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December 17, 2014

Medicare Pilot Program Requires Prior Authorization for Ambulance Transport Services

On December 1, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ("CMS") launched a three-year pilot program ("the program") in an effort to curb improper Medicare payments to ambulances providers. Under the program, CMS requires prior authorization for repetitive, scheduled, non-emergent ambulance transport claims billed using the following HCPCS codes: (1) A0425 - BLS/ALS mileage, per mile; (2) A0426 - Ambulance service, Advanced Life Support (ALS), non-emergency transport, Level 1; and (3) A0428 - Ambulance service, Basic Life Support (BLS), non-emergency transport. CMS defines a "repetitive ambulance service" as medically necessary ambulance transportation services that are furnished three or more times in a ten-day period, or at least once per week for at least three weeks. According to CMS, these services are often used by elderly beneficiaries that require transportation for dialysis, cancer, or wound treatment.

The prior authorization the process requires the ambulance provider to request provisional affirmation of coverage by CMS before a service is rendered to a beneficiary and before a claim is submitted for payment. CMS believes that prior authorization will ensure that the ambulance service is medically necessary and meets the applicable Medicare coverage criteria. According to CMS, the Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) will make every effort to review the prior authorization request and postmark decisions letters win ten business days. Each prior authorization decision may affirm up to 40 round trips per request in a 60-day period. The prior authorization request submitted by an ambulance provider must include:

  • The beneficiary's name, Medicare number, and date of birth;
  • The physician's name, national provide identifier ("NPI"), and address;
  • The provider/provider's name, NPI, and address;
  • Procedure codes;
  • Submission date of the prior authorization request;
  • Start of the 60-day period;
  • Indicate is the request is an initial or resubmission review;
  • Physician certification statement;
  • Number of transports requested;
  • Documentation from the medical record to support the medical necessity of repetitive transports;
  • Information on the origin and destination of the transports; and
  • Any other relevant document as deemed necessary by the Contractor to process the prior authorization.
For prior authorization requests denied by CMS, the ambulance provider can resolve any identified deficiencies in the request and resubmit the request; this can be done an unlimited number of times. The provider may also choose to provide the service and submit the claim for payment, even when the prior authorization is denied; however, any claim submitted will be denied, and payment can be sought through the Medicare appeals process. Finally, if an ambulance provider has not requested prior authorization before the fourth round trip, any subsequent claim will be stopped and reviewed on a prepayment review basis.

The initial stages of the pilot program apply only to ambulance providers located in South Carolina, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and do not include ambulance transports included in a covered Part A stay or provided by an institutionally-based ambulance provider. However, even if currently outside the scope of the pilot program, providers should be alerted to CMS's recent scrutiny of ambulance transport services and may be a sign that providers could be targeted for Medicare audits in the future. If you are an ambulance provider and have any questions regarding the new prior authorization rules or the implications that the new pilot program may have on your practice, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com.

November 12, 2014

CMS Announces Increased Reimbursement for Telehealth

On October 31, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released its CY 2015 Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule. The rule included several important changes as it relates to telehealth services. With respect to reimbursement rates, in the final rule CMS increased Medicare payments to telehealth originating sites by 0.8 percent.

In addition, the final rule provides seven new procedure codes that cover the following telehealth services:

  • Psychotherapy services (CPT codes 90845, 90846, and 90847);
  • Prolonged services in the office (CPT codes 99354 and 99355); and
  • Annual wellness visits (HCPCS codes G0438 and G0239).
For billing purposes, the originating site fee will be $24.83. CMS also introduced new CPT code 99490, which allows physicians to bill Medicare for chronic care management. The monthly, unadjusted, non-facility fee will be $42.60. Most importantly, CPT 99490 is considered a physician service and is, therefore, available nationwide and not restricted to rural-only telehealth.

Although these changes in the final rule have been received by many telehealth advocates and providers as welcomed developments, CMS did not eliminate the requirement for patients to be located in a rural area in order to receive telehealth services, despite suggestions from many commenters in response to the 2015 Physician Fee Schedule proposed rule to expand the reach of telehealth.

If you or your healthcare entity have any questions regarding telehealth or implications of the final rule on your telehealth practice, or are interested in introducing telehealth into your practice, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney by phone at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com. Wachler & Associates will continue to keep you updated on telehealth developments, as well as other healthcare news. If you are interested, please subscribe to Wachler & Associates' health law blog by adding your email address and clicking "Subscribe" in the window on the top right of this page.

