Blog Archives

NCTracks, MPW, and Eligibility: The Three Billy Goats Gruff

The story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff tells a tale of 3 billy goats, one puny, one small, and one HUGE. The first two billy goats (the puny and small) independently try to cross the bridge to a green pasture. They are blocked by a mean troll, who wants to eat the billy goats. Both billy goats tell the troll that a bigger billy-goat is coming that would satisfy the troll’s hunger more than the puny and small goats. The troll waits for the HUGE billy-goat, which easily attacks the troll to his death.

The moral: “Don’t be greedy.”

My moral: “You don’t always have to be HUGE, the puny and small are equally as smart.” – (They didn’t even have to fight).

The majority of Medicaid cards do not have expiration dates. Though we have expiration dates on many of our other cards. For example, my drivers’ license expires January 7, 2018. My VISA expires April 18, 2018.

Most Medicaid cards are annually renewed, as well. Someone who is eligible for Medicaid one year may not be eligible the next.

medicaid card

Our Medicaid cards, generally, have an issuance date, but not an expiration date. The thought is that requiring people to “re-enroll” yearly is sufficient for eligibility status.

Similar to my CostCo card. My Costco card expires annually, and I have to renew it every 12 months. But my CostCo card is not given to me based on my personal circumstances. I pay for the card every year, which means that I can use the card all year, regardless whether I move, get promoted, or decide that I never want to shop at CostCo again.

Medicaid cards, on the other hand, are based on a person’s or family’s personal circumstances.

A lot can happen in a year causing someone to no longer be eligible for Medicaid.

For example, a Medicaid recipient, Susan, could qualify for Medicaid on January 1, 2015, because Susan is a jobless and a single mother going through a divorce. She has a NC Medicaid card issued on January 1, 2015. She presents herself to your office on March 1, 2015. Unbeknownst to you, she obtained a job at a law office in February (Susan is a licensed attorney, but she was staying home with the kids when she was married. Now that she is divorced, she quickly obtained employment for $70,000/year, but does not contact Medicaid. Her firm offers health insurance, but only after she is employed over 60 days. Thus, Susan presents herself to you with her Medicaid card).

If Susan presents to your office on March 1, 2015, with a Medicaid card issued January 1, 2015, how many of you would double-check the patients eligibility in the NCTracks portal?

How many would rely on the existence of the Medicaid card as proof of eligibility?

How many of you would check eligibility in the NCTRacks portal and print screen shot showing eligibility for proof in the future.

The next question is who is liable for Susan receiving Medicaid services in March when she was no longer eligible for Medicaid, but held a Medicaid card and, according to the NCTracks portal, was Medicaid eligible??

  • Susan?
  • You, the provider?
  • DHHS?
  • NCTracks?

Do you really have to be the HUGE billy goat to avoid troll-ish recoupments?

Susan’s example is similar to dental services for pregnant women on Medicaid for Pregnant Women (MPW). MPW expires when the woman gives birth. However, the dentists do not report the birth of the child, the ob/gyn does. Dentists have no knowledge of whether a woman has or has not given birth. See blog.

MPW expires upon the birth of the child, and that due date is not printed on the MPW card.

I daresay that the dentists with whom I have spoken have assured me that every time a pregnant woman presents at the dental or orthodontic offices that an employee ensures that the consumer is eligible for dental services under MPW by checking the NCTracks portal. (Small billy-goat). Some dentists go so far to print out the screenshot on the NCTracks portal demonstrating MPW eligibility (HUGE billy-goat), but such overkill is not required by the DMA Clinical Coverage Policies.

If the clinical policies, rules, and regulations do not require such HUGE billy-goat nonsense, how can providers be held up to the HUGE billy-goat standard? Even the puny billy-goat is, arguably, reasonably compliant with rules, regulations, and policies.

NCTracks is not current; it is not “live time.” Apparently, even if the woman has delivered her baby, the NCTracks portal may still show that the woman is eligible for MPW. Maybe even for months…

Is the eligibility fallacy that is confirmed by NCTracks, the dentists’ fault?

Well, over three (3) years from its go-live date, July 1, 2013, NCTracks may have finally fixed this error.

In the October 2015 Medicaid Bulletin, DHHS published the following:

Attention: Dental Providers

New NCTracks Edits to Limit Dental and Orthodontic Services for Medicaid for Pregnant Women (MPW) Beneficiaries

On Aug. 2, 2015, NCTracks began to deny/recoup payment of dental and orthodontic services for beneficiaries covered under the Medicaid for Pregnant Women (MPW) program if the date of service is after the baby was delivered. This is a longstanding N.C. Medicaid policy that was previously monitored through post-payment review.

