Category Archives: Pro Bono

Suspension of Medicare Reimbursements – Not Over 180 Days! Medicaid – Indefinite?!

When you get accused of Medicare or Medicaid fraud or of an alleged overpayment, the federal and state governments have the authority to suspend your reimbursements. If you rely heavily on Medicaid or Medicare, this suspension can be financially devastating. If your Medicare or Medicaid reimbursements are suspended, you have to hire an attorney. And, somehow, you have to be able to afford such legal representation without reimbursements. Sadly, this is why many providers simply go out of business when their reimbursements are suspended.

But, legally, how long can the state or federal government suspend your Medicare or Medicaid payments without due process?

According to 42 C.F.R. 405.371, the federal government may suspend your Medicare reimbursements upon ” reliable information that an overpayment exists or that the payments to be made may not be correct, although additional information may be needed for a determination.” However, for Medicare, there is a general rule that the suspension may not last more than 180 days. MedPro Health Providers, LLC v. Hargan, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 173441 *2.

There are also procedural safeguards. A Medicare provider must be provided notice prior to a suspension and given the opportunity to submit a rebuttal statement explaining why the suspension should not be implemented. Medicare must, within 15 days, consider the rebuttal, including any material submitted. The Medicare Integrity Manual states that the material provided by the provider must be reviewed carefully.

Juxtapose Medicaid:

42 CFR 455.23 states that “The State Medicaid agency must suspend all Medicaid payments to a provider after the agency determines there is a credible allegation of fraud for which an investigation is pending under the Medicaid program against an individual or entity unless the agency has good cause to not suspend payments or to suspend payment only in part.”

Notice the differences…

Number one: In the Medicare regulation, the word used is “may” suspend.  In the Medicaid regulation, the word used is “must” suspend. This difference between may and must may not resonate as a huge difference, but, in the legal world, it is. You see, “must” denotes that there is no discretion (even though there is discretion in the good cause exception). On the other hand, “may” suggests more discretionary power in the decision.

Number two: In the Medicare regulation, notice is required. It reads, “Except as provided in paragraphs (d) and (e) of this section, CMS or the Medicare contractor suspends payments only after it has complied with the procedural requirements set forth at § 405.372.” 405.372 reads the Medicare contractor must notify the provider or supplier of the intention to suspend payments, in whole or in part, and the reasons for making the suspension. In the Medicaid regulation, no notice is required. 455.23 reads “The State Medicaid agency may  suspend payments without first notifying the provider of its intention to suspend such payments.”

Number three: In the Medicare regulation, a general limit of the reimbursement suspension is imposed, which is 180 days. In the Medicaid regulation, the regulations states that the suspension is “temporary” and must be lifted after either of the following (1) there is a determination of no credible allegations of fraud or (2) the legal proceedings regarding the alleged fraud are complete.

Yet I have seen States blatantly violate the “temporary” requirement. Consider the New Mexico situation. All the behavioral health care providers who were accused of Medicaid fraud have been cleared by the Attorney General. The regulation states that the suspension must be lifted upon either of the following – meaning, if one situation is met, the suspension must be lifted. Well, the Attorney General has cleared all the New Mexico behavioral health care providers of fraud. Criterion is met. But the suspension has not been lifted. The Health Services Department (HSD) has not lifted the suspension. This suspension has continued for 4 1/2 years. It began June 24, 2013. See blog, blog, and blog. Here is a timeline of events.

Why is there such a disparity in treatment with Medicare providers versus Medicaid providers?

The first thing that comes to mind is that Medicare is a fully federal program, while Medicaid is state-run. Although a portion of the funds for Medicaid comes from the federal government.

Secondly, Medicare patients pay part of costs through deductibles for hospital and other costs. Small monthly premiums are required for non-hospital coverage. Whereas, Medicaid patients pay nothing.

Thirdly, Medicare is for the elderly, and Medicaid is for the impoverished.

But should these differences between the two programs create such a disparity in due process and the length of reimbursement suspensions for health care providers? Why is a Medicare provider generally only susceptible to a 180 day suspension, while a Medicaid provider can be a victim of a 4 1/2 year suspension?

