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Exclusive: Medicaid: The State of the Union

Here is an article that I wrote as a Medicaid news update, state-by-state, as seen on RACMonitor.

The latest and greatest in Medicaid news, state by state.

While Medicare is a nationwide healthcare insurance program, Medicaid, the government-funded health insurance for the poor and developmentally disabled, is state-specific, generally speaking. The backbone of Medicaid is federal; federal regulations set forth the minimum requirements that states must follow. It is up to the states to decide whether to mandate more stringent or more regulatory oversight than is required by the federal regulations.

Why is it important for you to know the latest up-to-date information on Medicaid issues? First, if you accept Medicaid, you need to know. Secondly, if you are thinking about expanding into different states, you need to be aware of how Medicaid is handled there.

What is happening in your State?

Alabama: Alabama did not expand Medicaid. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) recommended that Alabama improve its Medicaid security program, aligning it with federal requirements. The OIG also stated that Alabama also needs to provide adequate oversight to its contractors and address other vulnerabilities OIG found in its audit. Expect more audits here. In particular, the Medicaid Maternity Program is under the microscope. Apparently, healthcare providers that provide medically necessary services to women on the Maternity Program have been duped before, as some of the women enrolled had already given birth. Recoupment!
Alaska: Alaska expanded Medicaid in 2015. Currently, lawmakers in the legislature here have introduced bills that would require the state to seek 20-hour work requirements for those enrolled in Medicaid.
Arizona: Arizona expanded Medicaid, but with an approved section 1115 waiver. Arizona has failed to collect up to $36.7 million in rebates from prescription drug manufacturers since 2010 and may need to pay the federal government a portion of that amount, according to a new federal audit, which means more audits to reconcile the payback. Arizona State Rep. Kelli Butler wants to allow uninsured individuals to buy into the state’s Medicaid program. Butler is expected to introduce legislation to authorize a buy-in or direct state officials to study the proposal. The buy-in option would require consumers to pay the full cost of their insurance coverage.
Arkansas: Arkansas expanded Medicaid, but with an approved section 1115 waiver. On March 5, 2018, it became the third state to win the Trump administration’s permission to compel Medicaid recipients to work or prepare for a job. The state’s program integrity is focusing its upcoming audits on home health, long-term care facilities, and inpatient hospital stays.
California: California expanded Medicaid. The state’s Medicaid agency has posted draft language of a new state plan amendment (SPA) that would make major changes to Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) and Rural Health Clinic (RHC) reimbursement. If approved, the SPA would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018, so expect audits and recoupments. The proposed SPA would implement multiple new requirements for FQHC and RHCS. For example, the proposed productivity standard requires physicians to document 3,200 visits per year and applicable allied health professionals such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners to document 2,600 visits per year. In January 2018, Aetna received approval to participate in California’s Medicaid program as “Aetna Better Health of California.”
Colorado: Colorado expanded Medicaid. Not unexpectedly, the state has one of the more lenient regulatory environments. For example, Colorado’s permissive approach to regulating more than 700 licensed residential and outpatient drug treatment centers got the attention of a congressional subcommittee investigating the drug rehab industry last year. Also, Colorado’s governor announced that he is not opposed to work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries.
Connecticut: Connecticut expanded Medicaid. The Connecticut Health Policy Project data shows that net pharmacy spending minus rebates from Connecticut’s Medicaid program tripled from 2000 to 2017. After rebates, Medicaid’s pharmacy costs decreased from $542 million in 2015 to $465 million in 2017, a drop of over 14 percent. Interestingly, on March 21, 2018, the state’s General Assembly increased Connecticut’s 8,500 home care workers’ wages, and adding worker’s compensation, even those workers are being compensated by Medicaid. The increased wage will rise to $16.25 per hour by 2020 and will cost the state, after federal Medicaid reimbursement, $725,790 in 2018, almost $7 million in 2019, and over $9.3 million in 2020. If you have a home health agency here, you better make sure that lawmakers are smart enough to increase the reimbursement rates; otherwise, a lot of home health agencies will go out of business.
Delaware: Delaware expanded Medicaid, but since it is so small in size and population, the expansion only added approximately 10,000 Medicaid recipients. This year, after two years of increasing Medicaid spending by approximately $70 million, Delaware’s Medicaid costs are expected to decrease a small amount, even with the expansion. Beginning this year, Delaware gives additional weight to value-based care when determining payment. Rather than paying solely for volume of care – hospital stays, tests and procedures, regardless of outcomes – the state will pay for achieving optimal health for its Medicaid recipients.
Florida: Florida did not expand Medicaid. Lawmakers are considering opioid prescription limits for Medicaid recipients. The proposals would limit prescriptions for opioids to three-day supplies, but also allow for up to seven-day supplies if physicians deem it medically necessary. If passed, I question whether lawsuits will be filed claiming that such a move violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, because it violates parity between Medicaid recipients and the private-pay insured. And what about the people suffering with chronic, long-term pain? (especially considering the state’s demographics). In other news, Gov. Rick Scott has proposed to transition the state’s Children’s Medical Services program to a private managed care organization, beginning in 2019.
Georgia: Georgia did not expand Medicaid. Recently, the Georgia Department of Community Health mistakenly issued multiple Medicaid ID numbers to hundreds of patients. Those mistakes led the state and federal governments to make duplicate payments for care of some Medicaid patients. Now, Georgia is being asked to refund the federal government’s share of the duplicate payments — more than $665,000. Expect more audits to fund the repayment.
Hawaii: Hawaii expanded Medicaid. But the state is cracking down on its providers. In an effort to improve fraud prevention, Hawaii is performing more comprehensive screening, credentialing, and enrollment for all Medicaid providers. Those of you who are already credentialed here, expect tougher standards for re-credentialing.
Idaho: Idaho did not expand Medicaid, but it did expand dental coverage. On March 12, 2018, the state’s Senate passed a bill that restores Medicaid non-emergency dental coverage. The coverage was cut in 2011 during the recession. The bill, HB 465, already passed the House and now moves to Gov. Butch Otter. It is expected to cost $38 a year per patient.
Illinois: Illinois expanded Medicaid. On Jan. 12, 2018, five nursing home operators filed a federal lawsuit against the state, arguing that low Medicaid payment rates and the claims backlog are jeopardizing patient care. The lawsuit was filed by Generations Health Care Network, Carlyle Healthcare Center, St. Vincent’s Home, Clinton Manor Living Center, and Extended Care Clinical, which operate 100 skilled nursing facilities throughout the state. Because of Section 30(A) of the Social Security Act (SSA), which mandates that reimbursement rates allow for quality of care, why aren’t more health care providers filing lawsuits to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates?
Indiana: Indiana expanded Medicaid, but with an approved section 1115 waiver, which includes work requirements and adds premium penalties for tobacco users. The state also plans to use an enrollment block on members who fail to meet work requirements. Indiana focuses its audits on outliers: in other words, a provider that provides significantly more services than like-specialties.
Iowa: Iowa expanded Medicaid, but with an approved section 1115 waiver. The state’s Department of Human Services announced on March 12, 2018 that Iowa is in the process of searching for additional managed care organizations for the current program. So if you have the capacity to act as an Managed Care Organization (MCO), throw your name in the ring. Because of pressure from the federal government, Iowa has implemented more prepayment reviews. Specifically, auditors are reviewing hospital discharge records for any sign of noncompliance.
Kansas: Kansas did not expand Medicaid. On Feb. 15, 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal class-action lawsuit arguing that the state’s Medicaid program is improperly denying Hepatitis C medication to members until they are severely ill. The suit names Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) Secretary Jeff Andersen and KDHE Division of Health Care Finance Director Jon Hamdorf. Medicaid managed care plans in the state either require “severe liver damage” before covering the drugs or allow some coverage before that point. If you have a Kansas Medicaid contract, on Feb. 18, 2018, Maximus instituted a compliance plan and announced that it is committed to reaching a June 1 deadline to deal with state concerns over the company’s processing of Medicaid applications. Maximus is required to reach certain performance standards or face fines and the potential loss of its contract.
Kentucky: Kentucky expanded Medicaid, but with an approved section 1115 waiver. In January, Kentucky’s waiver was approved by the federal government to implement work requirements for Medicaid recipients. Implementation will start in April 2018, with full implementation by July 2018. The waiver was approved for five years, through Sept. 30, 2023. In state audit news, non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) providers are on the chopping block.
Louisiana: Louisiana expanded Medicaid, but now the state may remove 46,000 elderly and disabled individuals from Medicaid as part of a series of healthcare-related budget cuts proposed by Gov. John Bel Edwards for 2019. The proposal would cut $657 million in state healthcare funding and as much as $2.4 billion, including federal matching funds, in total. The proposal would also cut funding to safety net hospitals and eliminate mental health services for adults who don’t otherwise qualify for Medicaid.
Maine: Maine expanded Medicaid. The state adopted the Medicaid expansion through a ballot initiative in November 2017; the measure required submission of the state plan amendment within 90 days and implementation of expansion within 180 days of the effective date. In Maine audit news, a behavioral healthcare provider accused of fraud has put behavioral healthcare providers on the front line.
Maryland: Maryland expanded Medicaid. Maryland’s system of pushing hospitals to achieving lower admissions has added up to hundreds of millions of dollars in savings, a new report shows. Since 2014, the state caps hospitals’ revenue each year, letting them keep the difference if they reduce inpatient and outpatient treatment while maintaining care quality. Per capita hospital spending by all insurers has grown by less than 2 percent a year in Maryland, below the economic growth rate, defined four years ago as 3.58 percent annually, a key goal for the program.
Massachusetts: Massachusetts expanded Medicaid. The state has begun to roll out new Accountable Care Organization (ACO) networks. Members assigned to an ACO have until May 31 to switch before they are locked in for nine months. The changes are expected to impact more than 800,000 Medicaid recipients and are designed to better manage patient care, reimburse providers based on quality, and address social determinants of health. There is expected confusion with this change among Medicaid patients and providers.
Michigan: Michigan expanded Medicaid, but with an improved section 1115 waiver. On Feb. 18, 2018, Michigan announced that it would consider a proposal to transition the state’s $2.8 billion Medicaid nursing home and long-term care services programs into managed care. An initial review by the state Department of Health and Human Services is expected to begin by July 1.
Minnesota: Minnesota expanded Medicaid. MN has a proposed Medicaid waiver bill, which requests permission from the federal government to implement an 80-hour-per-month requirement that would mandate Medicaid beneficiaries who are able-bodied adults and not the sole caretaker of a child to work, actively seek employment, participate in educational or training programs, or volunteer.
Mississippi: Mississippi did not expand Medicaid. The five-year waiver request from Gov. Phil Bryant seeks to require nondisabled adults, including low-income parents and caretakers, to participate in at least 20 hours per week of “workforce training.” To be eligible, Medicaid beneficiaries must work, be self-employed, volunteer, or be in a drug treatment program, among other approved activities. If people don’t comply, they’ll be kicked off Medicaid.
Missouri: Missouri did not expand Medicaid. The Missouri Hospital Association has won a lawsuit against the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) over a rule that deducts Medicare and commercial insurance reimbursements from total disproportionate-share hospital (DSH) allotments. U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes ruled that the agency exceeded its authority. State hospitals would have had to pay back $96 million for 2011 and 2012 alone. Expect more scrutiny on hospitals in light of this decision.