According to N.C. Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) clinical coverage policy 4A, Dental Services:

For pregnant Medicaid-eligible beneficiaries covered under the Medicaid for Pregnant Women program class ‘MPW,’ dental services as described in this policy are covered through the day of delivery.

Therefore, claims for dental services rendered after the date of delivery for beneficiaries under MPW eligibility are outside the policy limitation and are subject to denial/recoupment.

According to DMA clinical coverage policy 4B,Orthodontic Services:

Pregnant Medicaid-eligible beneficiaries covered under the Medicaid for Pregnant Women program class ‘MPW’ are not eligible for orthodontic services as described in this policy.

Therefore, claims for orthodontic records (D0150, D0330, D0340, and D0470) or orthodontic banding (D8070 or D8080) rendered for beneficiaries under MPW eligibility are outside of policy limitation and are subject to denial/recoupment.

Periodic orthodontic treatment visits (D8670) and orthodontic retention (D8680) will continue to be reimbursed regardless of the beneficiary’s eligibility status at the time of the visit so long as the beneficiary was eligible on the date of banding.

Seriously? “Now I’m coming to gobble you up!!”

August 2, 2015, is over two years after NCTracks went live.

In essence, what DHHS is saying is that NCTracks was inept at catching whether a female Medicaid recipient gave birth. Either the computer system did not have a way for the ob/gyn to inform NCTracks that the baby was delivered, the ob/gyn did not timely submit such information, or NCTracks simply kept women as being eligible for MPW until, months later, someone caught the mistake. And, because of NCTracks’ folly, the dentists must pay.

How about, if the portal for NCTracks state that someone is eligible for MPW, then providers can actually believe that the portal is correct??? How about a little accountability, DHHS???

If you take MPW and want to avoid potential recoupments, you may need some pregnancy tests in your bathrooms.

DHHS is expecting all dentists to be the HUGE bill goat. Are these unreasonable expectations? I see no law, rules, regulations, or policies that require dentists to be the HUGE billy goat. In fact, the small and puny may also be compliant.

“You don’t always have to be HUGE, the puny and small are equally as smart.”

Federal Audit Spurs NC to Recoup from Dentists Who Accept MPW!!

When providers receive Tentative Notices of Overpayment (TNOs), we appeal the findings. And, for the most part, we are successful. Does our State of NC simply roll over when the federal government audits it??

A recent audit by Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) finds that:

“We recommend that the State agency:

  • refund $1,038,735 to the Federal Government for unallowable dental services provided to MPW beneficiaries after the day of delivery; and
  • increase postpayment reviews of dental claims, including claims for MPW beneficiaries, to help ensure the proper and efficient payment of claims and ensure compliance with
    Federal and State laws, regulations, and program guidance.”

MPW is Medicaid for Pregnant Women.  Recently, I had noticed that a high number of dentists were receiving TNOs.  See blog.  I hear through the grapevine that a very high number of dentists recently received TNOs claiming that the dentists had rendered dental services to women who had delivered their babies.

Now we know why…

However, my question is: Does NC simply accept the findings of HHS OIG without requesting a reconsideration review and/or appeal?

It seems that if NC appealed the findings, then NC would not be forced to seek recoupments from health care providers.  We already have a shortage of dentists for Medicaid recipients.  See blog and blog.

And if the federal auditors audit in similar fashion to our NC auditors, then the appeal would, most likely, be successful. Or, in the very least, reduce the recouped amount, which would benefit health care providers and taxpayers.

Whenever NC receives a federal audit with an alleged recoupment, NC should fight for NC Medicaid providers and taxpayers!!  Not simply roll over and pay itself back with recoupments!

This audit was published March 2015.  It is September.  I will look into whether there is an appeal on record.

Going to the Dentist? You May Need to Take a Pregnancy Test!

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.

What?

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.

Moving on….

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.

The result?

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!!

Medicaid Dental Post-Payment Audits Gone Awry: A Hypothetical Example

A dental practice was audited by Public Consultant Group (PCG). Here is their story: (Insert a Dum, Dum, Dum).

For those of you who do not know who PCG is: CONGRATULATIONS!

