ARChoices: Take Action

This is a long but important update from Kevin deLiban of Legal Aid of Arkansas on information about the NEW SYSTEM to determine hours for ARChoices that DHS will start using on January 1, 2019.

The public comment period is open until 11/7/18, and public meetings will be held from now until then.


(1) RUGs Update. Late Monday, the judge dissolved the injunction against RUGs, meaning that DHS will start allocating attendant care to new applicants for the program and will also re-assess people whose plans of care have expired. RUGs will only go back into effect for the next two-and-a-half months and then will be replaced by the new system described below. If anyone faces reductions because of RUGs during that time, they can call Legal Aid of Arkansas at 800-967-9224. We don’t anticipate more court challenges against RUGs (though that can always change), but we may be able to help with administrative appeal hearings.

Due to the hard work of people on the program, caregivers, attorneys (at Legal Aid of Arkansas, the Center for Arkansas Legal Services, and Disability Rights Arkansas), case managers, care agencies, journalists, and others, RUGs is definitely going away (DHS had no plans to switch to a new system before the litigation and public attention), about a thousand people avoided devastating RUGs-based cuts for several months (and at least couple dozen people kept their pre-RUGs hours for a year or longer), 150+ people with cerebral palsy are getting more hours than they otherwise would have due to discovery of a DHS software error, hundreds of people (including legislators and the wider public) have learned more about Medicaid home-care services and the importance of a fair system to determine hours, and a community of people are now activated around these issues. Justice only exists because people work to create it. Grateful for all of you who did so here. We lost along the way, too, and I think about the clients who passed away fearing or fighting cuts, clients who’ve been living with the cuts, and all the suffering we couldn’t stop. They keep me motivated.

(2) The New System. DHS finally released details of the new system it plans to use starting January 1, 2019. DHS’s own summary of the changes are attached. There is A LOT of information in here, so I’ll go through the major items.

New Assessment. Up to now, DHS was using the assessment tool known as ArPath, which had 286 questions. ArPath will be going away. The new assessment will be called ARIA and could have as many as 400 questions. It will be performed by a Registered Nurse who works for a private company named Optum. After the Optum RN comes out to do the assessment, the results will be sent to DHS for a determination about eligibility, the amount of hours someone gets, and what budget category someone fits in. This involves a separate visit by a DHS RN to do the care plan.

Questions/Unknowns:

~ Will people be given enough advance warning in order to get medical records or arrange for caregivers to be present so that the information in the assessment is accurate?

~ Will the new assessment take longer than the old assessment, which already took 60 to 120 minutes? Will the questions be understandable, relevant, and fair?

New Hour Determination System. RUGs used an algorithm that mixed a lot of different factors that didn’t seem to make obvious sense in order to place someone in a group with a fixed number of hours. The new system will be very different. It is called the “Task and Hour Standards.” Based on the ARIA assessment, an algorithm will rank each person from 0 to 3 in each key Activity of Daily Living (bathing, dressing, feeding, grooming, toileting, transferring, walking, cleaning, laundry, meal preparations, and shopping). Then, based on whether you get a 0, 1, 2, or 3, the DHS nurse (who comes in a separate visit from the Optum nurse) will determine how many minutes you get for that particular activity. For example, if you score a 3 on bathing, the DHS nurse can give you between 35 and 45 minutes. If you score a 2, the DHS nurse can give you between 15 and 30 minutes. If you score a 1, the DHS nurse can give you between 5 and 10 minutes. The DHS nurse will then figure out how many times per week you need to do a particular task. The DHS nurse will then add up all the minutes you get for each ADL and give you a monthly number of hours.

Questions/Unknowns:

~ DHS hasn’t said how the algorithm will figure out if you are a 1 or 2 or 3 for any particular ADL.

~ DHS hasn’t stated the frequency that certain tasks will be allowed. Is bathing a daily task? Do people get to be dressed twice per day (once into the day’s clothes; once into bedtime clothes)? Will the frequencies allowed match actual care needs?

~ DHS has said that the time given will be reduced by the amount of time that family, friends, or others do that same task voluntarily. It is not known how this will affect people with family caregivers.

~ DHS has said that no time will be given for the cleaning of shared spaces when the caregiver lives with the beneficiary. There could be other reductions for people who live with their caregiver.