Montana: Montana expanded Medicaid, but with an approved 1115 waiver. Montana is one of many states that have proposed budget cuts to Medicaid. A new proposed rule, which would take effect April 1, would move the state’s addiction counseling from a needs-based system to a cap of 12 individual sessions. The rule may be retroactive, so expect audits to recoup if the rule passes.
Nebraska: Nebraska did not expand Medicaid. On March 7, 2018, advocates for Medicaid expansion launched a petition drive, “Insure the Good Life,” to place the expansion issue on the November 2018 general election ballot. State lawmakers have rejected the expansion measure the past five legislative attempts. Nebraska has paid millions to the federal government in the past few years for noncompliance. Many think it will owe millions more. Audits on providers will increase in Nebraska to compensate for money paid to the federal government – in all service types.
Nevada: Nevada did expand Medicaid. It paid the federal government roughly $4.1 million in 2017 to use HealthCare.gov. CMS also asked for 1.5 percent of the premium payments that were collected through its exchange last year, a percentage that will double in 2019. Nevada plans to cut its IT costs by replacing its use of HealthCare.gov with a new health insurance exchange in 2019. Pain management providers and pharmacies are the target of Medicaid audits here.
New Hampshire: New Hampshire expanded Medicaid, but with an approved section 1115 waiver. On March 9, 2018, the New Hampshire Senate passed a bill to continue the state’s Medicaid expansion program. The legislation, which now heads to the House, would impose work requirements on members and utilize 5 percent of liquor revenues to cover the cost of expansion. The Senate voted to reauthorize the Medicaid program for five years and transition to managed care in 2019. The current expansion program, the New Hampshire Health Protection Program, covers about 50,000 individuals.
New Jersey: New Jersey expanded Medicaid. On March 13, 2018, Gov. Phil Murphy delivered his first budget address, unveiling a $37.4 billion budget with a projected surplus of $743 million. 2019 revenues are projected to grow by 5.7 percent from last year. Among the healthcare provisions are: a) close to $4.4 billion in state funds to provide healthcare to almost 1.8 million residents through New Jersey’s Medicaid program, NJ FamilyCare; b) $8.5 million to implement autism spectrum disorder services for Medicaid-eligible children and teens to help 10,000+ families with behavioral and physical supports; c) $11 million in state and federal funds to expand family planning services under NJ FamilyCare to residents at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level; d) $252 million to fund the hospital Charity Care program; and e) $100 million to fund addiction initiatives (list not exhaustive).
New Mexico: New Mexico expanded Medicaid. The 15 behavioral healthcare providers that were put out of business in 2013 have filed lawsuits against the state. Speculation has it that after the election this year – likely taking Gov. Susana Martinez out of office – the providers may get compensated. New Mexico auditors are focused on the delivery of babies and services to the elderly.
New York: New York expanded Medicaid. Recently, the state’s Assembly released its one-house budget bill. The plan restores $135 million in reductions to the Medicaid program. The big news in the Big Apple regarding Medicaid is in home health. The New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, has agreed to hear a case regarding wages for home care workers. A state Appellate Court ruled in September 2017 that home care agencies must pay live-in home health aides for 24 hours per day, not the 13 hours that is the industry standard, assuming that they are allowed eight hours of sleep and three hours for meals. The New York Department of Labor has issued an emergency regulation that maintains the policy of allowing employers to pay home care workers for 13 hours of a 24-hour shift. If the decision stands, it means that agencies must pay for an additional 11 hours of care per day, almost doubling the cost of care. It is estimated that it will increase costs for home care in New York’s Medicaid program by tens of millions of dollars. Any of you who have home health care agencies in New York, which are dependent on Medicaid, beware that the reimbursement rates are not increasing to accommodate for the increased wages. Many home health companies will go out of business if the decision stands.
North Carolina: North Carolina did not expand Medicaid. The state is seeking to transition its Medicaid program from a fee-for-service model to a managed care model for all services. The transition of beneficiaries with a serious mental illness, a serious emotional disturbance, a substance use disorder, or an intellectual/developmental disability (IDD) will be delayed until the launch of behavioral health and IDD tailored plans. The state estimates that 2.1 million individuals will be eligible for managed care. This is a huge overhaul of the Medicaid system.
North Dakota: North Dakota expanded Medicaid. The state received substantial funds from a settlement designed to compensate states, in part, for the billions of dollars in healthcare costs associated with treating tobacco-related diseases under state Medicaid programs. To date, states have received more than $50 billion in settlement payments. North Dakota is also one of the “test” states to allow Medicare Advantage Value-Based Insurance Design to waive many requirements of federal regulation.
Ohio: Ohio expanded Medicaid. On March 13, 2018, it was announced that the Ohio Pharmacists Association alleged that CVS Caremark overcharges Medicaid managed care plans for medications while often reimbursing pharmacists less than the cost of the drugs. CVS denied accusations of overcharging in an attempt to drive out retail competition and reported that there are strict firewalls between their retail business and their pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) business, CVS Caremark. Beginning in July, Medicaid MCOs will be required to report to state regulators how much PBMs are paying pharmacies.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma did not expand Medicaid. On March 6, 2018, Gov. Mary Fallin issued an executive order to develop Medicaid work requirements. On March 13, 2018, the OK Senate approved legislation to tighten the income threshold for Medicaid eligibility among parents and caretakers to 20 percent of the federal poverty level, down from 40 percent under current state law. The move could impact nearly 44,000 of the 107,000 parents and caretakers on Medicaid in the state. The legislation now moves to the House.
Oregon: Oregon expanded Medicaid. But how it will be funded makes state hospitals angry. Voters approved taxes on hospitals and health plans to continue to fund the state’s Medicaid expansion. The taxes, which were approved in a ballot measure, are expected to generate $210 million to $320 million over two years by imposing a 0.7 percent tax on some hospitals and a 1.5 percent tax on gross health insurance premiums and on managed care organizations. Unions and large, self-insured employers are exempt.
Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania expanded Medicaid. On March 8, 2018, the state’s Department of Human Services discussed HB 59, a bill that would require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to prove they are looking for work. The bill was passed last year by the General Assembly, but vetoed by Gov. Wolf. Acting Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller said implementing the requirements would be expensive, estimating that the project could run up to $600 million in the first year.
Rhode Island: Rhode Island expanded Medicaid. On Feb. 14, 2018, it was announced that the number of recently released inmates in Rhode Island who died from an opioid overdose decreased between 2016 and 2017. The study attributed the decrease to the availability of medication-assisted treatment in correctional facilities starting in 2016. Rhode Island was the first state to offer inmates methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.
South Carolina: South Carolina did not expand Medicaid. The state is overhauling its Medicaid Management Information System. Cognosante was awarded the contract, effective March 6, 2018 through March 5, 2023.
South Dakota: South Dakota did not expand Medicaid. Furthermore, the state is seeking permission from the Trump administration to implement Medicaid work requirements, a move that would affect 4,500 beneficiaries. In South Dakota audit news, Program Integrity has ramped up the number of audits and prepayment reviews, especially on behavioral healthcare, dental care, hospital care, and home health.
Tennessee: Tennessee did not expand Medicaid. In February, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services approved a proposal to launch a two-year pilot designed to improve prescription drug adherence and effectiveness for Medicaid beneficiaries. As part of the pilot, pharmacists will work with Medicaid beneficiaries enrolled in patient-centered medical homes to ensure that medications are appropriate, safe, and taken as directed. As many as 300,000 enrollees may be affected by the pilot. This initiative will affect pharmacies based within hospitals.
Texas: Texas did not expand Medicaid. The state’s Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) announced contract awards for the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in rural areas. The six awardees are Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (Central Region), Driscoll Children’s Health Plan (Hidalgo Region), Molina Healthcare of Texas, Inc. (Central, Hidalgo, Northeast, and West Regions), Superior Health Plan, Inc./Centene (West Region), and TX Children’s Health Plan, Inc. (Northeast Region). Contracts are slated to begin on Sept. 1, 2018. This is a big change to Texas Medicaid.
Utah: Utah did not expand Medicaid. On March 9, 2018, Utah legislators passed a limited Medicaid expansion bill. The legislation would cover approximately 70,000 individuals who earn under 100 percent of the federal poverty level and impose a work requirement and spending cap for enrollees.
Vermont: Vermont expanded Medicaid. One hospital here recently paid $1.6 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act (FCA). According to the government, between January 2012 and September 2014, Brattleboro Memorial knowingly submitted a number of outpatient laboratory claims that lacked proper documentation. On another note, Vermont only has 188 beds in its mental health system, and patients are placed on waiting lists or forced to rely on hospital ERs. This is an ongoing problem for patients and hospitals.
Virginia: Virginia did not expand Medicaid. On March 2, 2018, Gov. Ralph Northam told state budget legislators to include Medicaid expansion spending plans or he would add the expansion as a budget amendment. In state audit news, Program Integrity’s spotlight is shining on long-term care facilities, durable medical equipment, transportation, and hospitals.
Washington: Washington expanded Medicaid. On Feb. 20, 2018, the state announced that it approved all nine Accountable Communities of Health (ACH) Medicaid Transformation Project Plans. The Medicaid Transformation Project is the state’s Section 1115 waiver, approved by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in 2017. Under the waiver, the first initiative involves transforming Medicaid delivery in each regional service area through ACHs. The newly approved project plans will look to improve the overall health of Medicaid beneficiaries by tackling the opioid crisis and integrating behavioral health, among other aims.
West Virginia: West Virginia expanded Medicaid. On March 6, 2018, it was announced that Medicaid funding could be at risk after Gov. James Justice signed a bill increasing state workers’ and teachers’ pay by 5 percent following a statewide teachers’ strike. According to West Virginia Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, the pay raises could be funded through cuts to Medicaid, among other areas; however, the Governor stated that the Medicaid budget would not be cut. The strike was in response to low pay and rising health insurance costs. The raises are expected to cost the state treasury approximately $110 million a year.
Wisconsin: Wisconsin did not expand Medicaid. The state covers adults up to 100 percent of the federal poverty line in Medicaid, but it did not adopt the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) expansion. Still, managed care will soon be mandatory. The state’s Department of Health Services reported that through June 2018, it will roll out mandatory enrollment for many Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries in Medicaid managed care. Approximately 28,000 beneficiaries may be impacted. The change impacts members who live an SSI managed care service area, are age 19 or older, and have a Medicaid SSI or SSI-related disability. Previously, SSI beneficiaries could opt out of managed care after two months. Up to two-thirds of eligible beneficiaries typically opt out of managed care.
Wyoming: Wyoming did not expand Medicaid. A bill that would have required able-bodied Medicaid recipients in Wyoming to work at a job, go to school, or do volunteer work died this month in a House committee. The state’s Department of Health is partnering with Medicity to develop a new health information exchange for the state. The Wyoming Frontier Information Exchange will be a centralized repository of clinical data for participating patients, powered in part by Medicity’s data aggregation and interoperability technology.

