Category Archives: Extrapolations

RAC Audits Expected During the COVID Pandemic

Even though the public health emergency (“PHE”) for the COVID pandemic is scheduled to expire July 24, 2020, all evidence indicates that the PHE will be renewed. I cannot imagine a scenario in which the PHE is not extended, especially with the sudden uptick of COVID.

Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has given guidance that the voluminous number of exceptions that CMS has granted during this period of the PHE may be extended to Dec. 1, 2020. However, there is no indication of the RAC, and MAC audits being suspended until December 2020. In fact, we expect the audits to begin again any day. There will be confusion when audits resume and COVID exceptions are revoked on a rolling basis.

Remember the emergency-room physician whom I spoke about on the June 29 on Monitor Mondays? The physician whose Medicare enrollment was revoked due to a computer error or an error on the part of CMS. What normally would have been an easy fix, because of COVID, became more difficult. Because of COVID, he was unable to work for three months. He is back up and running now. The point is that COVID really messed up so many aspects of our lives.

The extension of PHE, technically, has no bearing on RAC and MAC audits coming back. Word on the street is that RAC and MAC audits are returning August 2020.

This month, July 2020, CMS released, “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Provider Burden Relief Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).” (herein afterward referred as “CMS July 2020 FAQs”).

The question was posed to CMS: “Is CMS suspending most Medicare-Fee-for-Service (FFS) medical review during the PHE for the COVID-19 pandemic? The answer is, according to CMS, “As states reopen, and given the importance of medical review activities to CMS’ program integrity efforts, CMS expects to discontinue exercising enforcement discretion beginning on Aug. 3, 2020, regardless of the status of the public health emergency. If selected for review, providers should discuss with their contractor any COVID-19-related hardships they are experiencing that could affect audit response timeliness. CMS notes that all reviews will be conducted in accordance with statutory and regulatory provisions, as well as related billing and coding requirements. Waivers and flexibilities in place at the time of the dates of service of any claims potentially selected for review will also be applied.” See CMS July 2020 FAQs.

Monday, July 13, 2020, we began our fourth “COVID-virtual trial.” The Judges with whom I have had interaction have taken a hard stance to not “force” someone to appear in person. It appears, at least to me, that virtual trials are the wave of the future. This is the guidance that conveys to me that RAC and MAC audits will begin again in August. Virtual audits may even be the best thing that ever happened to RAC and MAC audits. Maybe now the auditors will actually read the documents that the provider gives them.

Another specific issue addressed in the CMS’ July 2020 FAQs is that given the nature of the pandemic and the inability to collect signatures during this time, CMS will not be enforcing the signature requirement. Typically, Part B drugs and certain Durable Medical Equipment (DME) covered by Medicare require proof of delivery and/or a beneficiary’s signature. Suppliers should document in the medical record the appropriate date of delivery and that a signature was not able to be obtained because of COVID-19. This exception may or may not extend until Dec. 31, 2020.

The upshot is that no one really knows how the next few months will unfold in the healthcare industry. Some hospitals and healthcare systems are going under due to COVID. Big and small hospital systems are in financial despair. A RAC or MAC audit hitting in the wake of the COVID pandemic could cripple most providers. I will reiterate my recommendation: In the re-arranged words of Roosevelt, “Speak loudly, and carry a big stick.”

Programming Note: Knicole Emanuel is a permanent panelist on Monitor Mondays. Listen to her live reporting every Monday at 10 a.m. EST.

New Mexico Settlement…Six Years Later!

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For the full press release.

This New Mexico settlement…What a long strange trip it’s been!

The litigation started in 2013 (six years ago). I was a partner at another Raleigh, NC law firm. Out of the blue, a woman called me from New Mexico and asked whether I would be willing to fly to New Mexico to testify before the General Assembly regarding Public Consulting Group (PCG) and the company’s extrapolation and audit history.

See blog, blog, and blog.

I did. I testified before the NM General Assembly’s subcommittee for behavioral health care. Sitting next to me was a gentleman from PCG. He happened to be the team leader (not sure what his exact title was) for PCG’s audits in NM and NC. In his defense, he graciously sat there and testified against me while I told some horror stories of PCG audits. See blog.

I met the 15 behavioral health care providers’ CEOs who were accused of credible allegations of fraud. Their stories were so emotional and heart-tugging. These people had dedicated their lives and careers to New Mexico’s most needy population – those on Medicaid and suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and/or developmental disabilities – not for money, but because they cared. Then June 24, 2013, the State of New Mexico accused them all of credible allegations of fraud. NM’s proof? A PCG audit that found no credible allegations of fraud. But Human Services Department (HSD) instructed PCG to remove “no credible allegations of fraud,” and HSD referred the audits to the Attorney General (AG) claiming that credible allegations of fraud existed. Sound like a movie? It could be; it is a conspiracy theory story along the lines of Area 51. Is it a coincidence that Area 51 and the NM behavioral health care debacle both occurred in NM?

I’d like to get some sleep before I travel
But if you got a warrant, I guess you’re gonna come in.” – Grateful Dead

A timeline of the events, starting in 2013, has been memorialized by multiple news organizations. See Timeline.

“June 24 — An audit paid for by the New Mexico Human Services Department and conducted by Public Consulting Group (PCG) finds that nearly $33.8 million in Medicaid overpayments were made to 15 behavioral health providers in the state.

June 24 — New Mexico Human Services Department notifies the 15 behavioral health providers that there is a “credible allegation of fraud for which an investigation is pending,” and immediately suspends all Medicaid payments.

June 25 — Officials with the New Mexico Human Services Department send initial contracts to five Arizona companies: Agave Health Inc.Valle Del SolLa Frontera Inc.Southwest Network Inc., and Turqouise Health and Wellness, Inc., to temporarily take over New Mexico behavioral health organizations for a combined price tag of $17.85 million. It’s estimated the move will impact about 30,000 patients. From a July 18 email: “I am following up on the proposed contract between HSD and Open Skies Healthcare (affiliated with Southwest Network, located in Phoenix). On July 3, 2013, I responded to Larry’s [Heyeck, Deputy General Counsel for HSD] June 25 email concerning the contract…”

July 17 – Eight agencies go to U.S. District Court to restore funding.

July 25 – A memo generated by one of the 15 affected providers, TeamBuilders, indicates it will stop taking new clients.

July 25 – A state district judge turns the PCG audit over to New Mexico State Auditor Hector Balderas, and orders the audit protected from public disclosure.

Aug. 21 – In a 15-1 vote New Mexico’s Legislative Finance Committee objects to the Human Services Department moving $10 million from it’s budget to pay Arizona agencies to take over New Mexico providers due to concerns over secrecy surrounding the process.

Aug. 27 – New Mexico In Depth and the Las Cruces Sun-Newsfile a lawsuit demanding the public release of the PCG audit.

Aug. 28 – Federal officials hold conference call to hear about widespread disruptions to clients of behavioral health providers in transition.

Aug. 29 – An Inspection of Public Records Act request filed by KUNM reveals contract communications between New Mexico Human Services Department officials and Arizona providers as early as May 29, a full month before the audit was released by Public Consulting Group.

Sept. 3 – Public Consulting Group representative Thomas Aldridge tells the New Mexico Legislative Behavioral Health Subcommittee that he helped state officials vet at least one Arizona firm before it even began its audit of agencies in the state.

Sept. 3 — Lawyer Knicole Emanuel testifies to ongoing problems with PCG audits conducted in North Carolina as well as lawsuits triggered by PCG activities. “In some of the PCG audits that I have encountered, PCG has said the Medicaid provider owes $700,000, $800,000, $1.5 million, these exorbitant amounts, and at the end of the day when they look at all the documents, it goes down to like $200 or $300.”

Sept. 10 – The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that political ads defending Gov. Susana Martinez have begun rolling out, framing the behavioral health takeover as a crackdown on Medicaid fraud.”

