For Monitor Monday, today, October 30, 2023, I dressed up as a RAC auditor. BOO!!! I get a spooky 13.5% commission for overzealous auditing tactics. RAC auditors come in every shape and size, color or gender.
In my experience, RACs are garishly incorrect in their assessments. I will reveal three, real life examples where these audit contractors accused healthcare providers of owing money but were found to be dead wrong:
Example 1 – Medical Necessity quibbles:
In a haunting case involving a hospital, the RAC alleged that certain cardiac procedures were billed inappropriately, citing concerns about the medical necessity of these services. They claimed the hospital should refund a repugnant amount for these procedures. However, upon closer examination and an appeal process, it was revealed that the services were indeed medically necessary and aligned with the standard protocols. The ghastly RAC’s accusation was disproven, and the hospital was not required to return any funds. Spine-tingling!
Example 2 – Improper Coding of Diagnosis:
A healthcare provider, particularly a large physician group, was accused by the RAC of using suspicious, improper diagnostic codes, leading to overbilling for certain services provided to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. After a thorough internal audit, it was determined that the codes used were accurate and supported by the patient’s medical records. The RAC’s allegations were unfounded, and no repayment was required. Suspicious. A haunting reminder to spook audits.
Example 3 – Alleged Duplicate Billing:
In a murderous case involving a nursing facility, the RAC identified what they believed were instances of duplicate billing for certain procedures and services. Upon further review, it was revealed that the billing discrepancies were due to the RAC’s misunderstanding of the facility’s billing processes. Mysterious. The facility provided evidence showcasing that the billed services were distinct and not duplicates. Consequently, the RAC’s claim was refuted, and no repayment was deemed necessary. Suspicious.
These examples underscore the critical need for providers to have robust internal compliance measures in place. While RACs serve a vital purpose in identifying billing errors, they are not infallible. Providers need to be equipped to challenge these audit findings, ensuring they are based on accurate and comprehensive information.
It’s crucial for healthcare providers to engage in a proactive approach by conducting their internal audits, maintaining accurate documentation, and being prepared to challenge RAC determinations when necessary. These efforts not only protect providers from unwarranted financial obligations but also ensure that Medicare and Medicaid funds are appropriately allocated.
In conclusion, the relationship between RACs, healthcare providers, and government healthcare programs is complex. The examples provided demonstrate that while RACs play a critical role in safeguarding the integrity of Medicare and Medicaid, their findings are not always accurate. Providers must be diligent in ensuring their billing practices align with regulations and be prepared to contest any erroneous audit findings to maintain fiscal stability and fair reimbursement for services rendered.
Right now, CMS allows physicians to pick to follow the 1995 or 1997 guidelines for determining whether an evaluation and management (“e/m”) visit qualifies for a 99214 versus a 99213. The biggest difference between the two policies is that the 1995 guideline allows you to check by systems, rather than individual organs. Starting January 1, 2023, there are a lot of revisions, including a 2021 guidance that will be used. But, for dates of service before 2021, physicians can pick between 1995 and 1997 guidance.
Why is this an issue?
If you are a family practitioner and get audited by Medicare, Medicaid, or private pay, you better be sure that your auditor audits with the right policy.
According to CPT, 99214 is indicated for an “office or other outpatient visit for the evaluation and management of an established patient, which requires at least two of these three key components: a detailed history, a detailed examination and medical decision making of moderate complexity.”
Think 99214 in any of the following situations:
- If the patient has a new complaint with a potential for significant morbidity if untreated or misdiagnosed,
- If the patient has three or more old problems,
- If the patient has a new problem that requires a prescription,
- If the patient has three stable problems that require medication refills, or one stable problem and one inadequately controlled problem that requires medication refills or adjustments.
The above is simplified and shorthand, so read the 1995 and 1997 guidance carefully.
An insurance company audited a client of mine and clearly used the 1997 guidance. On the audit report, the 1997 guidance was checked as being used. In fact, according to the audit report, the auditors used BOTH the 1997 and 1995 guidance, which, logically, would make a harder, more stringent standard for a 99214 than using one policy.
Now the insurance company claims my client owes money. However, if the insurance company merely applied the 1995 guidance only, then, we believe, that he wouldn’t owe a dime. Now he has to hire me, defend himself to the insurance company, and possibly litigate if the insurance company stands its ground.
Sadly, the above story is not an anomaly. I see auditors misapply policies by using the wrong years all the time, almost daily. Always appeal. Never roll over.
