As we previously reported, the 2018-19 New York State Budget passed in March includes significant provisions intended to reduce the number of Licensed Home Care Services Agencies (LHCSAs) around the state. Among these provisions are a two-year moratorium on the establishment of new entities, a limit on the number of LHCSAs with which Managed Long Term Care Plans can contract, and a new requirement that in the future LHCSA applicants will need to demonstrate public need and financial feasibility for a post-moratorium certificate of need. Additional information was provided by the Department of Health (DOH) in early May, when it released a new guidance document, as well as a new Certificate of Need (CON) application and instructions. These documents provide a fairly clear road map to assist LHCSAs in navigating the CON process during the moratorium, which is set to expire on March 31, 2020.
DOH has recently taken the next step in implementing the 2018-19 Budget provisions, and given the long term care community an opportunity to impact what the LHCSA landscape will look like after the expiration of the moratorium. In July, DOH issued a Request for Information (RFI) to gather input for the new need methodology that will apply when the moratorium ends.
An RFI is a mechanism commonly used by state agencies to obtain stakeholder feedback on pending state actions. It is not a Request for Proposals or Request for Applications – no award is made in connection with an RFI, and it would be highly unusual for the state to declare a “winning” methodology. Rather, responses to the RFI will allow stakeholders to outline their positions on what the new methodology should look like. Proposals received from stakeholders and/or portions of those proposals can be accepted or rejected at DOH’s discretion. The presumption is that DOH will use the information obtained from stakeholder submissions to craft a methodology that will implement the applicable statutory mandates as effectively as possible.
This does not mean that DOH is looking for a methodology that is agreeable to the LHCSA community. However, this does provide an excellent opportunity for LHCSAs to point out potential pitfalls to be avoided in the development of the new methodology. Specifically, DOH will likely be most interested in avoiding actions that would undermine the goals of the CON process and/or DOH’s more general goal to ensure that patients have a robust selection of quality providers.
It should be noted that the information sought by the RFI goes beyond what is normally considered to be part of a need methodology. Traditionally, CON review is intended to ensure four things: (1) public need for the services in question, (2) the character and competence of the proposed provider(s), (3) the fiscal feasibility of the proposed project, and (4) compliance with architectural and other regulatory standards. A “need methodology” generally relates primarily to the first item – whether or not there is a public need for the services. This is often presented as a mathematical function, based on the typical number of patients in the service area and the number of services already present in that area. In practice, there is almost always a significant discretionary element that allows DOH and the Public Health and Health Planning Council (which must approve all new establishments) substantial leeway in determining whether a particular provider is necessary.
The RFI seeks information not only on how to assess public need for LHCSA services, but also on character and competence and other potential elements of a CON application. Until now, LHCSAs were not subject to formal public need or fiscal feasibility analysis, which is part of what makes the new legislation so significant – and which makes this opportunity to impact the new rules so important. It is therefore a good thing that DOH has written the RFI so expansively.
In regard to traditional need analysis, DOH is seeking information on all the elements of a typical need methodology, including:
- Planning Area: This is part of the denominator of the need methodology equation – should need be determined by county (as is often the case), multiple counties, regions, etc. DOH references issues impacting this analysis, including driving time, availability of public transportation and availability of existing service providers.
- Need Factors: This is the other part of the denominator – within the planning area, should need be weighed against total population, population based on demographics (e.g., age), disease and disability prevalence, capacity of existing providers, etc.
- Timing: How often should need be recalculated? This is potentially significant. Traditionally, the CON process has been a snapshot in time – applications are judged based on need at the time of application, and that is all. Conceivably, DOH could opt instead to reevaluate overall need at periodic intervals, which could place even existing providers at risk. Other open questions specifically asked by DOH include whether the need methodology should apply in regard to potential service expansions or change of ownership. And while all the foregoing relates to the question when the need methodology should be applied, DOH also asks the related question of how frequently the need methodology itself should be reviewed, and if necessary revised.