I litigated 4 administrative appeals. Even after the NM AG came out and stated that there was no fraud, HSD accused the providers of owing alleged overpayments, some upwards of $12 million. These amounts were extrapolated.

In the very first administrative appeal, for The Counseling Center, the extrapolation expert was one of HSD’s attorneys. Upon questions regarding his extrapolation and statistical experience and the foundation for his expertise, he testified that took a class on statistics in college. I guess I could be a bowling expert.

PCG only testified in the first two administrative appeals. I guess after PCG testified that they were never given the opportunity to finish their audit due to HSD and that PCG found no fraud, but HSD removed that language from the report, HSD smartened up and stopped calling PCG as a witness. PCG certainly was not bolstering HSD’s position.

For three of the administrative appeals, we had the same administrative law judge (ALJ), who appeared to have some experience as an ALJ. For one of the appeals, we had a younger gentleman as the ALJ, who, according to LINKEDIN, was a professional photographer.

About 5 years after the accusations of fraud, the AG came out and exonerated all the providers. Apparently, there never was any fraud. Only accusations. These exonerations, however, did not stop the allegations of overpayments to HSD. The exonerations also did not stop these companies from going out of business, being tried as fraudsters in the eyes of the public, losing their companies, firing staff, closing their doors, and losing everything.

This was all done under the administration of Susana Martinez – not saying that politics played a huge role in the act of overthrowing these providers.

The providers all appealed their alleged overpayments and filed a lawsuit against HSD and the State for damages suffered from the original allegation of fraud that was found to be meritless.

After an election and a new administration took control, the State of New Mexico settled with the providers, as you can see from the above press release.

FYI building in Las Cruces, NM.

During the long journey over the past 6 years, one of the CEOs, Jose Frietz, passed away. He had started his company Families & Youth, Inc. in 1977. A month before he died on March 2, 2016, the AG exonerated FYI.

In 2013, Larry Heyeck was one of the attorneys for HSD. Multiple times during the witch hunt for Medicaid fraud, it appeared that Heyeck had some sort of personal vendetta against the 15 providers. According to one article, “Heyeck singled out Roque Garcia, former acting CEO of Southwest Counseling Services (Las Cruces), who was a recipient of the payments and asked legislators, “What does this mean? How can this money be accounted for to ensure that it isn’t used for private benefit?” Heyeck then asserted that Garcia had abused agency travel funds largely paid for by Medicaid through lavish travel to resort destinations in a private aircraft.”

Garcia wasn’t the only provider accused of misappropriating Medicaid funds. Shannon Freedle and his wife Lorraine were ostracized for having their abode in Hawaii.

Larry Heyeck, had an article published in the December 2012’s American Bar Association’s “The Health Lawyer” discussing the effect of 42 CFR 455.23 on Medicaid fraud and suspensions of Medicaid reimbursements. It was entitled, “Medicaid Payment Holds Due to Credible Allegations of Fraud.” Seem apropos?

By 2016, all 15 providers were cleared of allegations of fraud, but most were out of business.

Now – December 4, 2019 – a press release is disseminated to show that the last of the providers settled with the State of New Mexico. What the press release fails to express is the struggle, the financial and non-financial damages, the emotional turmoil, and the devastation these companies have endured over the past 6 years. No amount of money could ever right their catastrophic, past 6-years or the complete demise of their companies based on erroneous allegations of fraud.

Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me; Other times, I can barely see; Lately, it occurs to me; What a long, strange trip it’s been.” – Grateful Dead

CMS Revises and Details Extrapolation Rules

Effective Jan. 2, 2019, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) radically changed its guidance on the use of extrapolation in audits by Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs), Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs), Unified Program Integrity Contractors (UPICs), and the Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SMRC).

Extrapolation is a veritable tsunami in Medicare/Medicaid audits. The auditor collects a small sample of claims to review for compliance, then determines the “error rate” of the sample. For example, if 500 claims are reviewed and one is found to be noncompliant for a total of $100, then the error rate is set at 20 percent. That error rate is applied to the universe, which is generally a three-year time period. It is assumed that the random sample is indicative of all your billings, regardless of whether you changed your billing system during that time period or maybe hired a different biller. In order to extrapolate an error rate, contractors must use a “statistically valid random sample” and then apply that error rate on a broader universe of claims, using “statistically valid methods.”

With extrapolated results, auditors allege millions of dollars of overpayments against healthcare providers – sometimes a sum of more than the provider even made during the relevant time period. It is an overwhelming impact that can put a provider and its company out of business.

Prior to this recent change to extrapolation procedure, the Program Integrity Manual (PIM) offered little guidance regarding the proper method for extrapolation.

Prior to 2019, CMS offered broad strokes with few details. Its guidance was limited to generally identifying the steps contractors should take: “a) selecting the provider or supplier; b) selecting the period to be reviewed; c) defining the universe, the sampling unit, and the sampling frame; d) designing the sampling plan and selecting the sample; e) reviewing each of the sampling units and determining if there was an overpayment or an underpayment; and, as applicable, f) estimating the overpayment.”

Well, Change Request 10067 overhauled extrapolation in a huge way.

The first modification to the extrapolation rules is that the PIM now dictates when extrapolation should be used.

Under the new guidance, a contractor “shall use statistical sampling when it has been determined that a sustained or high level of payment error exists. The use of statistical sampling may be used after a documented educational intervention has failed to correct the payment error.” This guidance now creates a three-tier structure:

  1. Extrapolation shall be used when a sustained or high level of payment error exists.
  2. Extrapolation may be used after documented educational intervention (such as in the Targeted Probe-and-Educate (TPE) program).
  3. It follows that extrapolation should not be used if there is not a sustained or high level of payment error or evidence that documented educational intervention has failed.

“High level of payment error” is defined as 50 percent or greater. The PIM also states that the contractor may review the provider’s past noncompliance for the same or similar billing issues or a historical pattern of noncompliant billing practice. This is critical because so many times providers simply pay the alleged overpayment amount if the amount is low or moderate in order to avoid costly litigation. Now, those past times that you simply paid the alleged amounts will be held against you.

Another monumental modification to RAC audits is that the RAC auditor now must receive authorization from CMS to go forward in recovering from the provider if the alleged overpayment exceeds $500,000 or is an amount that is greater than 25 percent of the provider’s Medicare revenue received within the previous 12 months.

The identification of the claims universe was also redefined. Even CMS admitted in the change request that, on occasion, “the universe may include items that are not utilized in the construction of the sample frame. This can happen for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to: a) some claims/claim lines are discovered to have been subject to a prior review; b) the definitions of the sample unit necessitate eliminating some claims/claim lines; or c) some claims/claim lines are attributed to sample units for which there was no payment.”

How many of you have been involved in an alleged overpayment in which the auditor misplaced or lost documents? I know I have. The new rule also states that the auditors must be able to recreate the sample and maintain all documentation pertinent to the calculation of an alleged overpayment.

High-volume providers should face a lower risk of extrapolation if their audited error rate is less than 50 percent and they do not have a history of noncompliance for the same or similar billing issues, or a historical pattern of noncompliant billing practice.

RAC Audits: Alternatives to Litigation

Understanding why there’s a need for auditing the auditors.

I frequently encounter complaints by healthcare providers that when they are undergoing Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC), Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC), and, more recently, the Targeted Probe-and-Educate (TPE) audits, the auditors are getting it wrong. That’s as in, during a RAC audit, the auditor finds claims noncompliant, for example, for not having medical necessity – but the provider knows unequivocally that the determination is dead wrong. So the question that I get from the providers is whether they have any legal recourse against the RAC or MAC finding noncompliance, besides going through the tedious administrative action, which we all know can take upwards of 5-7 years before reaching the third administrative level.

To which, now, upon a recent discovery in one of my cases, I would have responded that the only other option for relief would be obtaining a preliminary injunction in federal court. To prove a preliminary injunction in federal court, you must prove: a) a likelihood of success on the merits; and b) that irreparable harm would be incurred without the injunction; i.e., that your company would be financially devastated, or even threatened with extinction.

