5th Circuit Finds Subject Matter Jurisdiction For Medicare and Medicaid Providers – Why Collards Matter
“I’d like some spaghetti, please, and a side of meatballs.” – This sentence is illogical because meatballs are integral to spaghetti and meatballs. If you order spaghetti – and -meatballs, you are ordering “spaghetti and meatballs.” Meatballs on the side is not a thing.
Juxtapose, a healthcare provider defending itself from an alleged overpayment, But during the appeal process undergoes a different penalty – the state or federal government begins to recoup future funds prior to a decision that the alleged recoupment is authorized, legal, or warranted. When a completely new issue unrelated to the allegation of overpayment inserts itself into the mix, then you have spaghetti and meatballs with a side of collard greens. Collard greens need to be appealed in a completely different manner than spaghetti and meatballs, especially when the collard greens could put the company out of business because of the premature and unwarranted recoupments without due process.
I have been arguing this for years based off of, not only, a 1976 Supreme Court case, but multiple state case law, as well as, success I have had in the federal and administrative courts, and BTW – logic.
On March 27, 2018, I was confirmed again. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided a landmark case for Medicare and Medicaid providers across the country. The case, Family Rehab., Inc. v Azar, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 7668, involved a Medicare home health service provider, which was assessed for approximately $7.8 million in Medicare overpayments. Family Rehab, the plaintiff in the case, relied on 88% to 94% of its revenue from Medicare. The company had timely appealed the alleged overpayment, and it was at the third level of the Medicare five step process for appeals. See blog. But there is a 3 – 5 year backlog on the third level, and the government began to recoup the $7.8 million despite the ongoing appeal. If no action were taken, the company would be out of business well-before any ALJ could rule on the merits of the case, i.e. whether the recoupment was warranted. How is that fair? The provider may not owe $7.8 million, but before an objective tribunal decides what is actually owed, if anything, we are going to go ahead and take the money and reap the benefit of any interest accrued during the time it takes the provider to get a hearing.
The backlog for Medicare appeals at the ALJ level is unacceptably long. See blog and blog. However, the federal regulations only prevent recoupment during the appeal process during the first and second levels. This is absolutely asinine and should be changed considering we do have a clause in the Constitution called “due process.” Purported criminals receive due process, but healthcare providers who accept Medicare or Medicaid, at times, do not.
At the third level of appeal, Family Rehab underwent recoupments, even though it was still appealing the decision, which immediately stifled Family Rehab’s income. Family Rehab, because of the premature recoupments, was at risk of losing everything, going bankrupt, firing its staff, and no longer providing medically necessary home health services for the elderly. This situation mimics a situation in which I represented a client in northern Indiana who was losing its Medicaid contract. I also successfully obtained a preliminary injunction preventing the provider from losing its Medicaid contract. See blog.
It is important to note that in this case the ZPIC had audited only 43 claims. Then it used a statistical method to extrapolate the alleged over-billings and concluded that the alleged overpayment was $7,885,803.23. I cannot tell you how many times I have disputed an extrapolation and won. See blog.
42 USC 1395(f)(f)(d)(1)(A) states that the ALJ shall conduct and conclude the hearing and render a decision no later than 90 days after a timely request. Yet the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that an ALJ hearing would not be forthcoming not within 90 days or even 900 days. The judge noted in his decision that the Medicare appeal backlog for an ALJ hearing was 3 – 5 years. The District Court held that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because Family Rehab had not exhausted its administrative remedies. Family Rehab appealed.
On appeal, Family Rehab argued the same arguments that I have made in the past: (1) its procedural due process and ultra vires claims are collateral to the agency’s appellate process; and (2) going through the appellate process would mean no review at all because the provider would be out of business by the time it would be heard by an ALJ.
