Category Archives: Lawsuit
NC Medicaid Providers Lost Their Property Right in the Continued Participation in Medicaid, According to COA
According to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, health care providers possess a property right interest in the continued participation in Medicare and Medicaid. Nationally, the Circuits are split. The rule is, at least in the 4th Circuit, that termination for cause of a provider’s Medicaid contract is allowed, if the cause is correct and the provider was afforded due process. On October 5, 2023, the NC Court of Appeals deviated from legal precedent and ruled no property right exists in B&D Integrated Services v. NC DHHS and its agent Alliance. The COA held that Alliance, a managed care organization (“MCO”) could terminate any provider for any cause at any time for any reason. The 4th Circuit and I beg to differ. I read the Decision, and the Petitioner, unfortunately, according to the Decision, failed to argue that it has a property right in continued participation in Medicaid. I have no earthly idea why Petitioner argued what it did, which is that OAH has no jurisdiction over provider appeals and the OAH decision should be vacated. I have no idea why Petitioner thought that was a good argument. I don’t know if arguing the property right argument would have resulted in a victory, but, to me, it is the most compelling argument. Petitioner failed to argue that MCOs are paid by the tax payor; MCOs are not private companies, so MCOs are agents of the State and must follow pertinent regulations. Instead, Petitioner argues that OAH does not have jurisdiction???? Curiouser and curiouser.
That was not the right argument to make.
And now, unless the General Assembly changes the law, B&D Integrated Health Services v. NC DHHS and its agent Alliance Health, holds that “Alliance was contractually allowed to terminate the contract, with or without cause or for any reason, upon 30 days’ notice.” Which is precisely what I have argued against for the last 15 years or so. See blog. And blog. And blog.
These MCOs are bequeathed a fire hose of tax dollar money and whatever they don’t spend, they keep for bonuses for the executives. Therefore, it is in the MCOs’ financial best interest to terminate providers, which means all the terminated providers’ consumers are immediately cut-off from their Medicaid services, and the MCO saves money.
The following paragraphs are from a Decision from OAH holding that Medicaid contracts are NOT terminable at will:
“In determining whether a property interest exists a Court must first determine that there is an entitlement to that property. Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532 (1985). Unlike liberty interests, property interests and entitlements are not created by the Constitution. Instead, property interests are created by federal or state law and can arise from statute, administrative regulations, or contract. Bowens v. N.C. Dept. of Human Res., 710 F.2d 1015, 1018 (4th Cir. 1983). Under North Carolina case law, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that North Carolina Medicaid providers have a property interest in continued provider status. Bowens, 710 F.2d 1018. In Bowens, the Fourth Circuit recognized that North Carolina provider appeals process created a due process property interest in a Medicaid provider’s continued provision of services, and could not be terminated “at the will of the state.” The court determined that these safeguards, which included a hearing and standards for review, indicated that the provider’s participation was not “terminable at will.” Id. The court held that these safeguards created an entitlement for the provider, because it limits the grounds for his termination such that the contract was not terminable “at will” but only for cause, and that such cause was reviewable. The Fourth Circuit reached the same result in Ram v. Heckler, 792 F.2d 444 (4th Cir. 1986) two years later. Since the Court’s decision in Bowen, a North Carolina Medicaid provider’s right to continued participation has been strengthened through the passage of Chapter 108C. Chapter 108C expressly creates a right for existing Medicaid providers to challenge a decision to terminate participation in the Medicaid program in the Office of Administrative Hearings. It also makes such reviews subject to the standards of Article 3 of the APA. Therefore, North Carolina law now contains a statutory process that confers an entitlement to Medicaid providers. Chapter 108C sets forth the procedure and substantive standards for which OAH is to operate and gives rise to the property right recognized in Bowens and Ram. Under Chapter 108C, providers have a statutory expectation that a decision to terminate participation will not violate the standards of Article 3 of the APA. The enactment of Chapter 108C gives a providers a right to not be terminated in a manner that (1) violates the law; (2) is in excess of the Department’s authority; (3) is erroneous; (4) is made without using proper procedures; or (5) is arbitrary and capricious. To conclude otherwise would nullify the General Assembly’s will by disregarding the rights conferred on providers by Chapter 108C. This expectation cannot be diminished by a regulation promulgated by the DMA which states that provider’s do not have a right to continued participation in the Medicaid program because under the analysis in Bowen the General Assembly created the property right through statutory enactment.” Carolina Comm. Support Serv, Inc., at 22.
