Category Archives: Expedited Appeal

Medicare Appeal Backlog: Tough Tooties!…Unless…[Think Outside the Box!]

When you are accused of a $12 million dollar overpayment by Medicare, obviously, you appeal it.But do you expect that appeal to take ten years or longer? Are such long, wait periods allowed by law? That is what Cumberland Community Hospital System, Inc. (Cape Fear) discovered in a 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision, on March 7, 2016, denying a Writ of Mandamus from the Court and refusing to order the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Burwell to immediately adjudicate Cape Fear’s Medicare appeals to be heard within the Congressional requirement that appeals be heard and decided by Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) within 90 days.

According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services‘ (CMS) website, an “ALJ will generally issue a decision within 90 days of receipt of the hearing request. Again, according to CMS’ website, this time frame may be extended for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to:

  • The case being escalated from the reconsideration level
  • The submission of additional evidence not included with the hearing request
  • The request for an in-person hearing
  • The appellant’s failure to send a notice of the hearing request to other parties
  • The initiation of discovery if CMS is a party.”

In Cape Fear’s case, the Secretary admitted that the Medicare appeal backlog equates to more than 800,000 claims and would, likely, take over 10 years to adjudicate all the claims. Even the 4th Circuit Court, which, ultimately, dismissed Cape Fear’s complaint, agrees with Cape Fear and calls the Medicare appeal backlog “incontrovertibly grotesque.”

Generally, the rule is that if the ALJ does not render a decision after 180 days of the filing of the case, then the provider has the right to escalate the case to the Medicare Appeals Council, which is the 4th step of a Medicare appeal. See blog for more details on the appeal process.

Care appeals

What about after 3,650 days? Get a big pie in the face?

The United States Code is even less vague than CMS’ website. Without question 42 U.S.C. states that for a:

“(1)Hearing by administrative law judge; (A)In general

Except as provided in subparagraph (B), an administrative law judge shall conduct and conclude a hearing on a decision of a qualified independent contractor under subsection (c) of this section and render a decision on such hearing by not later than the end of the 90-day period beginning on the date a request for hearing has been timely filed.”

(emphasis added). And, BTW, subsection (B) is irrelevant here. It contemplates when a party moves for or stipulates to an extension past the 90-day period.

So why did Cape Fear lose? How could the hospital lose when federal administrative code specifically spells out mandatory 90-day limit for a decision by an ALJ? Ever heard of a statute with no teeth? [i.e., HIPAA].

No one will be surprised to read that I have my opinions. First, a writ of mandamus was not the legal weapon to wield. It is an antiquated legal theory that rarely makes itself useful in modern law. I remember the one and only time I filed a writ of mandamus in state court in an attempt to hold a State Agency liable for willfully violating a Court’s Order. I appeared before the judge, who asked me, “Do you know how long I have been on this bench?” To which I responded, “Yes, Your Honor, you have been on the bench for X number of years.” He said, “Do you know how many times I have granted a writ of mandamus?” I said, “No, Your Honor.” “Zero,” he said, “Zero.” The point is that writs of mandamus are rare. A party must prove to the court that he/she has a clear and indisputable right to what is being asked of the court.

Secondly, in my mind, Cape Fear made a disastrous mistake in arguing that it has a clear right for its Medicare appeals to be adjudicated immediately. Think about it…there are 800,000+ Medicare appeals pending before the ALJs. What judge would ever order the administrative court to immediately drop all other 799,250 pended claims (Cape Fear had 750 claims pending) and to adjudicate only Cape Fear’s claims? It is the classic slippery slope…if you do this for Cape Fear, then you need to order the same for the rest of the pended claims.

In this instance, it appears that Cape Fear requested too drastic a measure for a federal judge to order. The claims were doomed from the beginning.

However, I cannot fault Cape Fear for trying since the code is crystal clear in requiring a 90-day turnaround time. The question becomes…what is the proper remedy for a gross disregard, even if unwillful, of the 90-day turnaround period?

This would have taken thinking outside the box.

Medicare providers have some rights. I discuss those rights frequently on this blog. But the population that the courts inevitably want to insulate from “David and Goliath situations” are the recipients. Unlike the perceived, “big, strong, and well-attorneyed” hospital, recipients often find themselves lacking legal representation to defend their statutorily-given right to choose their provider and exercise their right to access to care.

Had Cape Fear approached the same problem from a different perspective and argued violations of law on behalf of the beneficiaries of Cape Fear’s quality health care services, a different result may have occurred.