Sometimes it is a smart decision to hire an independent expert to verify that the physician is right, and the auditors are wrong. If the audit is extrapolated, then it is wise to hire an expert statistician. See blog. And blog. The extrapolation rules were recently revised…well, in the last two or three years, so be sure you know the rules, as well. See blog.
“Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law this week a bill (SB41) that ensures service providers accused of overbilling or defrauding Medicaid can review and respond to allegations of wrongdoing before state action is taken.” – Tripp Jennings, New Mexico In Depth.
For those of you who don’t know, in 2013, the State of New Mexico, suspended the Medicaid reimbursements of 15 behavioral health care providers based on “credible allegations of fraud.” 42 CFR 455.23. The Attorney General eventually determined that no fraud existed as to ANY of the 15 behavioral health care providers. These providers constituted 87.5% of the behavioral health care providers in New Mexico, which is predominantly Medicaid and has the highest suicide rate of any state, if you consider the Native American population.
There was no due process. The providers were informed of the immediate Medicaid suspension in a group meeting without ever being told what exactly the “fraud” was that they allegedly committed. They were informed by, then assistant Attorney General, Larry Hyeck, that fraud existed and because of the ongoing investigation nothing could be divulged to those accused. Supposedly, the evidence for such “fraud” was based on an independent audit performed by Public Consulting Group (PCG). However, according to testimony from an employee of PCG at the administrative hearing of The Counseling Center (one of the 15 accused behavioral health care providers), PCG was not allowed by the Human Services Department of NM (HSD) to complete its audit. According to this employee’s testimony, it is PCG’s common practice to return to the providers which are the subject of the audit a 2nd or even 3rd time to ensure that all the relevant documents were collected and reviewed. Human error and the sheer amount of medical records involved in behavioral health care suggest that a piece of paper or two can be overlooked, especially because this audit occurred in 2013, before most of the providers had adopted electronic medical record systems. Add in the fact that PCG’s scanners were less than stellar and that the former Governor Susan Martinez, Optum’s CEO, and the HSD Secretary -at the time- had already vetted 5 Arizona companies to overtake the 15 NM behavioral health care companies – even prior to PCG’s determination – and the sum equals a pre-determined accusation of fraud. PCG’s initial report stated that no credible allegations of fraud existed. However, PCG was instructed to remove that sentence.
Almost all the providers were forced out of business. The staff were terminated or told to be employed by the new 5 AZ companies. The Medicaid recipients lost their mental health services. One company remained in business because they paid the State for fraud that they never committed. Another company held on by a very thin thread because of its developmental disability services. But the former-CEO became taxed and stepped down and many more left or were let go. The 13 other providers were financially ruined, including the largest behavioral health care provider in NM, which serviced over 700 Medicaid recipients and employed hundreds of clinical staff. It had been servicing NM’s poor and those in need of mental health services for over 30 years. Another company had been in business over 40 years (with the same CEO). The careers and live’s work were crumbled in one day and by one accusation that was eventually proven to be wrong.
No one ever foresaw this amount of abuse of discretion to occur by government agents.
Now, today, in 2019, the new Governor of NM, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, signed a law introduced by Senator Mary Kay Papen, a long proponent and advocate that the 15 behavioral health care providers were unjustly accused and forced out of business, that will protect Medicaid providers in NM from ever being subjected to the unjust and arbitrary suspension of Medicaid funds and unfounded allegations of Medicaid fraud.
Even though 42 C.F.R. 455.23 requires a state to suspend Medicaid funding upon “credible allegations of fraud,” NM has taken the first step toward instituting a safeguard for Medicaid providers. Already too few health care providers accept Medicaid – and who can blame them? The low reimbursement rates are nothing compared to the regulatory scrutiny that they undergo merely for accepting Medicaid.
NM SB41 contradicts the harsh language of 42 CFR 455.23, which mandates that a State “must” suspend payments upon a credible allegation of fraud. NM SB41 provides due process for Medicaid providers accused of fraud. Which begs the question – why hasn’t anyone brought a declaratory action to determine that 42 CFR 455.23 violates due process, which happens to be a constitutional right?
Part of the due process enacted by New Mexico is that a suspension of Medicaid reimbursements should be released upon a post of a surety bond and that the posting of a surety bond shall be deemed good cause to not suspend payments during the investigation. Although the new law also states that the Medicaid reimbursement suspension must be released within 10 days of the posting of the surety bond “in the amount of the suspended payment.” After 4 administrative hearings in New Mexico, I can assure you that the provider and HSD will have two disparate views of the “amount of the suspended payment.” And by disparate, I mean REALLY disparate.
