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RAC Audits: If It Walks Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck, It IS a RAC Audit

Recently, hundreds of dentists across North Carolina received Tentative Notices of Overpayment (TNOs) from Public Consulting Group (PCG) demanding recoupment for reimbursements made to dentists who rendered services on Medicaid for Pregnant Women (MPW) eligible recipients. There was no dispute at this hearing that these women were eligible for MPW according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) portal. There was also no dispute that these woman had delivered their babies prior to the date of dental service. So the question becomes: If DHHS informs a dentist that a woman is MPW eligible on the date of the service, does that dentist have an individual and separate burden to determine whether these women are pregnant. And if so, what is it? Have them pee in a cup prior to dental services?  See blog, and blog, and blog.

We do not have a definitive answer to the above-posed question, as the Judge has not rendered his decision. However, he did substantially limit these “nameless audits” or “non-RAC” audits to the RAC program limitations. In an Order on our Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that, even if the State does not agree that an audit is a RAC audit, if the audit conducted falls within the definition of a RAC audit, then the audit is a RAC audit.

The reason this is important is because RAC auditors yield such powerful and overwhelming tools against health care providers, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) limits the RAC auditors’ ability to look-back on older claims. For example, even though a provider is, generally, required to maintain records for six (6) years, the federal regulations only allow RAC auditors to look-back three (3) years, unless credible allegations of fraud exist.

Thus, when an auditor reviews documents over three-years-old, I always argue that the review of claims over 3-years-old violates the statute of limitations and federal law.

During hearings, inevitably, the state argues that this particular audit…the one at issue here…is not a RAC audit. The opposing side could no more identify which acronym this audit happens to be, but this audit is not a RAC. “I don’t know what it is, but I know what it’s not!”

Well, an ALJ looked past the rhetoric and pleas by the State that “this is not a RAC” and held that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a RAC audit and, subsequently, the RAC audit limitations do apply.

In the case for this dentist, Public Consulting Group (PCG) audited claims going back as far as six years! The Department of Health and Human Services’ argument was that this audit is not a RAC audit. So what is it? What makes it NOT a RAC? Because you say so? We all know that PCG has a contract with DHHS to perform RAC audits. Is this audit somehow outside its contractual purview?

So I filed a Motion for Summary Judgment requesting the Judge to throw out all claims outside the three-year look-back period per the RAC limitations.

Lo, and behold, I was right!! (The good guys win again!)

To understand this fully, it is important to first understand what the RAC program is and its intention. (“It depends on what the definition of “is” is”).

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(a)(42):

the State shall—(i) establish a program under which the State contracts (consistent with State law and in the same manner as the Secretary enters into contracts with recovery audit contractors under section 1893(h), subject to such exceptions or requirements as the Secretary may require for purposes of this title or a particular State) with 1 or more recovery audit contractors for the purpose of identifying underpayments and overpayments and recouping overpayments under the State plan and under any waiver of the State plan with respect to all services for which payment is made to any entity under such plan or waiver[].

(emphasis added).

RAC is defined as an entity that “…will review claims submitted by providers of items and services or other individuals furnishing items and services for which payment has been made under section 1902(a) of the Act or under any waiver of the State Plan to identify underpayments and overpayment and recoup overpayments for the States.” 42 CFR § 455.506(a).

Under this definition, PCG is clearly a recovery audit contractor. And the Judge agreed. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, just because the duck protests it is a donkey, it is still a duck. (Hmmmm..wonder how this logic would carry over to the whole transgender bathroom issue…another topic for another blogger…)

RACs must follow certain limitations as outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations. For example, pursuant to 42 C.F.R. § 455.508(f), a Medicaid RAC “must not review claims that are older than 3 years from the date of the claim, unless it receives approval from the State.”

In this particular case, there were 15 claims at issue. Eleven (11) of those claims were outside the three-year look-back period!! With one fell swoop of an ALJ’s signature, we reduced the claims at issue from 15 to 4. Nice!

In DHHS’ Response to our Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, DHHS argued that, in this case, PCG was not acting as a RAC; therefore, the limitations do not apply. In support of such decision, DHHS supplied an affidavit of a DMA employee. She averred that the audit of this particular dentist was not per the RAC program. No rules were cited. No contract in support of her position was provided. Nothing except an affidavit of a DMA employee.

Obviously, it is my opinion that the ALJ was 100% accurate in ruling that this audit was a RAC audit and was limited in scope to a 3-year look-back period.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is not a donkey. No matter how much it pleads that it is, in fact, a donkey!