~ DHS has said that nurses can request to go outside the amount of time allowed if there are “extenuating circumstances” and the nurse receives supervisor approval. For example, this means someone may be able to get 55 minutes for bathing even though the highest amount officially available is 45 minutes. BUT, these adjustments might not mean much because of the budget limits described below.

~ Even if you are allowed a particular amount of hours under the Task and Hour Standards, you might not actually get that number of hours because of the new overall budget limits described below.

• New Overall Budget Limits. DHS is doing something it has not done before in ARChoices, AAPD, or Elder Choices. It is setting a hard budget cap for services an individual on the program can receive, regardless of the amount of care DHS’s own Task and Hours Standards says someone needs. There are three budget categories–Intensive, Intermediate, and Preventative. An algorithm will use the answers to the assessment to put you into one these three groups. People in the Intensive group can get no more than $30,000 worth of services in a year ($2,500 in a month). People in the Intermediate group can get no more than $20,000 worth of services in a year ($1,667 per month). People in the Preventive group get $5,000 in a year ($417 per month).

So, even if the Task and Hours Standards states that you need 200 hours in a month, you cannot get those 200 hours if they cost more than is allowed by your budget limit. For example, your budget limit might only allow you to “buy” 150 hours per month (or some other number less than 200).

Questions/Unknowns:

~ DHS has not stated the actual price of the services so that you can predict the number of hours actually possible under the budget limits. However, if you take the standard attendant care rate of $18 per hour, the highest budget level (Intensive, which allows $2,500 per month), would only allow 139 hours per month. This would not be enough for many people. The next highest budget limit (Intermediate, $1,667 per month) would only allow 93 hours per month (at the rate of $18 per hour for attendant care).

~ DHS has stated to media that the cost of attendant care would be less for people who hire their own caregivers instead of using an agency (meaning they could possibly get more hours under the budget limit), but that would seem to give far fewer hours to people who use agencies than people who hire their own caregivers.

~ DHS has stated to media that up to 64 hours of personal care hours may be available apart from this, but that is not confirmed in policy and may still not be enough care for many people who have higher needs.

~ DHS’s process to arrive at these $30,000/$20,000/$5,000 categories has not been independently verified to be reliable. These amounts could be arbitrary. DHS says they are based on the cost of nursing home care, but DHS has given other figures that state nursing home care costs much more than $30,000 per year (these other DHS estimates have put the cost of nursing homes at more like $60,000 per year).

~ DHS did not include in the public documents anything about how the budget limits will actually affect people. How many people will be put into each category? How many people will face cuts because of placement in a particular category?

~ DHS has stated that ARChoices beneficiaries who were on the program in 2018 and who received more than $30,000 in services will not face a cut due to the budget limits the first year. Instead, their budget limit will be the cost of the services they received in 2018. This is known as “grandfathering” people into the program. So, people with higher needs may be able to keep what they got in 2018 if the Task and Hour Standards determination shows they need that many hours.

~ Apart from the “grandfathering,” DHS has stated that the budget limit can be temporarily adjusted upward for one year through an “exceptions process” for “exceptional, unexpected circumstances.” DHS stated that these “exceptional, unexpected circumstances” might include the death of a caregiver or recent release from a facility.

• Will the new system provide enough care? Compared to the system of nurse discretion, RUGs was harmful to our clients because it meant huge cuts in hours for so many people, especially people with the most severe needs. It is not clear if the new system will give people any more hours than RUGs did. It is not clear if the new system will give people enough hours to meet their actual care needs and keep individuals out of nursing homes. DHS has stated that the changes will cut Medicaid spending by about $10 million the first year and about $14 million the second year. If spending cuts are the goal, increased care may not be part of the plan.

• Is it understandable? RUGs involved 20 pages of computer code that didn’t make sense to our clients. The new system seems to be complicated in a different way. First, people will have to figure out how the 400-question assessment turns into a score for each ADL on the Task and Hour Standard (how many minutes you get for each ADL). And, we don’t know if that will make sense. Second, people will have to figure out how the assessment turns into a Budget Limit category. Some people may be qualified for hours under the Task and Hour Standard that they can’t actually get because of the Budget Limit category. These complications may mean that people on the program may not be able to fairly contest decisions about the care they are allotted.

