Auditors are not lawyers. Some auditors do not even possess the clinical background of the services they are auditing. In this blog, I am concentrating on the lack of legal licenses. Because the standards to which auditors need to hold providers to are not only found in the Medicare Provider Manuals, regulations, NCDs and LCDs. Oh, no… To add even more spice to the spice cabinet, common law court cases also create and amend Medicare and Medicaid policies.
For example, the Jimmo v. Selebius settlement agreement dictates the standards for skilled nursing and skilled therapy in skilled nursing facilities, home health, and outpatient therapy settings and importantly holds that coverage does not turn on the presence or absence of a beneficiary’s potential for improvement.
The Jimmo settlement dictates that:
“Specifically, in accordance with the settlement agreement, the manual revisions clarify that coverage of skilled nursing and skilled therapy services in the skilled nursing facility (SNF), home health (HH), and outpatient therapy (OPT) settings “…does not turn on the presence or absence of a beneficiary’s potential for improvement, but rather on the beneficiary’s need for skilled care.” Skilled care may be necessary to improve a patient’s current condition, to maintain the patient’s current condition, or to prevent or slow further deterioration of the patient’s condition.”
This Jimmo standard – not requiring a potential for improvement – is essential for diseases that are lifelong and debilitating, like Multiple Sclerosis (“MS”). For beneficiaries suffering from MS, skilled therapy is essential to prevent regression.
I have reviewed numerous audits by UPICs, in particular, which have failed to follow the Jimmo settlement standard and denied 100% of my provider-client’s claims. 100%. All for failure to demonstrate potential for improvement for MS patients. It’s ludicrous until you stop and remember that auditors are not lawyers. This Jimmo standard is found in a settlement agreement from January 2013. While we will win on appeal, it costs providers money valuable money when auditors apply the wrong standards.
The amounts in controversy are generally high due to extrapolations, which is when the UPIC samples a low number of claims, determines an error rate and extrapolates that error rate across the universe. When the error rate is falsely 100%, the extrapolation tends to be high.
While an expectation of improvement could be a reasonable criterion to consider when evaluating, for example, a claim in which the goal of treatment is restoring a prior capability, Medicare policy has long recognized that there may also be specific instances where no improvement is expected but skilled care is, nevertheless, required in order to prevent or slow deterioration and maintain a beneficiary at the maximum practicable level of function. For example, in the regulations at 42 CFR 409.32(c), the level of care criteria for SNF coverage specify that the “. . . restoration potential of a patient is not the deciding factor in determining whether skilled services are needed. Even if full recovery or medical improvement is not possible, a patient may need skilled services to prevent further deterioration or preserve current capabilities.” The auditors should understand this and be trained on the proper standards. The Medicare statute and regulations have never supported the imposition of an “Improvement Standard” rule-of-thumb in determining whether skilled care is required to prevent or slow deterioration in a patient’s condition.
When you are audited by an auditor whether it be a RAC, MAC or UPIC, make sure the auditors are applying the correct standards. Remember, the auditors aren’t attorneys or doctors.
Anti-Kickback statutes (AKS) and Stark law are extremely important issues in health care. Violations of these laws yield harsh penalties. Yet, many healthcare professionals have little to no knowledge on the details of these two legal beasts.
The most common question I get regarding AKS and Stark is: Do AKS and Stark apply to private payers? Health care professionals believe, if I don’t accept Medicare or Medicaid, then I don’t need to worry about AKS and Stark. Are they correct??
The general and overly broad response is that the Stark Law, 42 USC § 1395nn, only applies to Medicare and Medicaid. The AKS, 42 USC § 1320a-7b(b)),applies to any federal healthcare program.
Is there a difference between AKS and Stark?
Answer: Yes. As discussed above, the first difference is that AKS applies to all federal healthcare programs. This stark difference (pun intended) makes the simple decision to not accept Medicare and Medicaid, thus allowing you to never worry about AKS, infinitely more difficult.
Let’s take a step back… What are AKS and Stark laws and what do these laws prohibit? When you Google AKS and Stark, a bunch of legal blogs pop up and attempt to explain, in legalese, what two, extremely esoteric laws purport to say, using words like “renumeration,” “knowing and willful,” and “federal healthcare program.” You need a law license to decipher the deciphering of AKS and Stark. The truth is – it ain’t rocket science.