 

Medicare and Medicaid RAC Audits: How Auditors Get It Wrong

Here is an article that I wrote that was first published on RACMonitor on March 15, 2018:

All audits are questionable, contends the author, so appeal all audit results.

Providers ask me all the time – how will you legally prove that an alleged overpayment is erroneous? When I explain some examples of mistakes that Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs) and other health care auditors make, they ask, how do these auditors get it so wrong?

First, let’s debunk the notion that the government is always right. In my experience, the government is rarely right. Auditors are not always healthcare providers. Some have gone to college. Many have not. I googled the education criteria for a clinical compliance reviewer. The job application requires the clinical reviewer to “understand Medicare and Medicaid regulations,” but the education requirement was to have an RN. Another company required a college degree…in anything.

Let’s go over the most common mistakes auditors make that I have seen. I call them “oops, I did it again.” And I am not a fan of reruns.

  1. Using the Wrong Clinical Coverage Policy/Manual/Regulation

Before an on-site visit, auditors are given a checklist, which, theoretically, is based on the pertinent rules and regulations germane to the type of healthcare service being audited. The checklists are written by a government employee who most likely is not an attorney. There is no formal mechanism in place to compare the Medicare policies, rules, and manuals to the checklist. If the checklist is erroneous, then the audit results are erroneous. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) frequently revises final rules, changing requirements for certain healthcare services. State agencies amend small technicalities in the Medicaid policies constantly. These audit checklists are not updated every time CMS issues a new final rule or a state agency revises a clinical coverage policy.

