Health law is the federal, state, and local law, rules, regulations and other jurisprudence among providers, payers and vendors to the healthcare industry and its patient and delivery of health care services; all with an emphasis on operations, regulatory and transactional legal issues.
Litigation involving out of network claims by providers, also referred to as “non-participating” or “non-par”, continues to be rampant into 2019. Complexity of plan administration, increased state and federal rule making, and rising costs are resulting in increased litigation. A recurring issue: unpaid claims disputes.
Many physicians come to the conclusion that some contracts aren’t worth entering. More and more physicians are opting out of participating provider contracts or have chosen not to participate in the first place. Reimbursement is usually the prime reason. The law that controls much of the litigation surrounding these disputes is the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). ERISA is a federal law that sets minimum standards for most plans along with fiduciary responsibilities for plan sponsors. Under ERISA, a “Summary Plan Description” must be created for each plan that sets forth the rights and benefits of each plan member and importantly, how out-of-network reimbursement is determined. read more
As noted in Opting Out of Medicare Part I, opting out of Medicare may be an option for some physicians and practitioners. After determining whether you are eligible for opt-out or if it is financially feasible, there are a few other considerations. Part I discussed the Private Contract a physician must enter into with each Medicare beneficiary he or she treats; here, we will address the opt-out affidavit and other nuances of opting out. Let’s get started!
The Medicare Opt Out Affidavit
Provisions in an Opt Out Affidavit are similar to provisions that must be included in the opted out physician’s or practitioner’s private contract with Medicare beneficiaries. The opt-out affidavit must state that the physician or practitioner will only provide services to Medicare beneficiaries with whom they have a written and signed private contract and that the physician or practitioner will not submit claims to Medicare on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries. Medicare does allow for an exception here, but that is only when an opted out physician or practitioner treats a Medicare beneficiary who is not under private contract, and that beneficiary presents with a medical emergency or urgent care problem. Keep in mind, that if a Medicare beneficiary presents with a medical emergency or urgent care problem, the physician or practitioner cannot require that patient to sign a private contract at that time. read more
A recent lawsuit seeking class action status that targeted Zone Program Integrity Contractor (ZPIC), AdvanceMed along with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been dismissed. The plaintiff, an Illinois home health agency (HHA), filed suit in federal court requesting a writ of mandamus (i.e. an order directing a party to perform a specific act) and damages based on claims of fraud and non-compliance with Medicare’s regulations. With many wanting an overhaul with regards to ZPIC authority, this case has been watched closely. What does this decision mean going forward? Consequently, this decision solidifies the formidable hurdle and requirement to exhaust all administrative remedies before challenging a ZPIC in court.
What occurred in this case is not uncommon. AdvanceMed conducted a review of a number of patient charts which led to a suspension of Medicare payment “based on reliable information that an overpayment exists or that the payments to be made may not be correct.” In response to the suspension notice, the HHA submitted a rebuttal statement with additional supporting documentation. The ZPIC later informed the HHA that the documentation had been reviewed and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) decided to continue the suspension. In subsequent discussions between the parties, an AdvanceMed representative surprising stated that it was not their policy to review rebuttals nor was it obligated to review the additional documentation. The representative further indicated that CMS concurred with their position. As a result, the HHA filed a lawsuit. read more
Since the implementation of the ZPIC audit and RAC audit programs, healthcare providers and suppliers have experienced increased scrutiny in the pursuit of overpayments and fraud. Medicare’s most vital tool in its progressive search is the use of statistical sampling. In theory, statistical sampling offers a reliable and low cost approach to addressing large volumes of claims. However, this process gives the government a huge advantage as it places a heavy assumption on a large number of claims without actual review of the claims. Thus, it is important for providers and suppliers to understand the process and know how to challenge such studies in order to minimize potential repayment obligations and retain their revenue.
What is statistical sampling?
Statistical sampling draws a random sample from a universe of claims and extrapolates or projects the results of the sample to the entire universe of claims. In other words, the Medicare contractor will select a sample of claims to review from a look back period or examination period of typically two or three years. For this example, let’s say that the review finds a 40 percent error rate in the sample, meaning 40 percent were not found to meet Medicare requirements for payment. In this case, a contractor will apply the 40 percent finding to the entire two years’ worth of claims and deny these claims based on the sampling results. read more
Medicare payment suspension can place serious financial strain on a company’s operations. As a result, many companies face the risk of closing its doors when a suspension is initiated. Nevertheless, CMS is able to issue such suspensions by meeting a relatively low threshold. Additionally, suspension decisions are not appealable leaving affected providers and suppliers with little options. Therefore, it is important to understand the suspension process and how to counter if a notice of suspension is received.
CMS can suspend payments to providers and suppliers based on “reliable information” of any of the following: (1) fraud or misrepresentation; (2) when an overpayment exists but the amount has not yet been determined; (3) when reimbursement paid to a provider or supplier may be incorrect; or (4) when a provider or supplier fails to submit requested records needed to determine amounts due. Suspensions are initiated by a request to CMS’ Office of Program Integrity by either law enforcement or a Medicare administrative contractor. read more
The US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports that as part of its 2017 Work Plan it will be reviewing Medicare Part B payments for telehealth services. These services support rural access to care and Medicare pays telehealth services provided through live, interactive videoconferencing between a Medicare beneficiary located at an origination site and a healthcare provider located at a distant site.