What does collateral mean? Collard greens are collateral. When you think collateral; think collards. Collard greens do not normally come with spaghetti and meatballs. A collateral issue is an issue that is entirely collateral to a substantive agency decision and would not be decided through the administrative appeal process. In other words, even if Family Rehab were to only pursue the $7.8 million overpayment issue through the administrative process, the issue of having money recouped and the damage to the company that the recoupment was causing would never be heard by the ALJ because those “collateral” issues are outside the ALJ’s purview. The premature recoupment issue could not be remedied by an ALJ. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.
The collateral argument also applies to terminations of Medicare and Medicaid contracts without due process. In an analogous case (Affiliated Professional), the provider argued that the termination of its Medicare contract without due process violated its right to due process and the Equal Protection Clause and was successful.
The upshot is obvious, if the Court must examine the merits of the underlying dispute, delve into the statute and regulations, or make independent judgments as to plaintiff’s eligibility under a statute, the claim is not collateral.
The importance of this case is that it verifies my contention that if a provider is undergoing a recoupment or termination without due process, there is relief for that provider – an injunction stopping the premature recoupments or termination until due process has been completed.
Hospital is shocked to learn that its Medicare contract with Health and Human Services may be terminated by April 16, 2017. Medicaid services may also be adversely affected. The hospital was notified of the possible Medicare contract termination on March 27, 2017, and is faced with conceivably losing its Medicare contract within a month of notification. Legal action cannot act fast enough – unless the hospital requests an emergency temporary restraining order, motion to stay, and preliminary injunction and files it immediately upon learning that its Medicare contract is terminated.
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) threatened Greenville Memorial Hospital, part of Greenville Health System, in South Carolina, that Medicare reimbursements will cease starting April 16, 2017. According to CMS, Memorial’s emergency department is not compliant with Medicare regulations.
A public notice in the Greenville News says: “Notice is hereby given that effective April 15, 2017, the agreement between GHS Greenville Memorial Hospital, 701 Grove Road, Greenville, S.C. 29605 and the Secretary of Health and Human Service, as a provider of Hospital Services and Health Insurance for the Aged and Disabled Program (Medicare) is to be terminated. GHS Greenville Memorial Hospital does not meet the following conditions of participation. 42 CFR 482.12 Governing Body, 42 CFR 482.13 Patients’ Rights and 42 CFR 482.23 Nursing Services.”
“The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has determined that GHS Greenville Memorial Hospital is not in compliance with the conditions of coverage. The Medicare program will not make payment for hospital services to patients who are admitted after April 16, 2017.”
The findings came after an onsite audit was conducted on March 13, 2017. Memorial was notified of the report on March 27, 2017.
Memorial must have submitted a corrective action plan by April 3, 2017, but it has not been released.
The emergency department at Memorial treats about 300 patients per day. An employee of Memorial estimates that the termination would lose net revenue from Medicare and Medicaid could potentially reach around $495 million. Greenville Memorial received $305 million in Medicare funding and $190 million from Medicaid in the most recent fiscal year, accounting for nearly six in 10 patients, officials said.
While CMS and Memorial refuse to discuss the details of the alleged noncompliance, CMS’ public notice cites three CFR cites: 42 CFR 482.12 Governing Body, 42 CFR 482.13 Patients’ Rights and 42 CFR 482.23 Nursing Services.
42 CFR 482.12 requires that hospitals have governing bodies and plans to follow Medicare regulations. Subsection (f) specifically requires that if a hospital has an emergency department that the hospital must follow 42 CFR 482.55 “Conditions of Participation,” which states that “The hospital must meet the emergency needs of patients in accordance with acceptable standards of practice.
(a) Standard: Organization and direction. If emergency services are provided at the hospital –
- The services must be organized under the direction of a qualified member of the medical staff;
- The services must be integrated with other departments of the hospital;
- The policies and procedures governing medical care provided in the emergency service or department are established by and are a continuing responsibility of the medical staff.
(b) Standard: Personnel.
- The emergency services must be supervised by a qualified member of the medical staff.
- There must be adequate medical and nursing personnel qualified in emergency care to meet the written emergency procedures and needs anticipated by the facility.”