Another way Cape Fear could have approached the same problem, could have been a request for the Court to Cape Fear’s funds owed for service rendered to be released pending the litigation.

As always, there is more than one way to skin a cat. I humbly suggest that when you have such an important case to bring…BRING IT ALL!!

Congressman McDermott Calls on Sec. Sebelius to Fix the Medicare Appeal Purgatory

Throughout my career I have seen more people confuse Medicare and Medicaid than any other two items in my line of work.  If I am about to give a presentation on Medicaid, without question, someone will comment, “Oh, that’s important!  We will all be on Medicaid someday.”  Hmmmm? Really? (I hope not).

It’s confusing. I get it.  They sound the same and both are heavily regulated with esoteric rules and regulations.

For the record, MediCARE covers those who qualify for Medicare and are 65 years of age or older.  MediCAID serves low-income parents, children, seniors, and people with disabilities. 

By providers, I am asked frequently, “What is the difference between a Medicaid audit appeal and a Medicare audit appeal?”

The easy “Audit 101” answer  is that Medicaid audit appeals are quicker (although in the legal world, nothing is truly fast) than Medicare audits and that the Medicaid administrative appeal process is easier (or has fewer steps) than the Medicare appeal process.

In Medicaid you have an informal appeal, an appeal to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), and, if you are so inclined, judicial review to the Superior Courts.  Obviously you can appeal the judicial review, but most appeals stop at the OAH level.

So, with Medicaid audit appeals, you have 2 levels…maybe 3.

In Medicare audits appeals, there are 5 levels.  You have more of a Dante-ish order of events.

In the “Divine Comedy,” Dante writes of three levels of afterlife: (1) Inferno (2) Purgatorio; and (3) Paradiso.

If Dante stopped at those 3 levels, the “Divine Comedy” would be more similar to Medicaid audit appeals, not Medicare audit appeals.  But Dante does not stop at 3 levels.

Purgatory, which is the place that the human soul must purge its sins and climb up to be worthy of Heaven, is divided into three sections: (1) Antepurgatory; (2) Purgatory proper; and (3) the Earthly Paradise. (I am giving the Cliff’s Notes version for the purpose of this blog.  Obviously, there were other mountains symbolizing the 7 deadly sins and other layers, but I will leave that for English class).

In recent times, Purgatory has come to mean a state of suffering or torment that is meant to be temporary.

Regardless, the “Divine Comedy” and its multi-layers to achieve Paradiso is more akin to the Medicare appeal audit process.

Here are the levels in a Medicare audit appeal process:

1. Redetermination

2. Reconsideration

(Purgatory)

3. Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)

4. Review by the Appeals Council

5. Judicial Review

Nowadays many providers undergoing Medicare audits are getting stuck waiting for #3 to occur.  Purgatory.

So long is the hold up before step #3 that Congressman Jim McDermott, 7th District, Washington, wrote a letter to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius expressing concerns.

In a letter dated March 18, 2014, Congressman McDermott writes that he is concerned with the backlog of appeals pending in the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA).

According to Congressman McDermott, 357,000 Medicare appeals are pending at OMHA.  If OMHA decided to set a one-year deadline to hear the pending actions and not counting new actions that would be filed, OMHA would have to preside over 1,027.4 hearings a day, including weekends and holidays.

For as long as I know, OMHA has expedited Medicare recipients appeals.  However, while Congressman McDermott commends OMHA for the expeditions, he states that the expeditions are not fast enough, even for Medicare recipients.

Congressman McDermott makes several suggestions as to how to decrease the current workload on OMHA.

First, he asks that the “two midnights policy” not be implemented.  Instead, he suggests to revamp the recovery audit contractor (RAC) program.  Congressman McDermott states that too many issues are still not resolved for the Policy to be implemented and that the implementation will only add to OMHA’s workload.

Second, Congressman McDermott suggests more accountability for the RACs.  He states that there is no associated penalty if a RAC collects money from a provider and the decision is overturned on appeal.

To this suggestion, I say, “Bravo, Congressman McDermott!”  My suggestion is that the RACs to pay the provider’s attorneys’ fees if overturned on appeal.  It seems only fair that the provider not have to pay legal fees if the provider shows that the RAC was incorrect in its assessment.

Thirdly, Congressman McDermott suggests to ensure the newly instated pause  on document requests corrects the problems.  CMS has recognized inherent problems with the RAC program and has issued a pause of document requests.  Well, Congressman McDermott says make sure you fix the problem before lifting the pause.  Logical.