Carolina Comm. Support Serv., Inc. v. Alliance Behavioral Healthcare, 14 DHR 1500, April 2, 2015.
ALJ Decisions determining a property right exists went on to be upheld by the 4th Circuit. However, this new NC COA decision, B&D Integrated Health v. NC DHHS, threatens all providers. The reason that termination at will does not work for Medicare and Medicaid versus a private companies’ right to terminate:
- These are our tax dollars, not private money.
- It allows discrimination.
- It allows subjectivity.
- It allows bias.
- It allows an entity to overnight prevent consumers from receiving medically necessary health care services.
- It allows for an entity to, overnight, cause hundreds of staff members to lose their jobs.
B&D Integrated Health v. NC DHHS is a bad decision for health care providers. The Petitioner lost its case because it made the wrong argument. Its argument that administrative courts have no jurisdiction was a losing argument. Now State and federal contractors have more power to be subjective and discriminatory.
Now we have NC case law in State Court that fails to follow federal case law in the 4th Circuit.
Not everyone loves their job. Not everyone has a job. Not everyone does their job. And that includes doctors and lawyers. Not all doctors and lawyers do their jobs well. When a doctor fails to doctor, where does the liability lie? On the facility? On the hospital?
That is exactly what happened in one of my cases. My client, an inpatient substance abuse facility, hired a physician. Upon hire, the doctor signed an employment agreement that stated that he or she would perform the role as a doctor/medical director for the facility. Years passed. There were no complaints, so the executive committee was under the impression that the doctor was fulfilling his duties. The members certainly had no reason to suspect that the doctor was not doctoring according to the employment contract. No, they assumed that a doctor would doctor.
Then a RAC audit happened. As you are well aware, RAC audits go back three years. The facility received a Tentative Notice of Overpayment from the RAC alleging the facility owed almost $10 million. I was hired, and I conducted a review of the facility, its policies, and interviewed all staff. It came to light that the doctor did not review the results of urinalysis tests. Remember, this is a substance abuse facility. Urine tests are essential. The Medicaid recipients provided the samples; they peed in a cup. The labs were ordered. The doctor has a standing order for definitive and presumptive urinalysis tests. The doctor has sole access to the test results electronically. We discovered, much to our horror, that the doctor never looked at the results. For the past three years, she has never informed any patient that they were or were not positive or negative for any substance. In my mind, reviewing the urinalysis results goes hand in hand with substance abuse therapy.
Here, we discovered a breakdown in the facility, but that breakdown was one person not doing his or her job. Sadly for him or her, we – the facility – were able to use the doctor’s failure to doctor to our advantage. We appealed the $10 million alleged overpayment. Our primary defense was throwing the doctor under the bus, and we had every right to do so. Who would have expected your medical director failing to direct or review pertinent tests. In the world of law, respondeat superior, normally, is the general rule. In Latin, respondeat superior means that the superior or the boss or the owner is responsible for those underneath them. In this case, the facility is the superior and the doctor is the inferior, so you would expect the facility to bear any liability of its employees. But, not here. Not in this case. The doctor failed to meet expectations of the job. By not reviewing urinalysis test results, the doctor veered enough off the track to relieve liability from the facility. The doctor’s inactions were the direct cause of the accusation of owing $10 million. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) agreed. After terminating the doctor, we contemplated suing the physician for damages. However, since we won the alleged overpayment case, we did not do so.