The Memorial audit stemmed from a March 4, 2017, death of Donald Keith Smith, 48, who died as a result of traumatic asphyxiation. After an altercation, the patient was placed on a gurney, supposedly, face-down. South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Controls Site Survey Agency investigated the hospital after the death and the audit found that hospital security officers improperly restrained Smith, strapping him face down to a gurney during an altercation, rendering him unable to breathe. The death was ruled a homicide.
Memorial terminated the security officers involved in the death.
Now the hospital is faced with its own potential death. The loss of Medicare and, perhaps, Medicaid reimbursements could financially kill the hospital. Let’s see what happens…
How is it already the second month of 2016? My how the time flies. As you can see below, I have started 2016 with my “best foot forward.”
Here’s the story (and why it’s been so long since I’ve blogged):
Santa Claus, whom I love, brought our 10-year-old daughter a zip line for Christmas. (She’s wanted one forever). My wonderful, exceedingly brilliant husband Scott miscalculated the amount of brakes needed for an adult of my weight for a 300-foot zip line. The brakes stopped, albeit suddenly, but adequately, for our 10-year-old.
However, for me…well…I went a bit faster than my 45-pound daughter. The two spring brakes were not adequate to stop my zip line experience and my out-thrown feet broke my crash…into the tree. (It was a miscalculation of basic physics).
On the bright side, apparently, my right leg is longer than my left, so only my right foot was injured. Or my right foot is overly dominate than my left, which could also be the case.
Also, on the bright side, the zip line ride was AWESOME until the end.
On the down side, I tore the tendon on the bottom of my foot which, according to the ER doctor, is very difficult to tear. Embarrassingly, I had to undergo a psych evaluation because my ER doctor said that the only time he had seen someone tear that bottom tendon on their foot was by jumping off a building. So I have that going for me. I informed him that one could tear such tendon by going on zip line with inadequate brakes. (I passed the psych evaluation, BTW).
Then, while on crutches, I had a 5-day, federal trial in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the week of Martin Luther King, Jr., Tuesday through the next Monday. Thankfully, the judge did not make me stand to conduct direct and cross examinations.
But, up there, in the beautiful State of Indiana, I thought of my next blog (and lamented that I had not blogged in so long…still on crutches; I had not graduated to the gorgeous boot you saw in the picture above).
As I was up in Indiana, I thought, what if someone at the State Medicaid agency doesn’t like you, personally, and terminates your Medicaid contract “without cause?” Or refuses to contract with you? Or refuses to renew your contract?
Maybe you wouldn’t find it important whether your termination is “for cause” or “without cause,” but, in Indiana, and a lot of other states, if your termination is for “without cause,” you have no substantive appeal right, only a procedural appeal right. As in, if you are terminated “without cause,” the government never has to explain the reason for termination to you or a judge. If the government gave you the legally, proper amount of notice, the government can simply say, “I just do not want to do business with you.”
Many jurisdictions have opined that a Medicaid provider has a property right to their Medicaid contract. A health care provider does not have a property right to a Medicaid contract, but, once the state has approved that provider as a Medicaid provider, that provider has a reasonable expectation to continue to provide services to the Medicaid population. While we all know that providing services to the Medicaid population is not going to make you Richy Rich, in some jurisdictions, accepting Medicaid is necessary to stay solvent (despite the awful reimbursement rates).
Here in NC, our Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) have held a property right in maintaining a Medicaid contract once issued and relied upon, which, BTW, is the correct determination, in my opinion. Other jurisdictions concur with our NC ALJs, including the 7th Circuit.
Many times, when a provider is terminated (or not re-credentialed) “without cause,” there is an underlying and hidden cause, which makes a difference on the appeal of such purported “without cause” termination.
