The telephone is often our most sacred source of amusement. We love email, texts and blog comments but there are some things that people will not commit to writing. When we need a break, we simply turn our volume up and answer the phone.
The question of my day was, ‘If a patient moves, can we still see them if they are in the service area?”
The answer was too obvious so the caller was answered with a question. “Where did the patient go?”
The answer was less than articulate but the word ‘jail’ was in there somewhere. Apparently, the patient got a little tipsy and loud and someone called the police and there were outstanding warrants and he is taking a little vacation courtesy of the county.
Not wanting to give bad advice, a little research was done on behalf of the caller – after all, this was cheap entertainment. What we found, though, was not as amusing as we had hoped. The definition of incarcerated includes beneficiaries who are:
• Escaped from confinement;
• Under supervised release;
• On medical furlough;
• Required to reside in mental health facilities;
• Required to reside in halfway houses;
• Required to live under home detention; or
• Confined completely or partially in any way under a penal statute or rule.
The patient is not eligible for services. This is important. If someone is incarcerated, the incarcerator picks up the tab for all medical expenses. (Consider that if you don’t have insurance and need surgery.)
If you are providing services to someone who has escaped from confinement, you have bigger problems and my recommendation is to pretend you do not know that your patient is an escaped convict. If you let on that you know, you may experience a sudden reduction in staff. If your conscience bothers you, don’t bill for the care and enter into a Corporate Integrity Agreement with the OIG when you are able to safely discharge the patient.
The risks to home health and hospice providers are further down on the list. The United states has more prisoners per capita than any other country and Louisiana tops the list of states with 867 people per 100,000 meeting the definition of ‘incarcerated’ as provided above. And yet, earlier in the week, researchers from Harvard University together with the University of British Columbia announced that they have determined that the five happiest cities in the nation were in Louisiana. (Mardi Gras?)
In fact, it appears as though CMS Region 6 is well represented in the list. In addition to being Region 6 states, it is noted that all of them are in the South and none of the very cold states have many prisoners.
Medicare Regional Map and Density of US Prison Population
But, you have a bigger problem than the weather in Region 6. Specifically, it appears as though the various prison systems across the states are very slow to update their systems. In some states, Medicaid is auto-cancelled when someone is incarcerated. Released prisoners do not always know to reapply. In other states unless someone applies to be taken off of probation they will remain on probation until a judge approves their release.
Medicare is denying claims for the incarcerated. States can decide if they want to use Medicaid dollars but most don’t. The ones that pay for prison healthcare forego the matching Medicare funds. In Louisiana, we don’t have to worry about those required to reside in Mental Health facilities because our jail is our mental health facility but like everyone else we need to be concerned about halfway houses, supervised release and those on Medical Furlough. If a patient on House Arrest gets past you, shame on you for not checking pedal pulses. You don’t deserve to get paid if you missed the ankle bracelet.
If you inadvertently bill for a a person who is under the jurisdiction of the court, it will result in a denial. If you live in one of the northern states, this should be an isolated incident. If you live down south, it could become an expensive issue. Medicare is supposedly getting on to states to tidy up their prison rosters but meanwhile, if you live in a state like Louisiana or Mississippi, my suggestion is, quite frankly, to include an assessment of their legal history at time of admission. Don’t be rude about it. Just ask something like, ‘Are you able to transfer from both the top and bottom bunk?’