November 4, 2014

Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals Hosts Second Medicare Appellant Forum

On October 29th, the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA) hosted its second Appellant Forum in Washington, D.C. OMHA is responsible for the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) level of the Medicare administrative process, and thus operates the third level of appeals for Medicare audit denials. The Appellant Forum was intended to provide updates to Medicare audit appellants on the status of OMHA operations and to relay information regarding OMHA initiatives to reduce backlog in the processing of Medicare appeals.

Representatives from Wachler & Associates attended the Appellant Forum and gained valuable information for appellants facing delays in Medicare ALJ appeals. OMHA's Chief ALJ, Hon. Nancy Griswold, explained the historical backdrop that led to OMHA's current backlog in appeals and described OMHA's attempts to find a "holistic solution" to ALJ workload.

Judge Griswold also updated providers on statistics regarding OMHA's appellant workload. She explained that Medicare Part A and Part B appeals amount to 99% of the appeals pending at the ALJ level. Further, that despite increased productivity by ALJs, OMHA currently receives 4 times the amount of appeals per day as the ALJ's are able to adjudicate per day. In January 2014, OMHA received 14,000 appeal receipts per week. The unprecedented amount of appeals has caused OMHA to fail to meet its 90-day statutory requirement for adjudication. As of September 2014, the average wait time for an ALJ decision was 514 days, which again marked a significant increase from the fiscal year 2013 average.

The Appellant Forum highlighted several OMHA initiatives to address ALJ workload and pending appeals. First, OMHA received an 18.6% increase in appropriations for FY 2014, which allowed OMHA to open a Kansas City Field Office and increase adjudication staff and other resources. Additionally, OMHA has several IT initiatives under way to streamline the appeals process and improve efficiency. OMHA's IT initiatives include an "ALJ Appeal Status Information System" or AASIS, which provides appellants access to basic information regarding their appeals. OMHA hopes to roll out AASIS by the end of 2014. AASIS is OMHA's interim solution until their permanent appeal portal is in place. OMHA's permanent electronic appeal portal will be named the Electronic Case Adjudication and Processing Environment, or ECAPE. ECAPE, which is still in the development phase, will allow appellants to electronically file requests for hearing, submit electronic evidence, share records, communicate with OMHA, view ALJ assignment status, and other functions. ECAPE will be OMHA's long term solution to the modernizing the Medicare audit ALJ appeal process.

The Appellant Forum also updated appellants on two important pilot programs that were introduced by OMHA during the initial Appellant Forum in February. OMHA's Statistical Sampling pilot is intended to allow appellants to adjudicate large volumes of appeals by drawing a random sample of claims to adjudicate before an ALJ, and then extrapolating the results of the sample to the universe of claims at issue. Jason Green, Director of OHMA's Program Evaluation and Policy Division, explained that no appeals have been adjudicated via this method and that OMHA is exploring ways to tweak the pilot's strict eligibility criteria in order to make the pilot more available to appellants. OMHA's other pilot program, the Settlement Conference Facilitation (SCF) Pilot, follows a mediation model and brings appellants and CMS together to work towards a mutually agreeable resolution of the claims. Mr. Green, who our firm views as an invaluable person in OMHA's attempt to resolve the ALJ backlog, explained that only one SCF has occurred and the parties failed to reach an agreement. Mr. Green is hopeful that the forthcoming SCF conferences will be more successful.

In all, the Appellant Forum served to update providers and suppliers on OMHA's ALJ workload and their efforts to reduce current backlog. OMHA acknowledged that their current ability to meet the 90-day requirement negatively affects the provider community, and that they continue to look for holistic solutions to reduce workload to a sustainable volume.

Wachler & Associates continues to stay up to date on issues facing Medicare audit appellants. Our attorneys work with OMHA on a regular basis and provide input on the ALJ appeals process. We currently represent providers appealing audits through the Settlement Conference Facilitation pilot program, and have experience using statistical samples to appeal large volume audits. Our firm will continue to update you regarding developments in OMHA's ALJ appeal backlog and any other developments in the Medicare audit landscape.

If you or your healthcare entity have any questions regarding OMHA's Appellant Forum or Medicare appeals pilot programs, or need assistance in defending Medicare, Medicaid or Third Party Payer audits, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at (248) 544-0888 or by visiting our website, www.wachler.com.