The conundrum of being on the brink of financial ruin is that you cannot afford a legal defense if you are about to lose everything.

This past month, I had a completely different legal strategy, with a different result. I am not saying that this result would be reached by all healthcare providers that disagree with the results of their RAC or MAC or TPE audit, but I now believe that in certain extreme circumstances, this alternative route could work, as it did in my case.

When this particular client hired me, I quickly realized that the impact of the MAC’s decision to rescind the client’s Medicare contract was going to do more than the average catastrophic outcomes resulting from a rescission of a Medicare contract. First, this provider was the only provider in the area with the ability to perform certain surgeries. Secondly, his practice consisted of 90 percent of Medicare. An immediate suspension of Medicare would have been devastating to his practice. Thirdly, the consequence of these Medicaid patients not undergoing this particular and highly specialized surgery was dire. This trifecta sparked a situation in which, I believed, that even a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) employee (who probably truly believed that the negative findings cited by the RAC or MAC were accurate) may be swayed by the exigent circumstances.

I contacted opposing counsel, who was the attorney for CMS. Prior to this situation, I had automatically assumed that non-litigious strategies would never work. Opposing counsel listened to the facts. She asked that I draft a detailed explanation as to the circumstances. Now, concurrently, I also drafted this provider’s Medicare appeal, because we did not want to lose the right to appeal. The letter was definitely detailed and took a lot of time to create.

In the end, CMS surprised me and we got the Medicare contract termination overturned within months, not years, and without expensive litigation.

(Originally published on RACMonitor)

CMS Revises and Details Extrapolation Rules: Part II

Biggest RACs Changes Are Here: Learn to Avoid Denied Claims

See Part I: Medicare Audits: Huge Overhaul on Extrapolation Rules

Part II continues to explain the nuances in the changes made by CMS to its statistical sampling methodology. Originally published on RACMonitor.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently made significant changes in its statistical sampling methodology for overpayment estimation. Effective Jan. 2, 2019, CMS radically changed its guidance on the use of extrapolation in audits by Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs), Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs), Unified Program Integrity Contractors (UPICs), and the Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SMRC).

The RAC program was created through the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) to identify and recover improper Medicare payments paid to healthcare providers under fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare plans. The RAC auditors review a small sample of claims, usually 150, and determine an error rate. That error rate is attributed to the universe, which is normally three years, and extrapolated to that universe. Extrapolation is similar to political polls – in that a Gallup poll will ask the opinions of 1-2 percent of the U.S. population, yet will extrapolate those opinions to the entire country.

First, I would like to address a listener’s question regarding the dollar amount’s factor in extrapolation cases. I recently wrote, “for example, if 500 claims are reviewed and one is found to be noncompliant for a total of $100, then the error rate is set at 20 percent.”

I need to explain that the math here is not “straight math.” The dollar amount of the alleged noncompliant claims factors into the extrapolation amount. If the dollar amount did not factor into the extrapolation, then a review of 500 claims with one non-compliant claim is 0.2 percent. The fact that, in my hypothetical, the one claim’s dollar amount equals $100 changes the error rate from 0.2 percent to 20 percent.

Secondly, the new rule includes provisions implementing the additional Medicare Advantage telehealth benefit added by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. Prior to the new rule, audits were limited in the telehealth services they could include in their basic benefit packages because they could only cover the telehealth services available under the FFS Medicare program. Under the new rule, telehealth becomes more prominent in basic services. Telehealth is now able to be included in the basic benefit packages for any Part B benefit that the plan identifies as “clinically appropriate,” to be furnished electronically by a remote physician or practitioner.

The pre-Jan. 2, 2019 approach to extrapolation employed by RACs was inconsistent, and often statistically invalid. This often resulted in drastically overstated overpayment findings that could bankrupt a physician practice. The method of extrapolation is often a major issue in appeals, and the, new rules address many providers’ frustrations and complaints about the extrapolation process. This is not to say that the post-Jan. 2, 2019 extrapolation approach is perfect…far from it. But the more detailed guidance by CMS just provides more ways to defend against an extrapolation if the RAC auditor veers from instruction.

Thirdly, hiring an expert is a key component in debunking an extrapolation. Your attorney should have a relationship with a statistical expert. Keep in mind the following factors when choosing an expert:

  • Price (more expensive is not always better, but expect the hourly rate to increase for trial testimony).
  • Intelligence (his/her CV should tout a prestigious educational background).
  • Report (even though he/she drafts a report, the report is not a substitute for testimony).
  • Clusters (watch out for a sample that has a significant number of higher reimbursed claims. For example, if you generally use three CPT codes at an equal rate and the sample has an abnormal amount of the higher reimbursed claim, then you have an argument that the sample is an invalid example of your claims.
  • Sample (the sample must be random and must not contain claims not paid by Medicaid).
  • Oral skills (can he/she make statistics understandable to the average person?)

Fourthly, the new revised rule redefines the universe. In the past, suppliers have argued that some of the claims (or claim lines) included in the universe were improperly used for purposes of extrapolation. However, the pre-Jan. 2, 2019 Medicare Manual provided little to no additional guidance regarding the inclusion or exclusion of claims when conducting the statistical analysis. By contrast, the revised Medicare Manual specifically states:

“The universe includes all claim lines that meet the selection criteria. The sampling frame is the listing of sample units, derived from the universe, from which the sample is selected. However, in some cases, the universe may include items that are not utilized in the construction of the sample frame. This can happen for a number of reasons, including but not limited to:

  • Some claims/claim lines are discovered to have been subject to a prior review;
  • The definitions of the sample unit necessitate eliminating some claims/claim lines; or
  • Some claims/claim lines are attributed to sample units for which there was no payment.”

By providing detailed criteria with which contractors should exclude certain claims from the universe or sample frame, the revised Medicare Manual will also provide suppliers another means to argue against the validity of the extrapolation.

Lastly, the revised rules explicitly instruct the auditors to retain an expert statistician when changes occur due to appeals and legal arguments.

As a challenge to an extrapolated overpayment determination works its way through the administrative appeals process, often, a certain number of claims may be reversed from the initial claim determination. When this happens, the statistical extrapolation must be revised, and the extrapolated overpayment amount must be adjusted. This requirement remains unchanged in the revised PIM; however, the Medicare contractors will now be required to consult with a statistical expert in reviewing the methodology and adjusting the extrapolated overpayment amount.

Between my first article on extrapolation, “CMS Revises and Details Extrapolation Rules,” and this follow-up, you should have a decent understanding of the revised extrapolation rules that became effective Jan. 2, 2019. But my two articles are not exhaustive. Please, click here for Change Request 10067 for the full and comprehensive revisions.

Medicare Audits: Huge Overhaul on Extrapolation Rules

Effective January 2, 2019, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) radically changed its guidance on the use of extrapolation in audits by recovery audit contractors (RACs), Medicare administrative contractors (MACs), Unified Program Integrity Contractors (UPICs), and the Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SMRC).

Extrapolation is the tsunami in Medicare/caid audits. The auditor collects a small sample of claims to review for compliance. She then determines the “error rate” of the sample. For example, if 50 claims are reviewed and 10 are found to be noncompliant, then the error rate is set at 20%. That error rate is applied to the universe, which is generally a three-year time period. It is assumed that the random sample is indicative of all your billings regardless of whether you changed your billing system during that time period of the universe or maybe hired a different biller.

With extrapolated results, auditors allege millions of dollars of overpayments against health care providers…sometimes more than the provider even made during that time period. It is an overwhelming wave that many times drowns the provider and the company.

Prior to this recent change to extrapolation procedure, the Program Integrity Manual (PIM) offered little guidance to the proper method for extrapolation.

Well, Change Request 10067 – overhauled extrapolation in a HUGE way.

