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.
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.
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.
Earlier this year, the Florida legislature passed prohibitions against balance billing by out-of-network providers for emergency services and where the patient goes to a contracted facility but does not have an opportunity to choose a provider such as emergency room physicians, pathologists, anesthesiologists and radiologists.
Specific reimbursement requirements went into effect on October 1, 2016 for certain out-of-network providers of emergency and non-emergency services, where a patient has no opportunity to choose the provider.
Under these circumstances, an Insurer must pay the greater amount of either:
(a) The amount negotiated with an in-network provider in the same community where services were performed;
(b) The usual and customary rate received by a provider for the same service in the community where service was provided; or
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