October 28, 2014

CMS Extends Fraud and Abuse Waivers for ACO Shared Savings Program

On October 17, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) extended its interim final rule regarding fraud and abuse waivers for accountable care organizations (ACOs) that participate in the Medicare Shared Savings Program. The Medicare Shared Savings Program was one of the initial steps taken under the Affordable Care Act to both increase quality and lower costs in the Medicare program. ACOs that participate in the Medicare Shared Savings Program can share in the savings generated to Medicare.

Originally, the interim final rule was published in the November 2, 2011 Federal Register, and had the typical three-year period before becoming a final rule. The continuation of the interim final rule extends the timeline for an additional year, establishing a new deadline of November 2, 2015. The interim final rule offers five waivers to ACOs, which allow healthcare entities to form and operate ACOs without fear of violating federal fraud and abuse laws. The ACO waivers include:

  • An ACO participation waiver;
  • An ACO pre-participation waiver;
  • A compliance with the Physician Self-Referral (Stark) law waiver for the Gainsharing Civil Monetary Penalties (CMP) and Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS);
  • A shared savings distribution waiver; and
  • A patient incentive waiver.

    CMS offered these exemptions to the Stark law, AKS, and Gainsharing CMP to encourage ACOs to participate in the Medicare Shared Savings Program. Noting the success of the waivers, CMS extended the deadline in an attempt to prevent disruptions in the ongoing operations of ACOs. Additionally, CMS was concerned that the expiration of the interim final rule would result in considerable legal uncertainty for ACOs and, in turn, place the success of the Medicare Shared Savings Program at risk. In its announcement, CMS adamantly affirmed its commitment to establishing ACO waivers.

    CMS's deadline extension also allows time for further comments from providers, policymakers, and others with a stake in the interim final rule. Specifically, CMS requested input regarding:

  • Whether the existing waivers serve the needs of ACOs and Medicare;
  • How and to what extent ACOs are using the waivers;
  • Whether the waivers adequately protect the Medicare program and beneficiaries from the types of harms associated with referral payments or payments to reduce or limit services; and
  • Whether there are new or changed considerations that should inform the development of additional notice and comment rulemaking.

    Wachler & Associates regularly counsels healthcare providers regarding compliance with ACO requirements, the Stark Law, AKS, and other fraud and abuse laws. If you have any questions regarding ACOs or how CMS's interim final rule and ACO waivers may impact your health care entity, or seek assistance in commenting on any of the provisions, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com.

  • September 30, 2014

    Medicare to Introduce More Star Ratings to Compare Providers

    CMS recently announced that it will soon be adding additional star ratings to the Medicare.gov website by 2015. CMS has already implemented the star rating system to provide consumers quality and safety information regarding nursing homes and physician groups on a five-star scale. The system is supposed to allow consumers to make informed decisions about their provider, while giving providers something to strive for. CMS Deputy Administer for Innovation and Quality, Dr. Patrick Conway, stated that the star rating system is based on scientific standards of both accuracy and rigor. Because providers differ on the quality of care and services they offer to customers, CMS touts its star rating system as giving consumers a "snap-shot" of the care an individual provider offers. By 2015, CMS plans to add hospital groups and dialysis and homecare providers to the rating system.

    While advocates of the consumer-oriented star-rating system are excited about the inclusion of more provider types, many providers are speaking out against the system. According to a recent article on Modern Healthcare, after being notified of dialysis and homecare providers' inclusion, a spokesman for Kidney Care Partners--a coalition of dialysis providers--claimed that the star rating system compares apples and oranges. The spokesman argued that the inaccurate comparison results in confused patients not really understanding what the amount of stars mean. Proponents of the rating system try to rebut views like those expressed by Kidney Care Partners, by arguing that the health care community should stress transparency, rather than worry about the imperfections in the rating system. Echoing these sentiments, Dr. John Santa, the Medical Director for Consumer Reports, stated that no provider will score well on every rating system, but the abundance of ratings will eventually provide a clearer picture of providers' quality of care and safety.

    Although proponents of the star rating system continue to espouse its positive aspects, many providers remain concerned. Because providers can lose accreditation for scoring poorly on certain measures of safety and quality, and even face fines, these ratings are becoming more important. Several providers urge CMS to delay the inclusion of more provider types to the rating system until it can provide a more complete performance rating. They assert that the measurement differences may result in one provider scoring high in one program and low in another and, although the system does not have to be perfect, it must be reliable. Opponents say that to allow otherwise is to misguide patients and may potentially lead to unfair financial penalties on the entities.