For example, for hospital-based services, there is a different reimbursement rate depending on whether the patient is an inpatient or outpatient. Over the last few years there have been many modifications to the benchmarks for inpatient services. Another example is in behavioral outpatient therapy; while many states allow 32 unmanaged visits, others have decreased the number of unmanaged visits to 16, or, in some places, eight. Over and over, I have seen auditors apply the wrong policy or regulation. They apply the Medicare Manual from 2018 for dates of service performed in 2016, for example. In many cases, the more recent policies are more stringent that those of two or three years ago.

  1. A Flawed Sample Equals a Flawed Extrapolation

The second common blunder auditors often make is producing a flawed sample. Two common mishaps in creating a sample are: a) including non-government paid claims in the sample and b) failing to pick the sample randomly. Both common mistakes can render a sample invalid, and therefore, the extrapolation invalid. Auditors try to throw out their metaphoric fishing nets wide in order to collect multiple types of services. The auditors accidentally include dates of service of claims that were paid by third-party payors instead of Medicare/Medicaid. You’ve heard of the “fruit of the poisonous tree?” This makes the audit the fruit of the poisonous audit. The same argument goes for samples that are not random, as required by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG). A nonrandom sample is not acceptable and would also render any extrapolation invalid.

  1. A Simple Misunderstanding

A third common blooper found with RAC auditors is simple misunderstandings based on lack of communication between the auditor and provider. Say an auditor asks for a chart for date of service X. The provider gives the auditor the chart for date of service X, but what the auditor is really looking for is the physician’s order or prescription that was dated the day prior. The provider did not give the auditor the pertinent document because the auditor did not request it. These issues cause complications later, because inevitably, the auditor will argue that if the provider had the document all along, then why was the document not presented? Sometimes inaccurate accusations of fraud and fabrication are averred.

  1. The Erroneous Extrapolation

Auditors use a computer program called RAT-STATS to extrapolate the sample error rate across a universe of claims. There are so many variables that can render an extrapolation invalid. Auditors can have too low a confidence level. The OIG requires a 90 percent confidence level at 25 percent precision for the “point estimate.” The size and validity of the sample matters to the validity of the extrapolation. The RAT-STATS outcome must be reviewed by a statistician or a person with equal expertise. An appropriate statistical formula for variable sampling must be used. Any deviations from these directives and other mandates render the extrapolation invalid. (This is not an exhaustive list of requirements for extrapolations).

  1. That Darn Purple Ink!

A fifth reason that auditors get it wrong is because of nitpicky, nonsensical reasons such as using purple ink instead of blue. Yes, this actually happened to one of my clients. Or if the amount of time with the patient is not denoted on the medical record, but the duration is either not relevant or the duration is defined in the CPT code. Electronic signatures, when printed, sometimes are left off – but the document was signed. A date on the service note is transposed. Because there is little communication between the auditor and the provider, mistakes happen.

The moral of the story — appeal all audit results.

Letter to HHS: RAC Audits “Have Absolutely No Direct Impact on the Medicare Providers” – And I Spotted Elvis!

Recovery audits have absolutely no direct impact on the Medicare providers working hard to deliver much needed healthcare services to beneficiaries.

And Elvis Presley is still alive! Oh, and did you know that Bill Clinton never had an affair on Hillary? (since when has her name become one word, like Prince or Beyonce?)

This sentence was written in a March 6, 2018, correspondence from The Council for Medicare Integrity to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

“Recovery auditing has never been an impediment to the delivery of healthcare services nor is it an intrusion in the physician-patient relationship.” – Kristin Walter of The Council for Medicare Integrity. BTW, Ms. Walter, health care has a space between the two syllables.

The purpose of this letter that was sent from the The Council for Medicare Integrity to Secretary Azar was to request an increase of prepayment reviews for Medicare providers. For those of you so blessed to not know what a prepayment review, prepayment review is a review of your Medicare (or Caid) claims prior to being paid. It sounds reasonable on paper, but, in real life, prepayment review is a Draconian, unjust, and preposterous tool aimed at putting healthcare providers out of business, or if not aimed, is the unknown or accidental outcome of such a review. If placed on prepayment review, your Medicare or Medicaid reimbursements are 100% cut off. Gone. Like the girl in that movie with Ben Affleck, Gone Girl Gone, and, like the girl, not really gone because it’s alive – you provided services and are owed that money – but it’s in hiding and may ruin your life. See blog.

Even if I were wrong, which I am not, the mere process in the order of events of prepayment review is illogical. In the interest of time, I will cut-and-paste a section from a prior blog that I wrote about prepayment review:

In real-life, prepayment review:

  • The auditors may use incorrect, inapplicable, subjective, and arbitrary standards.

I had a case in which the auditors were denying 100% ACTT services, which are 24-hour mental health services for those 10% of people who suffer from extreme mental illness. The reason that the auditor was denying 100% of the claims was because “lower level services were not tried and ruled out.” In this instance, we have a behavioral health care provider employing staff to render ACTT services (expensive), actually rendering the ACTT services (expensive), and getting paid zero…zilch…nada…for a reason that is not required! There is no requirement that a person receiving ACTT services try a lower level of service first. If the person qualifies for ACTT, the person should receive ACTT services. Because of this auditor’s misunderstanding of ACTT, this provider was almost put out of business.

Another example: A provider of home health was placed on prepayment review. Again, 90 – 100% of the claims were denied. In home health, program eligibility is determined by an independent assessment conducted by the Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) via Liberty, which creates an individualized plan of care. The provider submitted claims for Patient Sally, who, according to her plan, needs help dressing. The service notes demonstrated that the in-home aide helped Sally dress with a shirt and pants. But the auditor denies every claim the provider bills for Sally (which is 7 days a week) because, according to the service note, the in-home aide failed to check the box to show she/he helped put on Sally’s shoes. The auditor fails to understand that Sally is a double amputee – she has no feet.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes – Who watches the watchmen???

  • The administrative burden placed on providers undergoing prepayment review is staggering.

In many cases, a provider on prepayment review is forced to hire contract workers just to keep up with the number of document requests coming from the entity that is conducting the prepayment review. After initial document requests, there are supplemental document requests. Then every claim that is denied needs to be re-submitted or appealed. The amount of paperwork involved in prepayment review would cause an environmentalist to scream and crumple into the fetal position like “The Crying Game.”

  • The accuracy ratings are inaccurate.

Because of the mistakes the auditors make in erroneously denying claims, the purported “accuracy ratings” are inaccurate. My daughter received an 86 on a test. Given that she is a straight ‘A’ student, this was odd. I asked her what she got wrong, and she had no idea. I told her to ask her teacher the next day why she received an 86. Oops. Her teacher had accidentally given my daughter an 86; the 86 was the grade of another child in the class with the same first name. In prepayment review, the accuracy ratings are the only method to be removed from prepayment, so the accuracy of the accuracy ratings is important. One mistaken, erroneously denied claim damages the ratings, and we’ve already discussed that mistakes/errors occur. You think, if a mistake is found, call up the auditing entity…talk it out. See below.

  • The communication between provider and auditor do not exist.

Years ago my mom and I went to visit relatives in Switzerland. (Not dissimilar to National Lampoon’s European Vacation). They spoke German; we did not. We communicated with pictures and hand gestures. To this day, I have no idea their names. This is the relationship between the provider and the auditor.

Assuming that the provider reaches a live person on the telephone:

“Can you please explain to me why claims 1-100 failed?”

“Don’t you know the service definitions and the policies? That is your responsibility.”

“Yes, but I believe that we follow the policies. We don’t understand why these claims are denied. That’s what I’m asking.”

“Read the policy.”

“Not helpful.”

  • The financial burden on the provider is devastating.

If a provider’s reimbursements are 80 – 100% reliant on Medicaid/care and those funds are frozen, the provider cannot meet payroll. Yet the provider is expected to continue to render services. A few years ago, I requested from NC DMA a list of providers on prepayment review and the details surrounding them. I was shocked at the number of providers that were placed on prepayment review and within a couple months ceased submitting claims. In reality, what happened was that those providers were forced to close their doors. They couldn’t financially support their company without getting paid.

_______________________________

Back to the current blog

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So to have The Council for Medicare Integrity declare that prepayment review has absolutely no impact on Medicare providers is ludicrous.

