Not everyone loves their job. Not everyone has a job. Not everyone does their job. And that includes doctors and lawyers. Not all doctors and lawyers do their jobs well. When a doctor fails to doctor, where does the liability lie? On the facility? On the hospital?
That is exactly what happened in one of my cases. My client, an inpatient substance abuse facility, hired a physician. Upon hire, the doctor signed an employment agreement that stated that he or she would perform the role as a doctor/medical director for the facility. Years passed. There were no complaints, so the executive committee was under the impression that the doctor was fulfilling his duties. The members certainly had no reason to suspect that the doctor was not doctoring according to the employment contract. No, they assumed that a doctor would doctor.
Then a RAC audit happened. As you are well aware, RAC audits go back three years. The facility received a Tentative Notice of Overpayment from the RAC alleging the facility owed almost $10 million. I was hired, and I conducted a review of the facility, its policies, and interviewed all staff. It came to light that the doctor did not review the results of urinalysis tests. Remember, this is a substance abuse facility. Urine tests are essential. The Medicaid recipients provided the samples; they peed in a cup. The labs were ordered. The doctor has a standing order for definitive and presumptive urinalysis tests. The doctor has sole access to the test results electronically. We discovered, much to our horror, that the doctor never looked at the results. For the past three years, she has never informed any patient that they were or were not positive or negative for any substance. In my mind, reviewing the urinalysis results goes hand in hand with substance abuse therapy.
Here, we discovered a breakdown in the facility, but that breakdown was one person not doing his or her job. Sadly for him or her, we – the facility – were able to use the doctor’s failure to doctor to our advantage. We appealed the $10 million alleged overpayment. Our primary defense was throwing the doctor under the bus, and we had every right to do so. Who would have expected your medical director failing to direct or review pertinent tests. In the world of law, respondeat superior, normally, is the general rule. In Latin, respondeat superior means that the superior or the boss or the owner is responsible for those underneath them. In this case, the facility is the superior and the doctor is the inferior, so you would expect the facility to bear any liability of its employees. But, not here. Not in this case. The doctor failed to meet expectations of the job. By not reviewing urinalysis test results, the doctor veered enough off the track to relieve liability from the facility. The doctor’s inactions were the direct cause of the accusation of owing $10 million. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) agreed. After terminating the doctor, we contemplated suing the physician for damages. However, since we won the alleged overpayment case, we did not do so.
I have an announcement! I have the pleasure of joining Nelson Mullins as a partner. You may have heard of Nelson Mullins; it is a nationwide firm, and its health care team is “spot on.” Instead of spinning my own wheels trying to figure out the health care law; I now will be able to collaborate with colleagues and like-minded, health care, geeks. Yes, I will be doing the same thing – Medicare and Medicaid provider appeals and fighting terminations, suspensions, and penalties for long-term care facilities, home health, DME, hospitals, dentists…basically anyone who receives an adverse decision from any state or the federal government or a contracted vendor, such as RACs, MACs, TPE, UPICs, etc.
Now to my blog… Today I want to talk about partial hospitalization and billing to Medicare and Medicaid. One of my clients has been not getting paid for services rendered, which is always a problem. The 3rd party payor claims that substance abuse treatment is not partial hospitalization. 49 States consider substance abuse intensive outpatient services (“SAIOP”) and substance abuse comprehensive outpatient treatment (“SACOT”) partial hospitalization. Do you agree? Because, apparently, NC is the sole State that refuses to identify SAIOP and SACOT as partial hospitalization.
Partial hospitalization is defined as a structured mental health treatment program that runs for several hours each day, three to five days per week. Clients participate in the scheduled treatment sessions during the day and return home at night. This program is a step down from 24-hour care in a psychiatric hospital setting (inpatient treatment). It can also be used to prevent the need for an inpatient hospital stay. In reality, partial hospitalization saves massive amounts of tax dollars by not taking up a bed in an actual hospital.
In NC, partial hospitalization is codified in 10A NCAC 27G.1101, which states “A partial hospitalization facility is a day/night facility which provides a broad range of intensive and therapeutic approaches which may include group, individual, occupational, activity and recreational therapies, training in community living and specific coping skills, and medical services as needed primarily for acutely mentally-ill individuals. This facility provides services to: (1) prevent hospitalization; or (2) to serve as an interim step for those leaving an inpatient hospital. This facility provides a medical component in a less restrictive setting than a hospital or a rehabilitation facility.”
So, why does this 3rd party payor believe that SAIOP and SACOT are not partial hospitalization? I believe this payor’s stance is wrong. I spoke about their wrongness on RACMoniter, and I hope it may give me some “sway.”
Partial hospitalization is considered a short-term treatment. It is supposed to last 2-3 weeks. However, as many of you know substance abuse is not wiped away in 2-3 weeks. It is a long term process to overcome substance abuse issues. States’ Medicaid programs will question why consumers bounce from SAIOP AND SACOT over and over. In fact, another one of clients is being investigated by the Medicaid Investigative Division (“MID”) for having consumers in SAIOP and SACOT too long or too many times.
Substance abuse services are audited a lot. In fact, Medicare and Medicaid audits occur most often in behavioral health care, home health, and hospice. On January 24, 2023, the New York State Comptroller announced it found $22 million in alleged improper payments. I say alleged because, I would say, 90% of alleged overpayments accusations are inaccurate. The poor provider receives a letter saying you owe $12 million dollars, and their hearts drop. They imagine themselves going out of business. Then they hire a lawyer and it turns out that they owe $896.36. I give that example as a real-life example. I actually had a client accused of owing $12 million dollars and after a 2-week trial, the judge decided that this company owed $896.36. A big difference, right? We appealed nonetheless. 🙂