Because as I stated above, a “without cause” termination may not allow a substantive appeal, only procedural. In normal-day-speak, for a “without cause,” you cannot argue that the termination or refusal to credential isn’t “fair” or is based on an incorrect assumption that there is a quality of care concern that really does not exist. You can only argue that the agency did not provide the proper procedure, i.e., you didn’t get 60 days notice. Juxtapose, a “for cause” termination, you can argue that the basis for which the termination relies is incorrect, i.e., you are accusing me that my staff member is not credentialed, but you are wrong; she/he is actually credentialed.
So, what do you do if you are terminated “without cause?” What do you do if you are terminated “for cause?”
For both scenarios, you need an injunction.
But how do you prove your case for an injunction?
Proving you need an injunction entails you proving to a judge that: (a) likelihood of success on the merits; (b) irreparable harm; (c) balance of equities; and (d) impact on the community.
The hardest prongs to meet are the first two. Usually, in my experience, irreparable harm is the hardest prong to meet. Most clients, if they are willing to hire my team and me, can prove likelihood of success. Think about it, if a client knows he/she has horrible documentation, he/she will not spring for an expensive attorney to defend themselves against a termination.
Irreparable harm, however, is difficult to demonstrate and the circumstances surrounding proving irreparable harm creates quite a quandary.
Irreparable, according to case law, cannot only be monetary damages. If you are just out of money and your company is in financial distress, it will not equate to irreparable harm.
Irreparable harm differs slightly from state to state.
Although, most jurisdictions agree that irreparable harm does equate to an imminent threat of your business closing, terminating staff, loss of goodwill, harm to reputation, patients not receiving medically necessary services, unfathamable emotional distress, the weights of loans and credit, understanding that you’ve depleting all savings and checkings, and understanding that you’ve exhausted all possible assets or loans.
The Catch-22 of it all is by the time you meet the prongs of irreparable harm, generally, you do not have the cash to hire an attorney. I suggest to all Medicare and Medicaid health care providers that you need to maintain an emergency fund account for unforeseen situations, such as audits, suspensions, terminations, etc. Put aside money every week, as much as you can. Hope that you never need to use it.
But you will be covered, just in case.
Medicare Alert: Mere Documentation Mistakes May Lead to Termination of Your Medicare Enrollment Contract
Another new CMS rule, released yesterday, increases Medicare provider oversight for fraud, waste, and abuse even more. See CMS Press Release below.
Now CMS can revoke enrollment of Medicare providers who are found to engage in abusive billing practices by billing for services that do not meet the Medicare requirements.
Well, that sounds great on its face. We don’t want Medicare providers billing for services that do not meet the Medicare requirements. We all agree.
Here’s the problem with this very broad new rule…
Who determines whether the Medicare services meet Medicare requirements? A recover audit contractor (RAC) who is paid on contingency fee? See “NC Medicaid RACs Paid to Find Errors by Providers, No Incentive to Find Errors by DMA.” Even though that blog is speaking about NC RACs, it is analogous to Medicare RACs.
I foresee two longterm consequences of this new rule:
1. North Carolina will adopt the same rules for Medicaid billing errors. And we know how accurate those alleged billing errors have been…See “The Exaggeration of Tentative Notices of Overpayment.”
2. On the federal level, Medicare providers are going to start seeing more terminations of their Medicare contracts for supposed billing mistakes. Perhaps without due process. Then providers will have to fight to prove that a property right has been violated.
We shall see…
Here is the CMS press release:
New CMS rules enhance Medicare provider oversight;strengthens beneficiary protections
CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner today announced new rules that strengthen oversight of Medicare providers and protect taxpayer dollars from bad actors. These new safeguards are designed to prevent physicians and other providers with unpaid debt from re-entering Medicare, remove providers with patterns or practices of abusive billing, and implement other provisions to help save more than $327 million annually.
“The changes announced today are common-sense safeguards to preserve Medicare for generations to come, while making the rules more consistent for all providers that work with us,” Administrator Tavenner said. “The Administration is committed to using all appropriate tools as part of its comprehensive program integrity strategy shaped by the Affordable Care Act.”