The AKS is a criminal law; if you violate the AKS, you can be prosecuted as a criminal. The criminal offense is getting something of value for referrals. You cannot refer patients to other health care professionals in exchange for money, reduced rent, use of laboratory equipment, referrals to you, health services for your mother, marketing, weekly meals at Ruth’s Chris, weekly meals at McDonalds, oil changes, discounted theater tickets, Uber rides, Costco coupons, cooking lessons, or…anything of value, regardless the value.
Safe harbors (exceptions to AKS) exist. But those exceptions better fit squarely into the definition of the exceptions. Because there are no exceptions beyond the enumerated exceptions.
AKS is much more broad in scope than Stark. Other than Medicare and Medicaid, AKS applies to any health care plan that utilizes any amount of federal funds. For example, AKS applies to Veterans Health Care, State Children’s Health Programs (CHIP), Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, and many other programs with federal funding. Even if you opt to not accept Medicare and Medicaid, you may still be liable under AKS.
Stark law, on the other hand, is more narrow and only applies to Medicare and Medicaid. I find the following “cheat sheet” created by a subdivision of the Office of Inspector General to be helpful in understanding AKS and Stark and the differences between the two:
One other important aspect of Stark is that is considered “strict liability,” whereas AKS requires a proving of a “knowing and willful” action.
Feel free to print off the above chart for your reference. However, see that little asterisk at the bottom of the chart? It applies here as well.
For a Notice of Overpayment? Providers should request a reconsideration review and hire an attorney.
For a denial of endorsement? Providers have very limited time to appeal a denial. Hire a lawyer. Appeal as the denial explains.
For a Medicaid recipients’ rights? Most appeals will be to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).
I wrote the above “blog” back in 2012. It was one of my first blogs and one of my shortest. Looking back, I must admit that the blog is not even good…it’s accurate-ish. I cannot believe that I have been blogging for over 10 years of my life…and about Medicare and Medicaid regulatory compliance litigation — who knew?
As the year ends, I want to thank all my readers for reading this blog for TEN YEARS. I am humbled and appreciative. As all of you are aware, I do not get paid to blog about Medicare and Medicaid. It actually eats-up quite a lot of my time, which I do not have in Spades, as a mother of a Senior in HS, a wife, and an attorney.
Now I will rewrite the 2012 blog for 2022-2023:
Health Care Providers: Where Do You File an Appeal?
If you are filing a Medicaid provider appeal claiming that you do not owe an overpayment, your State will have an administrative process for you to seek redress. You must exhaust administrative remedies, so read the notice of overpayment for clarification of the 1st and maybe 2nd steps. You normally have a reconsideration and a red-determination before presenting to an administrative law judge.
Hire a lawyer from the beginning.
If you are filing a Medicare provider appeal, see blog. Still hire an attorney.
I look forward to another year of defending health care providers against the State and federal governments. I see it as I have the chance to keep health care providers in business and accepting Medicaid and Medicare. Thank you for accepting Medicare and Medicaid, and I will be here to fight!! I have represented providers from Alaska to New Mexico to New York and Florida and all in between!
The AP (11/30, Schoenbaum) reports that “hundreds of thousands of adults in North Carolina” are set to receive Medicaid benefits, “a development that boosters say will aid hospitals and local economies in addition to the long-term uninsured.” As of Friday, “more than 600,000 North Carolinians are ultimately expected to qualify, with roughly half to be automatically enrolled.” The AP notes that “a 2022 report from the National Center for Health Statistics estimated North Carolina’s uninsured population at 17.6%, significantly above the national average of 12.6%.”
NC Medicaid Providers Lost Their Property Right in the Continued Participation in Medicaid, According to COA
According to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, health care providers possess a property right interest in the continued participation in Medicare and Medicaid. Nationally, the Circuits are split. The rule is, at least in the 4th Circuit, that termination for cause of a provider’s Medicaid contract is allowed, if the cause is correct and the provider was afforded due process. On October 5, 2023, the NC Court of Appeals deviated from legal precedent and ruled no property right exists in B&D Integrated Services v. NC DHHS and its agent Alliance. The COA held that Alliance, a managed care organization (“MCO”) could terminate any provider for any cause at any time for any reason. The 4th Circuit and I beg to differ. I read the Decision, and the Petitioner, unfortunately, according to the Decision, failed to argue that it has a property right in continued participation in Medicaid. I have no earthly idea why Petitioner argued what it did, which is that OAH has no jurisdiction over provider appeals and the OAH decision should be vacated. I have no idea why Petitioner thought that was a good argument. I don’t know if arguing the property right argument would have resulted in a victory, but, to me, it is the most compelling argument. Petitioner failed to argue that MCOs are paid by the tax payor; MCOs are not private companies, so MCOs are agents of the State and must follow pertinent regulations. Instead, Petitioner argues that OAH does not have jurisdiction???? Curiouser and curiouser.