Now, I will admit that the RAC (and other acronyms) prepayment and post payment review programs have successfully recovered millions of dollars of alleged overpayments. But these processes must be done right, legally. You can’t just shove an overzealous, for-profit, audit company out the door like an overweight kid in a candy store. Legal due process and legal limitations must be required – and followed.

Ms. Walter does present some interesting, yet factually questionable, statistics:

  • “Over the past 5 years alone, Medicare has lost more than $200 billion taxpayer dollars to very preventable billing errors made by providers.”

Not quite sure how this was calculated. A team of compliance auditors would have had to review hundreds of thousands of medical records to determine this amount. Is she referring to money that has been recovered and the appeal process afforded to the providers has been exhausted? Or is this number how much money is being alleged has been overpaid? How exactly were these supposed billing errors “very preventable?” What does that mean? She is either saying that the health care providers could have prevented the ostensible overbillings – or – she is saying that RAC auditors could have prevented these purported overbillings by increased prepayment review. Either way … I don’t get it. It reminds me of Demi Moore in A Few Good Men, “I object.” Judge states, “Overruled.” Demi Moore pleads, “I strenuously object.” Judge states, “Still overruled.” “Very preventable billing errors,” said Ms. Walters. “Still overruled.”

  • “Currently, only 0.5 percent of Medicare claims are reviewed, on a post-payment basis, for billing accuracy and adherence to program billing rules. This leaves 99.5 percent of claims immune from any checks and balances that would ensure Medicare payments are correct.”

Again, I am curious as to the mathematic calculation used. Is she including the audits performed, not only by RACs, but audits by ZPICs, CERTS, MACs, including Palmetto, Noridian and CGS, federal and state Program Integrities, State contractors, MFCUs, MICs, MCOs, PERMs, PCG, and HHS? Because I can definitely see that we need more players.

  • “The contrast between Medicare review practices and private payers is startling. Despite the dire need to safeguard Medicare dollars, CMS currently allows Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs) to review fewer than 30 Medicare claim  types (down from 800 claim types initially) and has scaled back to allow a review of a mere 0.5 percent of Medicare provider claims after they have been paid. Considered a basic cost of doing business, the same providers billing Medicare comply, without issue, with the more extensive claim review requirements of private health insurance companies. With Medicare however, provider groups have lobbied aggressively to keep their overpayments, putting intense pressure on CMS to block Medicare billing oversight.”

Did I wake up in the Twilight Zone? Zombies? Let’s compare Medicare/caid to private health care companies.

First, let’s talk Benjamins (or pennies in Medicare/caid). A study was conducted to compare Texas Medicare/caid reimbursement rates to private pay. Since everything is bigger in Texas, including the reimbursement rates for Medicare/caid, I figured this study is demonstrative for the country (obviously each state’s statistics would vary).

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According to a 2016 study by the National Comparisons of Commercial and Medicare Fee-For-Service Payments to Hospitals:

  • 96%. In 2012, average payments for commercial inpatient hospital stays were higher than Medicare fee-for-service payments for 96% of the diagnosis related groups (DRGs) analyzed.
  • 14%. Between 2008 and 2012, the commercial-to-Medicare payment difference had an average increase of 14%.
  • 86%. Longer hospital stays do not appear to be a factor for higher average commercial payments. During this period, 86 percent of the DRGs analyzed had commercial-to-Medicare average length-of-stay of ratios less than one.

The “basic cost of doing business” for Medicare/caid patients is not getting appropriate reimbursement rates.

The law states that the reimbursements rates should allow quality of care. Section 30(A) of the Medicare Act requires that each State “provide such methods and procedures relating to the utilization of, and the payment for, care and services available under the plan (including but not limited to utilization review plans as provided for in section 1396b(i)(4) of this title) as may be necessary to safeguard against unnecessary utilization of such care and services and to assure that payments are consistent with efficiency, economy, and quality of care and are sufficient to enlist enough providers so that care and services are available under the plan at least to the extent that such care and services are available to the general population in the geographic area.” (emphasis added).

Second, billing under Medicare/caid is much more complex than billing third-party payors, which are not required to follow the over-regulated, esoteric, administrative, spaghetti sauce that mandates providers who accept Medicare and/or Medicaid (a whole bunch of independent vegetables pureed into a sauce in which the vegetables are indiscernible from the other). The regulatory burden required of providing Medicare and/or Medicaid services does not compare to the administrative and regulatory burden associated with private pay, regardless of Ms. Walter’s uncited and unreferenced claims that “the more extensive claim review requirements [are with the] private health insurance companies.” We’re talking kumquats to rack of lamb (are kumquats cheap)?

Third, let’s discuss this comment: “provider groups have lobbied aggressively.” RAC auditors, and all the other alphabet soup, are paid A LOT. Government bureaucracy often does not require the same “bid process” that a private company would need to pass. Some government contracts are awarded on a no-bid process (not ok), which does not create the best “bang for your buck for the taxpayers.”

I could go on…but, I believe that you get the point. My readers are no dummies!

I disagree with the correspondence, dated March 6, 2018, from The Council for Medicare Integrity to HHS Secretary Alex Azar is correct. However, my question is who will push back against The Council for Medicare Integrity? All those health care provider associations that “have lobbied aggressively to keep their overpayments, putting intense pressure on CMS to block Medicare billing oversight.”?

At the end of the day (literally), I questioned the motive of The Council for Medicare Integrity. Whenever you question a person’s motive, follow the money. So, I googled “who funds The Council for Medicare Integrity? Unsurprisingly, it was difficult to locate. According to The Council for Medicare Integrity’s website it provides transparency with the following FAQ:

Screen Shot 2018-03-13 at 8.08.54 PM

Again, do you see why I am questioning the source of income?

According to The Council for Medicare Integrity, “The Council for Medicare Integrity is a 501(c)(6) non-profit organization. The Council’s mission is to educate policymakers and other stakeholders regarding the importance of healthcare integrity programs that help Medicare identify and correct improper payments.

As a 501(c)(6) organization, the Council files IRS Form 990s annually with the IRS as required by law. Copies of these filings and exemption application materials can be obtained by mailing your request to the Secretary at: Council for Medicare Integrity, Attention: Secretary, 9275 W. Russell Road, Suite 100, Las Vegas, Nevada 89148. In your request, please provide your name, address, contact telephone number and a list of documents requested. Hard copies are subject to a fee of $1.00 for the first page and $.20 per each subsequent page, plus postage, and must be made by check or money order, payable to the Council for Medicare Integrity. Copies will be provided within 30 days from receipt of payment. These documents are also available for public inspection without charge at the Council’s principal office during regular business hours. Please schedule an appointment by contacting the Secretary at the address above.

This website serves as an aggregator of all the verifiable key facts and data pertaining to this important healthcare issue, as well as a resource center to support the provider community in their efforts to comply with Medicare policy.”

I still question the funding (and the bias)…Maybe funded by the RACs??

RAC Audits: How to Deal with Concurrent, Overpayment Accusations in Multiple Jurisdictions

You are a Medicare health care provider. You perform health care services across the country. Maybe you are a durable medical equipment (DME) provider with a website that allows patients to order physician-prescribed, DME supplies from all 50 states. Maybe you perform telemedicine to multiple states. Maybe you are a large health care provider with offices in multiple states.

Regardless, imagine that you receive 25, 35, or 45 notifications of alleged overpayments from 5 separate “jurisdictions” (the 5th being Region 5 (DME/HHH – Performant Recovery, Inc.). You get one notice dated January 1, 2018, for $65,000 from Region 1. January 2, 2018, you receive a notice of alleged overpayment from Region 2 in the amount of $210.35. January 3, 2018, is a big day. You receive notices of alleged overpayments in the amounts of $5 million from Region 4, $120,000 from Region 3, and two other Region 1 notices in the amount of $345.00 and $65,000. This continues for three weeks. In the end, you have 20 different notices of alleged overpayments from 5 different regions, and you are terrified and confused. But you know you need legal representation.

 

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Do you appeal all the notices? Even the notice for $345.00? Obviously, the cost of attorneys’ fees to appeal the $345.00 will way outweigh the amount of the alleged overpayment.