    If you have questions regarding the Medicare five-star rating system or how the anticipated inclusion of provider-types to the rating system may impact your practice, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com. We will continue to monitor the rating system and notify you of any changes. To stay updated on healthcare news, subscribe to Wachler & Associates' health law blog by adding your email address and clicking "Subscribe" in the window on the top right of this page.

    September 25, 2014

    CMS Final Rule Provides Greater Flexibility for Meeting EHR Meaningful Use Requirements

    On August 29, 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) final rule allowing providers more flexibility in meeting the meaningful-use requirements for the electronic health records (EHR) incentive program. The final rule, which was an adoption of the May 2014 proposed rule, aims to assist providers in utilizing Certified EHR Technology (CEHRT) by giving eligible providers another year to continue using the 2011 Edition CEHRT, or a combination of the 2011 and 2014 Edition CEHRT. However, providers should be aware that in 2015 they are required to use the 2014 Edition CEHRT software.

    Additionally, the final rule extends Stage 2 of meaningful use through 2016, thus delaying implementation of Stage 3. For those providers who first became meaningful users of EHR in 2011 or 2012, Stage 3 of meaningful use is now scheduled to begin in 2017. According to CMS, the updates in the final rule will better enable providers to participate and meet meaningful use objectives, including:

    • Electronic prescribing;
    • Checking for drug allergies and interactions;
    • Providing clinical summaries to patients;
    • Reporting on key public health data; and
    • Reporting on quality measures.

    Wachler & Associates will continue to monitor CMS rule-making and guidance related to EHR meaningful-use criteria, as well as other breaking health care news. If you need help understanding the meaningful-use requirements or assistance with negotiating EHR contracts, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at Wachler & Associates via phone at 248-544-0888 or email at wapc@wachler.com.

    September 15, 2014

    CMS Holds Conference Call on 68% Settlement Offer

    On Tuesday, September 9, the Medicare Learning Network (MLN) hosted a Conference Call regarding the newly revealed 68% settlement offer from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for short-stay inpatient status claims. In an effort to 'more quickly reduce the volume of inpatient status claims' pending in the appeals process, CMS offered an administrative agreement to any hospital willing to withdraw all of their pending short-stay inpatient status claim denial appeals in exchange for partial payment of 68% of the net allowable amount as long as the date of admission was prior to October 1, 2013 and the claim is either pending appeal or the appeal has been filed and is pending review. In its release, CMS further noted that only acute care hospitals and critical access hospitals are eligible to submit a settlement request; psychiatric hospitals, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, long-term care hospitals, cancer hospitals, and children's hospitals are not permitted to submit a settlement request.

    The purpose of the Conference Call was to provide interested stakeholders an opportunity to speak with CMS representatives in order to ask questions and obtain a better understanding of how this settlement process will work. Wachler & Associates healthcare attorneys participated in the Conference Call and came away with a deeper understanding of how this process works, but there are still unanswered questions. First and foremost, submissions for settlement are due by October 31, 2014. If your entity cannot meet this deadline, you may ask CMS for an extension. Additionally, short-stay inpatient status claims pending at any level of the appeals process are eligible to be submitted for settlement.

    In sum, eligible claims must also meet four requirements: (1) they must be pending in the appeals process or within the timeframe to appeal; (2) the date of admission for the claim must have been prior to October 1, 2013; (3) the denial must be based on a patient status review; and (4) the claim must not have been previously withdrawn or re-billed for payment under Part B. During the Conference Call participants requested clarification of whether the rebill for Part B must not have been submitted or whether it must not have been paid. CMS indicated that it would provider further clarification on this issue through the Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) page on CMS' website for hospitals. In agreeing to settle all claims for the 68%, the entity agrees to the dismissal of all associated claims (the entity may not pick and choose which ones to settle) and agrees that the settlement will serve as the final administrative and legal resolution of all eligible claims. However, this resolution does not resolve any potential False Claims Act reviews by the Department of Justice. Additionally, eligible claims include claims from any Medicare contractor so long as the denial was based on a patient status review.

