Monthly Archives: October 2022
When natural disasters strike, Medicare and Medicaid audits become less important, and human safety becomes most important. During Hurricane Ian, 16 hospitals were evacuated in Florida alone. Hospitals and long-term care facilities were without water.
Approximately, 8,000 patients were evacuated from 47 nursing homes and 115 assisted living facilities. Seventy-eight nursing homes lost power and all had to implement emergency plans involving generator power. Did the providers continue to bill during this time? If so, could regulations be followed in the midst of a pandemic.
These natural disasters impact future Medicare and Medicaid audits. Obviously, during natural disasters a hospital may not be able to maintain the two-midnight rule or determine whether a patient is in observation status or in-patient. You may be surprised to hear that there are no automatic audit exceptions during a disaster.
The general rule, which has exceptions, is a 30-day extension for records requests. Broadly speaking, Medicare fee-for-service has three sets of potential temporary adjustments that can be made to address an emergency or disaster situation. These include:
- Applying flexibilities that are already available under normal business rules. This is on an individual basis;
- Waiver or modification of policy or procedural norms by CMS; and
- Waiver or modification of certain Medicare requirements pursuant to waiver authority under § 1135 of the Social Security Act. This waiver authority can be invoked by the Secretary of the DHHS in certain circumstances.
These waivers are not automatic.
Section 1135 of the Social Security Act authorizes the Secretary DHHS to waive or modify certain Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, and HIPAA requirements. Two prerequisites must be met before the Secretary may invoke the § 1135 waiver authority. First, the President must have declared an emergency or disaster, and the Secretary must have declared a Public Health Emergency (PHE).
Waivers authorized by the statute apply to Medicare in the context of the following requirements:
- conditions of participation or other certification requirements applicable to providers;
- licensure requirements applicable to physicians and other health professionals;
- sanctions for violations of certain emergency medical standards under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA)
- sanctions relating to physician self-referral limitations (Stark)
- performance deadlines and timetables (modifiable only; not waivable); and
- certain payment limitations under the Medicare Advantage program.
Following a disaster, such as Ian, there is no standing authority for CMS to provide special emergency/disaster relief funding following an emergency or disaster in order to compensate providers for lost reimbursement. Congress may appropriate disaster-specific special funding for such; but absent such special appropriation, Medicare does not provide funding for financial losses.
In the context of Medicare audits, providers can obtain extensions to audit requests. Audits will only be suspended on a case-by-case basis, which means it is a subjective standard. Natural disasters are awful, and we probably need more comprehensive audit exceptions.
Always challenge the extrapolation! It is my personal opinion that extrapolation is used too loosely. What I mean is that sample sizes are usually too small to constitute a valid representation of the provider’s claims. Say a provider bills 10,000 claims. Is a sample of 50 adequate?
In a 2020 case, Palmetto audited .0051% of claims by Palm Valley, and Palm Valley challenged CMS’ sample and extrapolation method. Palm Valley Health Care, Inc. v. Azar, No. 18-41067, 2020 BL 14097 (5th Cir., Jan. 15, 2020). As an aside, I had 2 back-to-back extrapolation cases recently. The provider, however, did not hire me until the ALJ level – or the 3rd level of Medicare provider appeals. Unfortunately, no one argued that the extrapolation was faulty at the first 2 levels. We had 2 different ALJs, but both ALJs ruled that the provider could not raise new arguments; i.e., that the extrapolation was erroneous, at the 3rd level. They decided that all arguments should be raised from the beginning. This is just a reminder that: (a) raise all defenses immediately; and (b) don’t try the first two levels without an attorney.
Going back to Palm Valley.
The 5th Circuit held that while the statistical sampling methodology may not be the most precise methodology available, CMS’ selection methodology did represent a valid “complex balance of interests.” Principally, the court noted, quoting the Medicare Appeals Council, that CMS’ methodology was justified by the “real world constraints imposed by conflicting demands on limited public funds” and that Congress clearly envisioned extrapolation being applied to calculate overpayments in instances like this. I disagree with this result. I find it infuriating that auditors, like Palmetto, can scrutinize providers’ claims, yet circumvent similar accountability. They are being allowed to conduct a “hack” job at extrapolating to the financial detriment of the provider.
