Connecticut has a high prevalence of Medicare beneficiaries living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, often placing an enormous financial strain on caregivers who are spending thousands of dollars a year on care, reports show. “Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America,” said Jennifer Walker, vice president of communications and advocacy for the Connecticut chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “The cost of care is very high.”
Medicare covers most fees for doctor visits, and some hospitalization, if needed; but other costs associated with care—including home health services, transportation, diapers for incontinence—are not covered. People with Alzheimer’s often suffer from other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart and hypertension, which add to the out-of-pocket costs for care. The financial burden is forcing families who rely on Medicare to tap into retirement savings, cutback on food and medical care for themselves, reduce work hours or quit work altogether to be caregivers, according to the Alzheimer’s Association report Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.
Medicaid will reimburse some health centers in the state for providing patients with access to medical specialist through electronic consultations, which some providers believe will increase low-income patients’ access to care. “The impact is potentially huge,” said Dr. Daren Anderson, director of the Weitzman Institute, which is the research and quality improvement arm of Community Health Center Inc. (CHC). CHC is a Middletown-based network of 13 health centers that includes facilities in New Britain, Stamford, Norwalk, Clinton, and Old Saybrook. An e-consult enables a primary care doctor to contact a specialist—for a second look at patient’s echocardiogram, for instance—and securely send part or all of a patient’s medical records electronically. The specialist then replies to the primary care doctor within a few days (but more typically within just a few hours), reducing the need for a patient visit to the specialist.
Health insurance coverage might be more accessible and affordable in Connecticut if the state applied for certain Affordable Care Act and Medicaid waivers, according to advocates who say the options should be explored. Two waivers in particular—Affordable Care Act (ACA) Section 1332 and Medicaid Section 1115—would let the state disregard certain federal requirements, possibly lowering health care costs for some individuals, according to a policy brief commissioned by the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut and the Connecticut Health Foundation. “What we need to do in Connecticut is really think about … how could we creatively, imaginatively, innovatively use waivers to expand coverage to quality care and really help improve health,” said Frances Padilla, president of Meriden-based Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut. “We haven’t had that conversation yet in Connecticut.”
The ACA waiver isn’t available until 2017 but the Medicaid waiver is already being used by dozens of other states to lower costs, she said. “It allows a state to get past some of the requirements of Medicaid and do some things that are innovative,” she said of the Medicaid waiver.
People who are uninsured or on Medicaid are more than twice as likely to smoke tobacco compared to those covered by other insurance, according to a national study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 28 percent of uninsured adults and 29 percent of adults on Medicaid smoke nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), compared with just 13 percent of adults on private insurance plans and 12.5 percent on Medicare. The CDC, which examined data from the 2014 National Health Interview Survey, published the findings in November. The CDC found that cigarette-smoking rates were higher among people who live below the poverty level (26.3 percent) and people with a GED certificate (40 percent). Overall, the prevalence of cigarette smoking among adults declined from 20.9 percent to 16.8 percent from 2005 to 2014, according to the CDC.
A dentist will pay $55,000 to settle claims he defrauded the state’s Medicaid program, Attorney General George Jepsen announced Monday. Dr. Thomas DeRienzo, a licensed practicing dentist in Southington, will pay the money to settle civil healthcare fraud allegations that he submitted fake claims for Medicaid payments. Jepsen alleged that DeRienzo carried out a “long-term scheme” in which he submitted claims to the state Department of Social Services, which administers Connecticut’s Medicaid program, for dental services he did not provide to patients enrolled in the Connecticut Medical Assistance Program (CMAP). CMAP, run by DSS, includes family, children’s and low-income Husky programs.
Jepsen accused DeRienzo of submitting claims to DSS for resin-based composite fillings that he never gave to CMAP patients. In addition to agreeing to pay $55,000 to resolve those allegations, DeRienzo has entered a separate agreement with DSS in which he is permanently barred from participating as a dentist in the CMAP, according to Jepsen.
Reached at his practice Monday, DeRienzo denied any wrongdoing.
