If you have ever been the recipient of a Florida state agency’s (i.e. Department of Health, AHCA, etc.) notice regarding an adverse action, such as a Notice of Intent to Deny, licensure application, renewal or change of ownership, you probably received an Election of Rights form along with the agency’s notice. The Election of Rights form must be completed and returned to the agency within 21 days of receiving the agency’s notice. In completing the Election of Rights form, you are given three options to choose from in deciding how you want to respond to the agency’s notice.
Under Option One you admit to the allegations of facts and law contained in the agency’s notice of intended action and waive the right to object and have a hearing. This is akin to an admission of guilt, that the agency is right in its decision, and you agree to a final order that supports the agency’s actions, including imposition of fines and punishment against you. Option One is generally not in your best interest.
So you’ve been approached by a telehealth company to provide telehealth services to patients. What do you do next about this telehealth contract opportunity? Providing these services can be an opportunity to assist patients who cannot make it to a physician’s or practitioner’s office, and it’s an opportunity for a potential source of income. However, before you sign on the telehealth contract’s dotted line, you need to do a little background checking, a little investigation, to ensure the telehealth company you sign with is compliant with state and federal laws for providing telehealth services. In other words, perform due diligence in determining if this is the telehealth company for you.
So what should you look for in a telehealth company as a physician or practitioner presented with a telehealth contract?
Floridians are all too familiar with the business and logistical hurdles bad tropical weather can create. However, even less expected are the everyday human errors such as an overzealous backhoe operator digging above a fiber optic cable and inadvertently cutting a data connection. The reality is that disruption can happen anytime, not just during hurricane season. The good news is that recent developments in technology provide a new way to both augment the practice of medicine and insulate a business against downtime. Telemedicine or telehealth is rapidly becoming an inexpensive and secure way to interact with patients and medical professionals just short of the tactile response from pressing flesh during an introductory handshake.
Granted, telemedicine and telehealth are generic terms that incorporate layers of many technologies. For simplicity’s sake we’ll discuss some of the most popular options for video conferencing, cloud based technology and virtualization. If that sounds intimidating just look past the buzzwords you may hear in commercials mentioning a certain character from a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel. It’s all elementary. See what I did there?
With the rise in services provided to patients via telehealth entities, it is important that both practitioners and patients understand what criteria must be met in order to provide and bill telehealth on behalf of Medicare patients. Here are a few of the basics.
First, “telehealth service” for Medicare purposes means “professional consultations, office visits, and office psychiatry services, and any additional service specified by the Secretary. To be eligible for payment, telehealth services must be rendered to an eligible individual, that is, an individual enrolled in Medicare, who receives telehealth services at an originating site from a physician or practitioner at a distant site via telehealth communications system. An eligible individual does not need to be presented by a physician or practitioner at the originating site to a physician or practitioner at a distant site, unless it is medically necessary. Determination of whether a presenting physician or practitioner is necessary at the originating site is made by the physician or practitioner at the distant site.
Private money (e.g. private equity) is back chasing those selling medical practices and medical business acquisitions. This time around it is very different from similar activity in the 90s. Back then, the movement was public companies aggregating gross income dollars, which for a time drove stock prices. Today’s private money buyers are looking to maximize profitability through achieving efficiency and aggregating large groups for leverage and the development of new income streams. Though stock (in the form of warrants and options or stock itself) if often on the table, it doesn’t have to be. Buyers are doing all cash deals, albeit to some degree on an earnings basis. If you want the full price, you have to remain involved and do what you can to maintain revenues and perhaps even drive them up.
Physicians especially have to know what they’re dealing with and then have at least a basic understanding of the issues that will drive these deals. To begin with, “private equity” simply means private investors (typically a group that pools their capital) that buy a portion or all of a company. Their investments are usually much larger than venture capital firm deals. They are not publicly traded entities. What do they want? To invest money in mature businesses, grow a company’s profitability and then “flip” their ownership to another buyer, typically in three to five years form their launch date. In contrast, venture capital firms usually invest in start-ups, buy 100% of the company and require control.
Here in Florida, where large portions of the population are as transient as migrating birds, doctors and other practitioners often experience a downturn in their practice during the spring and summer months. However, telehealth provides these doctors and practitioners an option to continue treating their patients from afar, provided certain legal and technical requirements are met. The Federal Government and Medicare have been at the forefront of outlining how these services of the future may be properly rendered, allowing for continuity of care in a controlled setting. Medicare, for instance, pays for a limited number of Part B services furnished by a doctor or practitioner to an eligible Medicare beneficiary. To understand how to provide these services, doctors and practitioners must first learn the language.
An “originating site” is where the eligible Medicare beneficiary is located at the time the telehealth service is furnished. Originating sites may be physician offices, hospitals, rural health clinics, Federally Qualified Health Centers, Critical Access Hospitals, Skilled Nursing Facilities, and Community Mental health Centers. Medicare Administrative Contractors pay originating sites an originating site facility fee for telehealth services through HCPCS code Q3014.
