Health & Rehabilitation Center, located in western New York near Lake Ontario, paid nearly $16 million in rent to its landlord — a company that was owned by the same investors who owned the nursing home, court records show. From those coffers, the owners paid themselves and family members nearly $10 million, while residents injured themselves falling, developed bedsores, missed medications, and stewed in their urine and feces because of a shortage of aides, New York authorities allege.
At the height of the pandemic, lavish payments flowed into real estate, management, and staffing companies financially linked to nursing home owners throughout New York, which requires facilities to file the nation’s most detailed financial reports. Nearly half the state’s 600-plus nursing homes hired companies run or controlled by their owners, frequently paying them well above the cost of services, a KHN analysis found, while the federal government was giving the facilities hundreds of millions in fiscal relief.
In 2020, these affiliated corporations collectively amassed profits of $269 million, yielding average margins of 27%, while the nursing homes that hired them were strained by staff shortages, harrowing injuries, and mounting covid deaths, state records reveal.
Government Lets Health Plans That Ripped Off Medicare Keep the Money
By Fred Schulte
January 30, 2023
Medicare Advantage plans for seniors dodged a major financial bullet Monday as government officials gave them a reprieve for returning hundreds of millions of dollars or more in government overpayments — some dating back a decade or more.
The health insurance industry had long feared the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services would demand repayment of billions of dollars in overcharges the popular health plans received as far back as 2011.
But in a surprise action, CMS announced it would require next to nothing from insurers for any excess payments they received from 2011 through 2017. CMS will not impose major penalties until audits for payment years 2018 and beyond are conducted, which have yet to be started.
While the decision could cost Medicare plans billions of dollars in the future, it will take years before any penalty comes due. And health plans will be allowed to pocket hundreds of millions of dollars in overcharges and possibly much more for audits before 2018.
Comment by: Jim Kahn
In these two stories, KHN highlights the aggressive tactics employed by recipients of Medicare and Medicaid funding to maximize profits without regard to effects on patients or taxpayers.
Nursing home owners create supplier companies which then charge the nursing homes inflated prices. This depletes the nursing home budgets and results in dangerous under-staffing and patient harm. The supplier companies are highly profitable, so the owners of these linked entities make out like bandits. Shareholders win, patients lose, Medicaid (and private) payers lose.
Meanwhile, Medicare Advantage plans threaten to sue CMS about an eminently fair rule that diagnostic upcoding and overcharges found in intensive audits should be extrapolated to all patients in that plan. After years of rule-making, CMS backs down, foregoing reimbursement of hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in excessive charges. Once again, the legal and political muscle of insurers enables massive larceny from taxpayers.
A health system based on inadequately regulated private for-profit corporations cannot work. See our recent discussion on the corrosive effects of profit in US health care.
Single payer would dump the private insurers and control the providers.