First, I would like to give a quick shout out to my husband Scott. It’s his birthday today. Speaking of important days, another important day is imminent. Back in mid-January 2023, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in two consolidated cases from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — U.S. ex rel. Schutte v. SuperValu Inc., No. 21-1326, and U.S. ex rel. Proctor v. Safeway, Inc., No. 22-111 — which has teed up a case that could undermine one of the government’s most powerful tools for fighting fraud in government contracts and programs and, dare I say, overreaching tool. The False Claims Act (“FCA”). A jackhammer where a scalpel would suffice.
At issue is whether hundreds of major retail pharmacies across the country knowingly overcharged Medicaid and Medicare by overstating what their usual and customary prices were. In other words, the question presented is: Whether and when a defendant’s contemporaneous subjective understanding or beliefs about the lawfulness of its conduct are relevant to whether it “knowingly” violated the False Claims Act. Unlike most civil fraud actions, the FCA allows treble damages, which in “non-lawyer-ese” equals triple damages.
To Calculate Base Damages, you look at the injury. Determine what damages to the government resulted “because of” the defendant’s acts. The burden is on the government or the relator to prove that the damages sought were caused by the fraud. The defendant will want to be able to distance the alleged damages from the fraudulent acts to the extent possible (such that the damages cannot be said to have been caused by the defendant’s acts) in order to minimize its potential financial liability.
This case essentially began in 2006, when Walmart upended the retail pharmacy world by offering large numbers of frequently used drugs at very cheap prices — $4 for a 30-day supply — with automatic refills. That left the rest of the retail pharmacy industry desperately trying to figure out how to compete.
The pharmacies came up with various offers that matched Walmart’s prices for cash customers, but they billed Medicaid and Medicare using far higher prices, not what are alleged to be their usual and customary prices.
Walmart did report its discounted cash prices as usual and customary, but other chains did not, like Safeway and Supervalu. Even as the discounted prices became the majority of their cash sales, other retail pharmacies continued to bill the government at the previous and far higher prices.
For example, between 2008 and 2012, Safeway charged just $10 for almost all of its cash sales for a 90-day supply of a top-selling drug to reduce cholesterol. But it did not report $10 as its usual and customary price. Instead, Safeway told Medicare and Medicaid that its usual and customary price ranged from $81 to $109. In the Petition, Petitioner’s “expert estimated that Safeway received $127 million more in reimbursements from government health programs than it would have if it reported its price-match and discount club prices as its usual and customary prices.
A decision is expected this summer. Quote from the Petitioner about Safeway trying to hide their price matching policy from media or investigtors:
“With respect to price-matching, Safeway adopted an “official company policy” of denying that it would match Walmart prices “if an unidentified customer calls in. This is to avoid trouble with the media or competitors.” But “[i]f a regular customer known to you asks if we will match . . . the answer is YES.””
I foresee the pharmacies facing a looming overpayment. The Petition explains that, for example, after a pharmacy manager informed executives that Nebraska’s Medicaid program was requiring price-matched discount prices to be reported as U&C prices, an executive asked: “Does anyone think we have an issue here? My question is how the state of Nebraska will know that we offered to match any price out there.” In a follow-up communication, other executives pointed out that advertising their price-matching program would “Alert the Medicaid programs to start looking” into what Safeway was doing, and therefore stressed the “need to keep a low profile.” We shall see in June or July.
-written by Todd Yoho, my paralegal, who has worked closely with me for over a decade. He knows more about Medicare and Medicaid than he probably cares to, but no one could contest that he doesn’t know his stuff!
There is a film almost everyone in the legal field has seen at least once. A comedic drama from 1973 titled, The Paper Chase. It follows the journey of a first year law student at Harvard Law School, and his particular frustrations with his Contracts course and professor. Contracts are one of the first things a law student studies, and some attorneys spend their career reviewing, drafting, revising, and negotiating contracts. They are that important.
In the health care, provider world, contracts are the lifeblood of your company. Contracts are how you secure work, ensure rates for revenue, and contain vital information should someone act contrary to the contract. If you have a dispute with an entity, your first act should be to consult an attorney and provide them with a copy of your contract. There should be a section about dispute resolution, which you should carefully scrutinize before signing any contract. It may be mandatory arbitration, it may stipulate a particular venue, or it may cite specific rules and statutes that, if you are not an attorney, may read like obtuse, dense, “word salad” put together by people who do not have to live and operate under the very laws they enact.