But there are those of us who know that PCG is a hired contractor by the state or the Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) to investigate providers who accept Medicaid in North Carolina to detect clinically suspect behaviors or administrative billing patterns, which could indicate potentially abusive or fraudulent activities.

Whew!! Sounds serious!!

I am SURE that, for such a serious mission, PCG employs only the most-highly competent employees who are super, duper knowledgeable about the esoteric idiosyncrasies of the Medicaid system, the appropriate policy(ies),and  federal and state rules and regulations, right?

Hmmmm…out of sheer curiosity I googled employment opportunities at PCG.  I found a position in Albany, NY for an “Instructional Trainer.”  Duties include:

“Coaches agencies and providers on programs and information to ensure compliance with departmental, state, and federal laws, rules, regulations, guidelines, processes, and procedures.”

Dag on!!! Shut the front door! This person will be coaching agencies and providers, ensuring compliance with laws, rules, regulations, guidelines….SURELY this person must be a lawyer, right????

So then I looked at the “required experience:”

Required Experience:

  • BS degree in a related field preferred
  • Experience in development and delivery of instructional materials or training
  • Experience in health & human services is desirable
  • Experience working in a team-oriented, collaborative environment
  • Advanced Knowledge of Curriculum Design and Training Delivery
  • Advanced Knowledge of Office Skills such as Word Processing and Data Collection
  • Advanced Knowledge of the Principles for Providing Customer Service

A BS degree is a related field preferred??

First, what is a related field for regulations and compliance? Political Science?

Folks, I double-majored in English and Political Science and I can promise you that after graduating from NCSU with a double major in English and “Poli Sci” I was NOWHERE competent enough to handle a Medicaid audit of a provider.  I may have been able to draft a darn good essay or quote the U.S. Senators and their bipartisan affiliations, but a Medicaid expert, I was not.  And this position was for an “Instructional Trainer!” A TRAINER!! As in, one who trains.  Implicit in the job title is “One who has been trained” or “One who has the knowledge to train.”

I give this background to set the stage:

The Characters:

On one side: Dentists who have been managing a successful dental practice for years and years after attending college and dental school.

And on the other side:  A college Political Science major who is able to recite all the states and its capitols and all the governors of each state (This is not to say that all employees at PCG are inept…or not qualified for  their particular position.  I actually know a couple of PCG employees of whom I think highly (this is not directed toward you, my fine two friends).  This is merely a generalization and stage-setting for the all-too-common errors I see committed by the “entry-level” auditors).

The stage:

A well-established dental practice.  All the walls are wooden (painted white) and there are 200+ handprints on the lobby wall with all the little pediatric customers’ names on them.  There is a waiting room with toys and books.

The script:

Act 1: A few entry-level PCG auditors knock on the door of the dental practice (They don’t actually knock, because it is a dental practice, not a home, but you get the drift).

Receptionist: How may we help you?

Auditor 1: We are here to conduct a Medicaid post-payment audit.

Receptionist: Huh? (With an open, gape-jawed expression)

Auditor 2: A post-payment Medicaid audit.

Auditor 1: We need to see all the documents of your Medicaid clients from February 2011 through May 2011.

Receptionist: Huh?

All right, folks, I am sure you get the point.  So the audit occurs and a few months later, the dental practice receives a Tentative Notice of Overpayment for $300,000.00.  The #1 main reason PCG found noncompliance was:

“The attending provider number billed does not match the individual dentist who rendered the service and does not support service billed.  Citation: Clinical Coverage Policy No. 4A: January 1, 2011 Attachment A.1 Instructions for filing a Dental Claim 53-56…”

Now, mind you, in the DMA Clinical Policy No. 4A, revised March 1, 2013, the policy states “Enter the attending provider’s NPI for the individual dentist rendering service. (This number must correspond to the signature in field 53.)”

In 2013, it is quite clear that the attending provider and the provider rendering the services must be identical.  But this audit was a post-payment review, meaning that the documents audited were from 2011, not 2013.

In 2011, the DMA Clinical Policy No. 4A, revised January 1, 2011, states “Enter the attending provider’s NPI for the individual dentist rendering service. (This number should correspond to the signature in field 53.)”

 See the difference? (One of these things is not  like the others).

Must v. Should

Must equals no other choice.  Should denotes guidance; simply a suggestion.

However, think of this, if you were a college graduate who majored in Political Science and were now auditing Medicaid providers, would you think to distinguish the difference between “should” and “must?”