THE CENTER FOR MEDICARE AND MEDICAID SERVICES (“CMS”) 2023 Program Audit Process Overview came out recently. The report is published by the Division of Audit Operations. CMS will send engagement letters to initiate routine audits beginning February 2023 through July 2023. Engagement letters for ad hoc audits may be sent at any time throughout the year. The program areas for the 2023 audits include:
- CDAG: Part D Coverage Determinations, Appeals, and Grievances
- CPE: Compliance Program Effectiveness
- FA: Part D Formulary and Benefit Administration
- MMP-SARAG: Medicare-Medicaid Plan Service Authorization Requests, Appeals, and Grievances
- MMPCC: Medicare-Medicaid Plan Care Coordination
- ODAG: Part C Organization Determinations, Appeals, and Grievances
- SNPCC: Special Needs Plans Care Coordination
The Program Audit Process document is only 13 pages. Yet, it is supposed to set forth the rules that the auditors must abide by in 2023. My question is – what if they don’t. What if the auditors fail to follow proper procedure.
For example, similarly to last year, an audit consists of 4 phases.
- Audit engagement and universe submission
- Audit field work
- Audit reporting
- Audit validation and close out
I would like to add another phase. Phase 5 is appeal.
According to the Report, and this is a quote: “the Audit Engagement and Universe Submission (which is the 1st stage) is a six-week period prior to the field work portion of the audit. During this phase, a Sponsoring organization is notified that it has been selected for a program audit and is required to submit the requested data, which is outlined in the respective Program Audit Protocol and Data Request document.” My question is: The sponsoring organization? CMS is referring to the provider who getting audited as a sponsoring organization. And why does CMS call the provider who is getting audited sponsoring? Is it because after the audit the sponsoring organization will be paying in recoupments?
It is interesting that the first phase “Audit Engagement and Universe Submission,” lasts 6 weeks. At this point, I want to know, does the provider know that the facility has been targeted for an audit? As an attorney, I get to see the process in the aftermath. Folks call me in distress because they got the results of an audit and disagree. I have never had the opportunity to be involved from the get go. So, if any of y’all receive a notice of an audit, please call me. I won’t charge you. I just would love the experience of walking through an audit from the get go. I think it would make me better at my job.
In other news, as you know, CMS may issue civil money penalties to providers for alleged noncompliance. Other penalties exist as well, which may or may not be worse that civil penalties. On January 23, 2023, CMS published a correction that Total Longterm Care, Inc. d/b/a InnovAge Colorado PACE (InnovAge CO) corrected its violations. In 2021, CMS had suspended its ability to re-enroll. Another facility was imposed with pre-payment review, which means that the facility must submit claims to an auditor prior to receiving reimbursements. Pre-payment review is probably the worse penalty in existence. A client of mine was told yesterday that pre-payment review is imminent. The only recourse for pre-payment review is a federal or State injunction Staying the suspension of reimbursements. You cannot appeal being placed on pre-payment review. But you do have a chance to Stay the suspension. The suspension makes no sense to me. It’s as if the government is saying that you are guilty before an ability to prove innocence.
Happy 2023 to all my bloggies out there!! Over the New Year’s celebration, thousands gathered in a wet NYC to watch the ball drop. There was a shooting in Mobile, AL, killing one person and injuring 9. About 40 people died in Buffalo over the holidays due to severe cold weather. And a man named Jay Withey rescued 24 people in Buffalo during the blizzard. My friend got COVID and gave it to her mom. I took my 98-year-old grandma out for sushi and played pickleball with my mom and daughter.
Why the word vomit?
Well, it’s a New Year and a new start. I am choosing to have a positive attitude for 2023. Yes, you get audited. Yes, the government blows. Sometimes you do not get rainbows and applesauce every day. But the hard times give you strength. It’s the challenging times that teach you to appreciate the good. I have decided to think about life as school. You may not want to go, but it’s required. Attendance is required.
On the syllabus for today, should you choose to participate, is the 2023 Physicians Fee Schedule (“PFS”). On November 01, 2022, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) issued a final rule that includes updates and policy changes for Medicare payments under the PFS, and other Medicare Part B issues, effective on or after January 1, 2023. Well, guess what, folks? It is January 2, 2023.