Open enrollment for consumers to buy health insurance through the Access Health CT marketplace begins Sunday, and 2016 will bring considerably steeper fines for consumers who lack insurance. Access Health CT (AHCT), now in its third year, enrolled close to 100,000 individuals in private insurance plans in its first two years, according to Andrea Ravitz, director of marketing. About 500,000 enrolled in Medicaid through AHCT, during the first two years. The marketplace aims to enroll between 105,000 and 115,000 in private plans by the end of open enrollment, Ravitz said. AHCT concentrated on attracting new enrollees its first two years but this year it has been focusing on retaining enrollees, she added.
A Stamford-based podiatrist faces hefty fines and prison time after she pleaded guilty this week to submitting fraudulent Medicare claims.
Amira Mantoura pleaded guilty Monday in Hartford federal court to one count of making a false statement to Medicare after she billed the government program for foot surgeries when she merely clipped patients’ toenails, according to Deirdre M. Daly, U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut. Mantoura, 53, lives in Greenwich and has a practice at 95 Morgan St., Stamford. In her guilty plea, she admitted that she submitted false claims to not only Medicare, but Medicaid and private insurance companies as well, Daly said. Reached by phone at her practice Tuesday, Mantoura declined to comment. According to court documents, between January 2009 and August 2013, Mantoura “knowingly submitted materially false claims” seeking payment for nail avulsions, which are surgical treatments for ingrown toenails.
The company alleged to have paid kickbacks to a Derby nurse in exchange for her prescribing of a potent pain medication has agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle a case brought by the state of Oregon, which accused the firm of deceptive marketing and kickback payments involving the same drug. In a notice of unlawful trade practices filed against the Arizona-based drug maker Insys, the Oregon attorney general’s office charged that the company used an “unconscionable tactic by making payments to doctors that you intended to be a kickback to incentivize the doctor to prescribe Subsys.” The attorney general also charged Insys with using “unconscionable, false and deceptive sales tactics” designed to increase the “off-label” use of Subsys, which is approved only to treat breakthrough cancer pain. The case in Oregon comes as Connecticut nurse practitioner Heather Alfonso, formerly with the Comprehensive Pain and Headache Treatment Center in Derby, awaits sentencing on charges she received $83,000 in kickbacks from Insys from 2013 to 2015. In pleading guilty, Alfonso, 42, admitted that the money she was paid for attending “dinner programs” as a speaker — many of them sham dinners, with just an Insys sales representative or her friends or co-workers — influenced her prescribing of the drug, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Connecticut. The charge of receipt of kickbacks in relation to a federal healthcare program carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years and a fine of up to $250,000.
The state has barred practitioners at a Derby pain clinic, including a high-prescribing nurse, from participating in the Medicaid program because of improprieties in treatment and oversight. Documents from the Department of Social Services (DSS) show the physician heading the clinic, Dr. Mark Thimineur, and four nurses and assistants were notified in July that their participation in the Connecticut Medical Assistance Program, which includes Medicaid, is being terminated on Aug. 30. Those terminations came after Heather Alfonso, an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) at the privately run Comprehensive Pain & Headache Treatment Centers, was removed from the Medicaid program in May, DSS officials said. Alfonso was identified in a February story by C-HIT as among the top 10 prescribers nationally of the most potent controlled substances in Medicare’s drug program in 2012 — Schedule II drugs, which have a high potential for addiction and abuse.
A Derby nurse practitioner whose prolific prescribing of potent narcotics was the subject of a February story by C-HIT has surrendered her state and federal licenses to prescribe controlled substances and is the subject of an “open investigation” by the state health department, officials said Monday. Heather Alfonso, an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) at the Comprehensive Pain & Headache Treatment Centers, LLC, in Derby, surrendered her controlled substance registration after a recent probe by the Drug Control Division of the Department of Consumer Protection, a spokeswoman for the department confirmed. “The controlled substance registration of this provider has been turned in,” said the spokeswoman, Claudette Carveth. She said the agency had no further comment. Meanwhile, William Gerrish, a spokesman for the Department of Public Health, said his agency has an ongoing investigation into Alfonso’s APRN license, which is separate from her prescribing registration.