The first modification to the extrapolation rules is that the PIM now dictates when extrapolation should be used.

Determining When a Statistical Sampling May Be Used. Under the new guidance, a contractor “shall use statistical sampling when it has been determined that a sustained or high level of payment error exists. The use of statistical sampling may be used after documented educational intervention has failed to correct the payment error.” This guidance now creates a three-tier structure:

  1. Extrapolation shall be used when a sustained or high level of payment error exists.
  2. Extrapolation may be used after documented educational intervention (such as in the Targeted Probe and Educate (TPE) program).
  3. It follows that extrapolation should not be used if there is not a sustained or high level of payment error or evidence that documented educational intervention has failed.

“High level of payment error” is defined as 50% or greater. The PIM also states that the contractor may review the provider’s past noncompliance for the same or similar billing issues, or a historical pattern of noncompliant billing practice. This is HUGE because so many times providers simply pay the alleged overpayment amount if the amount is low or moderate in order to avoid costly litigation. Now those past times that you simply pay the alleged amounts will be held against you.

Another monumental modification to RAC audits is that the RAC auditor must receive authorization from CMS to go forward in recovering from the provider if the alleged overpayment exceeds $500,000 or is an amount that is greater than 25% of the provider’s Medicare revenue received within the previous 12 months.

The identification of the claims universe was also re-defined. Even CMS admitted in the change request that, on occasion, “the universe may include items that are not utilized in the construction of the sample frame. This can happen for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to: (1) Some claims/claim lines are discovered to have been subject to a prior review, (2) The definitions of the sample unit necessitate eliminating some claims/claim lines, or (3) Some claims/claim lines are attributed to sample units for which there was no payment.”

There are many more changes to discuss, but I have been asked to appear on RACMonitor to present the details on February 19, 2019. So sign up to listen!!!

Exclusive: Medicaid: The State of the Union

Here is an article that I wrote as a Medicaid news update, state-by-state, as seen on RACMonitor.

The latest and greatest in Medicaid news, state by state.

While Medicare is a nationwide healthcare insurance program, Medicaid, the government-funded health insurance for the poor and developmentally disabled, is state-specific, generally speaking. The backbone of Medicaid is federal; federal regulations set forth the minimum requirements that states must follow. It is up to the states to decide whether to mandate more stringent or more regulatory oversight than is required by the federal regulations.

Why is it important for you to know the latest up-to-date information on Medicaid issues? First, if you accept Medicaid, you need to know. Secondly, if you are thinking about expanding into different states, you need to be aware of how Medicaid is handled there.

What is happening in your State?