Remember the Super Bowl Ad of the Puppy, Baby, Monkey?:

superbowlpic

That is so NOT ok!

Liability Insurance for Health Care Providers: Is It Adequate?

When you, as a health care provider, undergo a regulatory Medicare or Medicaid audit, your liability insurance could be your best friend or your worst enemy. It is imperative that you understand your liability coverage prior to ever undergoing an audit.

There are two very important issues that you need to know about your liability insurance:

1. Whether your liability insurance covers your choice of attorney; and
2. Whether your liability insurance covers settlements and/or judgments.

I cannot express the importance of these two issues when it comes to regulatory audits, paybacks and recoupments. Let me explain why…

Does your liability insurance cover attorneys’ fees for your choice of provider?

I have blogged numerous times over the past years about the importance of knowing whether your liability insurance covers your attorneys’ fees. I have come to realize that whether your liability insurance covers your attorneys’ fees is less important than knowing whether your liability insurance covers your choice of attorney. Believe it or not, when it comes to litigating regulatory issues in the Medicare/Medicaid, attorneys are not fungible.

A client of mine summed it up for me today. She said, “I wouldn’t go to my dentist for a PAP smear.”

Case in point, here are some examples of misconceptions that attorneys NOT familiar with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) might think:

Myth: Getting the case continued is a breeze, especially if all the parties consent to it.

Reality: Generally, OAH is reluctant to continue cases, except for good cause, especially when a case has pended for a certain amount of time. (This has been a more recent trend and could change in the future).

Myth: When my case is scheduled for trial on X date, it will be a cattle call and we will only determine when the case will be actually heard, so I don’t need to prepare for trial. (This is true in superior court).

Reality: Incorrect. Most likely, you will be heard. OAH has a number of administrative law judges (ALJs) who are assigned cases. Generally, they only schedule one case per day, although there are exceptions.

Myth: Since we are going to trial next week, the other side must not intend to file a motion to dismiss or motion for summary judgment. I don’t need to prepare any counter arguments.

Reality: The administrative rules allow attorneys to orally file motion the day of trial.

You can imagine how devastating attorney misconceptions can be to your case. An attorney with these misconceptions could very well appear unprepared at a trial, which could have catastrophic consequences on you and your company.

Tip:

Review your liability insurance. Determine whether your liability insurance covers attorneys’ fees. Then determine whether it covers your choice of attorney.

Does your liability insurance cover settlements and/or judgments?

Recently, a client was informed that the agency allegedly owes over $400,000 to the auditing agency. We will call him Jim. Jim came to me, and I instructed him to determine whether his liability insurance covers attorneys’ fees. It turned out that his insurance did cover attorneys’ fees, but only a certain attorney. Jim had overlooked our first issue.

Despite the fact that his insurance would not cover my fees, he opted to stick with me. (Thanks, Jim).

Regardless, once settlement discussions arose between us and the auditing entity, which in this particular case was Palmetto, I asked Jim for a copy of his liability insurance. If his liability insurance covers settlements, then we have all the incentive in the world to settle and skip an expensive hearing.

I was shocked at the language of the liability insurance.

According to the contract, insurance company would pay for attorneys’ fees (just not mine). Ok, fine. But the insurance company would contribute nothing to settlements or judgments.

What does that mean?

Insurance company could provide Jim with bargain basement attorneys, the cheapest it could find, with no regard as to whether the attorney were a corporate, litigation, real estate, tax, bankruptcy, or health care lawyer BECAUSE

The insurance company has no skin in the game. In other words, the insurance company could not care less whether the case settles, goes to trial, or disappears. Its only duty is to pay for some lawyer.

Whereas if the insurance company were liable for, say, 20% of a settlement or judgment, wouldn’t the insurance company care whether the hired lawyer were any good?

Tip:

Print off your liability insurance. Read it. Does your liability insurance cover attorneys’ fees for your choice of provider?

Does your liability insurance cover settlements and/or judgments?

Judge Orders State’s Termination of Provider’s Medicaid Contract To Be REVERSED, Despite the Unilateral Termination!!

THE CASES LISTED BELOW ARE ILLUSTRATIVE OF THE MATTERS HANDLED BY THE FIRM. CASE RESULTS DEPEND UPON A VARIETY OF FACTORS UNIQUE TO EACH CASE. NOT ALL CASE RESULTS ARE PROVIDED. CASE RESULTS DO NOT GUARANTEE OR PREDICT A SIMILAR RESULT IN ANY FUTURE CASE UNDERTAKEN BY THE LAWYER.