The OIG is reviewing Medicare claims that have been paid for telehealth services that are not eligible for payment because the beneficiary was not at an originating site when the consultation occurred. A beneficiary’s home or office is not an originating site, an eligible originating site must be a practitioner’s office or a specified medical facility. read more
One of the biggest challenges faced by addiction treatment providers today, especially in Palm Beach County, Florida, arises in the context of unprecedented pressure by law enforcement via the Sober Home Task Force, newspapers and insurers. The threat of being targeted by law enforcement is an enormous thing in itself. Add to that the mainstream media’s insatiable desire for readers, the industry’s drop into insurer red flagging and recoupment, the political football nature of addiction and addiction treatment, and treatment providers can lapse into a state of paralyzed tunnel vision, a sort of mass hypnosis. Here’s the problem: providers dealing with the current compliance crisis environment have a lot to lose if they take their eye off the bigger picture. The more absorbed they become in “crisis mode,” the more likely they will miss important addiction treatment compliance details in an increasingly regulated and changing industry. Losing the ability to see the entire picture (and trends) and quickly adapting to it can have costly (and even deadly) consequences.
The addiction treatment industry is like any other healthcare provider—enormously and increasingly regulated, highly scrutinized and always dynamic. The moment it took on features of traditional healthcare (e.g. lab and physician services), it left the relatively warm and fuzzy comfort of behavioral health providers, sorta. “Sorta” because medical behavioral health (e.g. psychology and counseling) has not had it easy in the past 10 years, as it came under crushing price compression with managed care driven networks and other price cutting middlemen that have often been owned or controlled by insurance companies. Addiction treatment providers in the pure behavioral health space were “saved” from all this till about three years ago because they were out of network and not the focus of insurer driven price cuts. As payors (and their price cut incentivized middle men) looked for more ways to drive up profits, the competitive and disorganized addiction treatment sector became a natural (and unprepared) sector to hit. And they hit it hard! Clearly, the Perfect Storm. Addiction treatment providers now have no option but to learn to swim hard and fast in the ever changing river of the healthcare business industry. read more
So, you’ve received a letter from the Zone Program Integrity Contractor or “ZPIC” to review for the accuracy and justification of services reimbursed by the Medicare program. In other words, a dreaded ZPIC Audit or ZPIC Investigation. Now What?!
First, remain calm. Chances are an audit by ZPIC will go well if you have been diligent in completing patients’ medical records, justifying medical necessity, and your billing is accurate and well supported by the patients’ medical records. Even if errors are discovered, most errors do not represent fraud, that is, the errors were not committed knowingly, willfully and intentionally. Still, a ZPIC audit can be daunting and if Medicare has noticed a pattern of billing that it considers suspect, or there has been a complaint against you, the ZPIC audit will be rigorous, and often adversarial. The ZPIC’s job is to protect the program from potential fraud. It will conduct data analysis, including statistical outliers within a well-defined group, or other analysis to detect patterns within claims or groups of claims that might suggest improper billing. Data analysis can be undertaken as part of a general review of claims pre or post submission, or in response to information about specific problems arising from complaints, provider or beneficiary input, fraud alerts, CMS reports, Medicare Area Contractors, or independent governmental or nongovernmental agencies. read more
Most of the commercial payors are paying PHP (Partial Hospitalization Plan) and IOP (Intensive Treatment Plan) at a bundled daily rate. Many of the plans are now adding urine drug screens to the bundled daily rate and imposing a cap on the number of screens that can be done during an admission. Plans are paying rates that are much nearer to a Medicare rates. Payments based on a reasonable percentage of a provider’s charge are becoming harder to find, as the calculation of what is a usual and customary rate of payment continues to decline.
Yet, a great portion of substance abuse facilities are operating with more clinical staff, at a higher level through licensure, with better Electronic Medical Systems, more programs to combat some of the symptoms of addiction and with a greater awareness of compliance with state and federal guidelines. Even with these necessary improvements, reimbursements continue to decline. read more
Prohibitions against balance billing Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) patients have been around for more than a decade, but many non-contracted providers to HMO patients still don’t fully understand their rights to payment when it comes to collecting monies from patients and HMO’s.
HMO’s often have predetermined rates they pay to non-contracted healthcare providers; sometimes they are artificially low, do not reflect what is written in the member’s contract, or do not abide by what is required by applicable law. As a result, these providers may end up being underpaid if they don’t have a written contract with the payor and they do not understand the payment methodology being applied to them. This is of particular significance to emergency care providers. ER doctors and hospitals must, by law, provide emergency care without regard to whether the patient has an ability to pay for the treatment received.
Following their provision of emergency care, medical providers often question the payment obligations under the patient’s Health Maintenance Organization contract. If the emergency medical provider has a direct written contract, the reimbursement is governed by that participating provider contract’s reimbursement terms.