Here are my two cents:

Appeal everything – and this is why – it is a compelling argument of harassment/undue burden/complete confusion to a judge to demonstrate the fact that you received 20 different notices of overpayment from 5 different MACs. I mean, you need a freaking XL spreadsheet to keep track of your notices. Never mind that an appeal in Medicare takes 5 levels and each appeal will be at a separate and distinct status than the others. Judges are humans, and humans understand chaos and the fact that humans have a hard time with chaos. For example, I have contractors in my house. It is chaos. I cannot handle it.

While 20 distinct notices of alleged overpayment is tedious, it is worth it once you get to the third level, before an unbiased administrative law judge (ALJ), when you can consolidate the separate appeals to show the judge the madness.

Legally, the MACs cannot withhold or recoup funds while you appeal, although this is not always followed. In the case that the MACs recoup/withhold during your appeal, if it will cause irreparable harm to your company, then you need to get an injunction in court to suspend the recoupment/withhold.

According to multiple sources, the appeal success rate at the first and second levels are low, approximately 20%. This is to be expected since the first level is before the entity that determined that you owe money and the second level is not much better. The third level, however, is before an impartial ALJ. The success rate at that level is upwards of 75-80%. In the gambling game of life, those are good odds.

 

RAC Audit Preview: And Those on The Chopping Block Are…(Drum Roll, Please)

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) posted its December 2017 list of health care services that the Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs) will be auditing. As usual, home health is on the chopping block. So are durable medical equipment providers. For whatever reason, it seems that home health, DME, behavioral health care, and dentists are on the top of the lists for audits, at least in my experience.

Number one RAC audit issue: 

Home Health: Medical Necessity and Documentation Review

To be eligible for Medicare home health services, a beneficiary must have Medicare Part A and/or Part B per Section 1814 (a)(2)(C) and Section 1835 (a)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act:

  • Be confined to the home;
  • Need skilled services;
  • Be under the care of a physician;
  • Receive services under a plan of care established and reviewed by a physician; and
  • Have had a face-to-face encounter with a physician or allowed Non-Physician Practitioner (NPP).

Medical necessity is the top audited issue in home health. Auditors also love to compare the service notes to the independent assessment. Watch it if you fail to do one activity of daily living (ADL). Watch it if you do too many ADLs out of the kindness of your heart. Deviations from the independent assessment is a no-no to auditors, even if you are going above and beyond to be sweet. And never use purple ink!

Number two RAC audit issue:

Annual Wellness Visits (AWV) billed within 12 months of the Initial Preventative Physical Examination (IPPE) or Annual Wellness Examination (AWV)

This is a simple mathematical calculation. Has exactly 12 months passed? To the day….yes, they are that technical. 365 days from a visit on January 7, 2018 (my birthday, as an example) would be January 7, 2019. Schedule any AWV January 8, 2019, or beyond.

Number three RAC audit issue:

Ventilators Subject to DWO requirements on or after January 1, 2016

This will be an assessment of whether ventilators are medically necessary. Seriously? Who gets a ventilator who does not need one? I was thinking the other day, “Self? I want a ventilator.”

Number four RAC audit issue:

Cardiac Pacemakers

This will be an assessment of whether cardiac pacemakers are medically necessary. Seriously? Who gets a pacemaker who does not need one? I was thinking the other day, “Self? I want a pacemaker.” Hospitals are not the only providers targets for this audit. Ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs) also will be a target. As patient care continues its transition to the outpatient setting, ASCs have quickly grown in popularity as a high-quality, cost-effective alternative to hospital-based outpatient care. In turn, the number and types of services offered in the ASC setting have significantly expanded, including pacemakers.

Number five RAC audit issue:

Evaluation and Management (E/M) Same Day as Dialysis

Except when reported with modifier 25, payment for certain evaluation and management services is bundled into the payment for dialysis services 90935, 90937, 90945, and 90947

It is important to remember that if you receive a notice of overpayment, you need to appeal immediately. The first level of appeal is redetermination, usually with the Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC). Medicare will not begin overpayment collection of debts (or will cease collections that have started) when it receives notice that you  requested a Medicare contractor redetermination (first level of appeal).

See blog for full explanation of Medicare provider appeals.

Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility Stay Claim Denials – Appeal Those Findings!

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) created a new page on its Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) website entitled “Provider Resources.” CMS indicated that it will post on this page any new issues the RACs have proposed to audit and are being evaluated by CMS for approval. It is like a glimpse behind the curtain to see the Great Oz. This is a fantastic resource for providers.  CMS posts a list of review topics that have been proposed, but not yet approved, for RACs to review. You can see the future!

Topics proposed for future audits:

  • Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility (IRF) Stays: Meeting Requirements to be considered Reasonable and Necessary;
  • Respiratory Assistive Devices: Meeting Requirements to be considered Reasonable and Necessary;
  • Excessive or Insufficient Drugs and Biologicals Units Billed;
  • E&M Codes billed within a Procedure Code with a “0” Day Global Period (Endoscopies or some minor surgical procedures);
  • E&M Codes billed within a Procedure Code with a “10” Day Global Period (other minor procedures);
  • E&M Codes billed within a Procedure Code with a “90” Day Global Period (major surgeries);

Over the next few weeks, intermittently (along with other blog posts), I will tackle these, and other, hot RAC audit topics.

IRFs are under fire in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia!

Many patients with conditions like stroke or brain injury, who need an intensive medical rehabilitation program, are transferred to an inpatient rehabilitation facility.

Palmetto, one of Medicare’s MACs, conducted a prepayment review of IRFs in these four states. The results were bleak, indeed, and will, most likely, spur more audits of IRFs in the future. If you are a Medicare provider within Palmetto’s catchment area, then you know that Palmetto conducts a lot of targeted prepayment review. Here is a map of the MAC jurisdictions:

medicaremac

You can see that Palmetto manages Medicare for North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Virginia. So Palmetto’s prepayment review covered its entire catchment area.

North Carolina Results A total of 28 claims were reviewed with 19 of the claims either completely or partially denied. The total dollars reviewed was $593,174.60 of which $416,483.42 was denied, resulting in a charge denial rate of 70.2 percent.

South Carolina Results A total of 24 claims were reviewed with 16 of the claims either completely or partially denied. The total dollars reviewed was $484,742.68 of which $325,266.43 was denied, resulting in a charge denial rate of 67.1 percent.

West Virginia Results
A total of two claims were reviewed with two of the claims either completely or partially denied. The total dollars reviewed was $32,506.21 of which $32,506.21 was denied, resulting in a charge denial rate of 100 percent.

Virginia Results
A total of 39 claims were reviewed with 31 of the claims either completely or partially denied. The total dollars reviewed was $810,913.83 of which $629,118.08 was denied, resulting in a charge denial rate of 77.6 percent.

In all 4 states, the most cited denial code was “5J504,” which means that “need for service/item not medically and reasonably necessary.” Subjective, right? I mean, who is better at determining medical necessity: (1) the treating physician who actually performs services and conducts the physical; or (2) a utilization auditor without an MD and who as never rendered medical services on the particular consumer? I see it all the time…former dental hygienists review the medical records of dentists and determine that no medial necessity exists…

When it comes to IRF Stays, what is reasonable and necessary?

According to Medicare policy and CMS guidance, the documentation in the patient’s IRF
medical record must demonstrate a reasonable expectation that the following criteria were met at the time of admission to the IRF. The patient must:

  • Require active and ongoing intervention of multiple therapy disciplines (Physical
    Therapy [PT], Occupational Therapy [OT], Speech-Language Pathology [SLP], or
    prosthetics/orthotics), at least one of which must be PT or OT;
  • Require an intensive rehabilitation therapy program, generally consisting of:
    ◦ 3 hours of therapy per day at least 5 days per week; or
    ◦ In certain well-documented cases, at least 15 hours of intensive rehabilitation
    therapy within a 7-consecutive day period, beginning with the date of admission;
  • Reasonably be expected to actively participate in, and benefit significantly
    from, the intensive rehabilitation therapy program (the patient’s condition and
    functional status are such that the patient can reasonably be expected to make
    measurable improvement, expected to be made within a prescribed period of time
    and as a result of the intensive rehabilitation therapy program, that will be of practical value to improve the patient’s functional capacity or adaptation to impairments);
  • Require physician supervision by a rehabilitation physician, with face-to-face
    visits at least 3 days per week to assess the patient both medically and functionally
    and to modify the course of treatment as needed; and
  • Require an intensive and coordinated interdisciplinary team approach to the
    delivery of rehabilitative care.