(3) Public Comment. Anyone can participate in the public comment process. Comments can be sent by email to becky.murphy@dhs.arkansas.gov or by mail to Office of Policy Coordination and Promulgation, P.O. Box 1437, Slot S295, Little Rock, Arkansas 72203-1437. Comments must be submitted by 4:30 p.m. on November 7.

(4) Public Meetings. Public comment will also be accepted at public meetings. The meetings are at the following times and places. Some of these meeting places are different from the meetings about ARChoices that were held in summer.

Fort Smith, 10/15, 5 p.m., Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, 7000 Chad Colley Blvd
Monticello, 10/18, 5 p.m., Drew Memorial Hospital Conf. A., 778 Scoggin Dr.
Hope, 10/22, 5 p.m., UA Hope Hempstead Hall, 2500 South Main St.
Little Rock, 10/29, 5 p.m., Arkansas Enterprises for the Developmentally Disabled, 105 E Roosevelt Rd
Jonesboro, 11/7, 5 p.m., St. Bernard’s Medical Center Auditorium, 225 E. Jackson Ave.

(5) Copy of the Full Materials. I could not cover all the changes being made. The full materials can be downloaded here. The full materials have information on other important changes being made to this program, Independent Choices, and the Assisted Living waiver program. For example, the rates of Assisted Living providers are facing significant cuts, which may mean that fewer people can get into an assisted living facility and more people may have to choose a nursing home instead.


This update was provided by Kevin De Liban of Legal Aid. If you have questions, please feel free to reach out to him:

Kevin De Liban, Attorney
Economic Justice Practice Group Leader
Legal Aid of Arkansas–West Memphis
310 Mid-Continent Plaza, Suite 420
West Memphis, AR 72301
Phone: (870) 732-6370 x. 2206

ARChoices Update

Here’s the latest on what has been happening with ARChoices directly from our friends at Legal Aid:

(1) Second Legislative Hearing. When I last wrote, the Public Health committee of the legislature gave the RUGs algorithm an “unfavorable” review, meaning that the committee did not like it. The RUGs then went before the Rules and Regulations subcommittee. This subcommittee can only disapprove a regulation in narrow circumstances, so the RUGs was approved as a short-term measure to allow DHS to give attendant care to new applicants and to make new determinations for people up for reassessment. But, the chairperson said this:
The RUGs has not proven to be holistic in assessing the needs of the patients. Your presence here today has not fallen on deaf ears and, moving forward, because of your intense pressure, it is duly noted that RUGs is not the system we want serving the needs of Arkansans with disabilities. I believe it would be fair to say that you have the attention and the ears of the legislative branch to assure that your needs are moving forward. While we may not agree 100% on everything, the one thing we know is we can’t stay where we are. And while this process continues out after we do our duty today, then we will work to make sure that we don’t revisit this chapter again.
Even though RUGs was approved, the statement is great news for people hurt by the RUGs. Even if RUGs comes back in the short-term (it might not; see below for updates on the court case), it looks like the legislature won’t allow it to go on beyond December or early 2019. And, the public, media, and legislature will all take a close look at whatever new system DHS eventually comes up with. Personally, it was especially inspiring to see all the people most affected and their families come out and speak at the public forums or at the legislature, offer written comments, and lead the public effort (Legal Aid didn’t organize it).  And, this would not have happened without all the thoughtful and caring providers and other advocates who stepped up. It’s been wonderful to work with everyone.
(2) New System. DHS kept talking about a new system it would implement as of 1/1/19. DHS said that it would start the public comment process on 10/1/18. As of today, nothing has been published about it. Legal Aid will let everyone know when the official proposed rule comes out. The unofficial drafts we’ve seen suggest that it might be easier to understand than RUGs, but the unofficial drafts make it seem unlikely the new system will offer enough care hours for the patients with the highest needs.
(3) Court Case. Because the legislature approved the RUGs, DHS was going to start using it again as of yesterday. DHS asked the court to remove the injunction that stops them from doing that. DHS claims that it followed the proper process to adopt the rule. Today, Legal Aid, on behalf of our plaintiffs, filed an objection and asked the judge to keep the injunction in place (it is attached if you want to read the full legal document). DHS’s public comment process appears to be a sham. 43 different people criticized the RUGs for allowing inadequate care and not taking into account a nurse or doctor opinion in making hour determinations. They offered concrete ideas about alternatives. DHS didn’t even try to address the criticisms or alternatives, which the law requires it to do. Only 1 person was fully supportive of RUGs.
Our filing means that people who have applied for ARChoices services may be further delayed in getting them. DHS keeps saying that it has no lawful way to allocate attendant care, but we disagree and keep arguing that DHS can use the system of nurse discretion in place before RUGs. We are very sympathetic to the people who are waiting on services and understand they are caught up in this. However, Legal Aid has a duty to serve our clients. All of our plaintiffs (and many other clients) have been cut by the RUGs in the past. And, because DHS hasn’t been able to re-assess them for two years, they could be first in line for re-assessment. We tried to negotiate with DHS to get a formal, written agreement to ensure our clients would be safe, but DHS would not do anything formal. We had to file this objection to try to protect our plaintiffs. We have another legal case pending that could get the assessments and allocations started again with nurse discretion and will continue pursuing that option.