Without question, the backlog at OMHA needs to be addressed.  Some Medicare providers have complained of not having their cases heard for years.  Imagine waiting to be heard in front of a judge for years….not knowing…

It is hard enough for providers to go through a Medicare audit.  Much less appeal and then…………………………………………….wait in Purgatory.

Attention: All Medicaid Providers Whose Services Require Prior Authorization: A Way to Increase Revenue and Help Medicaid Recipients…Or…Killing Two Birds with One Stone

Attention: All Medicaid Providers Whose Services Require Prior Authorization

A Way to Increase Revenue and Help Medicaid Recipients

Have you heard the cliché: “Killing two birds with one stone….?”

The phrase is thought to have originated in the early 1600s when slingshots were primarily used for bird hunting.  (BTW: My husband, who is an expert bird hunter (with guns), I am sure, would be able to hit two birds with one stone…he is that good.  In fact, he may have already shot two birds with one bullet).  Anyway, Thomas Hobbs, an English political philosopher, is generally given credit for coining the phrase in 1656, although Ovid has a similar expression in Latin over 2000 years prior.  Killing two birds with one stone generally means achieving two objectives with one action. (Which, obviously, is a good thing).

For our purposes here, killing two birds with one stone means that by undergoing one action (appealing all Medicaid recipients’ denials, terminations, and reductions for services requiring prior authorization) two positive results are achieved:

1. The Medicaid recipients have their denials, terminations, and reductions appealed (or…people who need services may actually get those necessary services); and

2. Your provider company makes more money.

Not all Medicaid services require prior authorization.  But many do.  Many prescription drugs require prior approval.  Certain services during a pregnancy for a Medicaid pregnant woman require prior authorization. In behavioral health care, almost all services require prior authorizations (although there are some unmanaged visits in outpatient behavioral health (OBT) that do not require prior authorization).  Even though other Medicaid services require prior authorization, this blog and NCGS 108D only applies to behavioral health care (because NCGS 108D applies to MCOs and the MCOs only manage behavioral health care).  You should appeal all other denied, terminated, or reduced Medicaid services that require prior authorization, but the appeal process in this blog pertains to behavioral health care.

Why care about Medicaid recipient appeals?

It is indisputable that people start companies to make money (except 501(c) companies).  You’ve heard all the cliches…”Money makes the world go around…” “The lack of money is the root of all evil…” “Money: power at its most liquid…”

We’ve also heard all the cliches…”Money can’t buy happiness…” “I have no money, no resources, no hope. I am the happiest man alive….” “Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.”

Regardless whether you believe that money is a necessary evil or the key to happiness, it is without question that people need money to get by in life.  Therefore, when people create companies, it is, normally, with the intent to make money.

Medicaid providers are no exception.

True, Medicaid reimbursements are crappy.  But, despite the crappy/low Medicaid reimbursements, Medicaid providers still hope to make some profit…and do good. (2 birds…1 stone).

We all want to make money and help Medicaid recipients, right? (I know I do).

So with my “handy dandy” tips in this blog, you, too, can kill two birds with stone. You can do both: make more money and help Medicaid recipients.

Wait, I thought providers could not appeal on behalf of our clients? I have heard this incorrect statement over and over from multiple clients.  It simply is not true.

NCGS 108D(4)(b) states that “[e]nrollees, or network providers authorized in writing to act on behalf of enrollees, may file requests for grievances and LME/MCO level appeals orally or in writing. However, unless the enrollee or network provider requests an expedited appeal, the oral filing must be followed by a written, signed grievance or appeal.” (emphasis added).

You just need the Medicaid recipient’s consent in writing.

Increased Profit AND Providing Medicaid Services to Recipients: Two Birds…One Stone!

First, how would appealing all terminations, denials and reductions for Medicaid services increase profit for you, as a provider?

For terminations and reductions (not initial authorizations), if you appeal, the Medicaid recipients are required to receive maintenance of service (MOS).  This means that, at the very least (even if you lose), if you appeal, you are able to provide services and be reimbursed for services during the appeal process. 

For example, you have a developmentally disabled (DD) Medicaid client, who has received 8 hours/day personal care services (PCS) for the last 4 years.  You submit your yearly plan of care (POC) requesting 8 hours PCS/day per norm.  The managed care organization (MCO) reduces your client’s PCS to 6 hours/day.  If you timely appeal the reduction or termination, the MCO will be required to reimburse for 8 hours PCS/day throughout the appeal process.

