On January 1, 2021, every hospital in the United States (with very few exceptions) will be required to post clear, accessible pricing information online about the items and services they provide. These “standard charges” must be provided in two ways: first, as a comprehensive list of all items and services offered by the hospital in a machine readable format; and second, as a display of “shoppable services” in a consumer friendly format. According to CMS, the stated goal of the new rule is to empower patients “with the necessary information to make informed health care decisions.”
With the first requirement, the list must include gross charges, discounted cash prices, payor-specific negotiated charges, and de-identified minimum and maximum negotiated charges. The items and services covered are basically anything for which the hospital has established a standard charge, regardless of location or whether the item or service is provided on an inpatient or outpatient basis. These include, but are not limited to, supplies, surgical implants, procedures, room and board, and professional charges.
Access to telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries was further increased by the Trump Administration April 30, 2020. These new changes allows all health care professionals eligible to bill Medicare for services to provide services via telehealth communications and to bill the Medicare program for such services. Additionally, certain services may now be provided using audio technology only.
For a list of services eligible for reimbursement by the Medicare Program, including services requiring audio technology only, download here. There are approximately 180 different codes reimbursable by Medicare if provided via telehealth communications.
Just the other day CMS issued new rules and temporary waivers to help combat the COVID pandemic. We are getting flooded with questions about telemedicine in particular and wanted to highlight some of the points of the March 31st update that relate to telehealth.
Hospitals may use and bill for telehealth services so that patients can be screened without presenting at a hospital. The telehealth screening will allow hospitals to determine the most appropriate site for care, thereby minimizing the patient’s risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Health care providers using telehealth will be able to bill for telehealth services at the same rate as in-person services of the same kind and level. Allowable telehealth services have also been expanded during the health care crisis.
Further, providers, including practitioners, may be able to temporarily enroll in Medicare to be able to assist with the current health care crisis.
Even though CMS has created some flexibility during this incredibly uncertain time…something about telemedicine laws remaining tricky and not being a one size fits all suit. Attorney Susan St. John will give you all of the details on how telemedicine set up, billing questions and more! Join us for this free webinar.
On February 4, 2020, the Department of Justice announced a $1.5 million settlement with Southeastern Retina Associates, a 17 physician practice, with offices in Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia. The sole basis of the claim was the alleged misuse of the Modifier 25 billing code and charging for exams at higher levels than warranted. The claim was initiated by a whistleblower, who will receive $270,000 from the settlement.
Use and potential abuse of Modifier 25 is obviously not unique to retina surgeons. In fact, the modifier can be very beneficial to providers, since it allows for payment for those patient visits when the care provided exceeds the scope of the scheduled appointment. However, given the potential for abuse and the many watchful eyes of the government (the Southeastern Retina case was investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the HHS Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the FBI, and the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office) and wannabe whistleblowers, a periodic review of a provider’s billing practices is always a good idea.
Improving patient outcomes while maintaining physician decision making and practice efficiency is key to success in the growing health care arena. Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity to create new value, instead of a threat to what we find comfortable. It is clear that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is embracing the importance of innovation in the way we deliver health care.
In November 2018, the 2019 Physician Fee Schedule and Quality Payment Program was released by CMS with changes effective January 1, 2019. This is the time for providers to definitely keep their eyes open to utilizing mHealth, and telehealth services. mHealth is also known as mobile health, and is a general term for the use of mobile phones and other wireless technology in medical care to educate consumers about preventive healthcare services as well as for disease surveillance, chronic disease management, treatment support, epidemic outbreak tracking. The release of the program is a sign that the agency is in favor of expanding the implementation of technology in providing medical care. The updated mHealth codes are:
There are perfectly compliant ways to engage with healthcare marketers, and then there’s this; here are some of the latest real-life examples:
“DME BRACE CAMPAIGN – $40 to $150 PER LEAD PER BRACE”
“DME DIABETIC LEADS $40 PER LEAD, INSURANCE AND DOC INFO INCLUDED”
“PAIN CREAM/LIDOCANE LEADS FOR SALE, RX INCLUDED”
These marketers are seemingly holding auctions for the sale of federally protected patient health information out to the highest bidder! Couldn’t make this stuff up – if you’re in this industry, a quick gander at your (business) social media platforms will quickly confirm it.
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.
The verification process is an important step in the billing cycle. When done correctly the patient’s “VOB” will allow a healthcare provider to quickly determine if they can accept the patient for treatment or not. A good verification will tell a provider the general information about a patient’s insurance policy such as the deductible, the co-insurance and the out of pocket maximum. A very good verification will also include accreditation requirements, information on who would receive the payment for services, correct claims addresses for professional and facility charges and more. The quicker a verification is done, the sooner a patient can be brought into treatment. Speed and accuracy is the name of the game when it comes to insurance verification and United Healthcare, until very recently, was one of the quickest policies for an Insurance Verification Specialist to work with.
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.