It is not news that Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have rocked Texas and the Florida mainland, and Irma has left unimaginable damage throughout the Caribbean and Florida Keys. During both hurricanes, considerable media attention was directed to how well hospitals and other sub-acute care providers in the affected areas were prepared for and responded to these events. When coupled with the loss of multiple lives occurring at the Rehab Center at Hollywood Hills, seemingly due, at least in part, to exposure to extremely elevated temperatures during an extended power outage, emergency readiness should be near the top of every health care provider and supplier agenda. Providers and suppliers should also be mindful of a rapidly approaching regulatory deadline Medicare requirement for continued participation on the topic of emergency preparedness.
Most commercial health plans require that prior to admission to a substance abuse treatment facility, patients must have a face-to-face individual assessment by a licensed behavioral health clinician 72 hours prior to admission, to determine if the admission is both medically necessary and clinically appropriate. Many potential patients reside in states outside of Florida (or a given destination), so complying with a face-to-face requirement when a patient is in another state before admission is a challenge. Telehealth is being increasingly utilized to evaluate these out-of-state patients and perform the necessary face-to-face evaluation in advance of arrival at a given facility. However, as with anything healthcare, there is a right way and a wrong way to implement this technology. In the coming weeks, we’ll be discussing many of the facets involved from telemedicine claims overpayments to Medicare telehealth law issues.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) relies on its Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) to serve as guardians of the Medicare trust fund through the MACs taking steps to prevent improper payments. Despite that reliance, in its most recent report to the US Senate Finance Committee, the Government Accountability Organization (GAO) reports that improper payments totaling $41.1 billion (no, that is NOT a typo, that is a “b”) occurred during 2016 in the Medicare fee-for-service program . That figure represents an overall 11% percent improper payment rate.
How many of us would feel good about being “wrong” in our core job function 11% of the time? Not very many of us, I suspect.
The GAO report goes on to quote the MACs as generally having ongoing concerns about the following types of claims as those which pose the greatest financial risk to the Medicare trust fund.
Short inpatient acute care stays and claims for both skilled nursing and inpatient rehabilitation
Evaluation and management (including office visits, hospital visits, emergency room visits, and home visits for assisted living and nursing homes) and ambulance services
Home health therapy services and home health or hospice stays that were longer than average
So, what does CMS plan to do to hold its MACs more accountable and to further the objective of reducing improper payments? On August 14th CMS announced an expansion of an ongoing pilot program “Targeted Probe and Educate” Medical Reviews (TPE).
7 Things to Know
The basics of what the provider and supplier communities need to know about the TPE program follows.
The silver lining here is that providers and suppliers with minimal aggregated billing pattern deviations from their peer group coupled with good audit track records may now experience fewer MAC medical review audit requests.
TPE will be concentrated on providers and suppliers with “the highest claim error rates or billing practices that vary significantly from their peers”.
In the first round of reviews, MACs will review a 20-40 record probe sample of claims for each lucky provider or supplier selected to participate in TPE.
Providers and suppliers who perform well during the first TPE audit, or who demonstrate significant improvement during the second or third audit may be removed from the TPE audit cycle for a period of up to 12 months.
Each provider and supplier with moderate and high error rates during round one TPE audits will receive provider-specific education, be given approximately 45 days to improve its rate of compliance, and will advance to a bonus round two TPE audit.
Providers and suppliers who fail to improve during the round two TPE audit will again receive provider-specific education, be given another 45 days to improve processes and controls to improve rates of compliance, and will advance to the third round of TPE audits.
Providers and suppliers who perform poorly during the final TPE audit round could be placed on 100% prepayment review, be subject to the dreaded “extrapolation”, and/or be referred to the appropriate Recovery Auditor, Zone Program Integrity Contractor or a Unified Program Integrity Contractor. It goes without saying that none of these are desirable outcomes.
7 Steps to Readiness
Many providers and suppliers are outliers relative to some component of their billing pattern. Use all the resources at your disposal to “know your numbers” and where your areas of exposure or risk most likely exist.
Closely review results and findings from any recent internal audits or reviews conducted pursuant to your compliance program.
If you have experienced recent external medical review audits, evaluate those results. If there were denied claims, identify the issue or issues leading to the denials. Then, identify the root causes of errors. Finally, and most importantly, resolve the problems which lead to denied claims.
If you provide health care services in any of the areas mentioned above which are deemed highest risk by the MACs, examine on your billing patterns in those service lines.
Pay attention to what your MAC says about TPE and areas of emphasis for audit. If you provide those health care services, examine your billing in those areas.
Drill down into any area where your billing pattern materially deviates from your peer group and make sure you understand the basis for the deviation.
If there is no obvious business rationale or justification for a considerable deviation from the “norm” do a deeper dive of your charge capture and billing practices to determine whether any process or practice needs further evaluation and/or adjustment.
These suggestions should position you for a successful outcome if / when you are selected to participate in the TPE audit program.
On September 7, 2017, the owner of The Hartford Dispensary and The Hartford Dispensary Endowment Corporation agreed to pay $627,000 to settle allegations that the provider violated the federal and state False Claims Acts. Read on