Alabama: Alabama did not expand Medicaid. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) recommended that Alabama improve its Medicaid security program, aligning it with federal requirements. The OIG also stated that Alabama also needs to provide adequate oversight to its contractors and address other vulnerabilities OIG found in its audit. Expect more audits here. In particular, the Medicaid Maternity Program is under the microscope. Apparently, healthcare providers that provide medically necessary services to women on the Maternity Program have been duped before, as some of the women enrolled had already given birth. Recoupment!
Alaska: Alaska expanded Medicaid in 2015. Currently, lawmakers in the legislature here have introduced bills that would require the state to seek 20-hour work requirements for those enrolled in Medicaid.
Arizona: Arizona expanded Medicaid, but with an approved section 1115 waiver. Arizona has failed to collect up to $36.7 million in rebates from prescription drug manufacturers since 2010 and may need to pay the federal government a portion of that amount, according to a new federal audit, which means more audits to reconcile the payback. Arizona State Rep. Kelli Butler wants to allow uninsured individuals to buy into the state’s Medicaid program. Butler is expected to introduce legislation to authorize a buy-in or direct state officials to study the proposal. The buy-in option would require consumers to pay the full cost of their insurance coverage.
Arkansas: Arkansas expanded Medicaid, but with an approved section 1115 waiver. On March 5, 2018, it became the third state to win the Trump administration’s permission to compel Medicaid recipients to work or prepare for a job. The state’s program integrity is focusing its upcoming audits on home health, long-term care facilities, and inpatient hospital stays.
California: California expanded Medicaid. The state’s Medicaid agency has posted draft language of a new state plan amendment (SPA) that would make major changes to Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) and Rural Health Clinic (RHC) reimbursement. If approved, the SPA would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018, so expect audits and recoupments. The proposed SPA would implement multiple new requirements for FQHC and RHCS. For example, the proposed productivity standard requires physicians to document 3,200 visits per year and applicable allied health professionals such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners to document 2,600 visits per year. In January 2018, Aetna received approval to participate in California’s Medicaid program as “Aetna Better Health of California.”
Colorado: Colorado expanded Medicaid. Not unexpectedly, the state has one of the more lenient regulatory environments. For example, Colorado’s permissive approach to regulating more than 700 licensed residential and outpatient drug treatment centers got the attention of a congressional subcommittee investigating the drug rehab industry last year. Also, Colorado’s governor announced that he is not opposed to work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries.
Connecticut: Connecticut expanded Medicaid. The Connecticut Health Policy Project data shows that net pharmacy spending minus rebates from Connecticut’s Medicaid program tripled from 2000 to 2017. After rebates, Medicaid’s pharmacy costs decreased from $542 million in 2015 to $465 million in 2017, a drop of over 14 percent. Interestingly, on March 21, 2018, the state’s General Assembly increased Connecticut’s 8,500 home care workers’ wages, and adding worker’s compensation, even those workers are being compensated by Medicaid. The increased wage will rise to $16.25 per hour by 2020 and will cost the state, after federal Medicaid reimbursement, $725,790 in 2018, almost $7 million in 2019, and over $9.3 million in 2020. If you have a home health agency here, you better make sure that lawmakers are smart enough to increase the reimbursement rates; otherwise, a lot of home health agencies will go out of business.
Delaware: Delaware expanded Medicaid, but since it is so small in size and population, the expansion only added approximately 10,000 Medicaid recipients. This year, after two years of increasing Medicaid spending by approximately $70 million, Delaware’s Medicaid costs are expected to decrease a small amount, even with the expansion. Beginning this year, Delaware gives additional weight to value-based care when determining payment. Rather than paying solely for volume of care – hospital stays, tests and procedures, regardless of outcomes – the state will pay for achieving optimal health for its Medicaid recipients.
Florida: Florida did not expand Medicaid. Lawmakers are considering opioid prescription limits for Medicaid recipients. The proposals would limit prescriptions for opioids to three-day supplies, but also allow for up to seven-day supplies if physicians deem it medically necessary. If passed, I question whether lawsuits will be filed claiming that such a move violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, because it violates parity between Medicaid recipients and the private-pay insured. And what about the people suffering with chronic, long-term pain? (especially considering the state’s demographics). In other news, Gov. Rick Scott has proposed to transition the state’s Children’s Medical Services program to a private managed care organization, beginning in 2019.
Georgia: Georgia did not expand Medicaid. Recently, the Georgia Department of Community Health mistakenly issued multiple Medicaid ID numbers to hundreds of patients. Those mistakes led the state and federal governments to make duplicate payments for care of some Medicaid patients. Now, Georgia is being asked to refund the federal government’s share of the duplicate payments — more than $665,000. Expect more audits to fund the repayment.
Hawaii: Hawaii expanded Medicaid. But the state is cracking down on its providers. In an effort to improve fraud prevention, Hawaii is performing more comprehensive screening, credentialing, and enrollment for all Medicaid providers. Those of you who are already credentialed here, expect tougher standards for re-credentialing.
Idaho: Idaho did not expand Medicaid, but it did expand dental coverage. On March 12, 2018, the state’s Senate passed a bill that restores Medicaid non-emergency dental coverage. The coverage was cut in 2011 during the recession. The bill, HB 465, already passed the House and now moves to Gov. Butch Otter. It is expected to cost $38 a year per patient.
Illinois: Illinois expanded Medicaid. On Jan. 12, 2018, five nursing home operators filed a federal lawsuit against the state, arguing that low Medicaid payment rates and the claims backlog are jeopardizing patient care. The lawsuit was filed by Generations Health Care Network, Carlyle Healthcare Center, St. Vincent’s Home, Clinton Manor Living Center, and Extended Care Clinical, which operate 100 skilled nursing facilities throughout the state. Because of Section 30(A) of the Social Security Act (SSA), which mandates that reimbursement rates allow for quality of care, why aren’t more health care providers filing lawsuits to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates?
Indiana: Indiana expanded Medicaid, but with an approved section 1115 waiver, which includes work requirements and adds premium penalties for tobacco users. The state also plans to use an enrollment block on members who fail to meet work requirements. Indiana focuses its audits on outliers: in other words, a provider that provides significantly more services than like-specialties.
Iowa: Iowa expanded Medicaid, but with an approved section 1115 waiver. The state’s Department of Human Services announced on March 12, 2018 that Iowa is in the process of searching for additional managed care organizations for the current program. So if you have the capacity to act as an Managed Care Organization (MCO), throw your name in the ring. Because of pressure from the federal government, Iowa has implemented more prepayment reviews. Specifically, auditors are reviewing hospital discharge records for any sign of noncompliance.
Kansas: Kansas did not expand Medicaid. On Feb. 15, 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal class-action lawsuit arguing that the state’s Medicaid program is improperly denying Hepatitis C medication to members until they are severely ill. The suit names Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) Secretary Jeff Andersen and KDHE Division of Health Care Finance Director Jon Hamdorf. Medicaid managed care plans in the state either require “severe liver damage” before covering the drugs or allow some coverage before that point. If you have a Kansas Medicaid contract, on Feb. 18, 2018, Maximus instituted a compliance plan and announced that it is committed to reaching a June 1 deadline to deal with state concerns over the company’s processing of Medicaid applications. Maximus is required to reach certain performance standards or face fines and the potential loss of its contract.
Kentucky: Kentucky expanded Medicaid, but with an approved section 1115 waiver. In January, Kentucky’s waiver was approved by the federal government to implement work requirements for Medicaid recipients. Implementation will start in April 2018, with full implementation by July 2018. The waiver was approved for five years, through Sept. 30, 2023. In state audit news, non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) providers are on the chopping block.
Louisiana: Louisiana expanded Medicaid, but now the state may remove 46,000 elderly and disabled individuals from Medicaid as part of a series of healthcare-related budget cuts proposed by Gov. John Bel Edwards for 2019. The proposal would cut $657 million in state healthcare funding and as much as $2.4 billion, including federal matching funds, in total. The proposal would also cut funding to safety net hospitals and eliminate mental health services for adults who don’t otherwise qualify for Medicaid.
Maine: Maine expanded Medicaid. The state adopted the Medicaid expansion through a ballot initiative in November 2017; the measure required submission of the state plan amendment within 90 days and implementation of expansion within 180 days of the effective date. In Maine audit news, a behavioral healthcare provider accused of fraud has put behavioral healthcare providers on the front line.
Maryland: Maryland expanded Medicaid. Maryland’s system of pushing hospitals to achieving lower admissions has added up to hundreds of millions of dollars in savings, a new report shows. Since 2014, the state caps hospitals’ revenue each year, letting them keep the difference if they reduce inpatient and outpatient treatment while maintaining care quality. Per capita hospital spending by all insurers has grown by less than 2 percent a year in Maryland, below the economic growth rate, defined four years ago as 3.58 percent annually, a key goal for the program.
Massachusetts: Massachusetts expanded Medicaid. The state has begun to roll out new Accountable Care Organization (ACO) networks. Members assigned to an ACO have until May 31 to switch before they are locked in for nine months. The changes are expected to impact more than 800,000 Medicaid recipients and are designed to better manage patient care, reimburse providers based on quality, and address social determinants of health. There is expected confusion with this change among Medicaid patients and providers.
Michigan: Michigan expanded Medicaid, but with an improved section 1115 waiver. On Feb. 18, 2018, Michigan announced that it would consider a proposal to transition the state’s $2.8 billion Medicaid nursing home and long-term care services programs into managed care. An initial review by the state Department of Health and Human Services is expected to begin by July 1.
Minnesota: Minnesota expanded Medicaid. MN has a proposed Medicaid waiver bill, which requests permission from the federal government to implement an 80-hour-per-month requirement that would mandate Medicaid beneficiaries who are able-bodied adults and not the sole caretaker of a child to work, actively seek employment, participate in educational or training programs, or volunteer.
Mississippi: Mississippi did not expand Medicaid. The five-year waiver request from Gov. Phil Bryant seeks to require nondisabled adults, including low-income parents and caretakers, to participate in at least 20 hours per week of “workforce training.” To be eligible, Medicaid beneficiaries must work, be self-employed, volunteer, or be in a drug treatment program, among other approved activities. If people don’t comply, they’ll be kicked off Medicaid.
Missouri: Missouri did not expand Medicaid. The Missouri Hospital Association has won a lawsuit against the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) over a rule that deducts Medicare and commercial insurance reimbursements from total disproportionate-share hospital (DSH) allotments. U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes ruled that the agency exceeded its authority. State hospitals would have had to pay back $96 million for 2011 and 2012 alone. Expect more scrutiny on hospitals in light of this decision.
Montana: Montana expanded Medicaid, but with an approved 1115 waiver. Montana is one of many states that have proposed budget cuts to Medicaid. A new proposed rule, which would take effect April 1, would move the state’s addiction counseling from a needs-based system to a cap of 12 individual sessions. The rule may be retroactive, so expect audits to recoup if the rule passes.