Parity, as it relates to mental health and substance abuse, prohibits insurers or health care service plans from discriminating between coverage offered for mental illness, serious mental illness, substance abuse, and other physical disorders and diseases. In short, parity requires insurers to provide the same level of benefits for mental illness, serious mental illness or substance abuse as for other physical disorders and diseases.

Does parity apply to Medicare and Medicaid providers?

Most of Medicare and Medicaid law is interpreted by administrative law judges. Most of the time, a health care provider, who is not receiving reimbursements cannot fund an appeal to Superior Court, the Court of Appeals, and, finally the Supreme Court. Going to the Supreme Court costs so much that most normal people will never present before the Supreme Court…it takes hundreds and hundreds upon thousands of dollars.

In January 1962, a man held in a Florida prison cell wrote a note to the United States Supreme Court. He’d been charged with breaking into a pool hall, stealing some Cokes, beer, and change, and was handed a five-year sentence after he represented himself because he couldn’t pay for a lawyer. Clarence Earl Gideon’s penciled message eventually led to the Supreme Court’s historic 1963 Gideon v. Wainwright ruling, reaffirming the right to a criminal defense and requiring states to provide a defense attorney to those who can’t afford one. But it does not apply to civil cases.

Furthermore, pro bono attorneys and legal aid attorneys, although much-needed for recipients, will not represent a provider.

So, until a health care provider, who is a gaga-zillionaire, pushes a lawsuit to the Supreme Court, our Medicare and Medicaid law will continue to be interpreted by administrative law judges and, perhaps, occasionally, by Superior Court. Do not take this message and interpret that I think that administrative law judges and Superior Court judges are incapable of interpreting the laws and fairly applying them to certain cases. That is the opposite of what I think. The point is that if the case law never gets to the Supreme Court, we will never have consistency in Medicare and Medicaid law. A District Court in New Mexico could define “temporary” in suspensions of Medicare and/or Medicaid reimbursements as 1 year. Another District Court in New York could define “temporary” as 1 month. Consistency in interpreting laws only happens once the Supreme Court weighs in.

Until then, stay thirsty, my friend.

Why My Career, as a Medicaid Litigator/Medicaid Provider Advocate, is the Best, Most Rewarding Career…Ever!

I have the best and most rewarding career…EVER! It’s not the easiest career. It’s not a 9-5 job. When I schedule family trips, I normally have to cancel the trips or cut them short.

Like next week, my extended family on my dad’s side gets together every year for a week at Emerald Isle, NC. So about 3 months ago, I put in my secured leave with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) for next week. Lawyers have to request “secured leave” for vacations. That way, the courts will not schedule hearings or mediations, etc. during the requested vacation time. Secured leave is really the only way to ensure an attorney gets a vacation. In my Medicaid practice, I normally only practice in OAH. For the most part, my clients have administrative complaints, not civil complaints, which would take me to Superior Court. So, I filed my secured leave in OAH only. Well, it just so happens that one of the State’s agents has refused to comply with an Order executed by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in OAH. The consequences of the agent’s refusal could be dire. So, we had no choice but to file a Writ of Mandamus in Superior Court. A Writ of Mandamus is an extremely, extraordinary motion. We filed it last week. Superior Court scheduled the Writ hearing for Monday, June 24th (supposedly the 3rd day of my family vacation). So, my vacation is shortened. My client, especially in this specific instance, is just more important than a day or two at the beach.

Anyway, going back to how my career is the best career ever…

My clients are health care providers that choose to accept Medicaid. They are behavioral healthcare providers, dentists, durable medical equipment suppliers, neurologists, primary care physicians, speech therapists, ER physicians/hospitals, hospice providers, etc.  No matter the service my clients provide, the common thread is that the provider chooses to provide services to Medicaid recipients.  In some fields, these providers willing to accept Medicaid are few and far between.  Sometimes Medicaid recipients are placed on a 3-5 month waiting list only to get to see a health care provider for the first time.

My clients are good people.  My clients are empathetic.  They understand that few providers choose to accept Medicaid. Nevertheless, these providers choose to provide services to the most needy people in North Carolina.