But, what if you don’t have a copy of your contract? You signed it years ago, your business has moved several times, or it just disappeared in the hectic daily life of daily operations. Your recourse is that you have to ask the very entity you have a dispute with to provide you with a copy. We’ve seen providers in situations like this, and sometimes the other entity complies immediately. Other times they say it will take 30 days, or 60 days, and you are already on your heels. Without a copy of that contract, you and your attorney may not know what your first step towards resolution will be. Worse if you are on a time limit you don’t know exists.
So, what do you do to avoid this kind of situation? You need to have a document retention policy. Know how long you are required to keep documents, Create an important document archive in a secure location that you update every time you execute a business related document. And make a copy to be kept in a separate, secure location. Then make another copy. It used to be this could be a notebook, a folder, or a file box in your CEO’s office, manager’s office, or with another person trusted with corporate responsibility. A copy could be kept at the CEO’s home in a locked file cabinet. And it still could be. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a hard copy archive, but this is the digital era.
Because we are in the digital era, you should absolutely keep your archive backed up to the cloud. Cloud data services can be cheap, and will pay enormous dividends if you suffer a catastrophic document loss. But, you have to preserve them first. Don’t let them get misplaced. Much like your important family documents, your important business documents are vital pieces of information. You may not need them every day, but the day you do need them, you want to have them quickly and easily available. They are that important. You don’t want to find yourself at an inopportune moment chasing paper.
Some helpful links include the following:
Knicole here. Sorry for the duplicative links. I don’t know how to delete them.
Today I’m going to answer a few inquiries about recovery audit contractor (“RAC”) audits from providers. A question that I get often is: “Do I have to submit the same medical records to my Medicare Administrative Contractor (“MAC”) that I submit to a RAC for an audit?” The answer is “No.” Providers are not required to submit medical records to the MAC if submitted to a RAC, but doing so is encouraged by most MACs. There is no requirement that you submit to the MAC what you submit to RACs. This makes sense because the MACs and the RACs have disparate job duties. One of the MACs, Palmetto, instructs providers to send records sent to a RAC directly to the Palmetto GBA Appeals Department. Why send the records for a RAC audit to a MAC appeals department? Are they forecasting your intentions? The instruction is nonsensical unless ulterior motives exist.
RAC audits are separate from mundane MAC issues. They are distinct. Quite frankly, your MAC shouldn’t even be aware of your audit. (Why is it their business?) Yet, many times I see the MACs cc-ed on correspondence. Often, I feel like it’s a conspiracy – and you’re not invited. You get audited, and everyone is notified. It’s as if you are guilty before any trial.
I also get this question for appeals – “Do I need to send the medical records again? I already sent them for the initial review. Why do I need to send the same documents for appeal?” I get it – making copies of medical records is time-consuming. It also costs money. Paper and ink don’t grow on trees. The answer is “Yes.” This may come as a shock, but sometimes documents are misplaced or lost. Auditors are humans, and mistakes occur. Just like, providers are humans, and 100% Medicare regulatory compliance is not required…people make mistakes; those mistakes shouldn’t cause financial ruin.
“Do the results of a RAC audit get sent to your MAC?” The answer is “Yes.” Penalties penalize you in the future. You have to disclose penalties, and the auditors can and will use the information against you. The more penalties you have paid in the past clear demonstrate that you suffer from abhorrent billing practices.
In fact, Medicare post-payment audits are estimated to have risen over 900 percent over the last five years. Medicare provider audits take money from providers and give to the auditors. If you are an auditor, you uncover bad results or you aren’t good at your job.
Politicians see audits as a financial win and a plus for their platform. Reducing fraud, waste, and abuse is a fantastic platform. Everyone gets on board, and votes increase.