Nebraska: Nebraska did not expand Medicaid. On March 7, 2018, advocates for Medicaid expansion launched a petition drive, “Insure the Good Life,” to place the expansion issue on the November 2018 general election ballot. State lawmakers have rejected the expansion measure the past five legislative attempts. Nebraska has paid millions to the federal government in the past few years for noncompliance. Many think it will owe millions more. Audits on providers will increase in Nebraska to compensate for money paid to the federal government – in all service types.
Nevada: Nevada did expand Medicaid. It paid the federal government roughly $4.1 million in 2017 to use HealthCare.gov. CMS also asked for 1.5 percent of the premium payments that were collected through its exchange last year, a percentage that will double in 2019. Nevada plans to cut its IT costs by replacing its use of HealthCare.gov with a new health insurance exchange in 2019. Pain management providers and pharmacies are the target of Medicaid audits here.
New Hampshire: New Hampshire expanded Medicaid, but with an approved section 1115 waiver. On March 9, 2018, the New Hampshire Senate passed a bill to continue the state’s Medicaid expansion program. The legislation, which now heads to the House, would impose work requirements on members and utilize 5 percent of liquor revenues to cover the cost of expansion. The Senate voted to reauthorize the Medicaid program for five years and transition to managed care in 2019. The current expansion program, the New Hampshire Health Protection Program, covers about 50,000 individuals.
New Jersey: New Jersey expanded Medicaid. On March 13, 2018, Gov. Phil Murphy delivered his first budget address, unveiling a $37.4 billion budget with a projected surplus of $743 million. 2019 revenues are projected to grow by 5.7 percent from last year. Among the healthcare provisions are: a) close to $4.4 billion in state funds to provide healthcare to almost 1.8 million residents through New Jersey’s Medicaid program, NJ FamilyCare; b) $8.5 million to implement autism spectrum disorder services for Medicaid-eligible children and teens to help 10,000+ families with behavioral and physical supports; c) $11 million in state and federal funds to expand family planning services under NJ FamilyCare to residents at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level; d) $252 million to fund the hospital Charity Care program; and e) $100 million to fund addiction initiatives (list not exhaustive).
New Mexico: New Mexico expanded Medicaid. The 15 behavioral healthcare providers that were put out of business in 2013 have filed lawsuits against the state. Speculation has it that after the election this year – likely taking Gov. Susana Martinez out of office – the providers may get compensated. New Mexico auditors are focused on the delivery of babies and services to the elderly.
New York: New York expanded Medicaid. Recently, the state’s Assembly released its one-house budget bill. The plan restores $135 million in reductions to the Medicaid program. The big news in the Big Apple regarding Medicaid is in home health. The New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, has agreed to hear a case regarding wages for home care workers. A state Appellate Court ruled in September 2017 that home care agencies must pay live-in home health aides for 24 hours per day, not the 13 hours that is the industry standard, assuming that they are allowed eight hours of sleep and three hours for meals. The New York Department of Labor has issued an emergency regulation that maintains the policy of allowing employers to pay home care workers for 13 hours of a 24-hour shift. If the decision stands, it means that agencies must pay for an additional 11 hours of care per day, almost doubling the cost of care. It is estimated that it will increase costs for home care in New York’s Medicaid program by tens of millions of dollars. Any of you who have home health care agencies in New York, which are dependent on Medicaid, beware that the reimbursement rates are not increasing to accommodate for the increased wages. Many home health companies will go out of business if the decision stands.
North Carolina: North Carolina did not expand Medicaid. The state is seeking to transition its Medicaid program from a fee-for-service model to a managed care model for all services. The transition of beneficiaries with a serious mental illness, a serious emotional disturbance, a substance use disorder, or an intellectual/developmental disability (IDD) will be delayed until the launch of behavioral health and IDD tailored plans. The state estimates that 2.1 million individuals will be eligible for managed care. This is a huge overhaul of the Medicaid system.
North Dakota: North Dakota expanded Medicaid. The state received substantial funds from a settlement designed to compensate states, in part, for the billions of dollars in healthcare costs associated with treating tobacco-related diseases under state Medicaid programs. To date, states have received more than $50 billion in settlement payments. North Dakota is also one of the “test” states to allow Medicare Advantage Value-Based Insurance Design to waive many requirements of federal regulation.
Ohio: Ohio expanded Medicaid. On March 13, 2018, it was announced that the Ohio Pharmacists Association alleged that CVS Caremark overcharges Medicaid managed care plans for medications while often reimbursing pharmacists less than the cost of the drugs. CVS denied accusations of overcharging in an attempt to drive out retail competition and reported that there are strict firewalls between their retail business and their pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) business, CVS Caremark. Beginning in July, Medicaid MCOs will be required to report to state regulators how much PBMs are paying pharmacies.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma did not expand Medicaid. On March 6, 2018, Gov. Mary Fallin issued an executive order to develop Medicaid work requirements. On March 13, 2018, the OK Senate approved legislation to tighten the income threshold for Medicaid eligibility among parents and caretakers to 20 percent of the federal poverty level, down from 40 percent under current state law. The move could impact nearly 44,000 of the 107,000 parents and caretakers on Medicaid in the state. The legislation now moves to the House.
Oregon: Oregon expanded Medicaid. But how it will be funded makes state hospitals angry. Voters approved taxes on hospitals and health plans to continue to fund the state’s Medicaid expansion. The taxes, which were approved in a ballot measure, are expected to generate $210 million to $320 million over two years by imposing a 0.7 percent tax on some hospitals and a 1.5 percent tax on gross health insurance premiums and on managed care organizations. Unions and large, self-insured employers are exempt.
Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania expanded Medicaid. On March 8, 2018, the state’s Department of Human Services discussed HB 59, a bill that would require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to prove they are looking for work. The bill was passed last year by the General Assembly, but vetoed by Gov. Wolf. Acting Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller said implementing the requirements would be expensive, estimating that the project could run up to $600 million in the first year.
Rhode Island: Rhode Island expanded Medicaid. On Feb. 14, 2018, it was announced that the number of recently released inmates in Rhode Island who died from an opioid overdose decreased between 2016 and 2017. The study attributed the decrease to the availability of medication-assisted treatment in correctional facilities starting in 2016. Rhode Island was the first state to offer inmates methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.
South Carolina: South Carolina did not expand Medicaid. The state is overhauling its Medicaid Management Information System. Cognosante was awarded the contract, effective March 6, 2018 through March 5, 2023.
South Dakota: South Dakota did not expand Medicaid. Furthermore, the state is seeking permission from the Trump administration to implement Medicaid work requirements, a move that would affect 4,500 beneficiaries. In South Dakota audit news, Program Integrity has ramped up the number of audits and prepayment reviews, especially on behavioral healthcare, dental care, hospital care, and home health.
Tennessee: Tennessee did not expand Medicaid. In February, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services approved a proposal to launch a two-year pilot designed to improve prescription drug adherence and effectiveness for Medicaid beneficiaries. As part of the pilot, pharmacists will work with Medicaid beneficiaries enrolled in patient-centered medical homes to ensure that medications are appropriate, safe, and taken as directed. As many as 300,000 enrollees may be affected by the pilot. This initiative will affect pharmacies based within hospitals.
Texas: Texas did not expand Medicaid. The state’s Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) announced contract awards for the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in rural areas. The six awardees are Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (Central Region), Driscoll Children’s Health Plan (Hidalgo Region), Molina Healthcare of Texas, Inc. (Central, Hidalgo, Northeast, and West Regions), Superior Health Plan, Inc./Centene (West Region), and TX Children’s Health Plan, Inc. (Northeast Region). Contracts are slated to begin on Sept. 1, 2018. This is a big change to Texas Medicaid.
Utah: Utah did not expand Medicaid. On March 9, 2018, Utah legislators passed a limited Medicaid expansion bill. The legislation would cover approximately 70,000 individuals who earn under 100 percent of the federal poverty level and impose a work requirement and spending cap for enrollees.
Vermont: Vermont expanded Medicaid. One hospital here recently paid $1.6 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act (FCA). According to the government, between January 2012 and September 2014, Brattleboro Memorial knowingly submitted a number of outpatient laboratory claims that lacked proper documentation. On another note, Vermont only has 188 beds in its mental health system, and patients are placed on waiting lists or forced to rely on hospital ERs. This is an ongoing problem for patients and hospitals.
Virginia: Virginia did not expand Medicaid. On March 2, 2018, Gov. Ralph Northam told state budget legislators to include Medicaid expansion spending plans or he would add the expansion as a budget amendment. In state audit news, Program Integrity’s spotlight is shining on long-term care facilities, durable medical equipment, transportation, and hospitals.
Washington: Washington expanded Medicaid. On Feb. 20, 2018, the state announced that it approved all nine Accountable Communities of Health (ACH) Medicaid Transformation Project Plans. The Medicaid Transformation Project is the state’s Section 1115 waiver, approved by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in 2017. Under the waiver, the first initiative involves transforming Medicaid delivery in each regional service area through ACHs. The newly approved project plans will look to improve the overall health of Medicaid beneficiaries by tackling the opioid crisis and integrating behavioral health, among other aims.
West Virginia: West Virginia expanded Medicaid. On March 6, 2018, it was announced that Medicaid funding could be at risk after Gov. James Justice signed a bill increasing state workers’ and teachers’ pay by 5 percent following a statewide teachers’ strike. According to West Virginia Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, the pay raises could be funded through cuts to Medicaid, among other areas; however, the Governor stated that the Medicaid budget would not be cut. The strike was in response to low pay and rising health insurance costs. The raises are expected to cost the state treasury approximately $110 million a year.
Wisconsin: Wisconsin did not expand Medicaid. The state covers adults up to 100 percent of the federal poverty line in Medicaid, but it did not adopt the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) expansion. Still, managed care will soon be mandatory. The state’s Department of Health Services reported that through June 2018, it will roll out mandatory enrollment for many Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries in Medicaid managed care. Approximately 28,000 beneficiaries may be impacted. The change impacts members who live an SSI managed care service area, are age 19 or older, and have a Medicaid SSI or SSI-related disability. Previously, SSI beneficiaries could opt out of managed care after two months. Up to two-thirds of eligible beneficiaries typically opt out of managed care.
Wyoming: Wyoming did not expand Medicaid. A bill that would have required able-bodied Medicaid recipients in Wyoming to work at a job, go to school, or do volunteer work died this month in a House committee. The state’s Department of Health is partnering with Medicity to develop a new health information exchange for the state. The Wyoming Frontier Information Exchange will be a centralized repository of clinical data for participating patients, powered in part by Medicity’s data aggregation and interoperability technology.

