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.
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.
USA v. Pediatric Services of America – settlement under the False Claims Act involving a health provider’s failure to investigate credit balances on its books to determine whether they resulted from overpayment by a federal health care program.
The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia announced that Pediatric Services of America Healthcare, Pediatric Services of America, Inc., Pediatric Healthcare, Inc., Pediatric Home Nursing Services (collectively, “PSA”), and Portfolio Logic, LLC agreed to pay $6.88 million ($6,882,387) to resolve allegations that PSA, a provider of home nursing services to medically fragile children, knowingly (1) failed to disclose and return overpayments that it received from federal health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, (2) submitted claims under the Georgia Pediatric Program for home nursing care without documenting the requisite monthly supervisory visits by a registered nurse, and (3) submitted claims to federal health care programs that overstated the length of time their staff had provided services, which resulted in PSA being overpaid.
“Participants in federal health care programs are required to actively investigate whether they have received overpayments and, if so, promptly return the overpayments,” said United States Attorney, John Horn. “This settlement is the first of its kind and reflects the serious obligations of health care providers to be responsible stewards of public health funds.”
The Tuomey decision, U.S. Court of Appeals case out of South Carolina, contains important lessons for physicians, especially as it relates to (1) compensation arrangements with hospitals, (2) proper compensation arising in connection with the provision of designated health services (“DHS”), and (3) the advice of counsel defense.
The concept of DHS arises largely in the context of the federal Stark Law, which in pertinent part (1) forbids physicians from owning and referring to providers of DHS (e.g. PT, rehab, diagnostic imaging, home health, DME, clinical laboratory, inpatient and outpatient hospital services), (2) describes how medical practices can provide DHS to their own patients, and (3) forbids even physicians within a practice from allocating DHS profits on the basis of who ordered or referred to them.
The Tuomey case involves a whistleblower action filed against a not for profit hospital system. The original jury in that case decided that the system didn’t violate the False Claims Act, but the appellate court set aside the verdict using facts and testimony that had be excluded from the jury trial, Tuomey Healthcare System was found to have knowingly submitted over 21,000 false claims to Medicare and the government was awarded over $237 Million (most of it in the form of punitive damages). The government (which often advances the plaintiff’s—“relator” case in whistleblower cases) filed a motion for a new trial, which the trial court granted and the appellate court affirmed.
A healthcare provider’s “billed charge” is usually the total charges billed before applying any contractual discounts. Where there are no contractual relations, a provider’s charge may be considered the equivalent of fair market value for the service provided. But what is fair market value? If the provider is contracted the rate is confidential and not subject to disclosure. If the provider is non-contracted, there is no standard billing rate for providers, making it difficult to get reliable rate data on what is fair market value for similar services or similar providers. One Florida court has found that “fair market value” is the price that a willing buyer will pay and a willing seller will accept in an arm’s length transaction.
Chiropractors who are confused re when and how they can bill Medicare patients for their services would be well advised to read this recent Fact Sheet on the topic from CMS, which addresses of being non-par with Medicare and how to bill Medicare patients properly.
A November 13th order from U.S. District Judge Gregory A. Presnell hit Halifax Hospital in Daytona Beach hard and has implications for all physician bonus compensation arrangements. The background of the whistleblower case involves:
Healthcare providers who participate in Medicare are sometimes surprised when the government later decides that an overpayment was made. As a healthcare provider who accepts federally funded reimbursement, you may wonder how long the government has to make a claim against you for alleged overpayments.
For Medicare overpayments, the federal government and its carriers and intermediaries have 3 calendar years from the date of issuance of payment to recoup overpayment. This statute of limitations begins to run from the date the reimbursement payment was made, not the date the service was actually performed. CMS has instructed carriers not to recover payments that have not been reopened (where no attempts have previously been made to collect) within 4 years from the date of payment, unless the case involves fraud or similar fault. CMS instructs carriers not to recover overpayments discovered later than 3 full calendar years after the year of payment, unless there is evidence that the physician or beneficiary was at fault with respect to the overpayment. Liability of the physician for refunding an overpayment is based on fault- if the overpayment was a result of a lack of disclosure or information from the Medicare beneficiary, the liability may shift to the beneficiary. See Medicare Carrier Manual §7100.
Healthcare providers should be aware that the 3 year statute of limitations does not apply to recovering overpayments made as result of false pretenses or fraud. In bringing a civil action against an alleged perpetrator of fraud for civil penalties, the Federal False Claims Act[i] grants the government and qui tam whistleblowers either (i) 6 years from the date of violation or (ii) 3 years from the date the facts material to the right of action are known or reasonably should have been known by the government , but not to exceed 10 years from the date of violation[ii]. When a “violation” has occurred is arguable. The statute of limitations under the Federal False Claims Act could potentially start to toll on the date the false claim is submitted, but the government has argued that the statute of limitations does not toll until the date of payment on the claim by the government or even final settlement on a cost report with the government. Also important to note is that failure to promptly refund a reimbursement previously discovered by a healthcare provider has been construed as a violation of the Federal False Claims Act. In other words, if you discover an overpayment and wait for CMS to make an official refund request, you may still be subject to penalties and fines.
Furthermore, aside from civil monetary penalties, there are numerous criminal statutes under which the federal government could impose criminal penalties for health care fraud, including obstruction of a federal audit, mail fraud, conspiracy to defraud the government, RICO, the criminal false claims act, False Statements Act, the Social Security Act (wherein it is a felony to render any false statement or representation of material fact), federal anti-kickback statutes, and HIPAA.
[i] The Federal False Claims Act can be found at 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729-3733.
With over 20 years of healthcare law experience following his experience as legal counsel for the Florida Medical Association, Mr. Cohen is board certified by The Florida Bar as a specialist in healthcare law. With a strong background and expertise in transactional healthcare and corporate matters, particularly as they relate to physicians, Mr. Cohen’s practice immerses him in regulatory, contract, corporate, compliance and employment related matters. As Founder of The Florida Healthcare Law Firm, he has distinguished himself and his firm for providing exceptional legal services with the right pricing, responsiveness and ethics. He can be reached at (888)455-7702 and www.floridahealthcarelawfirm.com
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.