My clients are not greedy.  They choose to accept Medicaid despite the low reimbursement rates, despite the complex and burdensome amount of regulations, despite the need to constantly google “NC Medicaid” for Implementation Updates or Special Bulletins, despite the need to constantly attend seminars on Medicaid updates, despite the need to jump through hoops, whether it be CAHBA certifications or applications with the Managed Care Organizations (MCOs), despite the need to undergo harassing audits, and despite the risk of the Division of Medical Assistance, or one of its agents, to merely terminate their Medicaid contract without due process.  My clients understand these risks and negative aspects, yet they choose to continue to serve Medicaid recipients.

My clients serve the most needy, most mute, and most underserved population in NC.  Obviously, Medicaid recipients, by definition, are the most poor citizens in our state.

My clients are scared. They have been told by the state or its agents that they owe money, that they have “credible allegations of fraud,” or indications of “abhorrent billing practices.” These allegations are unsubstantiated.  My clients served their consumers well.  But they have to defend these McCarthian-istic allegations, and health care providers, in general, are not litigious.  My clients are scared.

My career is the best and most rewarding career ever because I represent clients, who are good people doing good things.

My career is the best and most rewarding career ever because, by helping my clients, I am helping voiceless, Medicaid recipients.

A week or so ago, a client sent me a card saying, “Knicole and Elizabeth [one of my upcoming star-associates], Thank you for all you have done.  You have saved a company, 140 jobs, and over 500 Medicaid recipients from having no provider.  I almost cried.

I have always looked at my career as: By devoting my career to Medicaid providers, I am able to serve, indirectly, Medicaid recipients.  Medicaid recipients, for the most part, sadly, cannot hire me (believe me, I wish I could work for free), but, by my work for Medicaid providers, I am able to help Medicaid recipients by helping the providers the recipients so desperately need.

But this past week, I had the opportunity to help a Medicaid recipient directly, not indirectly. And, I left the hearing with goosebumps, good feelings, and a desire for more.

One of my clients had his or her Medicaid contract terminated; let’s call this person X.  Because of X’s termination of Medicaid contract, a Medicaid consumer, a teenage girl, who had seen X weekly for 6 years, was, suddenly, disallowed to see X.  Let’s call her ‘A.’  Without X, A spiraled.  A became suicidal and homicidal, both at home and at school. She begged to see X.  Since not being able to X, A was hospitalized 2x and was taken from her family home and placed in therapeutic foster care. All because A was disallowed to see the one therapist she had become to trust over the course of 6 years.

I decided to take A’s case pro bono.

I filed a Temporary Restraining Order, Motion to Stay, and Preliminary Injunction (TRO) on behalf of A. I argued that A was stable (as stable as possible for a person suffering from her mental illnesses) while she was able to see X.  When X’s Medicaid contract was terminated, A was not able to be seen by X.  A refused to go to another provider and spiraled.  I argued that A should be able to see X while A and X’s lawsuits went forward.  A should not suffer while X’s Medicaid contract was erroneously terminated.

A’s mother testified emotionally.

The Judge has not officially ruled yet. But, at the end of  the hearing, he wanted to ensure that, while he was deciding the ruling, A would be able to receive services from X.  I informed him that, no, A was not currently receiving services from X (despite the TRO being granted the prior week before the preliminary injunction hearing).

The judge looked at counsel for the MCO (the MCO that was not allowing X to see any Medicaid recipients) and said…Why?

Long story, short, my Medicaid recipient client was emotional (in a happy way) with the outcome. While my provider clients are also emotional (in a happy way) with the outcomes, this seemed different.  Had I not agreed to work pro bono, this person may never had received relief for her daughter.

Pro bono is tough.  You go into a pro bono case understanding that your legal fees will not be paid.  But it is rewarding.  In OAH, after the final disposition of the case, an attorney may petition for attorneys’ fees.  I hope my petition is granted…not because I want these legal fees so badly (honestly, my salary stays the same whether I get these attorneys’ fees or not), but because, if my attorneys’ fees are awarded in this case, maybe, just maybe, I would be able to take on more pro bono cases and help more Medicaid recipients directly.

Regardless, in my career, I go to bed knowing that I have helped good people, good providers and, indirectly, helped Medicaid recipients.

Best….Career….Ever!!!!