I go to the dentist for teeth cleaning. I go to an ob/gyn for my lady parts. They each are not entwined.
Recently, a number of dentists have contacted me they are receiving Tentative Notices of Overpayment (TNOs) stating that they owe money back to the state for dental services completed on women who had already given birth.
First, what is Medicaid for Pregnant Women?
Basically, Medicaid for Pregnant Women (MPW) is a self-defining type of Medicaid coverage. It is Medicaid coverage for pregnant women.
According to DHHS, “Medicaid for Pregnant Women (MPW) only covers services related to pregnancy:
- Prenatal care, delivery and 60 days postpartum care
- Services to treat medical conditions which may complicate the pregnancy (some services require prior approval)
- Childbirth classes
- Family planning services
A pregnant woman may apply for this program before or after she delivers. A woman who has experienced a recent pregnancy loss may also be eligible.”
And routine dental services are covered for MPW recipients through the date of delivery.
But, the day after the child is born…BOOM…no routine dental visits.
Here is a hypothetical example of this new issue that I have recently been made aware:
Mary is pregnant and is covered by MPW. She makes a dental appointment for August 1, 2015. She is due September 1, 2015. She gives birth to a bouncing, baby boy, whom she names Paul on July 28, 2015. Even though Paul is early, he is healthy (this is a happy hypothetical). She shows up for her dental appointment with Dr. Peter on August 1, 2015.
Herein lies a delicate subject…due to its sensitive nature, I will now revert the hypothetical to myself, personally, and only for this narrow topic.
I had my beautiful 10-year old daughter at 28 weeks. She came three months early. Despite the early delivery, I had expanded in the stomach area at least as much as a normal pregnant woman, if not more so. Chalk it up to Harris Teeter birthday cakes. After my daughter was born, the insensitive, yet rule-following nurse actually had the audacity to place me on a scale (while I was conscious and alert!). I was horrified to discover that after all that I went through that I had lost a mere 4 pounds. She must have seen my look because she quickly explained that I had been pumped with so much fluid during the procedure that my weight was inflated. Likely story, I thought. The point of this short anecdote is that I looked the same after giving birth that I did prior to giving birth. Embarrassingly, my transition back to a normal, un-pregnant body extended for a much longer than expected period of time. Chalk it up to Harris Teeter birthday cakes.
Ok, going back to our hypothetical…
Mary really wants her teeth cleaned because, once she gives birth, she knows full well that she will not be able to undergo a teeth cleaning. So when she presents herself at Dr. Peter’s office and Dr. Peter asks whether she is still pregnant, she answers, “Yes, sir.”
Dr. Peter, undergoing all the due diligence that a dentist can be expected, has his assistant log on to NCTracks. According to NCTracks, Mary is eligible for MPW. No changes are noted on her eligibility. Satisfied with his due diligence, Dr. Peter cleans Mary’s teeth.
Two years later, Dr. Peter receives a TNO stating that he owes $10,000 back for services rendered to women after they gave birth.
Dr. Peter conducted his due diligence. Dr. Peter inquired as to the pregnancy status to the patient. Dr. Peter checked eligibility status with NCTracks.
What more would the state expect Dr. Peter do to determine whether his dental patients are indeed still pregnant? Ask them to pee in a cup? Hire a onsite ob/gyn?
You can imagine the consequences of each.
Yet, according to a number of dentists who have communicated with me, the state is placing the burden of knowing whether the dental patient is still pregnant on the dentist.
Talk about accountability! If NCTracks shows that the patient is eligible for MPW, shouldn’t NCTracks be held liable instead of the dentist?
Call me crazy, but I may or may not be extremely angry if my dentist asks me to pee in cup.
OIG Finds Questionable Billing! California Medicaid Dentists: Expect Withholdings or Other Penalties!
Currently, dentists who accept Medicaid are ripe for pickings as targets for regulatory audits from both the federal and state governments. Actually, this is true for any provider that accepts Medicaid. It just happens that, recently, I have noticed an uptick in dental audits both in North Carolina and nationwide. Some dentists, who accept pregnancy Medicaid, may even bear the burden of determining pregnancy prior to a teeth cleaning…however, that is a topic for another day. Although, I tell you what, if my dentist asked whether I were pregnant prior to cleaning my teeth, he may have an abnormally red cheek the remainder of the day and I may join Crossfit.
Generally, dentists tend to not accept Medicaid. The reimbursement rates barely cover overhead. Add high regulatory compliance requirements, the likelihood of undergoing audits, and the government’s robust and zealous desire to tackle fraud, waste, and abuse (FWA), and it is no wonder why most dentists opt to not accept Medicaid. See blog. And blog.
Those dentists (and other providers) that do make the decision to accept Medicaid, these brave and noble souls, are subject to onerous audits; the result of a recent California audit is probably sending shock waves through the California dental community.
335 dental providers in California have been targeted by OIG as having questionable billing issues. Sadly, this is only the beginning for these 335 providers. Now the state will audit the providers, and these 335 providers may very well become the subject of a payment withhold in the near future.
What will happen next?
I will look into my crystal ball, otherwise known as experience, and let you know.
First, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently published a report called: “QUESTIONABLE BILLING FOR MEDICAID PEDIATRIC DENTAL SERVICES IN CALIFORNIA.”
One can only imagine by the title that OIG found alleged questionable billing. Otherwise the title may have been, “A Study into Medicaid Billing for Medicaid Pediatric Dental Services,” instead of “Questionable Billing.” With such a leading title, a reader knows the contents before reading one word.
What is questionable billing?