For most services furnished in a physician’s office, Medicare makes payment to physicians and other professionals at a single rate based on the full range of resources involved in furnishing the service. In contrast, PFS rates paid to physicians and other billing practitioners in facility settings, such as a hospital outpatient department (“HOPD”) or an ambulatory surgical center (“ASC”), reflect only the portion of the resources typically incurred by the practitioner in the course of furnishing the service.
There was a 3% supplemental increase to PFS payments in 2022. That increase expires in 2023. The final 2023 PFS conversion factor is $33.06, a decrease of $1.55 to 2022 PFS conversion factor of $34.61.
What is a conversion factor (“CF”)? It is a convoluted equation that sets Medicare rates that differs depending on whether the health care service is rendered within a facility or out. CF is set by statute.
Evaluation and Management (“E/M”) Visits
For 2023, there are 25 codes that are going away. Here are the codes that are being deleted.
- Hospital observation services codes 99217—99220, 99224–99226
- Consultation codes 99241, 99251
- Nursing facility service 99318
- Domiciliary, rest home (eg, boarding home), or custodial care services, 99324—99328, 99334-99337, 99339, 99340
- Home or resident services code 99343
- Prolonged services codes 99354—99357
There is also a new Section entitled “initial and subsequent services,” which applies to hospital inpatient, observation care and nursing facility codes. It applies to both new and established patient visits. The AMA says,
“For the purpose of distinguishing between initial or subsequent visits, professional services are those face-to-face services rendered by physicians and other qualified health care professionals who may report evaluation and management services. An initial service is when the patient has not received any professional services from the physician or other qualified health care professional or another physician or other qualified health care professional of the exact same specialty and subspecialty who belongs to the same group practice, during the inpatient, observation, or nursing facility admission and stay.”
Admission and Discharge on the Same Day
Lastly, at least for this blog, codes 99234-99236, which are used for hospital inpatient or observation care and include the admission and discharge on the same day. The patient must be in the facility for greater than 8 hours. See the below table for reference:
These are just a few of the PFS 2023 changes. Stay tuned for new Medicare and Medicaid news on this blog by me, Knicole Emanuel.
Dental services do not, historically, “gel-well” with Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, most dentists do not accept Medicare and Medicaid, and, quite frankly, I do not blame them. Accepting Medicare and/or Medicaid comes with accepting the fact that your dental practice can – and will – be audited by CMS or your State government at-will, at any time, for any reason. Your dental practice can be raided at any time by any federal agency, including the FBI, DOJ, OIG, alleging civil and criminal violations when you, as a dentist, had no clue that your medical records could be used against you, if not up to snuff…according to the governmental auditor. Perhaps more dentists would accept Medicare and/or Medicaid patients if the definition of “medically necessary” is broadened. More incentive to accept government programs is always good.
Dental benefits are covered by Medicare only in limited circumstances, and many people on Medicare do not have any dental coverage at all unless they pay for a Medicare Advantage (“MA”) plan. However, Medicare and Medicaid could cover more dental services if Congress or CMS broadens the definition of “medical necessity.” But, even with MA, the scope of dental benefits, when covered, varies widely and is often quite limited, which can result in high out-of-pocket costs among those with expensive dental needs.
Medicare and/or Medicaid will determine whether a dental service is essential – or “medically necessary” – for a beneficiary’s exasperating, primary medical condition. Congress has fallen short on expanding the legal definition of “medical necessary” regarding dental services for Medicare and Medicaid recipients.
In a June 29, 2022, letter to CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, more than 100 members of the U.S. House of Representatives pled with CMS to expand its definition of “medically necessary” dental care. Lawmakers highlighted the serious issues stemming from the lack of access to affordable dental care. I do not know if you recall, but, in 2013-ish, I blogged about a young, African American boy, named Deamonte, who died in the emergency room from an abscessed tooth that ruptured, when that abscessed tooth could have been remedied by a dentist for a few hundred dollars. See blog.
Nearly half of Medicare beneficiaries (47%), or 24 million people, do not have dental coverage, as of 2019.
Almost half of all Medicare beneficiaries did not have a dental visit within the past year (47%), with higher rates among those who are Black (68%) or Hispanic (61%), have low incomes (73%), or who are in fair or poor health (63%), as of 2018.