That was not the right argument to make.
And now, unless the General Assembly changes the law, B&D Integrated Health Services v. NC DHHS and its agent Alliance Health, holds that “Alliance was contractually allowed to terminate the contract, with or without cause or for any reason, upon 30 days’ notice.” Which is precisely what I have argued against for the last 15 years or so. See blog. And blog. And blog.
These MCOs are bequeathed a fire hose of tax dollar money and whatever they don’t spend, they keep for bonuses for the executives. Therefore, it is in the MCOs’ financial best interest to terminate providers, which means all the terminated providers’ consumers are immediately cut-off from their Medicaid services, and the MCO saves money.
The following paragraphs are from a Decision from OAH holding that Medicaid contracts are NOT terminable at will:
“In determining whether a property interest exists a Court must first determine that there is an entitlement to that property. Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532 (1985). Unlike liberty interests, property interests and entitlements are not created by the Constitution. Instead, property interests are created by federal or state law and can arise from statute, administrative regulations, or contract. Bowens v. N.C. Dept. of Human Res., 710 F.2d 1015, 1018 (4th Cir. 1983). Under North Carolina case law, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that North Carolina Medicaid providers have a property interest in continued provider status. Bowens, 710 F.2d 1018. In Bowens, the Fourth Circuit recognized that North Carolina provider appeals process created a due process property interest in a Medicaid provider’s continued provision of services, and could not be terminated “at the will of the state.” The court determined that these safeguards, which included a hearing and standards for review, indicated that the provider’s participation was not “terminable at will.” Id. The court held that these safeguards created an entitlement for the provider, because it limits the grounds for his termination such that the contract was not terminable “at will” but only for cause, and that such cause was reviewable. The Fourth Circuit reached the same result in Ram v. Heckler, 792 F.2d 444 (4th Cir. 1986) two years later. Since the Court’s decision in Bowen, a North Carolina Medicaid provider’s right to continued participation has been strengthened through the passage of Chapter 108C. Chapter 108C expressly creates a right for existing Medicaid providers to challenge a decision to terminate participation in the Medicaid program in the Office of Administrative Hearings. It also makes such reviews subject to the standards of Article 3 of the APA. Therefore, North Carolina law now contains a statutory process that confers an entitlement to Medicaid providers. Chapter 108C sets forth the procedure and substantive standards for which OAH is to operate and gives rise to the property right recognized in Bowens and Ram. Under Chapter 108C, providers have a statutory expectation that a decision to terminate participation will not violate the standards of Article 3 of the APA. The enactment of Chapter 108C gives a providers a right to not be terminated in a manner that (1) violates the law; (2) is in excess of the Department’s authority; (3) is erroneous; (4) is made without using proper procedures; or (5) is arbitrary and capricious. To conclude otherwise would nullify the General Assembly’s will by disregarding the rights conferred on providers by Chapter 108C. This expectation cannot be diminished by a regulation promulgated by the DMA which states that provider’s do not have a right to continued participation in the Medicaid program because under the analysis in Bowen the General Assembly created the property right through statutory enactment.” Carolina Comm. Support Serv, Inc., at 22.
Carolina Comm. Support Serv., Inc. v. Alliance Behavioral Healthcare, 14 DHR 1500, April 2, 2015.
ALJ Decisions determining a property right exists went on to be upheld by the 4th Circuit. However, this new NC COA decision, B&D Integrated Health v. NC DHHS, threatens all providers. The reason that termination at will does not work for Medicare and Medicaid versus a private companies’ right to terminate:
- These are our tax dollars, not private money.
- It allows discrimination.
- It allows subjectivity.
- It allows bias.
- It allows an entity to overnight prevent consumers from receiving medically necessary health care services.
- It allows for an entity to, overnight, cause hundreds of staff members to lose their jobs.
B&D Integrated Health v. NC DHHS is a bad decision for health care providers. The Petitioner lost its case because it made the wrong argument. Its argument that administrative courts have no jurisdiction was a losing argument. Now State and federal contractors have more power to be subjective and discriminatory.
Now we have NC case law in State Court that fails to follow federal case law in the 4th Circuit.