[The names and services involved have been changed to protect the innocent. Lawyers have so many rules to follow…probably due to litigation].

Imagine that the State of North Carolina knocks on your office door and informs you that you are no longer allowed to accept Medicaid and/or Medicare reimbursement rates. That for whatever reason, you are no longer allowed to bill for Medicaid and/or Medicare services. You would expect a reason, right? You would expect the reason to be correct, right?

But what if the reason is invalid?

A North Carolina administrative judge recently held that the State’s reason for terminating a Medicaid provider’s contract must be accurate, and REVERSED the State’s decision to terminate its Medicaid contract with my client.  Here’s the story:

The State terminated my client’s contract to provide chiropractic services.

In this case it was a bit of a duress contract (as are most Medicaid contracts) – a “take or leave it” offer to the local service provider.  If you are a provider and want to continue to serve Medicaid recipients, you have no choice but to sign whatever contract the State gives you. You cannot negotiate. You’d be told to sign the contract “as is,” or you do not provide services. I know of a provider who, before he signed a contract with the State, crossed out a number of clauses. The State just sent him a clean, un-altered contract, same as the original, and told him sign it, no changes allowed.

Going back to my case…

My client is a provider that provides chiropractic services. In this case, the State inaccurately claimed that my client provided services without a proper license.

Upon the State’s termination of my client’s contract for chiropractic services, we filed a petition to the Office of Administrative Hearings in 2013 and asked the administrative law judge for a temporary restraining order, a motion to stay the termination, and a Preliminary Injunction to enjoin the State from terminating my client’s Medicaid provider contract.

The administrative law judge (ALJ) issued the temporary restraining order in May 2013. According to judge, we demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits and that any failure to award the injunction would cause irreparable harm.

Obtaining an injunction, however, was not a complete victory. We had won an opening battle, but not the war.

A temporary injunction is exactly that…temporary. We had two additional hurdles to overcome: (1) a hearing at which we would have to prove to the judge that we were likely to succeed and the irreparable harm would be so irreparable that the judge should award us a longer injunction, at least until we could have a full hearing on the merits; and (2) a final hearing on the merits.

We received the Final Decision from the ALJ last week. The judge found that my client performed its contractual and legal obligations and that the State acted erroneously in determining that my client had breached its contract. The judge found the weight of the evidence sufficient to prove that my client provided services with a proper license.

If you think a 2 year injunction is pretty long, from May 2013 to now, you are right.

But think about this…from May 2013, through today and into the foreseeable future, as long as the contract is in effect, my client has been and will be able to provide medically necessary chiropractic services to those in need and receive reimbursements for those medically necessary services. This case shows why it is important for providers to assert their rights when those are violated.

And it shows also that the State is not allowed to arbitrarily violate those provider rights.

How EPSDT Allows Medicaid Recipients Under the Age of 21 To Receive More Services Than Covered By NC State Plan

EPSDT. What in the heck is EPSDT?

EPSDT is an acronym for the “Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT).” It only applies to Medicaid beneficiaries under the age of 21. As in, if you are 21, EPSDT does not apply to you. The point of EPSDT is to allow beneficiaries under the age of 21 to receive medically necessary services not normally allowed by the NC Medicaid State Plan. (These beneficiaries under the age of 21 I will call “children” for the sake of this blog, despite 18+ being a legal adult).

The definition of each part of the acronym is below:

Early:……. Assessing and identifying problems early
Periodic:…… Checking children’s health at periodic, age-appropriate intervals
Screening:…. Providing physical, mental, developmental, dental, hearing, vision, and other screening tests to detect potential problems
Diagnostic:…. Performing diagnostic tests to follow-up when a risk is identified, and
Treatment:…. Control, correct or reduce health problems found.

Federal Medicaid law at 42 U.S.C.§ 1396d(r) [1905(r) of the Social Security Act] requires state Medicaid programs to provide EPSDT for beneficiaries under 21 years of age. Within the scope of EPSDT benefits under the federal Medicaid law, states are required to cover any service that is medically necessary “to correct or ameliorate a defect, physical or mental illness, or a condition identified by screening,” whether or not the service is covered under the North Carolina State Medicaid Plan.

The services covered under EPSDT are limited to those within the scope of the category of services listed in the federal law at 42 U.S.C. § 1396d (a) [1905(a) of the Social Security Act].

For example, EPSDT will not cover, nor is it required to cover, purely cosmetic or experimental treatments.