In 2021, 94% of Medicare Advantage enrollees in individual plans (plans open for general enrollment), or 16.6 million enrollees, are in a plan that offers access to some dental coverage.
To those dentists or dental surgeons who do accept Medicare and/or Medicaid – THANK YOU!
Medicare and/or Medicaid audits for dental services, while not fun to deal with, are easily defensible…most of the time. A few years ago Medicaid sought to recoup money from dentists who provided services to women believed to be pregnant when the pregnancy was over. See blog. I thought it was absolutely ridiculous that your dentist has the burden to ensure a woman is or is not pregnant. I feel as though many dentists could be slapped by asking. Plus, the services were rendered, so a dentist should not have to pay to provide services.
Some nursing homes are facing tougher penalties, including the loss of federal funding. In an effort to increase quality of care in nursing homes, the Biden administration implemented revisions to the Special Focus Facility (“SFF”) program, which targets the “worst” nursing homes in each State. Nursing homes are selected for the program by the “single State agency” using a point system based on the number and severity of deficiencies cited during their past 3 inspections.
CMS released a revised SFF Program policy memo QS0-23-01-NH and these revisions are meant to increase: (A) the requirements for “graduation” of the SFF program; and (B) the enforcement for facilities that do not demonstrate improvement. A high-level overview of key changes made in the revised memo are as follows:
- Staffing levels is a consideration for SFF selection: CMS has directed states to consider a facility’s staffing level when selecting facilities for the SFF program. CMS recommends if a State is considering two candidates with a similar compliance history, it should select the facility with lower staffing ratios/rating as the SFF.
- Criteria for Graduation of the Program Escalated: CMS has added a threshold that prevents a facility from exiting based on the total number of deficiencies cited. To graduate from the program, facilities must complete two consecutive standard health surveys, with no intervening complaint, LSC, or EP surveys with 13 or more total deficiencies, or any deficiencies cited at scope and severity of “F” or higher.
- Involuntary Termination Enforced: SFFs with deficiencies cited at immediate Jeopardy (“IJ”) on any two surveys (standard health, complaint, LSC, or EP) while in the SFF program, will now be considered for discretionary termination.
- Enforcement Actions Increased: CMS will impose immediate sanctions on an SFF that fails to achieve and maintain significant improvement in correcting deficiencies on the first and each subsequent standard health, complaint and LSC/EP survey after a facility becomes an SFF. Enforcement sanctions will be of increasing severity for SFFs demonstrating continued noncompliance and failure to demonstrate good faith efforts to improve performance.
- Sustainable Improvements Incentivized: CMS will closely monitor graduates from the SFF program for a period of three years to ensure improvements are sustained. For SFFs that graduate but continue to demonstrate poor compliance identified on any survey (e.g., actual harm, substandard quality of care, or IJ deficiencies), CMS may use its authority to impose enhanced enforcement options, up to, and including discretionary termination from the Medicare and/or Medicaid programs.
It is imperative to note that your past alleged violations will work against you. This means that if you are cited with a deficiency, it is of the utmost importance, if you disagree with the assessment, to appeal the alleged deficiency. If you merely pay the penalty and roll over like an old dog, your lack of appealing can aid toward your demise. You are basically being held to a giant, bell curve against the other nursing homes in your State.
Once in the SFF program, nursing homes are inspected at least every six months rather than annually. State inspectors apply progressive enforcement—penalties, fines, withholding of payments—until the facilities significantly improve or are terminated from Medicaid and/or Medicare.
Nationally, 88 nursing homes participate in the SFF program, about 0.5% of all nursing homes. It is mandatory if chosen.
The facilities with the most points in a state then become candidates for the SFF program. The number of nursing homes on the candidate list is based on five candidates for each SFF slot, with a minimum candidate pool of five nursing homes and a maximum of 30 per State. State Agencies (“SAs”) use this list to select nursing homes to fill the SFF slot(s) in their State. Additionally, since a facility’s staffing (staffing levels and turnover) is very important to residents’ care, CMS recommends that SAs consider a facility’s staffing information when selecting SFFs from the SFF candidate list. See the list of current candidates in Table D, current as of December 7, 2022. For example, NC has 10 facilities on the proposed list for participation in the SFF program. Each State is allotted a number of SFFs the State may allot. See below.