We all know that there is no law, regulation or statute that medical records supporting payment by Medicare or Medicaid must be perfect. There is no mandatory 100% compliant standard. Because humans err. In light of the ongoing financial strain brought about by the pandemic and the constraints imposed by Congress on Medicaid coverage disenrollments, State Medicaid agencies are poised to explore additional audits to manage increasing Medicaid expenditures. Recent developments, such as additional flexibilities granted by CMS, suggest a shifting landscape in how States respond to these challenges.
Anticipating a more assertive approach by States in dealing with service providers, potential measures could include rate cuts and enhanced scrutiny through service audits. This prompts a crucial examination of States’ and providers’ rights under federal Medicaid law to audit service provisions and recover overpayments, a legally intricate and noteworthy domain.
Medicaid RAC Audits are governed by 42 CFR 455 Subpart F—Medicaid Recovery Audit Contractors Program. Other Medicaid alleged overpayments are dictated by 42 CFR Chapter 433.
To establish a foundational understanding, it’s essential to consider the mandate imposed by Congress in section 1902(a)(30)(A) of the Social Security Act. States are required to incorporate provisions in their Medicaid plans to “safeguard against unnecessary utilization of … care and services.” This underscores the federal interest in ensuring responsible use of matching funds, given the federal government’s financial contribution to the program.
A landmark case illustrating the complexities of this mandate is the 1999 decision by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary v. Commissioner of Medical Assistance. The court evaluated Massachusetts Medicaid’s retrospective utilization review policy, emphasizing the need for meaningful definitions of terms like “inpatient” and “outpatient” to avoid arbitrary penalties on providers.
Moving to the realm of overpayments, CMS regulations, specifically at 42 C.F.R. § 433.316, provide guidance on how States should proceed when identifying overpayments. The regulations recommend written notification to providers, with states having the discretion to choose whether to notify in cases of suspected fraud. Furthermore, States are required to take “reasonable actions” based on state collections law to recoup overpayments, with a one-year timeframe to return the federal share of identified overpayments to CMS.
Determining when a State “discovers” an overpayment is a critical aspect outlined in the regulations. The discovery is pegged to specific events, such as the state contacting the provider, the provider notifying the state, formal initiation of recoupment, or a federal official identifying the overpayment. Significantly, the regulations focus more on CMS’s relationship with the state than on the state’s relationship with providers.
Recent legal precedents, such as the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision in Professional Home Care Providers v. Wisconsin Department of Health Services, underscore the need for states to operate within the bounds of their granted authority. In this case, the court rejected a Medicaid agency’s “perfection” policy, emphasizing that state law must align with CMS regulations in overseeing overpayment recovery.
As States grapple with revenue shortfalls exacerbated by the pandemic, the potential for increased efforts to recoup overpayments from providers looms large. Legal challenges, exemplified by recent decisions in Massachusetts and Wisconsin, underscore the delicate balance States must strike in these endeavors, emphasizing the limits within which they must operate as they navigate the complex terrain of Medicaid law and financial constraints.
Expect audits. Be ready to defend yourself. Self audits are so important. If you self audit and find a problem and self-disclose, you will not receive penalties. Self-disclosures are key. When I told a group of law students this key information, one asked, has you told a client to self-disclose and they refused? To which I said yes. One time. A female doctor informed me that she falsified 7 medical records, I said that she should disclose. She screamed at me in her language, fired me, and hired a new attorney and withheld the information about falsifying records.
She is jail currently.
For Monitor Monday, today, October 30, 2023, I dressed up as a RAC auditor. BOO!!! I get a spooky 13.5% commission for overzealous auditing tactics. RAC auditors come in every shape and size, color or gender.
In my experience, RACs are garishly incorrect in their assessments. I will reveal three, real life examples where these audit contractors accused healthcare providers of owing money but were found to be dead wrong:
Example 1 – Medical Necessity quibbles:
In a haunting case involving a hospital, the RAC alleged that certain cardiac procedures were billed inappropriately, citing concerns about the medical necessity of these services. They claimed the hospital should refund a repugnant amount for these procedures. However, upon closer examination and an appeal process, it was revealed that the services were indeed medically necessary and aligned with the standard protocols. The ghastly RAC’s accusation was disproven, and the hospital was not required to return any funds. Spine-tingling!
Example 2 – Improper Coding of Diagnosis:
A healthcare provider, particularly a large physician group, was accused by the RAC of using suspicious, improper diagnostic codes, leading to overbilling for certain services provided to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. After a thorough internal audit, it was determined that the codes used were accurate and supported by the patient’s medical records. The RAC’s allegations were unfounded, and no repayment was required. Suspicious. A haunting reminder to spook audits.