- Exceptions: As noted, there are almost always exceptions to any formulaic need methodology. These exceptions can go both ways. On the one hand, should there be an arbitrary cap on the number of LHCSAs in a particular planning area? On the other hand, should the provision of specialized services (DOH mentions Traumatic Brain Injury and Nursing Home Transition and Diversion waiver services, pediatrics, IV infusion, and flu shot services in particular) be exempt from the general rule and/or be subject to a special rule? Similarly, DOH asks whether applicants proposing to provide only personal care services be treated differently from other applicant – suggesting that this is an option under consideration.
In regard to character and competence, DOH asks a few questions, as well:
- Experience: DOH seeks input on what type of experience should be required of a LHCSA operator. This reflects an issue that has plagued the CON process for a long time – namely, the fact that an applicant with absolutely no experience, who therefore has a pristine record, may have a better chance of being approved that a competent provider of long standing, who inevitably has had some compliance issues. This can be ameliorated by requiring some baseline experience in applicants.
- Performance: In addition to evaluating what an applicant has done, DOH asks for input concerning the extent to which it ought to review how successful the applicant has been. In particular, DOH asks whether any quality measures should be considered when reviewing an application for licensure or change of ownership, and whether applications for service area expansions should consider character and competence (which also implicates the timing issue mentioned above).
Finally, the RFI includes a more general catch-all question, giving responders the opportunity to opine on any other factors that might be appropriate to include in the CON process. DOH even goes so far as to suggest a couple:
- Staffing: LHCSA staffing can be cyclical (given the nature of the work, more staff tends to be available when the economy as a whole is worse), but in some places staffing shortages are persistent. DOH asks whether the availability of staff should be considered when determining public need. It also asks the inverse question – whether an applicant proposing to provide training programs for personal care aides and home health aides should be prioritized.
- Medicare/Medicaid: DOH also asks whether the extent to which an applicant intends to serve Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries should be taken into account. In general, the CON process has historically favored the provision of care to Medicaid beneficiaries and individuals who otherwise cannot pay for such care, even going so far as to require applicants to promise to provide a particular amount of such services in some instances. Presumably, DOH would be more inclined to approve a LHCSA applicant offering a high percentage of its services to such individuals.
While the question of services for Medicaid beneficiaries certainly carries implications for the fiscal feasibility of applicants, it is interesting that fiscal feasibility by itself is not a strong focus of the RFI. This may simply be a function of the fact that, unlike some other DOH licensees, LHCSAs do not require an extensive bricks and mortar presence – so the ability of an applicant to make significant capital investments is less important. But DOH still has an interest in not approving LHCSAs that cannot sustain their business model – and so fiscal feasibility should be important.
The other surprising absence from the RFI is any specific discussion of cultural competency. The RFI refers to services for “special populations”, and presumably this would include racial, ethnic and national groups as well as individuals with particular disabilities or illnesses and other distinct populations (as opposed to distinct services), but that is not stated explicitly. It remains an open question whether a particular demographic group constitutes a “special population” sufficient to define the target population for a needs analysis, to justify an exception to the general needs analysis, or to otherwise be considered during the CON process.
In general, LHCSA providers who are considering responding to the RFI would be well-advised to consider all the factors that make their services unique, honestly evaluate whether those factors are appropriate for inclusion in the CON process, and respond accordingly. They might also consider additional outreach to state policymakers, either alone or in collaboration with other similarly-situated providers, and either through any of the several excellent trade associations that serve the LHCSA sector, or, where their interests diverge from their competitors, via separately retained counsel. Responses to the RFI are due no later than October 12, 2018.
If you have any questions or would like additional information on any of the above-referenced issues, or would be interested in assistance in responding to the RFI, please do not hesitate to contact Farrell Fritz’s Regulatory & Government Relations Practice Group at 518.313.1450 or NYSRGR@FarrellFritz.com