    A final point of emphasis pertains to whether interest will be paid under Section 935 of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) upon such claims if they are settled. Representatives from CMS indicated that Paragraph 3 of the settlement agreement indicates that payment in full by CMS would not include 935 interest on the claims. If a hospital paid interest on an overpayment (i.e. the hospital prevented recoupment at the earlier stages of appeal, but interested in favor of CMS accrued on the alleged overpayment) during subsequent recoupment of an alleged overpayment, that interest will be included in the net allowable amount that is used to calculate the settlement. If this same interest accrued on the alleged overpayment, but the hospital has not begun to repay any of that interest, then that interest balance will be waived. Finally, if CMS does not make payment on the settlement within 60 days of finalization, interest will accrue and be paid to the entity.

    The CMS settlement offer is an enticing offer for hospitals. By accepting the settlement, hospitals will receive reimbursement from the settlement in a much timelier manner than waiting for final adjudication of the appeals. Furthermore, hospitals will be able to conserve the resources required to challenge these denials. However, before choosing to settle, a hospital should weigh the costs and benefits, including calculating the amount of 935 interest the hospital could forego if it accepts CMS' settlement offer. For further information on this new settlement process please see our past blog post in addition to the CMS' FAQ Document on the topic and the PowerPoint presentation provided by CMS that accompanied the Conference Call.

    If you have any questions regarding this process, or require assistance in pursuing a settlement, do not hesitate to contact the healthcare attorneys at Wachler & Associates, P.C. at (248) 544-0888 or at wapc@wachler.com.

    September 8, 2014

    CMS Announces Settlement Offer to Hospitals

    In an effort to reduce the amount of cases currently pending appeal, specifically the backlog at the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) level of appeal, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced an offer to hospital appellants to settle their patient status claim denials currently pending appeal. In exchange for hospitals' withdrawal of their pending appeals, CMS has offered to pay hospitals 68% of the net payable amount of the claims.

    In its announcement, CMS lists a number of conditions that must be met for a hospital to be eligible for settlement, including:

    1. The provider must be either (1) an Acute Care Hospital, including those paid via Prospective Payment System, Periodic Interim Payments, and Maryland waiver, or (2) Critical Access Hospitals (CAH). Those entities which are not eligible for the settlement include: psychiatric hospitals paid under the Inpatient Psychiatric Facilities Prospective Payment System, Inpatient Rehabilitation Facilities (IRFs), long-term care hospitals (LTCHs), cancer hospitals and children's hospitals.
    2. The claim was not provided to a Medicare Part C (i.e., Medicare Advantage) enrollee.
    3. The claim was denied upon review by a CMS audit contractor (e.g., Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC), Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC), Zone Program Integrity Contractor (ZPIC) or Comprehensive Error Rate Testing Contractor (CERT)).
    4. The claim was denied was based on the CMS contractor's finding that the patient was inappropriately treated as an inpatient as opposed to outpatient.
    5. The first day of the inpatient admission was before October 1, 2013.
    6. The claim denial was timely appealed, or the provider has not yet exhausted their appeal rights.
    7. The provider did not subsequently rebill and receive payment for the claim under Medicare Part B.

    For those hospitals with eligible claims, CMS has provided instructions on its website detailing the process for hospitals to participate in the settlement offer. In order to take advantage of the settlement offer, hospitals must submit their settlement requests by October 31, 2014.

    According to the Administrative Agreement (i.e., settlement agreement), CMS will pay the agreed amount to the hospital within 60 days from the date in which the binding settlement agreement is executed. Once the binding settlement agreement is entered into, the pending appeals associated with the settled claims will be dismissed and the settlement will serve as the final administrative and legal resolution of those claims.

    This past July, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) introduced two new pilot programs - Settlement Conference Facilitation Pilot and Statistical Sampling Pilot - as alternative methods for eligible providers to resolve their appealed claim denials currently pending at the ALJ level of appeal. The recently announced settlement offer to hospitals is an added initiative implemented by HHS in an effort to reduce the ALJ backlog. CMS will be holding a national provider call on September 9, 2014, to further discuss the announced settlement offer. Wachler & Associates will be participating in that call. If you have any questions regarding the CMS settlement offer or pilot programs, or if you need assistance in the pursuing a settlement, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at (248) 544-0888 or wapc@wachler.com.

    August 26, 2014

    Community Health Systems to Pay $98.15 million to Settle False Claims Act Allegations

    On August 4, 2014, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Community Health Systems (CHS) agreed to pay $98.15 million to settle False Claims Act (FCA) allegations that CHS knowingly billed Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE for inpatient hospital services that should have been billed as outpatient or observation services. Seven actions were filed against CHS by whistleblowers under the qui tam provisions of the FCA, which allows individuals to file suit on behalf of the government and, in turn, obtain a portion of the recovery. These seven actions were filed in six different jurisdictions and alleged that, between 2005 and 2010, CHS engaged in a corporate scheme to increase admissions of Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE beneficiaries even though the admissions were not medically necessary at an inpatient level of care. Rather, the United States alleged that the patients could have been cared for in less costly outpatient or observation settings.