Contact:

Kevin De Liban, Attorney
Economic Justice Practice Group Leader
Legal Aid of Arkansas–West Memphis
310 Mid-Continent Plaza, Suite 420
West Memphis, AR 72301
Phone: (870) 732-6370 x. 2206

ARWorks: Healthcare Options If You’ve Lost Your Coverage

The 2 graphics below are of a letter that is going out to ARWorks beneficiaries who had their coverage closed last week. It contains options for them going forward.

Also, DHS posted many of their notices and letters that have gone out here: https://ardhs.sharepointsite.net/ARWorks/Notice_Samples/Forms/AllItems.aspx

Screen Shot 2018-09-15 at 1.26.18 PMScreen Shot 2018-09-15 at 1.26.32 PM

Preferred Family Health Closure Update

This is a letter that went out to beneficiaries who received services at PFH to notify them of PFH’s closure. Some of you may be interested in this information as well as this link which lists the available providers. Please note the PDF is searchable!

PFH_LETTER

ARChoices: Update From Legal Aid

This is an update from Kevin De Liban from Legal Aid of Arkansas. He wants to help us understand the latest on ARChoices.


Just a quick update on yesterday’s meeting in the legislature. The Public Health committee gave the RUGs algorithm an unfavorable review, meaning that the committee thinks that DHS should not adopt the RUGs algorithm. At least 4 people on the ARChoices program were present and testified before the legislators, as well as parent caregivers, advocates, case managers, and care agencies. These voices–especially the people on the ARChoices program–let the legislators know the details about how the RUGs algorithm has hurt many beneficiaries. Here is a newspaper article about the meeting.

That is not the end of the process. The RUGs algorithm now goes to the Rules and Regulations Subcommittee on Tuesday, September 18, at 1 p.m. in Room A of the MAC Building. The agenda includes a list of the legislators on the committee as well as other details.

Public comment will be accepted at this meeting. If the Rules subcommittee votes against the RUGs algorithm, it should be the end of it. But, there are some technicalities involved, and I have no way of knowing what the likely outcome is. Whatever happens, it’s inspiring to see how all sorts of people in different situations have been working in their own ways for justice on this issue.


How to contact Kevin with concerns or questions:

Kevin De Liban, Attorney
Economic Justice Practice Group Leader
Legal Aid of Arkansas–West Memphis

310 Mid-Continent Plaza, Suite 420
West Memphis, AR 72301
Phone: (870) 732-6370 x. 2206
Fax: (870) 732-6373

How to Best Communicate with Legislators

read the artic

If you can’t see the graphic above, you can read the article.

PASSE: Take Action!


The PASSE system was voted in by our legislature last year. Right now, we’re in what they call “Phase I,” and during that time, the PASSEs will manage care for their clients, but Medicaid will keep paying the bills. Then in January 2019, we move into “Phase II,” and the PASSEs’ decisions about our care will matter. In January, DHS/Medicaid will give the PASSEs the money and allow them to decide how to use it.