Appealing your RAC audits is essential, but you have to understand that you won’t get a fair deal. The Medicare provider appeals process is an uphill battle for providers. And your MACs will be informed.
The first two levels, redeterminations and reconsiderations are, basically, rubber-stamps on the first determination.
The third level is the before an administrative law judge (ALJ), and is the first appeal level that is before an independent tribunal.
Moving to the False Claims Act, which is the ugly step-sister to regulatory non-compliance and overpayments. The government and qui tam relators filed 801 new cases in 2022. That number is down from the unprecedented heights reached in 2020 (when there were a record 922 new FCA cases), but is consistent with the pace otherwise set over the past decade, reflecting the upward trend in FCA activity by qui tam relators and the government since the 2009 amendments to the statute.
See the chart below for reference:
If you could light a torch to a Molotov Cocktail and a bunch of newspapers, you could not make a bigger explosion in my head than a recent Decision from a Medicare administrative law judge (“ALJ”). The extrapolation was upheld, despite an expert statistician citing its shortcomings, based on a CMS Ruling, which is neither law nor precedent. The Decision reminded me of the new Firestarter movie because everything is up in flames. Drew Barrymore would be proud.
I find it very lazy of the government to rely on sampling and extrapolations, especially in light that no witness testifies to its accuracy.
Because this ALJ relied so heavily on CMS Rulings, I wanted to do a little detective work as to whether CMS Rulings are binding or even law. First, I logged onto Westlaw to search for “CMS Ruling” in any case in any jurisdiction in America. Nothing. Not one case ever mentioned “CMS Ruling.” Ever. (Nor did my law school).
What Is a CMS Ruling?
A CMS Ruling is defined as, “decisions of the Administrator that serve as precedent final opinions and orders and statements of policy and interpretation. They provide clarification and interpretation of complex or ambiguous provisions of the law or regulations relating to Medicare, Medicaid, Utilization and Quality Control Peer Review, private health insurance, and related matters.”
But Are CMS Rulings Law?
No. CMS Rulings are not law. CMS Rulings are not binding on district court judges because district court judges are not part of HHS or CMS. However, the Medicare ALJs are considered part of HHS and CMS; thus the CMS Rulings are binding on Medicare ALJs.
This creates a dichotomy between the “real law” and agency rules. When you read CMS Ruling 86-1, it reads as if there two parties with oppositive views, both presented their arguments, and the Administrator makes a ruling. But the Administrator is not a Judge, but the Ruling reads like a court case. CMS Rulings are not binding on:
- The Supreme Court
- Appellate Courts
- The real world outside of CMS
- District Courts
- The Department of Transportation
- Civil Jurisprudence
- The Department of Education
- Etc. – You get the point.
So why are Medicare providers held subject to penalties based on CMS Rulings, when after the providers appeal their case to district court, that “rule” that was subjected against them (saying they owe $7 million) is rendered moot? Can we say – not fair, equitable, Constitutional, and flies in the face of due process?
The future does not look bright for providers going forward in defending overzealous, erroneous, and misplaced audits. These audits aren’t even backed up by witnesses – seriously, at the ALJ Medicare appeals, there is no statistician testifying to verify the results. Yet some of the ALJs are still upholding these audits.
In the “court case,” which resulted in CMS Ruling 86-1, the provider argued that:
- There is no legal authority in the Medicare statute or regulations for HCFA or its intermediaries to determine overpayments by projecting the findings of a sample of specific claims onto a universe of unspecified beneficiaries and claims.
- Section 1879 of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 1395pp, contemplates that medical necessity and custodial care coverage determinations will be made only by means of a case-by-case review.
- When sampling is used, providers are not able to bill individual beneficiaries not in the sample group for the services determined to be noncovered.
- Use of a sampling procedure violates the rights of providers to appeal adverse determinations.
- The use of sampling and extrapolation to determine overpayments deprives the provider of due process.
The CMS Ruling 86-1 was decided by Mr. Henry R. Desmarais, Acting Administrator, Health Care Financing Administration in 1986.
Think it should be upheld?