 

5th Circuit Finds Subject Matter Jurisdiction For Medicare and Medicaid Providers – Why Collards Matter

“I’d like some spaghetti, please, and a side of meatballs.” – This sentence is illogical because meatballs are integral to spaghetti and meatballs. If you order spaghetti  – and -meatballs, you are ordering “spaghetti and meatballs.” Meatballs on the side is not a thing.

Juxtapose, a healthcare provider defending itself from an alleged overpayment, But during the appeal process undergoes a different penalty – the state or federal government begins to recoup future funds prior to a decision that the alleged recoupment is authorized, legal, or warranted. When a completely new issue unrelated to the allegation of overpayment inserts itself into the mix, then you have spaghetti and meatballs with a side of collard greens. Collard greens need to be appealed in a completely different manner than spaghetti and meatballs, especially when the collard greens could put the company out of business because of the premature and unwarranted recoupments without due process.

I have been arguing this for years based off of, not only, a 1976 Supreme Court case, but multiple state case law, as well as, success I have had in the federal and administrative courts, and BTW – logic.

On March 27, 2018, I was confirmed again. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided a landmark case for Medicare and Medicaid providers across the country. The case, Family Rehab., Inc. v Azar, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 7668, involved a Medicare home health service provider, which was assessed for approximately $7.8 million in Medicare overpayments. Family Rehab, the plaintiff in the case, relied on 88% to 94% of its revenue from Medicare. The company had timely appealed the alleged overpayment, and it was at the third level of the Medicare five step process for appeals. See blog. But there is a 3 – 5 year backlog on the third level, and the government began to recoup the $7.8 million despite the ongoing appeal. If no action were taken, the company would be out of business well-before any ALJ could rule on the merits of the case, i.e. whether the recoupment was warranted. How is that fair? The provider may not owe $7.8 million, but before an objective tribunal decides what is actually owed, if anything, we are going to go ahead and take the money and reap the benefit of any interest accrued during the time it takes the provider to get a hearing.

The backlog for Medicare appeals at the ALJ level is unacceptably long. See blog and blog. However, the federal regulations only  prevent recoupment during the appeal process during the first and second levels. This is absolutely asinine and should be changed considering we do have a clause in the Constitution called “due process.” Purported criminals receive due process, but healthcare providers who accept Medicare or Medicaid, at times, do not.

At the third level of appeal, Family Rehab underwent recoupments, even though it was still appealing the decision, which immediately stifled Family Rehab’s income. Family Rehab, because of the premature recoupments, was at risk of losing everything, going bankrupt, firing its staff, and no longer providing medically necessary home health services for the elderly. This situation mimics a situation in which I represented a client in northern Indiana who was losing its Medicaid contract.  I also successfully obtained a preliminary injunction preventing the provider from losing its Medicaid contract. See blog.

It is important to note that in this case the ZPIC had audited only 43 claims. Then it used a statistical method to extrapolate the alleged over-billings and concluded that the alleged overpayment was $7,885,803.23. I cannot tell you how many times I have disputed an extrapolation and won. See blog.

42 USC 1395(f)(f)(d)(1)(A) states that the ALJ shall conduct and conclude the hearing and render a decision no later than 90 days after a timely request. Yet the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that an ALJ hearing would not be forthcoming not within 90 days or even 900 days. The judge noted in his decision that the Medicare appeal backlog for an ALJ hearing was 3 – 5 years. The District Court held that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because Family Rehab had not exhausted its administrative remedies. Family Rehab appealed.

On appeal, Family Rehab argued the same arguments that I have made in the past: (1) its procedural due process and ultra vires claims are collateral to the agency’s appellate process; and (2) going through the appellate process would mean no review at all because the provider would be out of business by the time it would be heard by an ALJ.

What does collateral mean? Collard greens are collateral. When you think collateral; think collards. Collard greens do not normally come with spaghetti and meatballs. A collateral issue is an issue that is entirely collateral to a substantive agency decision and would not be decided through the administrative appeal process. In other words, even if Family Rehab were to only pursue the $7.8 million overpayment issue through the administrative process, the issue of having money recouped and the damage to the company that the recoupment was causing would never be heard by the ALJ because those “collateral” issues are outside the ALJ’s purview. The premature recoupment issue could not be remedied by an ALJ. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

The collateral argument also applies to terminations of Medicare and Medicaid contracts without due process. In an analogous case (Affiliated Professional), the provider argued that the termination of its Medicare contract without due process violated its right to due process and the Equal Protection Clause and was successful.

The upshot is obvious, if the Court must examine the merits of the underlying dispute, delve into the statute and regulations, or make independent judgments as to plaintiff’s eligibility under a statute, the claim is not collateral.

The importance of this case is that it verifies my contention that if a provider is undergoing a recoupment or termination without due process, there is relief for that provider – an injunction stopping the premature recoupments or termination until due process has been completed.

Take Medicare or Medicaid? Why You Should Have an Attorney on Retainer

They say that lightning never strikes the same place twice, but tell that to my colleague Bill. Bill has been struck by lightning twice and has lived to tell the story. Granted, he was not physically standing in the same place that he was struck the first time as when he was hit by lightning the second time – so lightning technically didn’t hit the same place twice. But it did strike the same person twice. Maybe Bill is just extremely unlucky, or maybe Bill is extremely lucky because he lived through the incidents.

An intense shock can severely impair most of the body’s vital functions. Cardiac arrest is common. Yet Bill lived. Twice.

lightning

No one ever thinks they will get struck by lightning. But it happens. According to the National Weather Service, so far this year, lightning strikes have killed at least 20 people in the US, and that does not even take into consideration the people who were just injured, like my pal Bill.

A lightning strike is a massive electrical discharge between the atmosphere and an earth-bound object. A lightning bolt can heat the surrounding air to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit—that’s five times hotter than the sun—and can contain up to 300kV of energy.

Yet most people do survive, in part because lightning rarely passes through the body.

Instead, a “flashover” occurs, meaning that the lightning zips over the body, traveling via ultra-conductive sweat (and often rainwater), which provides an external voltage pathway around the body. When people do die from a lightning strike, it is usually due to an electrical discharge-induced hear attack. A body hit by lightning will show various signs of trauma.

Like a gunshot, a lightning strike causes both an exit and entrance wound, marking where the current both entered and left the victim. Lichtenberg scarring, which outlines ruptured blood vessels, frequently covers the body in odd, almost beautiful, spiderweb patterns.

lightning-strike-effects-lichtenberg-figures

Surprisingly enough, many lightning strike survivors do not remember being struck. Instead, the only evidence of the traumatic event is burnt, displaced clothing and marks along the body.

For instance, many lightning strike survivors report memory issues, trouble with concentration and severe headaches, all of which last decades after the initial strike.

Due to the rarity of lightning strike cases, less time and resources have been devoted to better understanding how these strikes impact long-term brain function. An unpublished study by medical doctor Mary Ann Cooper found that there were “significant differences in brain activity between lightning-strike victims and healthy people as they performed mental-aptitude tests.”

Aside from impacting long-term brain function, lightning strikes are also known to blow out eardrums, prompting constant muscle twitches and moderate to severe nerve damage. Overall, the effects of a lightning strike may range from a slight inconvenience to a debilitating, lifelong struggle. In the case of my colleague, you would never be able to tell mind looking at him that he has been hit by lightning twice.