Once a State selects a facility as an SFF, the SA, on CMS’s behalf, conducts a full, onsite inspection of all Medicare health and safety requirements every six months, and recommends progressive enforcement (e.g., civil money penalty, denial of Medicare payment, etc.) until the nursing home either: (1) graduates from the SFF program; or (2) is terminated from the Medicare and/or Medicaid program(s). While in the SFF program, CMS expects facilities to take meaningful actions to address the underlying and systemic issues leading to poor quality.
Once an SFF graduates or is terminated, each SA then selects a new SFF from a monthly list of candidates. CMS also informs candidate nursing homes of their inclusion on the SFF candidate list in the monthly preview of the Five-Star Quality Rating System. The facility will graduate from the SFF program once it has had two consecutive standard health surveys with 12 or fewer deficiencies cited at S/S of “E” or less on each survey (these surveys must have occurred after the facility has been selected as an SFF). To avoid situations where a facility remains an SFF for a prolonged period of time, CMS is establishing criteria that could result in the facility’s termination from the Medicare and/or Medicaid programs. SFFs with deficiencies cited at Immediate Jeopardy on any two surveys while in the SFF program, will be considered for discretionary termination.
While the initial SFF designation is not appealable, the facility does have some appeal rights. Federal regulations allow for dispute resolution and to appeal a finding of noncompliance determined under an SFF survey that results in an enforcement remedy.
If you find yourself on the SFF list, you must hire a lawyer with expertise. Your lawyer should be able to help you “graduate” from the SFF list without termination or closure. Your lawyer can help negotiate Systems Improvement Agreements (“SIAs”) with SAs and CMS to provide additional time for nursing homes to improve their internal systems and the quality of care they provide.
Extrapolated audits are the worst.
These audits under sample and over extrapolate – almost to the point that some audits allege that you owe more than you were paid. How is that fair in our judicial system? I mean, our country was founded on “due process.” That means you have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If the government attempts to pursue your reimbursements at all, much less a greater amount than what you received, you are required notice and a hearing.
Not to mention that OIG conducted a Report back in 2020 that identified numerous mistakes in the extrapolations. The Report stated: “CMS did not always provide sufficient guidance and oversight to ensure that these reviews were performed in a consistent manner.” I don’t know about you, but that is disconcerting to me. It also stated that “The test was associated with at least $42 million in extrapolated overpayments that were overturned in fiscal years 2017 and 2018. If CMS did not intend that the contractors use this procedure, these extrapolations should not have been overturned. Conversely, if CMS intended that contractors use this procedure, it is possible that other extrapolations should have been overturned but were not.“
I have undergone hundreds of Medicare and Medicaid audits with extrapolations. You defend against these audits twofold: 1) by hiring an expert statistician to debunk the extrapolation; and 2) by using the provider as an expert clinician to discredit the denials. However, I am always dismayed…maybe that’s not the right word…flabbergasted that no one ever shows up on the other side. It is as if CMS via whatever contractor conducted the extrapolated audit believes that their audit needs no one to prove its veracity. As if we attorneys and providers should just accept their findings as truth, and they get the benefit of NOT hiring a lawyer and NOT showing up to ALJ trials.
In the above picture, the side with the money is CMS. The empty side is the provider.
In normal trials, as you know, there are two opposing sides: a Plaintiff and a Defendant, although in administrative law it’s called a Petitioner and a Respondent. Medicaid provider appeals also have two opponents. However, in Medicare provider appeals, there is only one side: YOU. An ALJ will appear, but no auditor to defend the merits of the alleged overpayment that you, as a provider, are accused of owing.
In normal trials, if a party fails to appear, the Judge will almost automatically rule against the non-appearing party. Why isn’t it the same for Medicare provider appeals? If a Medicare provider appears to dispute an alleged audit, the Judge does not rule automatically in favor of the provider. Quite the opposite quite frankly. The CMS Rules, which apply to all venues under the purview of CMS, which includes the ALJ level and the Medicare Appeals Council level, are crafted against providers, it seems. Regardless the Rules create a procedure in which providers, not the auditors, are forced to retain counsel, which costs money, retain a statistician in cases of extrapolations, which costs money, go through years of appeals through 5 levels, all of which the CMS Rules apply. Real law doesn’t apply until the district court level, which is a 6th level – and 8 years later.
