Earlier this week a complaint was unsealed in federal court in the case of The United States of America v. Joseph Stephan that charged Stephan, who is a chiropractor, in New York with violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1347 (health care fraud) for submitting false claims to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Office of Workers Compensation Program (OWCP) for services that were not actually rendered or were up-coded based on an undercover investigation.
Specifically, the complaint states that CPT code 99204 is a code used to identify an office or other outpatient visit for the evaluation and management of a new patient, which requires three key components: a comprehensive history; a comprehensive examination; and medical decision making of moderate complexity. The description of CPT code 99204 indicates that: (a) usually, the presenting problem(s) are of moderate to high severity; and (b) typically, 45 minutes are spent face-to-face with the patient and/or family.
When an overpayment is identified in Medicare Part A or B claims, providers can contest the overpayment amount by using the Medicare administrative appeals process. Because of the large difference between overpayment amount in a sample from an extrapolated amount, the OIG states that it is critical for the review process during an appeal to be fair and consistent. In the first and second levels of Medicare appeals (redetermination and reconsideration) extrapolated overpayments are reviewed by MAC (Medicare Administrative Contractors) and by QICs (Qualified Independent Contractors).
The OIG audit was to make sure that the MACs and the QICs reviewed the appealed extrapolated overpayments consistently and in compliance with CMS requirements.
What OIG found was that CMS did not always provide sufficient guidance and oversight to ensure that these reviews were performed in a consistent manner. The most significant inconsistency identified was the use of a type of simulation testing that was performed only by a subset of contractors. The test was associated with at least $42 million in extrapolated overpayments that were overturned in fiscal years 2017 and 2018.
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.
Attorney Richard A. Merlino will present this live webinar for attendees interested in learning about strategies for proactively investigating a healthcare business. He will share information on predictive analytics and implementing compliance programs, as well as the top exposure areas where fraud is most likely to occur so that you can find the fraud before a whistleblower does.
Compliance programs should establish a culture that promotes prevention, detects and resolves healthcare fraud, per the OIG. Pursuant to the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, has established a Whistleblower Ombudsman to educate Department employees about prohibitions on retaliation for whistleblowing, as well as employees’ rights and remedies if anyone retaliates against them for making a protected disclosure.
CMS contractors such as Unified Program Integrity Contractors (UPICs) are tasked with ensuring that Medicare pays the right amount for covered services by legitimate providers. Specifically, a UPIC’s main goal is to identify cases of suspected fraud, waste and abuse, and additionally, to take immediate administrative action to protect federal program funds. Within its administrative action toolkit, apart from the common pre- or post-payment reviews and payment suspensions, UPICs have the ability to refer cases of potential fraud to law enforcement agencies.
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced the launch of a new tool on its website titled the “Fraud Risk Indicator”. The OIG has stated that the purpose for the tool is to provide guidance on how it has evaluated risk in settling False Claims Act (FCA) cases and to publicize information about where FCA defendants fall on the OIG’s risk spectrum. This tool can benefit patients, healthcare industry professionals and other individuals who may find this information relevant. This tool will also benefit the public with information about providers charged under the FCA that are at high risk for committing healthcare fraud. The Indicator shows the Risk Spectrum from Highest Risk to Lower Risk.
In giving consideration to whether healthcare regulations apply to a proposed course of conduct it’s absolutely vital for a pharmacy to know its payor! This is especially so in the context of patient marketing and the various regulatory prohibitions on paying for healthcare referrals. Unfortunately, some pharmacy owners remain a bit mixed up about who the ultimate payor is for the medications they dispense, and, depending on that pharmacy’s billing operations, such mistakes can have devastating consequences.
A large part of this confusion might be attributed to the fact that in most instances, a pharmacy is not billing the ultimate payor directly (unlike a DMEPOS provider that may be directly submitting claims to Medicare Part B), but rather, the pharmacy is billing an intermediary entity called a Pharmacy Benefit Manager (“PBM”), which is usually a commercially run entity (non-government owned) that manages and adjudicates claims on behalf of health insurance plans that cover pharmacy benefits.
A recent whistleblower action (by UnitedHealthcare Medical Director, Tina Groat) against Boston Heart (laboratory) was brought under the federal False Claims Act and deals with medical necessity issues. As part of the analysis, the Court reviewed whether a laboratory [or supplier like DME] must determine the medical necessity of the ordering physician. Boston Heart contended that a doctor, not a laboratory, determines the medical necessity of a test. Boston Heart argued that when a laboratory bills Medicare for testing ordered by a physician, it must only maintain documentation it receives from the ordering physician and ensure that the information that it submitted with the claim accurately reflects the information it received from the ordering physician. It noted that the CMS-1500 form certification does not require that the billing lab to make the medical necessity determination. The lab certifies that the services are medically necessary by relying on the clinical determination of the treating physician.
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.
I had a law school professor who repeatedly referred to his class as “Doom at Noon.” The topic was dry, the cases were boring and, if not for the professor himself, the class would have been unbearable. I think of that, all these years later, every time I have to counsel a client on a topic that makes his or her eyes glaze over, like healthcare compliance.
Compliance means that you’re operating within the bounds of law. Sure, it sounds boring, but it’s a giant undertaking for any business, and especially for one so regulated as healthcare. Over the last three decades, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General has urged the private healthcare community in to take steps to combat fraudulent conduct and prevent the submission of erroneous claims.
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.