Regardless, I view this new law as a giant leap in the direction of the Constitution, which was actually enacted in 1789. So is it apropos that 230 years later NM is forced to enact a law that upholds a legal right that was written and enacted into law 230 years ago?
Thank you, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Senator Papen, Patsy Romero, and Shawn Mathis for your amazing effort on getting this legislation passed.
And – look forward to my webcast on RACMonitor on Monday, April 8, 2019, detailing how courts across the country are revising their views and granting federal injunctions stopping premature recoupments when a Medicare/caid provider is accused of an overpayment. Due process is on a come-back.
Concurrent with the onslaught of Medicaid audits by North Carolina, Department of Health and Human Service (DHHS), Division of Medical Assistance (DMA), the federal HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) is conducting its own Medicare audits. While, obviously, Medicare and Medicaid target different populations, many of the federal regulations are analogous. So I thought it would be prudent to point out some common errors HHS is finding in hospital billing as to Medicare.
According to the Report on Medicare Compliance (RMC), (to which, I am sure, everyone reading this blog subscribes), the three most common errors the OIG auditors are finding are as follows:
- Emergency Department (ED) admission source codes for psychiatric admissions
- Lupron (HCPCS code J1950)
- Tooth extractions (HCPCS D7140)
- Lymphocyte donor cell infusions (CPT 38242)
Obviously, the common errors for Medicaid billing may be different. For example, I know that Medicaid auditors are specifically reviewing records for short inpatient stays at hospitals; whereas any issue with records for short stays was not included by the RMC as a common error.
However, that said, I would be willing to bet the ED admission code errors for psychiatric admissions would be just as common in Medicaid as Medicare.
Most of the errors for admissions’ codes relate to inner-transfer of patients within the hospital (such as Patient X came in complaining of A, but gets transferred to be treated for D).
Remember, though, keep this audit stuff in perspective. The amount of documents that an auditor must review is enormous. Some providers are going through multiple audits at the same time. The auditors, generally, give short turnaround times for the providers to gather the documents and send the documents to the auditor, sometimes 10-15 days. (I have seen 5 days a couple of times). So, now imagine the sheer volume of documents, the complexity of the Medicaid policies and rules, and the amount of human error on the part of the auditor…add those together for an unattractive sum.
Just by way of example, RMC stated that a hospital last year received 3,400 medical-records requests (That is not the number of records that were requested; that is the number of records request. Each records request could be many records). This hospital’s records requests were increased last year from 1800 in 2011.
So, while the auditors are looking for document errors in millions of records, make sure the auditor is not making errors in reviewing the millions of documents.
For a Notice of Overpayment? Providers should request a reconsideration review and hire an attorney.
For a denial of endorsement? Providers have very limited time to appeal a denial. Hire a lawyer. Appeal as the denial explains.
For a Medicaid recipients’ rights? Most appeals will be to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).
I wrote the above “blog” back in 2012. It was one of my first blogs and one of my shortest. Looking back, I must admit that the blog is not even good…it’s accurate-ish. I cannot believe that I have been blogging for over 10 years of my life…and about Medicare and Medicaid regulatory compliance litigation — who knew?
As the year ends, I want to thank all my readers for reading this blog for TEN YEARS. I am humbled and appreciative. As all of you are aware, I do not get paid to blog about Medicare and Medicaid. It actually eats-up quite a lot of my time, which I do not have in Spades, as a mother of a Senior in HS, a wife, and an attorney.
Now I will rewrite the 2012 blog for 2022-2023:
Health Care Providers: Where Do You File an Appeal?
If you are filing a Medicaid provider appeal claiming that you do not owe an overpayment, your State will have an administrative process for you to seek redress. You must exhaust administrative remedies, so read the notice of overpayment for clarification of the 1st and maybe 2nd steps. You normally have a reconsideration and a red-determination before presenting to an administrative law judge.
Hire a lawyer from the beginning.
If you are filing a Medicare provider appeal, see blog. Still hire an attorney.
I look forward to another year of defending health care providers against the State and federal governments. I see it as I have the chance to keep health care providers in business and accepting Medicaid and Medicare. Thank you for accepting Medicare and Medicaid, and I will be here to fight!! I have represented providers from Alaska to New Mexico to New York and Florida and all in between!