CMS Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Program Integrity, Shantanu Agrawal, M.D., said, “CMS has removed nearly 25,000 providers from Medicare and the new rules help us stop bad actors from coming back in as we continue to protect our patients. For years, some providers tried to game the system and dodge rules to get Medicare dollars; today, this final rule makes it much harder for bad actors that were removed from the program to come back in.”
CMS is using new authorities created by the Affordable Care Act to clamp down on Medicare fraud, waste and abuse. CMS currently has in place temporary enrollment moratoria on new ambulance and home health providers in seven fraud hot spots around the country. The moratoria are allowing CMS to target its resources in those areas, including use of fingerprint-based criminal background checks. These and other successes continue to protect the Medicare Trust Funds. CMS has demonstrated that removing providers from Medicare has a real impact on savings. For example, the Fraud Prevention System, a predictive analytics technology, identified providers and suppliers who were ultimately revoked, and prevented $81 million from being paid.
New changes announced today allow CMS to:
- Deny enrollment to providers, suppliers and owners affiliated with any entity that has unpaid Medicare debt; this will prevent people and entities that have incurred substantial Medicare debts from exiting the program and then attempting to re-enroll as a new business to avoid repayment of the outstanding Medicare debt.
- Deny or revoke the enrollment of a provider or supplier if a managing employee has been convicted of a felony offense that CMS determines to be detrimental to Medicare beneficiaries. The recently implemented background checks will provide CMS with more information about felony convictions for high risk providers or suppliers.
- Revoke enrollments of providers and suppliers engaging in abuse of billing privileges by demonstrating a pattern or practice of billing for services that do not meet Medicare requirements.
How the ACA Has Redefined the Threshold for “Credible Allegation of Fraud” and Does It Violate Due Process?
I believe that everyone would agree with me that The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has done more to impact health care legally…probably since 1966 when Medicare was established. Whether you think the impact is beneficial or negative, it does not matter. The impact exists nonetheless.
One of the changes the ACA has yielded is the threshold for suspending Medicare and Medicaid payments to providers based on credible allegations of fraud is lower.
While CMS regulations authorized the suspension of Medicare and Medicaid payments prior to the enactment of the ACA, § 6402(h) lowers the standard the government must meet in order to suspend payments based upon suspected fraud.
The lower standard for a state to suspend Medicaid and Medicare payments nip…nay, I say…bite at the fabric of due process.
First, what is a “credible allegation of fraud?”
Credible allegation of fraud means an allegation from any source, such as data mining, whistleblowers, and/or fraud hotline complaints. Quite literally, you could be accused of having credible allegations of fraud because an ex, disgruntled employee calls the fraud hotline.
The definition of “credible” is equally as scary. If there is “indicia of reliability,” it is credible. I have no idea what “indicia” means, but it does not sound like much. So if there is indicia of reliability when your ex, disgruntled employee calls the fraud hotline, there may be credible allegations of fraud against you.
When you have credible allegations of fraud against you, your Medicaid/Medicare payments are suspended. Without an opportunity to rebut the allegations. Without you even knowing from where the allegation came.
I make the analogy (albeit, admittedly, a poor one) of my law license. Or an M.D.’s license. Or a teacher’s license. We do not have a right to a law license. But, I argue, once you go through the process and pass the necessary tests and are awarded a law license (or M.D. license or teacher’s license), you have a protected property right in continuing in the profession.
There is a good cause exception and you should try to assert the exceptions, but this blog concentrates on the suspension and the due process (or lack thereof) involved.
CMS states that providers have “ample opportunity to submit information to us in the established rebuttal statement process to demonstrate their case for why a suspension is unjust.”
However, think of this…in Medicare, notice to the provider is not required prior to the suspension. So, I ask you, how can you plead the suspension is unjust when you have no notice? Obviously, only after the suspension has been put into place. Due process violation?
In Medicaid, the agency must notify the provider of the suspension within 5 days of taking the action. Although it can be extended to 90-days upon request of a law enforcement agency.