Example 3 – Alleged Duplicate Billing:
In a murderous case involving a nursing facility, the RAC identified what they believed were instances of duplicate billing for certain procedures and services. Upon further review, it was revealed that the billing discrepancies were due to the RAC’s misunderstanding of the facility’s billing processes. Mysterious. The facility provided evidence showcasing that the billed services were distinct and not duplicates. Consequently, the RAC’s claim was refuted, and no repayment was deemed necessary. Suspicious.
These examples underscore the critical need for providers to have robust internal compliance measures in place. While RACs serve a vital purpose in identifying billing errors, they are not infallible. Providers need to be equipped to challenge these audit findings, ensuring they are based on accurate and comprehensive information.
It’s crucial for healthcare providers to engage in a proactive approach by conducting their internal audits, maintaining accurate documentation, and being prepared to challenge RAC determinations when necessary. These efforts not only protect providers from unwarranted financial obligations but also ensure that Medicare and Medicaid funds are appropriately allocated.
In conclusion, the relationship between RACs, healthcare providers, and government healthcare programs is complex. The examples provided demonstrate that while RACs play a critical role in safeguarding the integrity of Medicare and Medicaid, their findings are not always accurate. Providers must be diligent in ensuring their billing practices align with regulations and be prepared to contest any erroneous audit findings to maintain fiscal stability and fair reimbursement for services rendered.
From February 2020 through March 2023, enrollment in Medicaid increased by 35.3 percent, or over 22 million individuals. Enrollment in Medicaid increased in every State during COVID. Concurrently, many States report a shortage of providers willing to accept Medicaid. Today NC will be announcing its Medicaid expansion, so the nationwide numbers will rise in the near future. However, as we are introducing over 22 million Americans to Medicaid, the number of physicians, oral surgeons, BH providers, or any health care provider type who accept Medicaid is not increasing. In many places, providers who accept Medicaid is shrinking. See blog.
For example, Arkansas expanded Medicaid in 2014, leading to a surge in Medicaid enrollees. While the expansion successfully reduced the state’s uninsured rate, it also highlighted the shortage of healthcare providers, especially in rural areas. Many residents in these underserved regions face long wait times to see a doctor, limiting their access to timely care.
Nationwide, access to mental health services has been a concern. Medicaid expansion aimed to provide mental health coverage to more people, but there has been a shortage of mental health professionals to meet the growing demand. In many states, there are waitlists regardless the crisis.
Providers continue to face insurmountable challenges. Such challenge is the burden of audits conducted by Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs), Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs), and Targeted Probe and Educate (TPE) programs. These audits are designed to ensure that healthcare providers comply with the complex web of regulations governing reimbursement and patient care. However, the reality is that these audits often impose an overwhelming burden on providers and their attorneys, making compliance a Herculean task.
The healthcare industry in the United States is governed by a myriad of rules, regulations, and guidelines. From Medicare and Medicaid requirements to state-specific laws, providers must navigate a complex regulatory maze to ensure compliance. RACs, MACs, and TPE programs scrutinize providers’ billing practices, medical necessity of services, and documentation to identify overpayments and potential fraud or abuse.
Healthcare providers, from hospitals to individual practitioners, must allocate significant resources to respond to audits and maintain compliance. The burden starts with the anticipation of an audit, as providers are often left in the dark about when and how they will be audited. This uncertainty can be paralyzing, as it requires providers to divert time, personnel, and financial resources away from patient care to prepare for an audit that may or may not occur.
Once an audit is initiated, providers are faced with a deluge of demands. They must gather and submit an extensive amount of documentation, which can include patient records, billing records, and other relevant materials. The process is not only time-consuming but also disruptive to day-to-day operations. Smaller practices, in particular, may struggle to allocate the necessary personnel and resources to meet these demands, potentially affecting patient care quality.
One of the most significant challenges faced by healthcare providers and their attorneys is the ever-changing nature of healthcare regulations. Keeping up with the latest rules and guidelines is a daunting task, and providers must constantly adapt their practices to remain compliant. The complex interplay between federal and state regulations further complicates matters, as what is compliant at one level may not be at another.
Healthcare attorneys play a critical role in assisting providers through the audit process. However, we too are challenged by the intricate nature of healthcare regulations and the constant need to stay abreast of updates and changes. David would concur, I believe, in my statement that, being a health care regulatory attorney is not a laid-back, calm career choice. We have to continue to educate ourselves at quite a fast pace. Think about how often laws and rules change federally and in 50 States. Tomorrow I am going to Baltimore Maryland for the Fraud and Abuse Conference by the American Health Law Association. I will let you know if I learn anything mind-blowing.