Again, EPSDT allows for exceptions to Medicaid policies for beneficiaries under the age of 21. For example, if the DMA clinical policy for dental procedures does not cover a certain procedure, if the dentist determines that the procedure is medically necessary for a beneficiary under the age of 21, then the dentist can request prior approval under EPSDT simply by filling out a “non-covered services form” along with the other supporting documentation to establish medical necessity. More likely than not, the “non-covered procedure” would be approved.

Medical necessity is an interesting term. Medical necessity is not defined by statute. The American Medical Association (AMA) defines medical necessity as:

“Health care services or products that a prudent physician would provide to a patient for the purpose of preventing, diagnosing, treating or rehabilitating an illness, injury, disease or its associated symptoms, impairments or functional limitations in a manner that is: (1) in accordance with generally accepted standards of medical practice; (2) clinically appropriate in terms of type, frequency, extent, site and duration; and (3) not primarily for the convenience of the patient, physician, or other health care provider.”

But, legally, the courts have construed medical necessity broadly when it comes to EPSDT. As in, generally speaking, if a doctor will testify that a procedure or service is medically necessary, then, generally speaking, a judge will accept the medical necessity of the procedure or service.

It seems as though I am degrading the intelligence of the judges that take the face value testimony of the doctors. But I am not.

Judges, like I, are not doctors. We do not have the benefit of a medical education. I say benefit because any education is a benefit, in my opinion.

It would be difficult for anyone who is not a doctor to disagree with the testimony of a physician testifying to medical necessity. I mean, unless the person stayed in a Holiday Inn Express the night before. (I know…bad joke).

Some courts, however, have ruled that the decision as to whether a procedure is medically necessary must be a joint effort by the state and the treating physician. Obviously, for courts that follow the “joint decision for medical necessity” holdings, less procedures would be allowed under EPSDT because, more likely than not, the state will disagree with a treating physician (I say this only from my own experience representing the state when the state disagreed with EPSDT treatments despite the treating physician testifying that the procedure was medically necessary).

For example, the 11th Circuit has held that both the state and the treating physician have a role in determining whether a procedure or treatment is medically necessary to correct or ameliorate a medical condition. The 11th circuit disagreed with the Northern District of Georgia’s determination that the state MUST provide the amount of services which the treating physician dreamed necessary. Moore v. Medows, No. 08-13926, 2009 WL 1099133 (11th Cir. Apr. 24, 2009).

Regardless, in practice, EPSDT is interpreted broadly. A long, long time ago, I worked at the Attorneys’ Generals office. A mother requested hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) for her autistic children (and I had to oppose her request because that was my job).

For those of you who do not know what HBOT is (I sure didn’t know what HBOT is prior to this particular case)…

“Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is the use of high pressure oxygen as a drug to treat basic pathophysiologic processes and their diseases. HBOT has acute and chronic drug effects. Acutely, HBOT has been proven to be the most powerful inhibitor of reperfusion injury, which is the injury that occurs to tissue deprived of blood supply when blood flow is resumed. This is thought to be one of the primary mechanisms of hyperbaric oxygen therapy effects in acute global ischemia, anoxia, and coma. Chronically, HBOT acts as a signal inducer of DNA to effect trophic (growth) tissue changes.” See http://www.hbot.com/hbot.

I went and saw a hyperbaric oxygen treatment chamber in preparation of my case. It’s pretty intimidating. It is a large chamber made of thick metal. It looks like you could get inside, have it submerged under the ocean, and explore. It appears similar to a submarine. And, interestingly, it is most often used for divers who get the bends.

It is highly controversial as to whether HBOT cures, remedies or ameliorates autistic symptoms. I had two experts testifying that HBOT was experimental, and, therefore, not covered by Medicaid, even with EPSDT. (Remember, back then I was at the AG’s office).

Yet, despite the fact that HBOT was still controversial as to whether it ameliorates the symptoms of autism, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) used the EPSDT doctrine to rule that the mother’s children could receive HBOT and Medicaid must pay for the services.

That is the power of EPSDT. HBOT was clearly not covered by Medicaid for the purpose of ameliorating symptoms of autism. But, for the children named in the Petition who were under 21, Medicaid paid nonetheless.

HBOT allows beneficiaries under the age of 21 to receive medically necessary services that would not normally be allowed under the North Carolina Medicaid State Plan.

Importantly, EPSDT provides for private rights of action under 1983. At least all the federal circuit court of appeals have held such.

Oh, and, BTW, NCTracks will soon also be in charge of EPSDT determinations.