Even though the Medicare suspension statutes do not require notice, the Medicare statutes are a bit more provider-friendly when it comes to the length of time during which you may be suspended. For Medicare providers, the suspension can last a period of 180 days. However, the 180 days can be extended.
Conversely, for Medicaid providers, there is no scheduled period of suspension.
In my cursory review of case law, I found one case in which the Medicaid provider had suffered suspension of Medicaid reimbursements for over 4 years. Obviously, the company had closed and staff had been terminated. You cannot maintain a business without revenue.
So, is the suspension of Medicare and Medicaid payments upon a credible allegation of fraud a violation of due process?
Do not even get me started on the importance of due process. In fact, I have blogged about the importance of due process before in this blog. “NC Medicaid and Constitutional Due Process.”
Due process is generally described as notice and an opportunity to be heard. But due process does not apply to everything. For example, you do not have due process rights to your drivers’ license. Certain infractions will cause you to lose your drivers’ license without due process. That is because driving is a privilege, not a right. You do not have a right to drive. Instead due process attaches when a liberty or a property right is deprived.
The right to vote (for some…not felons)
Freedom of religion
Freedom of speech
Obviously, in certain circumstances, those rights can be restricted (shouting fire in a crowded movie theatre, for example). But, generally, you have due process to the deprivation of any of your rights.
For purposes of this blog, we are concentrating on whether due process attaches to the deprivation of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. If someone takes away your Medicaid and/or Medicare reimbursements, are you entitled to due process…or notice and an opportunity to be heard?
Some courts have held that “health care providers have a constitutionally protected property interest in continued participation in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.”
Obviously, in the jurisdictions in which this view is followed, without question, you have a right to due process upon suspension of Medicaid and/or Medicare reimbursements.
However, the view that Medicaid and Medicare participation is a constitutionally protected right is not the majority view. Or, I should say, this particular issue has not arisen in all jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions have not even considered whether the participation in Medicaid and Medicare is a protected property interest.
To be completely clear, there is no protected property interest in procuring a Medicaid or Medicare contract. Only once you receive the contract does your interest in the contract become protected (in those certain jurisdictions).
North Carolina, for example, has not contemplated this issue (at least, not since after 10 NCAC 22F.0605 was enacted).
Interestingly enough, 10A N.C. A. C. 22F.0605 states “[a]ll provider contracts with the North Carolina State Medicaid Agency are terminable at will. Nothing in these Regulations creates in the provider a property right or liberty right in continued participation in the Medicaid program.”
So, one would think that, in NC, there is no protected property interest in continued participation in the Medicaid program.
However, in the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), this very issue was contemplated in a few contested case hearings and the Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) have decided that there is a protected property interest in the continued participation of the Medicaid program, despite 10A N.C. A. C. 22F.0605. The decisions are based on federal and state law.
“North Carolina statutes and rules provide procedural due process. Federal Medicaid regulations are replete with provisions that require that notice be given to the provider of the suspension or termination of Medicaid payment for services.”
“The Supreme Court has ruled that property rights can be created by administrative regulations and that the “sufficiency of the claim of entitlement must be decided by reference to state law.”‘ (Internal cite omitted). Bowens v. N.C. Dept. of Human Res., 710 F.2d 1015, 1017 (4th Cir. 1983). Our state statutes and rules have the procedural and substantive safeguards, indicating that the provider’s participation is not terminable at will.” (This opinion was written after 10A N.C. A. C. 22F.0605 was enacted).
While these OAH decisions have not undergone judicial review, at least, in OAH, providers may have a protected property interest in the continuation of participation in the Medicaid program. And analogous argument would exist for Medicare providers.
Who knows? Maybe NC will follow the view that providers have a protected property interest in continuing participation in Medicaid…
Just imagine if the government could snatch away law licenses…or M.D.’s licenses…or teachers’ licenses…without any due process. We would live in fear of losing our livelihoods.