Any providers reading, who retain lobbyists, this Medicare appeal process needs to change legislatively.
Happy Halloween. This year I am dressing as Freddy Krueger and my daughter, who is 17, says, “that’s so 80’s.” I guess some younger kids will just think I’m a spooky lady in a green and red sweater with knives for fingers. In honor of Halloween, I would like to tell you three ghost stories, of Medicare money that has vanished never to be found.
First, a ghoulish report from OIG states that CMS has not done enough to recoup Medicare payments found in 12 hospitals. Nothing like a report saying “CMS isn’t getting enough money” to make CMS “trick or treat” with more audits. According to the OIG report, CMS is short staffed, like almost every employer in America. Apparently, CMS claims to have too many phantoms instead of employees to track down every dollar, which I must say, makes me superstitious. If CMS is claiming to not have enough resources to track down money that has been targeted at 12 hospitals, how is it conducting the other audits nation-wide?
Among the 12 hospitals, supposedly, there is an eerie $82 million allegedly owed to CMS.
OIG recommended recouping all the money, but, according to OIG, CMS has provided insufficient information. Specifically, CMS did not provide information on the status of appeals hospitals levied against OIG’s overpayment findings. CMS didn’t provide information on the reason for the appeal or status of the action. Personally, I am just happy the hospitals appealed.
The second ghost story entails CMS’ continual audit of providers, especially the Medicare Advantage plans, which are nightmares. CMS has agreed to release the audits of 90 MA plans conducted between 2011 and 2013. These records are expected to demonstrate more than $600 million in MA overpayments due to alleged upcoding. Chilling!
Finally, a NC hospital system, Atrium Health, publicly announced that in 2019 it provided $640 million to Medicare patients that were never paid for. You would think this spine chilling unless you knew the tax breaks associated with the charity. But for the same year that Atrium’s website says it recorded the $640 million loss on Medicare, the hospital system claimed $82 million in profits from Medicare and an additional $37.2 million in profits from Medicare Advantage in a federally required financial document. Sleight of hand and hocus pocus!
When natural disasters strike, Medicare and Medicaid audits become less important, and human safety becomes most important. During Hurricane Ian, 16 hospitals were evacuated in Florida alone. Hospitals and long-term care facilities were without water.
Approximately, 8,000 patients were evacuated from 47 nursing homes and 115 assisted living facilities. Seventy-eight nursing homes lost power and all had to implement emergency plans involving generator power. Did the providers continue to bill during this time? If so, could regulations be followed in the midst of a pandemic.
These natural disasters impact future Medicare and Medicaid audits. Obviously, during natural disasters a hospital may not be able to maintain the two-midnight rule or determine whether a patient is in observation status or in-patient. You may be surprised to hear that there are no automatic audit exceptions during a disaster.
The general rule, which has exceptions, is a 30-day extension for records requests. Broadly speaking, Medicare fee-for-service has three sets of potential temporary adjustments that can be made to address an emergency or disaster situation. These include:
- Applying flexibilities that are already available under normal business rules. This is on an individual basis;
- Waiver or modification of policy or procedural norms by CMS; and
- Waiver or modification of certain Medicare requirements pursuant to waiver authority under § 1135 of the Social Security Act. This waiver authority can be invoked by the Secretary of the DHHS in certain circumstances.
These waivers are not automatic.
Section 1135 of the Social Security Act authorizes the Secretary DHHS to waive or modify certain Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, and HIPAA requirements. Two prerequisites must be met before the Secretary may invoke the § 1135 waiver authority. First, the President must have declared an emergency or disaster, and the Secretary must have declared a Public Health Emergency (PHE).
Waivers authorized by the statute apply to Medicare in the context of the following requirements:
- conditions of participation or other certification requirements applicable to providers;
- licensure requirements applicable to physicians and other health professionals;
- sanctions for violations of certain emergency medical standards under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA)
- sanctions relating to physician self-referral limitations (Stark)
- performance deadlines and timetables (modifiable only; not waivable); and
- certain payment limitations under the Medicare Advantage program.
