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RAC Audits Expected During the COVID Pandemic

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

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

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 The physician whose Medicare enrollment was revoked due to a computer error or an error on the part of CMS.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHE Is an Enigma for Most Providers

As of now, the public health emergency (PHE) for the COVID-19 pandemic will expire July 24, 2020, unless it is renewed. Fellow contributor David Glaser and I have both reported on the potential end date of the PHE. Recent intel from Dr. Ronald Hirsh is that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) may renew the PHE period. Each time the PHE period is renewed, it is effective for another 90 days. Recent news about the uptick in COVID cases may have already alerted you that the PHE period will probably be prolonged.

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

I witnessed some interesting developments as a health care attorney during this ongoing pandemic. Three of my physician clients were erroneously placed on the Medicare exclusion lists. One would think that during the pandemic, CMS would move mountains to allow a Harvard-trained ER doctor to work in an ER. Because of the lack of staff, it was actually difficult to achieve an easy fix. This doctor was suspended from Medicare based on an accidental and inadvertent omission of a substance abuse issue more than 10 years ago. He disclosed everything except an 11-year-old misdemeanor. He did not omit the misdemeanor purposely. Instead, this ER physician relies on other hospital staff to submit his Medicare re-credentialing every year, as he should. It just happened that this year, the year of COVID, this doctor got caught up in a mistake that in normal times would have been a phone call away from fixing. We cleared up his issue, but not until he was unable to work for over two months, during the midst of the PHE.

At the time of the announcement of the public health emergency, another company, a home health provider, was placed on prepayment review. I am not sure how many of you are familiar with prepayment review, but this is a Draconian measure that all States and the federal government may wield against health care providers. When you are on prepayment review, you cannot get paid until another independent contracted entity reviews your claims “objectively.” I say objectively in quotes because I have yet to meet a prepayment review audit with which I agreed.

Mostly because of COVID, we were forced to argue for a preliminary injunction, allowing this home heath provider to continue to provide services and get paid for services rendered during the PHE. We were successful. That was our first lawsuit during COVID. I believe we went to trial in April 2020. We had another trial in May 2020, for which we have not received the result, although we have high hopes. I may be able to let you know the outcome eventually. But for now, because of COVID, with a shortage of court reporters willing to work, we will not receive the transcript from the trial until over four weeks after the trial.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, we begin our third COVID trial. For the first time since COVID, it will not be virtual. This is the guidance that conveys to me that RAC and MAC audits will begin again soon. If a civil judge is ordering the parties to appear in person, then the COVID stay-at-home orders must be decreasing. I cannot say I am happy about this most recent development (although audits may be easier if they are conducted virtually).

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

How Coronavirus Has Affected Me as a Teenage Girl – by Madison Allen

RACMonitor published my daughter’s essay on living through the Coronavirus. Madison would like to share it here, on my blog, as well. She is a fifteen-year-old in North Carolina and attends high school at Thales Academy.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Coping with the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for just about everyone nationwide, but uniquely so for America’s young students, some of whom have been robbed of the opportunity to play their favorite spring sports, attend the junior or senior prom, or even enjoy a proper graduation ceremony. As such, we at RACMonitor have asked the children of several of our key contributors to pen essays describing their personal experiences amid these life-changing times.

My name is Madison Allen. I am a 15-year-old girl who loves spending her time outdoors or hanging out with her friends. If neither of those options are available, then I don’t really know what else to do to cure boredom.

I love technology, don’t get me wrong, but I would much rather be active and enjoy nature. I have been raised in a household that doesn’t tolerate being lazy, so sitting in my room and binge-watching Netflix all day is not an option. Despite the fact that I can’t have fun in the normal ways that I am used to, I have come up with three good ways that have kept me busy during this time. Before we get into that, I feel that it is necessary to talk about when COVID appeared in my life and my first impressions of the disease.

It was a very normal Saturday afternoon. I was out hanging with my friends Nicole and Ariana when their phones go off, saying that school has been cancelled for the next two weeks. I was so happy, because from there my dad told me that all schools are doing the same due to the growing concerns for coronavirus. I only had one week of the third quarter left anyway, so no schoolwork was going to be issued to do at home or virtually. About an hour after Governor Cooper announced that school was cancelled for two weeks, my school, Thales Academy, finally sent an email out to us that read, “due to the order from Governor Cooper as of 4:30 p.m. today, all Thales Academy locations will be closing on Monday, March 16th. On Tuesday, March 17th, school will be open from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. for students to drop in and gather any items they need to from their lockers. Report cards will be issued to students on Tuesday, March 17th at noon. Students will return to campus for fourth quarter on April 13th.”

Me, being the child I am, thought that this was awesome, because I didn’t have to take my history test anymore. Yes, that is great but I didn’t realize the harm it is doing on the world. I wasn’t thinking about others’ lives, because I never thought that something bad would happen to me. I was really selfish when I thought about not taking the history test because I only thought of how I was benefitting, while other people were and still are suffering.

Anyway, I went through spring break, and it all got worse. I wasn’t allowed to see any of my friends, and trips, special events, and even celebrations got cancelled. When spring break was over, we were told to do online school on a website called Canvas and were given certain times to log onto Zoom to talk with our teachers. I am fortunate enough to live in a house with ample space and Internet to do schoolwork. I am also fortunate that I go to such a great school that will do their best to provide great education, no matter the circumstance.

While I have been in quarantine, I have thought of three ways to cure boredom without help from a phone. The first way is that I have been taking up a new hobby called “cleaning my room.” I haven’t made very much progress with that, though. Another way I have cured boredom is by decorating a secret room in my house and making it the ideal hangout spot. Lastly, I have been going outside and taking up hobbies that I once loved, such as bow and arrow, knitting, hiking, horseback riding, and basketball.

I am now in the third week of online school, and won’t be stopping until the end of the year. Summer break is just five weeks away, and it doesn’t look like quarantine will be ending soon. I will do my best to see the good out of this troubling time, but for now I am taking life day by day.