The burden of RAC, MAC, and TPE audits in healthcare is undeniable. While these audits are essential to protect the integrity of the healthcare system, the complex regulatory landscape, coupled with the uncertainty and resource-intensive nature of the audit process, places an overwhelming burden on providers and their attorneys. Healthcare providers are in a constant struggle to balance compliance with the delivery of quality patient care, and their legal representatives are similarly tasked with navigating an ever-changing regulatory maze.
Addressing this burden requires a collaborative effort among stakeholders, including government agencies, healthcare providers, and legal experts. Streamlining audit processes, providing clearer guidance, and ensuring that audits are conducted fairly and transparently can go a long way in alleviating the burden on providers. In the end, the goal should be to strike a balance between safeguarding taxpayer dollars and allowing healthcare providers to focus on what they do best – caring for patients. Or maybe we just need a computer program for audits that is NOT Excel.
Today, I am going to talk about RAC audits. I know what you are thinking…don’t you always talk about RACs? Of course, you are going to talk about RAC audits. No. Today, I’m taking this blog in a different direction.
I want to talk about secret, hidden RAC audits. As you are aware, the federal regulations limit RACs from going back more than 3 years to audit claims. Juxtapose the UPICs, TPEs, SMRCs, MACs, OIG, and even State Medicaid agencies. Everyone, but the RACs are allowed more than a 3-year lookback period. Some, like OIG, have long lookback periods. Coincidentally, when a company responds to an RFP or a request for proposal from CMS to act as CMS’ vendor to conduct Medicare audits on America’s Medicare providers, a clause in the proposed contract between CMS and the vendor is highly argued or negotiated. Which clause in the vendor’s contract is most negotiated? I will tell you. The clause that states that the vendor is a RAC is most negotiated. Because if the vendor is called a UPIC instead of a RAC, the vendor has a longer lookback period. Being called a UPIC, suddenly, becomes a commodity. There are no laws mandating UPICs to a 3-year lookback period. All of a sudden, it is not hip to be a RAC.
Look into it. Do your research. The contracts are public record. Ask for Cotiviti’s contracts with CMS. Notice I said contracts, not contract. What I have realized over time is that a vendor may be hired by CMS to be a RAC auditor, but, once the vendor realizes the limit of 3 years, it goes back to CMS and asks if it can be considered an UPIC. Why? A UPIC can do everything that a RAC does; however, it gets an additional 3 years to lookback at claims and that means money. Cha-ching! Even Dr. Ron Hirsh commented today on RACMonitor about this story, which I presented this morning at 10:00am, as I present every Monday morning, live, on the national podcast RACMonitor , hosted by Chuck Buck and produced by MedLearn. If you want to listen to the podcast, click the following link: Nelson Mullins – Monitor Mondays Podcast Featuring Knicole Emanuel; Defeating Statistical Extrapolations, Expansion of Medicaid RACs, IPPS Final Rule, Smart Hospitals, and Physician Advisors Episodes
The podcast is also on video, but I don’t know how to view that. If you do, you would see my baby duck Biscuit on the screen. He joined me this morning to talk about, “What Walks Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck, Must be a Duck.” Dr. Hirsh commented that companies like Cotiviti have many, many contracts deeming Cotiviti many different acronyms. If you get a letter from Cotiviti, do not assume it is acting as a RAC. Instead, ask for the contract which allows Cotiviti to do what it purports to want to do.
I’ve noticed this trend in real life, but only for 10-20 individual cases, maybe 30. I have not had the time to draft a FOYIA request, and, quite frankly, my name on a FOYIA request nowadays result in a response that says, something to the effect of, use discovery instead. Even though my personal experiences should not be extrapolated across the country because that would be inappropriate and judgmental, I will give an example and you may extrapolate or not. There is a company that has been doing RAC audits in NC for the last 5-8 years. It is called Public Consulting Group (“PCG”). PCG and I go way back. If you are a longtime listener of RACMonitor, you will recall that Ed Roche and I presented numerous podcasts about the debacle in NM in 2013. The State of NM put 15 Medicaid providers who constituted 87.6% of the BH providers in NM at the time. The consequences were catastrophic; thousands were out of BH services overnight. There is even a documentary about the unraveling of BH in NM in 2013. The reason that these 15 BH providers were put out of business overnight was because of a NM vendor called PCG. PCG issued a report to NM after conducting Medicaid audits on these 15 BH facilities, which accused the 15 facilities of fraud. In 2013, PCG was considered a RAC per contract. Today, when I have a case against PCG and make the 3-year lookback period argument, I get a retort that it’s not a RAC. Instead it’s a UPIC.