Did you notice how often the word “generally” or “reasonably” was used? Because the standard for an IRF stay is subjective. In fact, I would wager a bet that if I reviewed  the same documentation as the Palmetto auditors did, that I could make a legal argument that the opposite conclusion should have been drawn. I do it all the time. This is the reason that so many audits are easily overturned…they are subjective!

Therefore, when you get an audit result, such as the ones referenced above:

APPEAL! APPEAL! APPEAL!

Medicare Audits: DRG Downcoding in Hospitals: Algorithms Substituting for Medical Judgment, Part 1

This article is written by our good friend, Ed Roche. He is the founder of Barraclough NY, LLC, which is a litigation support firm that helps us fight against extrapolations.

e-roche

The number of Medicare audits is increasing. In the last five years, audits have grown by 936 percent. As reported previously in RACmonitor, this increase is overwhelming the appeals system. Less than 3 percent of appeal decisions are being rendered on time, within the statutory framework.

It is peculiar that the number of audits has grown rapidly, but without a corresponding growth in the number of employees for Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs). How can this be? Have the RAC workers become more than 900 percent more efficient? Well, in a way, they have. They have learned to harness the power of big data.

Since 1986, the ability to store digital data has grown from 0.02 exabytes to 500 exabytes. An exabyte is one quintillion bytes. Every day, the equivalent 30,000 Library of Congresses is put into storage. That’s lots of data.

Auditing by RACs has morphed into using computerized techniques to pick targets for audits. An entire industry has emerged that specializes in processing Medicare claims data and finding “sweet spots” on which the RACs can focus their attention. In a recent audit, the provider was told that a “focused provider analysis report” had been obtained from a subcontractor. Based on that report, the auditor was able to target the provider.

A number of hospitals have been hit with a slew of diagnosis-related group (DRG) downgrades from internal hospital RAC teams camping out in their offices, continually combing through their claims data. The DRG system constitutes a framework that classifies any inpatient stay into groups for purposes of payment.

The question then becomes: how is this work done? How is so much data analyzed? Obviously, these audits are not being performed manually. They are cyber audits. But again, how?

An examination of patent data sheds light on the answer. For example, Optum, Inc. of Minnesota (associated with UnitedHealthcare) has applied for a patent on “computer-implemented systems and methods of healthcare claim analysis.” These are complex processes, but what they do is analyze claims based on DRGs.

The information system envisaged in this patent appears to be specifically designed to downgrade codes. It works by running a simulation that switches out billed codes with cheaper codes, then measures if the resulting code configuration is within the statistical range averaged from other claims.

If it is, then the DRG can be downcoded so that the revenue for the hospital is reduced correspondingly. This same algorithm can be applied to hundreds of thousands of claims in only minutes. And the same algorithm can be adjusted to work with different DRGs. This is only one of many patents in this area.

When this happens, the hospital may face many thousands of downgraded claims. If it doesn’t like it, then it must appeal.

Here there is a severe danger for any hospital. The problem is that the cost the RAC incurs running the audit is thousands of time less expensive that what the hospital must spend to refute the DRG coding downgrade.

This is the nature of asymmetric warfare. In military terms, the cost of your enemy’s offense is always much smaller than the cost of your defense. That is why guerrilla warfare is successful against nation states. That is why the Soviet Union and United States decided to stop building anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems — the cost of defense was disproportionately greater than the cost of offense.

Hospitals face the same problem. Their claims data files are a giant forest in which these big data algorithms can wander around downcoding and picking up substantial revenue streams.

By using artificial intelligence (advanced statistical) methods of reviewing Medicare claims, the RACs can bombard hospitals with so many DRG downgrades (or other claim rejections) that it quickly will overwhelm their defenses.

We should note that the use of these algorithms is not really an “audit.” It is a statistical analysis, but not done by any doctor or healthcare professional. The algorithm could just as well be counting how many bags of potato chips are sold with cans of beer.

If the patient is not an average patient, and the disease is not an average disease, and the treatment is not an average treatment, and if everything else is not “average,” then the algorithm will try to throw out the claim for the hospital to defend. This has everything to do with statistics and correlation of variables and very little to do with understanding whether the patient was treated properly.

And that is the essence of the problem with big data audits. They are not what they say they are, because they substitute mathematical algorithms for medical judgment.

EDITOR’ NOTE: In Part II of this series, Edward Roche will examine the changing appeals landscape and what big data will mean for defense against these audits. In Part III, he will look at future scenarios for the auditing industry and the corresponding public policy agenda that will involve lawmakers.

 

Another Win for the Good Guys! RAC Auditors Cannot Look Back Over 3 Years!!! (BTW: We Already Knew This -Shhhhh!)

I love being right – just ask my husband.

I have argued for years that government auditors cannot go back over three years when conducting a Medicaid/Care audit of a health care provider’s records, unless there are credible allegations of fraud. See blog.

42 CFR 455.508 states that “[a]n entity that wishes to perform the functions of a Medicaid RAC must enter into a contract with a State to carry out any of the activities described in § 455.506 under the following conditions:…(f) The entity must not review clams that are older than 3 years from the date of the claim, unless it receives approval from the State.”

Medicaid RAC is defined as “Medicaid RAC program means a recovery audit contractor program administered by a State to identify overpayments and underpayments and recoup overpayments.” 42 CFR 455. 504.

From the definition of a Medicaid RAC (Medicare RAC is similarly defined), albeit vague, entities hired by the state to identify over and underpayments are RACs. And RACs are prohibited from auditing claims that are older than 3 years from the date of the claim.

In one of our recent cases, our client, Edmond Dantes, received a Tentative Notice of Overpayment from Public Consulting Group (PCG) on May 13, 2015. In a Motion for Summary Judgment, we argued that PCG was disallowed to review claims prior to May 13, 2012. Of the 8 claims reviewed, 7 claims were older than May 13, 2012 – one even went back to 2009!

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) agreed. In the Order Granting Partial Summary Judgment, the ALJ opined that “[s]tatutes of limitation serve an important purpose: to afford security against stale demands.”

Accordingly, the ALJ threw out 7 of the 8 claims for violating the statute of limitation. With one claim left, the amount in controversy was nominal.

A note as to the precedential value of this ruling:

Generally, an ALJ decision is not binding on other ALJs. The decisions are persuasive. Had DHHS appealed the decision and the decision was upheld by Superior Court, then the case would have been precedent; it would have been law.

Regardless, this is a fantastic ruling , which only bolsters my argument that Medicaid/care auditors cannot review claims over 3 years old from the date of the claim.

So when you receive a Tentative Notice of Overpayment, after contacting an attorney, look at the reviewed claims. Are those reviewed claims over 3 years old? If so, you too may win on summary judgment.

Health Care Integration: A Glimpse Into My Crystal Ball

Throughout the history of health care, payors and payees of Medicare/caid have existed in separate silos. In fact, the two have combated – the relationship has not always been stellar.

Looking into my crystal ball; however, all will not be as it is now [that’s clear as mud!].

Now, and in the upcoming years, there will be a massive shift to integrate payors and payees under the same roof. Competition drives this movement. So does the uncertainty in the health care market. This means that under one umbrella may be the providers and the paying entities.

Why is this a concern? First – Any healthcare entity that submits claims to the federal government, whether it be a provider or payor, must comply with the fraud and abuse statutes. As such, there is a potential to run afoul of federal and state regulations regulating the business of health care. Payors know their rules; providers know their rules…And those rules are dissimilar; and, at times, conflicting. The opportunity to screw up is endemic.