If you receive a letter from CMS or your State Department terminating your Medicare or Medicaid contract, would that affect you financially? I ask this rhetorical question because providers’ rights to a Medicare or Medicaid contract or to reimbursements for services rendered is a split in the Circuit Courts. Thankfully, I reside in the 4th Circuit, which has unambiguously held that providers and recipients have a property right in reimbursements for services rendered, a Medicare/caid contract and the right to the freedom of choice of provider. If you live in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, I am sorry. You have no rights.
Usually when there is split decision among the Circuit Courts, the Supreme Court weighs in. But, it has not. In fact, it declined to opine. Timing is everything. A 4th Circuit court of Decision giving providers property rights requested the Supreme Court to weigh in and finally end this rift amongst the Circuits. But, sadly, Justice Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020. The Supreme Court declined to review the Fourth Circuit decision on October 13, 2020. Justice Barrett was confirmed by the Senate on October 26, 2020 and was sworn in on October 27, 2020. So, the certiorari was denied – I assume – due to the vacant seat at the time.
In 40 States, managed care manages Medicaid. The contracts they write are Draconian, saying that either party may terminate at will for no cause but for convenience. Termination at will is all fine and good in the private sector. However, Medicare and Medicaid are highly regulated, and when tax dollars and access to care are at issue, property rights are created.
In NC State Court, against the judgment of the 4th Circuit, a November 5, 2021, unpublished case determined that providers have no property rights to a Medicaid contract and an MCO can terminate at whim. Family Innovations v. Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions, No. COA20-681 (June 1, 2021). Unpublished decisions are supposed to carry no weight. Unpublished decisions are not supposed to be controlling. Citation is disfavored.
Yet, in a strange turn of events, our State administrative courts have rendered, in the last week and in violation of 4th Circuit and administrative case law, that the termination-at-will clause in the MCO contract that a provider is forced to sign stands and is enforceable. These were new Judges and obviously were not well-versed in Medicaid law. Both came from employment law backgrounds, which is completely different than the health care world. But their rash and uneducated decisions bankrupt companies and shut down access to care for medically necessary behavioral health care services.
The upshot? If you have managed care companies in charge of your Medicaid or Medicare contracts, review your contracts now. Is there a termination-at-will clause? Because if there is, you too could lose your contract at any time. Depending on where you reside, you may or may not have property rights in the Medicare Medicaid contract. This is an issue that the Supreme Court must decide. Too many providers are getting erroneously and discriminatorily terminated for no reason and given no due process.
We must bring litigation to thwart the Courts that uphold termination-at-will clauses. Especially, in the era of COVID, we need our health care providers. We certainly do not need the MCOs, which kill access to care.
A ZPIC audited a client of mine a few years ago and found an alleged overpayment of over $7 million. Prior to them hiring my team, they obtained a preliminary injunction in federal court – like I always preach to do – remember, that between the levels 2 and 3 of a Medicare provider appeal, CMS can recoup the alleged overpayment. This is sheer balderdash; the government should not be able to recoup funds that the provider, most likely, doesn’t owe. But this is the law. I guess we need to petition Congress to change this tomfoolery.
Going back to the case, an injunction stops the premature recoupments, but it does nothing regarding the actual alleged overpayments. In fact, the very reason that you can go to federal court based on an administrative action is because the injunction is ancillary to the merits of the contested case. Otherwise, you would have to exhaust your administrative remedies.
Here, we asserted, the premature recoupments (1) violated its rights to procedural due process, (2) infringed its substantive due-process rights, (3) established an “ultra vires” cause of action, and (4) entitled it to a “preservation of rights” injunction under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 704–05. We won the battle, but not the war. To date, we have no date for an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) – or level 3 – hearing on the merits.
For those of you who have participated in a third-level, Medicare provider appeal will know that, many times, no one shows for the other side. The other side being the entity claiming that you owe $7million. For such an outlandish claim of $7 million, would you not think that the side protesting that you owe $7 million would appear and try to prove it? At my most recent ALJ hearing, no one appeared for the government. Literally, my client – a facility in NJ that serves the MS population – me and the ALJ were the only participants. Are the auditors so falsely confident that they believe their audits speaks for itself?