Interestingly, Palm Valley’s 5th Circuit decision was rendered in 2020. The dates of service of the claims Palmetto audited were July 2006-January 2009. It just shows how long the legal battle can be in Medicare audits. Also, Palm Valley’s error rate was 53.7%. Remember, in 2019, CMS revised the extrapolation rules to allow extrapolations in 50% or higher error rates. If you want to read the extrapolations rules, you can find them in Chapter 8 of the Medicare Program Integrity Manuel (“MPIM”).
On RACMonitor, health care attorney, David Glaser, mentioned that there is a difference in arguments versus evidence. While you cannot admit new evidence at the ALJ level, you can make new arguments. He and I agreed, however, even if you can dispute the extrapolation legally, a statistical report would not allowed as new evidence, which are important to submit.
Lastly, 42 CFR 405.1014(a)(3) requires the provider to assert the reasons the provider disagrees with the extrapolation in the request for ALJ hearing.
Most of you know that I also appear on RACMonitor every Monday morning at 10:00am eastern. I present a 3-minute segment on RACMonitor, which is a national, syndicated podcast that focuses on RAC audits and the casualties they leave in their wakes. I am joined on that podcast with nation Medicare and Medicaid experts, such as Dr. Ronald Hirsh, health care attorneys David Glaser and me, Tiffany Ferguson, who speaks on the social determinants of health and Matthew Albright, who presents on legislative matters. Other experts join in a rotating fashion, such as Mary Inman, a whistleblower attorney who resides in London, England, Ed Roche, an attorney and statistical wizard who debunks extrapolations, and it is hosted by my friend and producer, Chuck Buck and Clark Anthony and Chyann and others….
But there are other audits that wield similar dire results: OTHER THAN RAC, TPE, MAC, and ZPICs. Licensure audits, for example, can cause monetary penalties, plans of corrections, or even summary suspensions…OH MY!!! (A reference to The Wizard of Oz, obviously).
For hospitals and other health facilities, the licensure laws typically cover issues such as professional and non-professional staffing; physical plant requirements; required clinical services; administrative capabilities; and a vast array of other requirements. In most states, in addition to hospital licensure, full-service hospitals require other licenses and permits, such as laboratory permits, permits relating to hazardous wastes, food service permits, and transportation licenses for hospital-affiliated ambulances. Other residential healthcare facilities, such as nursing homes or behavioral health homes, are typically subject to similar requirements.
Penalties are brandished once audits ensue. Licensure audits do not possess the same financial incentives as RAC audits. In NC the entity that conducts licensure audits is DHSR, the Department of Health Service Regulation. DHSR is still under the umbrella of DHHS, which is the single state entity charged with managing Medicaid. Every State has a DHHS although it may be named something else. In New Mexico, the single state entity is called HSD or Health Services Department. In CA, the single state entity is called DHCS or Department of Health Care Services.
The entity in your State that conducts licensure audits will be under the umbrella of your State’s single State entity that manages Medicaid.
Penalties can be severe.
Summary suspensions occur in all 50 States. A summary suspension is an action in administrative law in which a judge suspends a provider’s license upon the receipt of allegations and prior to a full hearing on the matter. In general, the summary suspension is based on a finding that the suspension is necessary, given the allegations, to protect safety or public health. The summary suspension is a temporary, emergency ruling pending a full hearing on the allegations. For example, in Washington State WAC 170-03-0300(1)(a), permits summary suspension of a child care license by the Department where “conditions in the licensed facility constitute an imminent danger to a child or children in care.”
Imminent dangers can be alleged in hospitals, nursing homes, or residential facilities. I say “alleged” because an allegation is all it takes for a summary suspension to be bestowed. Allegations, unfortunately, must be defended.
Appeal! Appeal! Appeal! Be like Dorothy and get to the Wizard of Oz – no matter what, even if she has to defeat the Wicked Witch of the West!
Last year I had two residential facilities receive summary suspensions at the same time. What do you do if your facility receives a summary suspension?
Kidding. Do not panic. Contact your Medicaid attorney immediately.
Ultimately, we went to trial and defended these two facilities successfully.