Why is this – extensive – discussion about lightning strikes relevant? – Or is it not?

If you are a health care provider and accept Medicare or Medicaid, the risk of an audit far exceeds your chances of getting struck by lightning. In FY 2016, CMS continued its use of the Affordable Care Act authority to suspend Medicare payments to providers during an investigation of a credible allegation of fraud.  CMS also has authority to suspend Medicare payments if reliable information of an overpayment exists. During FY 2016, there were 508 payment suspensions that were active at some point during the fiscal year. Of the 508 payment suspensions, 291 new payment suspensions were imposed during FY 2016.

Medicare and Medicaid audits far exceed lightning strikes. Yet, providers believe in their heart of hearts that and on an audit (or an audit with bad results) will never happen to them, which causes providers to not engage in attorney until after the lightning strikes. Then it’s too late, and you have Lichtenberg scarring across your arm.

There is scene in Breaking Bad in which Saul, the attorney, stops a person from talking. He says, “Give me a dollar. Don’t tell me anything until you give me a dollar. Once money is exchanged, we will have attorney-client privilege.” What Saul was saying is that the exchange of money catalyzed the duty for Saul to keep all conversation confidential.

This was a low-point of legal-fiction television. It made great drama with zero accuracy.

The question is why should you have an attorney on retainer?

The obvious response is that you can have confidential conversations with said attorney at your beck and call. The honest truth is that you do not have to have an attorney on retainer in order for your conversations to be confidential. But is smart to do so, and I will tell you why.

If you call me and I have never represented you and you ask me a legal question, our conversation is legally protected, even if you hire a different attorney.

No – the reason to have an attorney on retainer is to be able to consult him or her with legal questions on a daily basis, and, especially of there is an ongoing audit. Most of my clients do not contact me when they receive the document request. They think, “Oh, this is no big deal. I will give my records to [state] or [federal] – [and/or its contractors] government and they will determine that my [Medicare] or [Medicaid] records are amazing. In fact the [state] or [federal] government my even ask me to educate other providers on what pristine records should look like. I got this. Easy, peasy, lemon-squeezey.” They contact me when they get an accusation of an alleged overpayment of $5 million. Lichtenberg scarring has already occurred.

The smartest clients contact me prior to receiving an alleged overpayment of $12 million or an accusation of fraud. They contact me the moment they receive a notice of an audit or a request for documents…before ever submitting documents to the government.

Because, regardless the type of provider, be it dentist, behavioral counseling, podiatrist, chiropractor, or hospital, understand that every communication with a government auditor and/or contractor is admissible in court – if the communication does not go through an attorney. When the [state/federal] auditor asks to see a record and you say, “Let me get it from my off-site storage facility” – BAM – HIPAA violation. When the state/federal auditor asks to see a record and you say, “Here it is,” and fail to keep a copy for yourself, there can be discrepancy in the future as to what you actually provided. And you are in a “he said she said” battle – never good.

On the other hand, if you have an attorney on retainer, you can ask any question you need, you can get any advice you desire, and it’s all confidential. It is as though you have Siri in your back pocket. It’s the 411 for legal information. It’s an ATM for legal advice. AND it is all confidential.

Next time you think to yourself, “Self, I will ace any Medicaid or Medicare audit. I don’t need counsel. I can talk to the auditors myself without an attorney. I got this.”

Think again. [Don’t, necessarily, call Saul, but call someone.] Because, like lightning strike victims, you may not even remember the audit. Until you are scarred.

Medicare and Medicaid RAC Audits: How Auditors Get It Wrong

Here is an article that I wrote that was first published on RACMonitor on March 15, 2018:

All audits are questionable, contends the author, so appeal all audit results.

Providers ask me all the time – how will you legally prove that an alleged overpayment is erroneous? When I explain some examples of mistakes that Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs) and other health care auditors make, they ask, how do these auditors get it so wrong?

First, let’s debunk the notion that the government is always right. In my experience, the government is rarely right. Auditors are not always healthcare providers. Some have gone to college. Many have not. I googled the education criteria for a clinical compliance reviewer. The job application requires the clinical reviewer to “understand Medicare and Medicaid regulations,” but the education requirement was to have an RN. Another company required a college degree…in anything.

Let’s go over the most common mistakes auditors make that I have seen. I call them “oops, I did it again.” And I am not a fan of reruns.

  1. Using the Wrong Clinical Coverage Policy/Manual/Regulation

Before an on-site visit, auditors are given a checklist, which, theoretically, is based on the pertinent rules and regulations germane to the type of healthcare service being audited. The checklists are written by a government employee who most likely is not an attorney. There is no formal mechanism in place to compare the Medicare policies, rules, and manuals to the checklist. If the checklist is erroneous, then the audit results are erroneous. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) frequently revises final rules, changing requirements for certain healthcare services. State agencies amend small technicalities in the Medicaid policies constantly. These audit checklists are not updated every time CMS issues a new final rule or a state agency revises a clinical coverage policy.

For example, for hospital-based services, there is a different reimbursement rate depending on whether the patient is an inpatient or outpatient. Over the last few years there have been many modifications to the benchmarks for inpatient services. Another example is in behavioral outpatient therapy; while many states allow 32 unmanaged visits, others have decreased the number of unmanaged visits to 16, or, in some places, eight. Over and over, I have seen auditors apply the wrong policy or regulation. They apply the Medicare Manual from 2018 for dates of service performed in 2016, for example. In many cases, the more recent policies are more stringent that those of two or three years ago.

  1. A Flawed Sample Equals a Flawed Extrapolation

The second common blunder auditors often make is producing a flawed sample. Two common mishaps in creating a sample are: a) including non-government paid claims in the sample and b) failing to pick the sample randomly. Both common mistakes can render a sample invalid, and therefore, the extrapolation invalid. Auditors try to throw out their metaphoric fishing nets wide in order to collect multiple types of services. The auditors accidentally include dates of service of claims that were paid by third-party payors instead of Medicare/Medicaid. You’ve heard of the “fruit of the poisonous tree?” This makes the audit the fruit of the poisonous audit. The same argument goes for samples that are not random, as required by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG). A nonrandom sample is not acceptable and would also render any extrapolation invalid.

  1. A Simple Misunderstanding

A third common blooper found with RAC auditors is simple misunderstandings based on lack of communication between the auditor and provider. Say an auditor asks for a chart for date of service X. The provider gives the auditor the chart for date of service X, but what the auditor is really looking for is the physician’s order or prescription that was dated the day prior. The provider did not give the auditor the pertinent document because the auditor did not request it. These issues cause complications later, because inevitably, the auditor will argue that if the provider had the document all along, then why was the document not presented? Sometimes inaccurate accusations of fraud and fabrication are averred.

  1. The Erroneous Extrapolation

Auditors use a computer program called RAT-STATS to extrapolate the sample error rate across a universe of claims. There are so many variables that can render an extrapolation invalid. Auditors can have too low a confidence level. The OIG requires a 90 percent confidence level at 25 percent precision for the “point estimate.” The size and validity of the sample matters to the validity of the extrapolation. The RAT-STATS outcome must be reviewed by a statistician or a person with equal expertise. An appropriate statistical formula for variable sampling must be used. Any deviations from these directives and other mandates render the extrapolation invalid. (This is not an exhaustive list of requirements for extrapolations).

  1. That Darn Purple Ink!

A fifth reason that auditors get it wrong is because of nitpicky, nonsensical reasons such as using purple ink instead of blue. Yes, this actually happened to one of my clients. Or if the amount of time with the patient is not denoted on the medical record, but the duration is either not relevant or the duration is defined in the CPT code. Electronic signatures, when printed, sometimes are left off – but the document was signed. A date on the service note is transposed. Because there is little communication between the auditor and the provider, mistakes happen.

The moral of the story — appeal all audit results.