If you need a reminder, the PASSE stands for Provider-led Arkansas Shared Savings Entity, and like insurance companies, they will be covering the care for tiers 2 & 3, what DHS considers to be higher level need, of behavioral health and developmental disability services.

DHS has assigned thousands of people to the 4 licensed PASSEs after each person’s Independent Assessment completion. If you are affected, you will likely first receive a letter or some sort of notification to schedule an Independent Assessment.

If you have questions, DHS has a PASSE counseling line: 1-833-402-0672. They also have regional people you can talk to.

MSL is actively working to get you more information on the PASSEs themselves. Now that details are coming together, we should be able to get more. The information we have so far is listed below in steps that should help you.


These changes may be happening to you or a loved one, but you can do these 8 things to help yourself in this new process:

1. Make sure your provider knows about the PASSE and everything it involves.

It’s important that you ask your provider to join every PASSE. What if next year, you need to switch PASSEs because of a bad experience, but your provider isn’t in any other PASSE? If they choose to join only one PASSE, you could be forced to make a decision between 2 (or more) providers you really like. What if your trusted Cardiologist who did your surgery is in only one PASSE and your Therapist who you’ve been with for years is only in another? You might have to choose. However, even after you ask your provider to join all PASSEs, they may still choose to join only one because they have invested in that PASSE or simply because it’s a business decision. They have that right, but you still have to look out for what’s best for you; for the people whose care and services will be managed by the PASSEs, it’s best for us to have as much choice and freedom as possible. The only way you can have that is when providers give you choices by joining all PASSEs. Some PASSEs have said they will pay for out-of-network costs or make special agreements, but that’s probably only for providers you don’t see often.

DHS said that they are in the process of setting reimbursement rates for providers – the actuary process. Because of that, some providers will not know what you mean when you mention the PASSE to them. Their business office may know and may be waiting on these rates before making any decisions. However, you can still take this information to your provider and/or to the business office.

The following packets are ones that DHS has distributed to providers. Don’t assume yours has received it. Every provider you use needs to be sure they understand this info about the PASSEs. The last is a collection of contact information of all PASSEs specifically for providers to help them join. Take care of yourself, and take these to every provider you see.

  • A Family letter to take to your providers that explains this for you
  • Resource that was sent to PCPs
  • Resource that explains PASSEs Phase I
  • Resource that explains PASSE Phase II and updates
  • Resource for providers that explains why and how to join
  • Give them the contact information below

Some have been concerned whether ACH is covered. This is the response:

“State supported hospitals UAMS and ACH will be enrolled with every PASSE. Many doctors are enrolled through their networks but may not know that yet. You can call every PASSE and interview them so you are making an informed choice.”


2. Get to know the PASSEs.

*MSL has requested websites for all – check back for updates.

Arkansas Total Care
Empower
Summit (Arkansas Provider Coalition)
  • Amerigroup Partnership Plan LLC
  • http://www.summitcommunitycare.com
  • Their HANDBOOK (rules, your rights, and information)
  • Network Provider Directory
  • Jason Miller
    Jason.miller@summitcommunitycare.com
  • 425 W. Capitol Ave. Suite 233 | Little Rock, AR 72203
  • 1-844-405-4295
ForevercARe

3. Join a PASSE Advisory Committee.

Each PASSE is required by Act 775 (pg 9, line 21) to have a Consumer Advisory Council to give them feedback. They know how things are supposed to happen, but it’s up to you to keep them informed of what’s really happening.

Call your care coordinator to join your PASSE’s council.


4. Remember, you have choices.

Once you have been assigned a PASSE, you have 90 days to change to another. Call your PASSE, and make sure they include your providers. If they don’t, use the info above to find a PASSE that better suits you. DHS is also going to offer open enrollment in October 2018. We will continue to provide more info as we can!

Also, DHS will have open enrollment in March 2019 for all current members. During that time, you will be allowed to switch to another PASSE, and by then, we should know more.


5. If you don’t agree with your assessment results, which you should receive in the mail, know you can appeal.

You have rights, and you can appeal DHS decisions. This is a very new process, and assessors can make mistakes. Check this post to see what your rights are and how to file an appeal. Watch our Q & A with Disability Rights where we answered common questions.