To which I say, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it is a duck.
Laboratories are under scrutiny by the OIG and State Medicaid Departments. Labs get urine samples from behavioral health care companies, substance abuse companies, hospitals, and primary care facilities, who don’t have their own labs. Owners of labs entrust their lab executives to follow procedure on a federal and/or state level for Medicare or Medicaid. Well, what if they don’t. For example, one client paid a urine collector/courier by the mile. That courier service collected urine from Medicaid consumers in NC, sometimes in excess of 90 times a year, when Medicaid only allows 24 per year. I have about 10-15 laboratory clients at the present.
Another laboratory’s urine collector collected the urine, but never brought the urine back to get tested. To which I ponder, where did all those urine specimens go?
Another laboratory had a standing order for over 6 years to test presumptive and definitive testing on 100% of urine samples.
OIG has smelled fraud within laboratories and is widening its search for fraudsters. Several laboratories are undergoing the most serious audits in existence. Not RAC, MAC, or UPIC audits, but audits of even more importance. They received CIDs or civil investigative demands from their State Medicaid Divisions. These requests, like RAC, MAC, or UPIC audits, request lots of documents. In fact, CIDs are legally allowed to request documents for a much longer period of time than RACs, which can only request 3 years back. Most CIDs are fishing for false claims under the False Claims Act (FCA). Stark and Anti-Kickback violations are also included in these investigations. While civil penalties can result in high monetary penalties, criminal violations result in jail time.
As everyone knows, labs must follow CLIA or be CLIA certified, which is the federal standard for which labs. The Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) of 1988 (42 USC 263a) and the associated regulations (42 CFR 493) provide the authority for certification and oversight of clinical laboratories and laboratory testing. Under the CLIA program, clinical laboratories are required to have the appropriate certificate before they can accept human samples for testing. There are different types of CLIA certificates, as well as different regulatory requirements, based on the types and complexity of clinical laboratory tests a laboratory conducts. CLIA, like CMS, has its own set of rules. When entities like CLIA or CMS have their own rules, sometimes those rules juxtapose law, which creates a conundrum for providers. If you own a lab, do you follow CLIA rules or CMS rules or the law? Let me give you an example. According to CLIA, you must maintain documentation regarding samples and testing for two years. So, if CLIA audits a laboratory, the audits requests will only go back for two years. Well, that’s all fine and dandy. Except according to the law, you have to maintain medical documents for 5 or 6 years, depending on the service type.
Recently, one of my labs received a CID for records going back to 2017. That is a 6-year lookback. Had the lab followed CLIA’s rules, the lab would only have documentation going back to 2021. Had the lab followed CLIA’s rules, when OIG knocked on its door, it would have NOT had four years of OIG’s request. Now I do not know, because I have never been in the position that my lab client only retained records for two years…thank goodness. If I were in the position, I would argue that the lab was following CLIA’s rules. But that’s the thing, rules are not laws. When in doubt, follow laws, not rules.
However, that takes me to Medicare provider appeals of RAC, MAC, and UPIC audits. Everything under the umbrella of CMS must follow CMS rules. Remember how I said that rules are not laws? CMS rules, sometimes, contradict law. Yet when a Medicare provider appeals an overpayment or termination, the first four levels of appeal are mandated to follow CMS rules. It is not until the 5th level, which is the federal district court that law prevails. In other words, the RAC, MAC, or UPIC, the 2nd level QIC, the 3rd level ALJ, and the 4th level Medicare Appeal Council, all must follow CMS rules. It is not until you appear before the federal district judge that law prevails.
Receiving a CID does not mean that your investigation will remain civil. Most investigations begin civilly. If the evidence uncovered demonstrates any criminal activity, your civil investigation can quickly turn criminal. I co-defend with a federal criminal attorney if the case has a chance to turn criminal. Believe me, there is a huge difference between federal and state criminal lawyers! Even with the best federal criminal lawyers, you want a Medicare and Medicaid expert lawyer on the team to dispute the regulatory accusations that a criminal attorney may not be as well-versed. I am so thankful that I moved my practice to Nelson Mullins, because we have a huge, yet highly-specialized health care practice. While we have a large number of lawyers, each partner specializes in slightly different aspects of health care. So, when I need a federal criminal attorney to partner-up with me, I just walk down the hall.