NCGS 108D-6(c) states: “Continuation of Benefits. – An LME/MCO shall continue the enrollee’s benefits during the pendency of a LME/MCO level appeal to the same extent required under 42 C.F.R. § 438.420.”

42 C.F.R. 438.420 states that:

“Continuation of benefits. The MCO or PIHP must continue the enrollee’s benefits if—

(1) The enrollee or the provider files the appeal timely;
(2) The appeal involves the termination, suspension, or reduction of a previously authorized course of treatment;
(3) The services were ordered by an authorized provider;
(4) The original period covered by the original authorization has not expired; and
(5) The enrollee requests extension of benefits.

Pay particular attention to subsection (5)…the enrollee must request MOS.  Don’t forget to add that little phrase into the form that you have the enrollee sign to consent to appeal.

MOS allows you to be paid during the appeal AND the Medicaid recipient to receive the medically necessary services during the pendency of the appeal.

Two birds…one stone.

For terminations and reductions, there is no need to ask for an expedited hearing (will discuss momentarily), because with MOS, there is no hurry (the recipient is receiving the needed services and you are getting paid).

So, let’s turn to an initial denial for a Medicaid service that requires prior authorization and the appeal process:

If the MCO denies an initial authorization, the Medicaid recipient is not entitled to MOS.  However, appealing these initial denials are just as important to (a) the recipients; and (b) your profit as appealing the terminations and denials.

But an appeal can takes months and the recipient (assuming medical necessity truly exists) needs the behavioral health care services in order to not decompensate. So how can the appeal help?

Answer: Request an expedited appeal.

NCGS 108D-7 states:

“When the time limits for completing a standard appeal could seriously jeopardize the enrollee’s life or health or ability to attain, maintain, or regain maximum function, an enrollee, or a network provider authorized in writing to act on behalf of an enrollee, has the right to file a request for an expedited appeal of a managed care action no later than 30 days after the mailing date of the notice of managed care action. For expedited appeal requests made by enrollees, the LME/MCO shall determine if the enrollee qualifies for an expedited appeal. For expedited appeal requests made by network providers on behalf of enrollees, the LME/MCO shall presume an expedited appeal is necessary.”

Important: You still have 30 days to appeal.

Even more important: The MCO is required, by statute, to PRESUME an expedited appeal is necessary.

True the General Assembly really gave mentally ill, developmentally disabled, and substance abuse population the shaft when they passed, and McCrory signed, Senate Bill 553, now Session Law 2013-397, by placing the legal burden of proof on the Medicaid recipient in all circumstances (really??), but the small ray of hope is that, at least as it pertains to expedited appeals, the MCO must presume that an expedited appeal is necessary for the well-being of the recipient.

Going back to expedited appeals, the MCO must make “reasonable efforts” (yes, there is too much wiggle room there) to notify the Medicaid recipient/provider of a denial of an expedited appeal within 2 days.  I also believe that is in the best interest of an MCO to authorize expedited appeals, because….could you imagine the implications and legal liability on the MCO if the MCO denies an appeal to be expedited and something horrible happens to the Medicaid recipient as a direct result of the MCO’s refusal to expedite the appeal????  Or, even worse, the recipient harms others as a  result of the appeal not being expedited??? WHOOO HOOOO….talk about bad PR!!!

So, two days to determine whether the MCO will accept the request for an expedited appeal.  How long for a decision?

According to NCGS 108D-7(d), “[i]f the LME/MCO grants a request for an expedited LME/MCO level appeal, the LME/MCO shall resolve the appeal as expeditiously as the enrollee’s health condition requires, and no later than three working days after receiving the request for an expedited appeal. The LME/MCO shall provide the enrollee and all other affected parties with a written notice of resolution by United States mail within this three-day period.”  (emphasis added).

So, basically, if the MCO takes 2 days to decide to accept the expedited appeal, then there is only 1 additional day to determine the results of the appeal.  That is fast…I don’t care who you are!!

If the MCO denies the expedited appeal, then the MCO has 45 days to provide a decision.

Very Important:  Any adverse decision from an MCO is appealable to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).

Ok, recap:  You, as a provider, want to appeal all Medicaid recipient denials, terminations, and reductions for the following two reasons:

1. Increase profitability for your company; and

2. Help the Medicaid recipients by appealing denials, terminations or reductions, and, hopefully, obtaining the medically necessary services for your clients.

Win…win.

2 birds…1 stone.