On November 1, 2018, a federal court judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of the American Hospital Association (AHA) ordering the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to clear the Medicare appeal backlog by fiscal year (FY) 2022. If you have not been following this litigation, the AHA initially filed suit in 2014 against the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requesting an order from the court mandating the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA) within HHS to comply with its statutory deadlines (i.e. to issue a decision within 90 days). Following brief review by the U.S. Court of Appeals and upon the case being before the district court for a third time, the case has finally reached a resolution.
In short, HHS agreed that due to recent funding, compliance is possible within four years. Accordingly, the judge set the following deadlines for HHS and OMHA:
In 2012, the American Hospital Association (AHA) along with three member hospitals filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for the agency’s failure to meet the 90 day decision requirement at the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) level known as the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA). Through the years, the case has moved back and forth between a federal district court and federal appeals court in the District of Columbia. Most recently in March, a federal district court judge ordered the AHA to expand on its suggestions it has made over the course of its litigation for how HHS can clear the ever-growing backlog and additionally, explain why the current procedures are insufficient.
Due to financial and regulatory constraints, many companies are merging or purchasing other healthcare companies. However, prior to closing any transaction, these companies need to first determine whether government agencies must be provided advance notice of the change of ownership (CHOW). As an example, if Medicare is involved, these companies might be required to report the CHOW.
This issue is not one to dismiss or ignore because if companies fail to comply, they face significant penalties. In a recent “MLN Connects” newsletter, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a reminder to report changes in ownership. The newsletter cites to an Office of Inspector General (OIG) report from 2016 that found a substantial amount of ownership changes were not being reported.
Aside from the half million already pending before the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA), OMHA indicates that it receives more appeals each year than its total annual adjudication capacity and has hit its maximum limits given their current resources. With these numbers, the current estimated wait time is 3 years for an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to process an appeal. Though recent developments in the litigation involving the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and American Hospital Association (AHA) offered little hope for a resolution, OMHA’s implementation of new settlement initiatives may present a better strategic option for appellants.
Medicare claims are processed by organizations (i.e. Medicare Administrative Contractors (“MACs”)) that contract with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) to act as liaisons between the Medicare program and providers and suppliers. As CMS continues to evolve its enforcement strategies to reduce fraud and abuse in the system, post payment reviews utilizing statistical sampling still remain as one of its key methods. These reviews are conducted not just by MACs but also by Zone Program Integrity Contractors (“ZPICs”). When a review is completed, providers and suppliers often face large extrapolated overpayment amounts based on the analysis of a small sample of claims. Therefore, providers and suppliers need to understand the process and most importantly, how to effectively navigate the system.
ZPICs are a part of Medicare’s integrity program and took the place of Program Safeguard Contractors (“PSCs”) that operated with the same goal in the past. ZPIC reviews initiate in various ways such as from whistleblower complaints, through ZPIC investigations (e.g. using data mining), and from referral from the Office of Inspector General (“OIG”).
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.