Importantly, before addressing what IS questionable billing, what is NOT questionable billing? Questionable billing is not abhorrent billing practices. Questionable billing is not wasteful billing or abusive billing. And questionable billing is certainly not fraudulent billing. That is not to say that some of these questionable billing will be investigated and, perhaps, fall into one the aforementioned categories. But not yet. Again, these dentists have a long journey ahead of them.
In this context, questionable billing seems to mean that the OIG report identifies dentists who perform a higher number of services per day. OIG analyzed rendering dental providers’ NPI numbers to determine how many services each rendering provider was providing per day. Then OIG compared the average Medicaid payment per kid, number of services per day, and number of services provided per child per visit. OIG determined a “threshold” number for each category and cited questionable billing practices for those dentists that fell egregiously outside the thresholds. Now, obviously, this is a simplistic explanation for a more esoteric procedure, but the explanation is illustrative.
This study of California Medicaid dentists is not first dental study OIG has undertaken. Recently, OIG studied Medicaid dentists in New York, Louisiana, and Indiana. What stands out in the California Medicaid dental study is the volume of dentists involved in the study. In Indiana, OIG reviewed claims for 787 dentists; in New York it reviewed claims for 719 dentists, and in Louisiana, OIG studied 512 dentists’ claims, all of whom rendered services to over 50 Medicaid children.
In California, OIG studied 3,921 dentists.
Why such a difference?
Apparently, California has more dentists than the other three states and more dentists who accept Medicaid. So, if you are Medicaid dentists, apparently, there is more competition in California.
Juxtapose that, in California, in 2012, only 3 periodontists, 3 prosthodontists, 2 endodontists, and 1 oral pathologist provided services to 50 or more children with Medicaid in California.
Going back to the audit findings…
OIG considered dentists who exceeded its identified threshold for one or more of the seven measures to have questionable billing.
OIG identified 329 general dentists and 6 orthodontists out of 3,921 providers as having with questionable billing. But these findings are only the beginning of what will, most likely, become a long and tedious legal battle for these 335 providers. Lumping together so many dentists and claiming questionable billing practices will inevitably include many dentists who have done nothing irregular. Many other dentists, will have engaged in unintentional billing errors and may owe recoupments. But I foresee a very small number of these dentists to actually have committed fraudulent billing.
Here is an example found in the OIG’s report, OIG identified that 108 dentists provided stainless steel crowns to 18% of the children served by these dentists, compared to an average of only 5% of children receiving stainless steel crowns by those served by all general dentists (non-Medicaid).
Another example is that 98 dentists provided pulpotomies to 18% of the children, while the statewide percentage is 5% to undergo pulpotomies.
Do these examples show that 108 dentists providing stainless steel crowns and that 98 dentists providing pulpotomies are improperly billing?
Of course not.
It is only logical that dentists who accept Medicaid would have a significantly higher number of pulpotomies compared to dentists who service the privately insured. Usually, although not always, a Medicaid recipient will have more issues with their teeth than those privately insureds. In order to qualify for Medicaid, the family must live in poverty (some more than others with the expansion of Medicaid in some states). Some of kids in this population will have parents who do not harp on the importance of dental hygiene, thus allowing many kids in this population to have decay in their teeth. Obviously, this is a generalization; however, I am confident that many studies exist to back up this generalization.
Therefore, if you accept my generalization, it makes sense that Medicaid dentists perform more pulpotomies than private insurance dentists.
And stainless steel crowns go hand in hand with pulpotomies. Unless you extract the tooth after the removal of the decay, you will need to provide a stainless steel crown to protect the tooth from future damage.
What will happen next?
OIG admits in its report that “our findings do not prove that providers either billed fraudulently or provided medically unnecessary services, providers with extreme billing patterns warrant further scrutiny.”
Which is precisely what will happen next…”further scrutiny”…
The OIG report recommends to California that it:
• Increase its monitoring of dental providers to identify patterns of questionable billing
• Closely monitor billing by providers in dental chains
• Review its payment processes for orthodontic services
• Take appropriate action against dental providers with questionable billing
It is that last recommendation, taking appropriate action, which will determine the future course for these 335 Medicaid providers. Because, as many of you know if you have followed my blog, the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) has a large toolbox with a considerable amount of tools for which it may yield its power against these providers…right or wrong. The same goes for all state Medicaid agencies. When it comes to a Medicaid provider and a Medicaid state agency, there is no balance of powers, in fact, there is only one power. Instead the scales of justice have one arm on the ground and the other raised in the air. There is an imbalance of power, unless you arm yourself with the right allies.
Possible future actions by DHCS:
• Payment suspensions
• Withholds of all reimbursements
• Post payment review
• Prepayment review
And combinations thereof.
DCHS stated that “it will review the dental providers referred by OIG and will determine by December 2015 what appropriate action may be warranted. Should there exist any provider cases not previously evaluated by existing program monitoring efforts, DHCS will take appropriate action through the available channels.”
First, December 2015 is a short timeframe for DCHS to audit 335 providers’ records and determine the proper course of action. So, expect a vendor for DCHS to be hired for this task. Also, expect that an audit of 335 providers in 7 months will have flaws.
These California dentists and orthodontists need to arm themselves with defense tools. And, quickly. Because it is amazing how fast 7 months will fly by!!
The report also states that OIG will be undertaking a study in the future to determine access to dental care issues. I will be interested in the result of that study.
These possible penalties that I already enumerated above are not without defenses.
These 335 CA Medicaid dental providers have administrative remedies to prevent these possible penalties. In other words, these 335 CA Medicaid dental providers do not have to take this lying down. Even though it appears that an imbalance of power exists between the state agency and the providers, these providers have appeal rights.
The second that any of these providers receive correspondence from DCHS, it is imperative that the provider contact its attorney.
Remember, some appeals have very short windows for which to appeal. Do not miss an appeal deadline!!