6. If you feel lost, take some time to catch up.

What is a PASSE? Will you be affected? MSL has been following the PASSE from the very beginning. Take some time to catch up and read all about them.


7. Keep MSL informed.

If you learn anything, especially from a specific PASSE, share it with us! If you have any problems, MSL works to solve those for you. Please let us know by:


8. Think about how you’re feeling now, remember that at the next vote.

Our legislature voted this into effect. We called, we emailed, and we visited – all to let them know what we need. If you feel that this good for you, remember that, and perhaps send a note to let them know. You might want to vote for your representatives again. If you feel they didn’t listen to you or didn’t represent you well by voting for this, you should send them a letter to let them know. However, you also have the power to change who is in office. Make sure you place an informed vote. See how your local Representatives or Senators voted on Act 775.

How to Register to Vote

Wikihow has all the info on how to register to vote in Arkansas!

“Registering to vote in Arkansas is simple. However, you do need to meet certain requirements. For instance, you must be a U.S. citizen, an Arkansas resident for at least 30 days, and 18 years old on or before the election. Additionally, you must be discharged or pardoned from all convicted felonies. You can register in Arkansas by mailing in your application. You can also fill out an application in person by visiting an approved institution like your county clerk’s office or your local public library.”

Find out more!

AR Choices Update

It’s been over a month since Legal Aid’s last update. After a period of relative quiet, here’s the latest from Kevin De Liban on the ARChoices program. Please note the upcoming legislative committee hearings listed below on 9/13 and 9/18.


(1) Public comments. In July, many people showed up to the public hearings or wrote DHS with comments. Those comments are attached to this email. Though the comments were overwhelmingly against the algorithm, DHS plans to go ahead and start using the RUGs algorithm again in the exact same way as they did before starting on 10/1/18.

RUGs changed the effective limit of attendant care from 8 hours per day to 5.5 or 6. This has not been enough for Legal Aid’s clients. On top of that, the algorithm is nearly impossible to understand, has had multiple software errors, and doesn’t take into account a doctor’s opinion or consider the actual amount of time it takes to provide care to someone on the program.

(2) The legislature is considering the RUGs algorithm this Thursday, 9/13, and next Tuesday, 9/18.  DHS is presenting the algorithm to two separate legislative committees in the next week. Apparently, if the Public Health Committee does not approve it, the algorithm may be delayed or stopped.

Thursday, 9/13, 10 a.m., Public Health Committee, Room A of the MAC Building. I have been told that public comment will be accepted. People who attend must sign in on a sheet to request to speak.

Tuesday, 9/18, 1 p.m., Rules and Regulations Subcommittee, Room A of the MAC Building. I have been told that public comment will be accepted. People who attend must sign in on a sheet to request to speak.

It is not clear that the legislators on these committees will have seen the comments that were submitted to DHS. So, they may not know that most people are against the algorithm. The legislators may not have any source of information other than what DHS tells them. The meetings are open to the public, and I have been told that public comment will be accepted. 

(3) DHS resumed assessments, but only for personal care (not attendant care). People already on the program still cannot get adjustments to their attendant care hours. People who’ve applied for the program are unable to get any attendant care at all. But, after we filed our ongoing lawsuit on behalf of an ARChoices applicant who was denied all services, DHS started determining applicants’ program eligibility and giving them up to 14.5 hours per week of personal care (NOT attendant care, which is slightly different). This isn’t anywhere near enough for many applicants. The lawsuit is continuing and seeks to force DHS to use the prior system of nurse discretion to allocate attendant care until a new valid method is in place.

(4) New Algorithm. As far as we know, DHS is still planning to switch to a new algorithm and new assessment system for ARChoices. This will be based on the same assessment system that is currently in use for personal care, behavioral health, and the development delay waiver. DHS has not provided a timeline for the new algorithm, but, based on the legal timelines required, the new algorithm is not likely to be put into place before 2019.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to write me here or call me at my office (800-967-9224 x 2206).

Contact:

Kevin De Liban, Attorney

Economic Justice Practice Group Leader

Legal Aid of Arkansas–West Memphis

310 Mid-Continent Plaza, Suite 420

West Memphis, AR 72301

Phone: (870) 732-6370 x. 2206