In this particular case, the questionable issue was whether the MS provider’s consumers met the qualifications for the skilled rehabilitation due to no exacerbated physical issues. However, we all know from the Jimmo settlement, that having exacerbated issues or improvement is not a requirement to requiring skilled rehab versus exercising with your spouse. The ALJ actually said – “I cannot believe this issue has gotten this far.” I agree.
“Get thee to a nunnery!” screamed Hamlet to Ophelia in frustration of his mother marrying Claudius so quickly after his father’s death. Similarly any provider who has undergone a Medicare appeal understands the frustration of getting the appeal to the administrative law judge level (the 3rd level). It takes years to do so, and it is the imperative step instead of the lower level rubber stamps. “Get thee to an ALJ!”
Per regulation, once you appeal an alleged Medicare overpayment, no recoupment of the disputed funds occurs until after you receive the second level review, which is usually the QIC upholding the overpayment. It is no secret that the Medicare provider appeals’ level one and two are basically an automatic approval process of the decision to recoup. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Hence, the importance of the ALJ level.
There are 5 levels of Medicare appeals available to providers:
- Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
- Departmental Appeals Board (DAB) Review
- Federal Court (Judicial) Review
The third level is the level in which you present your case to an ALJ, who is an impartial independent tribunal. Unfortunately, right now, it takes about five years between levels two and three, although with CMS hiring 70 new ALJs, the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA) is optimistic that the backlog will quickly dissipate. Last week, I attended an ALJ hearing for a client based on an audit conducted in 2016. Five years later, we finally presented to the ALJ. When the ALJ was presented with our evidence which clearly demonstrated that the provider should not pay anything, he actually said, “I’m shocked this issue got this far.” As in, this should have been reversed before this level. “O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!”
In many cases, a premature recoupment of funds in dispute will financially destroy the health care provider, which should not be the purpose of any overpayment nor the consequence of any fraud, waste, and abuse program. We are talking about documentation nit-picking. Not fraud. Such as services notes signed late, according to best practices. Or quibbles about medical necessity or the definition of in patient and the two-midnight rule.
You have all probably read my blogs about the Family Rehab case that came out in TX in 2019. A Court found that Family Rehab, a health care facility, which faced a $7 million alleged overpayment required an injunction. The Judge Ordered that CMS be enjoined from prematurely recouping Medicare reimbursements from Family Rehab. Now, be mindful, the Judge did not enjoin CMS the first time Family Rehab requested an injunction; Superior Court initially dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction based on failure to exhaust its administrative remedies. But instead of giving up, which is what most providers would do when faced with a dismissed injunction request due to emotional turmoil and finances. “To be, or not to be: that is the question:” Instead, Family Rehab appealed the dismissal to the Court of Appeals and won. The 5th Circuit held that Superior Court does have jurisdiction to hear a collateral challenge on both procedural due process grounds as well as an ultra vires action. On remand, Family Rehab successfully obtained a permanent injunction.
The clinical issues supposedly in support of the overpayment are silly. In Family Rehab’s case, the ZPIC claims homebound criteria was not met when it is clearly met by a reasonable review of the documents.
Homebound is defined as:
The patient must either:
- Because of illness or injury, need the aid of supportive devices such as crutches, canes, wheelchairs, and walkers; the use of special transportation; or the assistance of another person in order to leave their place of residence
- Have a condition such that leaving his or her home is medically contraindicated.
If the patient meets one of the Criteria One conditions, then the patient must ALSO meet two additional requirements in Criteria Two below:
- There must exist a normal inability to leave home;
- Leaving home must require a considerable and taxing effort.
In one of the claims that the ZPIC found no homebound status, the consumer was legally blind and in a wheelchair! The injunction hinged on the Court’s finding that because the ALJ stage is critical in decreasing the risk of erroneous deprivation, an injunction was necessary. I look forward to the ALJ hearing. “The rest is silence.”