Following a disaster, such as Ian, there is no standing authority for CMS to provide special emergency/disaster relief funding following an emergency or disaster in order to compensate providers for lost reimbursement. Congress may appropriate disaster-specific special funding for such; but absent such special appropriation, Medicare does not provide funding for financial losses.
In the context of Medicare audits, providers can obtain extensions to audit requests. Audits will only be suspended on a case-by-case basis, which means it is a subjective standard. Natural disasters are awful, and we probably need more comprehensive audit exceptions.
As you know, many States have expanded Medicaid. I am not saying whether that is good or bad. Just that some have expanded and some States have not. NC is one that has not expanded Medicaid. NC’s Department for Medicaid received a Waiver from CMS to extend Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage for 12 months after pregnancy. As a result, up to an additional 28,000 people will now be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP for a full year after pregnancy in North Carolina. CMS gave its blessing or Waiver to 24 States. An estimated 361,000 Americans annually are now eligible for 12 months of postpartum coverage. If all states adopted this option, as many as 720,000 people across the United States would be guaranteed Medicaid and CHIP coverage for 12 months after pregnancy.
CHIP piggybacks Medicaid for children. Not adults. But so does EPSDT. The Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit provides comprehensive and preventive health care services for children under age 21 who are enrolled in Medicaid. As a hospital or any provider, if you serve children and get your claims denied, EPSDT should overturn your denials. Check your compliance department. If claims are getting denied for children 21 years of age or younger, then you should be disputing these denials based on EPSDT.
CHIP differs from Medicaid EPSDT. There can be premiums or cost sharing with CHIP. CHIP is also a pre-set amount; whereas, Medicaid EPSDT creates exceptions for those in need under 21.
CHIP was designed to cover children who fall outside of Medicaid eligibility, but who otherwise were not able to be insured through a family plan. This program vastly increased the number of children eligible for health insurance. However, CHIP is not governed by the same legislation as Medicaid and offers drastically different levels of coverage.
Certain states have different names for their Medicaid and CHIP programs. For example, in California, both programs are called Medi-Cal. In Georgia, Medicaid is called Georgia Medical Assistance, and their CHIP program is called PeachCare for Kids.
Medicaid and CHIP provide 51% of health care to our nation’s youth – more than 40 million children.
In the last few months, CMS has published numerous bulletins regarding the importance of EPSDT, especially germane to mental health.
How many times have we panelists talked about COVID and COVID exceptions to the regulatory rules? How many times have we warned providers that the exceptions will expire at the end of public health emergency (“PHE”)? Well, it’s coming. The COVID PHE is still in effect for America, but some States have lifted their PHE status. NC’s state of emergency expired August 15, 2022. In Montana, the state of emergency ended June 30, 2021.
What does that mean? When America’s PHE expires, so does also all the exceptions. When your particular State’s PHE ends, so do the PHE exceptions your particular State allowed. This is imperative to ALL Medicare and Medicaid audits by whatever alphabet soup is knocking on your door. As well you know, auditors don’t always get it right. Add in confusion due to COVID exceptions…which apply in which State and which expired?
Last week, CMS released fact sheets summarizing the current status of Medicare and Medicaid COVID waivers and exceptions by provider type. The fact sheets include information about which waivers and flexibilities have already been terminated, have been made permanent or will end at the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. Unless specifically stated, all exceptions expire at the end of PHE, which is in the process of winding down.
I decided to review a fact sheet to determine how useful it was. I chose for provider type – hospitals. The fact sheet is entitled, “Hospitals and CAH (including swing beds, DPUs), ASCs and CMHCs.” It is 28 pages. The fact sheets are must reads for all providers. When you play chess the rules matter. When you accept Medicare and/or Medicaid, the rules matter. And these fact sheets are the rules.
The fact sheets cover telehealth and reimbursement rates. The hospital fact sheet covers hospitals without walls, off-site patient screening, paperwork requirements, physical environment requirements, which waivers will or will not expire at the end of PHE, and much more. I would say these fact sheets, for whichever type of provider you are – are mandatory reads. The fact sheets may not be absolutely encompassing, but they are summaries for you, all in one spot, organized for ease of reading. Thank you, CMS, for gathering this info and putting it all in one spot.