Second – With the new responsibilities mandated by the Yates Memo, these new relationships could create awkward situations in which the head of the payor department could have knowledge (or should have knowledge) of an [alleged] overpayment, but because of the politics at the company or self-interest in the preservation of his or her career, the head may not want to disclose such overpayment. With the 60-day rule, the head’s hesitation could cost the company.

Let’s investigate:

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) reinvented health care in so many ways. Remember, the ACA is supposed to be self-funding. Taxes were not to increase due to its inception. Instead, health care providers fund the ACA through post payment and prepayment audits, ZPIC audits, CERTs, MFCU, MICs, RACs, and PERMs.

The ACA also made a whole new commercially-insured population subject to the False Claims Act. False statements are now being investigated in connection with Medical Loss Ratios, justifications for rate increases, risk corridor calculations, or risk adjustment submissions.

CMS imposes a duty to detect fraud, waste, and abuse (FWA). But what if you’re looking at your own partners?

medicare paying

 

The chart above depicts “old school” Medicare payment options for physicians and other health care providers. In our Brave New World, the arrows will be criss-crossed (applesauce), because when the payors and the payees merge, the reimbursements, the billing, and the regulatory supervision will be underneath the same roof. It’ll be the game of “chicken” taken to a whole new level…with prison and financial penalties for the loser.

Since 2011, kickback issues have exponentially grown. The Anti-Kickback Statute makes it a criminal offense for a provider to give “remuneration” to a physician in order to compensate the physician for past referrals or to induce future referrals of patients to the provider for items or services that are reimbursed, in whole or in part, by Medicare or Medicaid.

Imagine when payors and payees are owned by the same entity! Plus, the ACA amended the kickback statutes to eliminate the prong requiring actual knowledge or intent. Now you can be convicted of anti kickback issues without any actual knowledge it was ever occurring!!

Now we have the “one purpose test,” which holds that a payment or offer of remuneration violates the Anti-Kickback Statute so long as part of the purpose of a payment to a physician or other referral source by a provider or supplier is an inducement for past or future referrals. United States v. Borrasi,  2011 WL 1663373 (7th Cir. May 4, 2011).

There are statutory exceptions. But these exceptions differ depending on whether you are a payor or payee – see the potential criss-cross applesauce?

And, BTW, which types of health care services are bound by the anti kickback statutes?

  1. Clinical laboratory services;
  2. Physical therapy services;
  3. Occupation therapy services;
  4. Radiology services (including MRIs, Ultrasounds, and CAT scans);
  5. Radiation therapy and supplies;
  6. Durable medical equipment and supplies;
  7. Parenteral and enteral nutrients, equipment, and supplies;
  8. Prosthetics, orthotics, and prosthetic devices and supplies;
  9. Home health services;
  10. Outpatient prescription drugs; and
  11. Inpatient and outpatient hospital services.

 

Imagine a building. Inside is a primary care physician (PCP), a pediatrician, a home health agency, and a psychiatrist. Can the PCP refer to the home health agency? Can a hospital refer to a home care agency? What if one of the Board of Directors sit on both entities?

The keys to avoiding the anti kickback pitfalls is threefold: (1) fair market value (FMV); (2) arm’s length transactions; and (3) money cannot be germane to referrals.

However, there is no one acceptable way to determine FMV. Hire an objective appraiser. While hiring an objective appraiser does not establish accuracy, it can demonstrate a good faith attempt.

Number One Rule for Merging/Acquiring/Creating New Partnerships in our new Brave New World of health care?

Your attorney should be your new BFF!! (Unless she already is).

RAC Audits: If It Walks Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck, It IS a RAC Audit

Recently, hundreds of dentists across North Carolina received Tentative Notices of Overpayment (TNOs) from Public Consulting Group (PCG) demanding recoupment for reimbursements made to dentists who rendered services on Medicaid for Pregnant Women (MPW) eligible recipients. There was no dispute at this hearing that these women were eligible for MPW according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) portal. There was also no dispute that these woman had delivered their babies prior to the date of dental service. So the question becomes: If DHHS informs a dentist that a woman is MPW eligible on the date of the service, does that dentist have an individual and separate burden to determine whether these women are pregnant. And if so, what is it? Have them pee in a cup prior to dental services?  See blog, and blog, and blog.

We do not have a definitive answer to the above-posed question, as the Judge has not rendered his decision. However, he did substantially limit these “nameless audits” or “non-RAC” audits to the RAC program limitations. In an Order on our Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that, even if the State does not agree that an audit is a RAC audit, if the audit conducted falls within the definition of a RAC audit, then the audit is a RAC audit.

The reason this is important is because RAC auditors yield such powerful and overwhelming tools against health care providers, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) limits the RAC auditors’ ability to look-back on older claims. For example, even though a provider is, generally, required to maintain records for six (6) years, the federal regulations only allow RAC auditors to look-back three (3) years, unless credible allegations of fraud exist.

Thus, when an auditor reviews documents over three-years-old, I always argue that the review of claims over 3-years-old violates the statute of limitations and federal law.

During hearings, inevitably, the state argues that this particular audit…the one at issue here…is not a RAC audit. The opposing side could no more identify which acronym this audit happens to be, but this audit is not a RAC. “I don’t know what it is, but I know what it’s not!”

Well, an ALJ looked past the rhetoric and pleas by the State that “this is not a RAC” and held that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a RAC audit and, subsequently, the RAC audit limitations do apply.

In the case for this dentist, Public Consulting Group (PCG) audited claims going back as far as six years! The Department of Health and Human Services’ argument was that this audit is not a RAC audit. So what is it? What makes it NOT a RAC? Because you say so? We all know that PCG has a contract with DHHS to perform RAC audits. Is this audit somehow outside its contractual purview?

So I filed a Motion for Summary Judgment requesting the Judge to throw out all claims outside the three-year look-back period per the RAC limitations.

Lo, and behold, I was right!! (The good guys win again!)

To understand this fully, it is important to first understand what the RAC program is and its intention. (“It depends on what the definition of “is” is”).

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(a)(42):

the State shall—(i) establish a program under which the State contracts (consistent with State law and in the same manner as the Secretary enters into contracts with recovery audit contractors under section 1893(h), subject to such exceptions or requirements as the Secretary may require for purposes of this title or a particular State) with 1 or more recovery audit contractors for the purpose of identifying underpayments and overpayments and recouping overpayments under the State plan and under any waiver of the State plan with respect to all services for which payment is made to any entity under such plan or waiver[].

(emphasis added).

RAC is defined as an entity that “…will review claims submitted by providers of items and services or other individuals furnishing items and services for which payment has been made under section 1902(a) of the Act or under any waiver of the State Plan to identify underpayments and overpayment and recoup overpayments for the States.” 42 CFR § 455.506(a).

Under this definition, PCG is clearly a recovery audit contractor. And the Judge agreed. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, just because the duck protests it is a donkey, it is still a duck. (Hmmmm..wonder how this logic would carry over to the whole transgender bathroom issue…another topic for another blogger…)

RACs must follow certain limitations as outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations. For example, pursuant to 42 C.F.R. § 455.508(f), a Medicaid RAC “must not review claims that are older than 3 years from the date of the claim, unless it receives approval from the State.”

In this particular case, there were 15 claims at issue. Eleven (11) of those claims were outside the three-year look-back period!! With one fell swoop of an ALJ’s signature, we reduced the claims at issue from 15 to 4. Nice!

In DHHS’ Response to our Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, DHHS argued that, in this case, PCG was not acting as a RAC; therefore, the limitations do not apply. In support of such decision, DHHS supplied an affidavit of a DMA employee. She averred that the audit of this particular dentist was not per the RAC program. No rules were cited. No contract in support of her position was provided. Nothing except an affidavit of a DMA employee.

Obviously, it is my opinion that the ALJ was 100% accurate in ruling that this audit was a RAC audit and was limited in scope to a 3-year look-back period.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is not a donkey. No matter how much it pleads that it is, in fact, a donkey!

Remember the Super Bowl Ad of the Puppy, Baby, Monkey?:

superbowlpic

That is so NOT ok!