Laboratories: Beware! Be ready! Be prepared! Be lawyered up!
Surprisingly, I am talking about the No Surprises Act today. Last year, I had an unwelcome surprise. I was thrown from my horse on February 20, 2022. I’ve been thrown from many horses, and usually, I land on my boots or, at worst, my behind. However, last year, I awoke in the ICU after being thrown from a horse. Surprise! Spoiler alert, I ended up ok, according to most. However, I was helicoptered from the extremely rural area to the closest hospital. And you are probably thinking that I was blessed that someone could contact and obtain a helicopter so quickly for me…it probably saved my life. And you may be right. But there are two things about me that you probably don’t know: 1) my best friend in life is an ER Trauma nurse with over 20 years’ experience; and (2) I don’t like to spend $49,753.00 for a helicopter ride that I don’t even remember.
Let me explain. As I said earlier, I was unconscious when someone contacted a helicopter. Let me tell you who I was with. Let me set the stage, so to speak. I was with my husband Scott, my bff Tracey – the ER trauma nurse, and her husband Josh. I never asked them, because, quite frankly, I didn’t think to ask who called the helicopter until now. Regardless, I was helicoptered, and received a bill a month or so later for almost $50k. And I freaked.
I am without a doubt even more sympathetic to my provider-clients who get notices of owing tens of thousands or millions of dollars. That $50k stopped my heart for a second. Then, I thought, Dr. Ronald Hirsh and others have spoken about the NSA multiple times on Monitor Monday. Maybe I should re-listen to a couple, really good, detailed podcast episode. I did so.
Last year, in my unconscious-state, I would have entrusted my life with Tracey to drive me about 30 minutes to a hospital because:
- She is an ER Trauma nurse.
- She is good at her job. She was handed a decapitated arm once. I am sure I would have had nightmares, not she.
- She works at the nearest hospital and it was only 30 minutes away. She is/was friends with the ER surgeons. So, yes, had you asked me whether I wanted a $50k helicopter ride or a 30-minute ride with an experienced ER Trauma nurse – I would have chosen the free one. that, from some of her stories, I think may be more experienced than the MDs she performs under.
However, after I presented this story on RACMonitor, Dr. Hirsch, along with several listeners, one of whom is an emergency physician, told me that they would NEVER recommend a private transfer to the hospital, even if Dr. Hirsch were driving, especially for an unconscious, head injury victim. I was told that the helicopter was the way to go in my case, but that I should not be liable for it. I agree, hence the NSA. However, in the same vein, providers need to be paid. Remember, this paragraph was written after RACMonitor and after I was told the helicopter was the way to go.
However, had you asked me then, I would have chosen the free ride to the hospital. Post haste!!! Instead of getting my consent to pay $50k for a helicopter ride or a free ride with an ER Trauma nurse, I was “forced” to the helicopter. And here is where the NSA gets confusing. It was effective January 2022. The political issue arose a stark “T” or perpendicular “behind a rock and a hard place.” A month or so after my accident, I got the bill for almost $50k. Like I said, my heart palpitated. Just like the doctors, hospitals, DME providers, dentists, LTCF, HH, BHP, and anyone who accepts Medicare or Medicaid hearts’ would palpitate when they receive a bill for tens of millions of dollars that they may or may not truly owe.
The DOS happened to be one month after the NSA went into effect. No one wanted to pay for this ride. My health insurance went to bat for me; or, really, for them. My health insurance also didn’t want to pay for my $50k helicopter ride. The letter from my insurance company to the helicopter company said: “Upon review of your request, we have confirmed the claim was processed according to the terms of the No Surprises Act (NSA). Accordingly, your request does not qualify as an appeal under the terms of the member benefit plan.”
While I agree that I should not have been liable for a $50k helicopter ride, I do have empathy for the helicopter company and its nurses. It expended money on my behalf. And I am appreciative. I feel like there should be a less Draconian law than the NSA. Because of my being unconscious during my helicopter admission and my lack of ability to consent, shouldn’t mean the providers shouldn’t be paid for services rendered.
But maybe the letter, which ostensibly shuts down any appeal to additional funds by the provider, means that the provider was paid an amount, maybe a reduced amount, but an amount nonetheless. If anyone knows whether surprised patients’ medical bills get paid at a reduced rate, let me know! Thanks!