    In addition to the $98.15 million settlement payment, CHS agreed to enter into a five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement with the Office of Inspector General (OIG) in which CHS is required to implement significant compliance protocols, including retention of an independent review organization (IRO) to review CHS's inpatient admission claims. In exchange, CHS will be released from any civil or administrative monetary claims the United States has for the covered conduct under the FCA, Civil Monetary Penalties Law, or Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act.

    According to the DOJ, this settlement agreement is the largest FCA recovery in the Middle District of Tennessee. The DOJ touted the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team's (HEAT) coordinated nationwide effort for exposing the FCA noncompliance. Since the establishment of the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) in 2009, the DOJ has recovered over $20.2 billion in FCA cases, of which $14 billion has come from cases involving fraud against government health care programs.

    Wachler & Associates regularly counsels providers regarding the FCA, Stark Law, Anti-Kickback Statute, and other federal and state fraud and abuse laws. If you or your healthcare entity have any questions regarding the FCA, Stark Law, Anti-Kickback Statute and/or other federal and state fraud and abuse laws, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney, at 248-544-0888 or wapc@wachler.com.

    August 1, 2014

    Bipartisan House Bill Proposes Increased Medicare Coverage of Telemedicine

    A bill amending Title XVIII of the Social Security Act will be proposed soon, marking the culmination of bipartisan efforts in the House of Representatives. Representatives Glenn Thompson (R-Penn.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) are prepared to announce a new telehealth bill, titled the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2014, which would reduce the Social Security Act's current limitations on reimbursable telemedicine technologies.

    Currently, the Social Security Act only permits reimbursement for telemedicine uses in rural health professional shortage areas (HPSAs) and non-Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). Not only are these qualifications limiting, they are also difficult to discern. For example, in the 2000s, the Health Resource and Service Administration (HRSA) eliminated the "rural HPSA" category from its designations, resulting in confusion regarding the correct application of the term. The forthcoming bill seeks to slowly resolve these reimbursement complications through a cost-effective, four-year plan:

    • Within six months of the bill's passage, it would mandate that Medicare provide coverage for telemedicine in urban areas with a population of 50,000 or less. Additionally, the six month period would be used to increase care sites to include retail clinics.
    • Two years following the bill's passage, Medicare coverage would expand to urban areas with a population of 100,000 or less. Furthermore, the bill would include home telehealth to the list of care sites, while expanding reimbursable services to encompass physical and speech therapy.
    • Lastly, after four years have passed, the bill would make telemedicine reimbursable across the United States.
    In addition to the four-year plan, the bill seeks to officially add remote patient monitoring (RPM) to the Social Security Act's list of reimbursable services. The bill defines RPM as "the remote monitoring, evaluation, and management of an individual with a covered chronic health condition . . ., insofar as such monitoring, evaluation, and management is with respect to such condition, through the utilization of a system of technology that allows a remote interface to collect and transmit clinical data between the individual and the responsible physician . . . or supplier." By offering government reimbursement for RPM services, thereby expanding RPM use, the bill hopes to increase Medicare savings over time.

    Also, the Representatives' bill would task the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) with developing standards for remote patient monitoring. Finally, the United States comptroller would be directed to conduct a study within two years of the bill's passage, to determine the efficacy and estimated Medicare savings from the expansion of telemedicine applications.

    The bill does not address Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or other federal health plans, nor does it comment on licensure or liability issues. However, studies show that incorporating reimbursement strategies for telemedicine in Medicare alone will result in significant cost savings, not only in transportation costs, but also in models of delivery and access to care. According to a study conducted by Stanford University, the implementation of telemedicine is estimated to generate 7.7% to 13.3% spending reductions per Medicare patient, per quarter.

    Wachler & Associates' health law attorneys will continue to monitor any further developments regarding the proposed bill and all other federal and state legislation. If you have any questions about how your entity will be impacted by the final rule or any other regulation, please contact an experienced health care attorney at Wachler & Associates via phone at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com.

    July 10, 2014

    HHS Unveils Statistical Sampling Pilot Program for ALJ Hearings on Medicare Audit Appeals

    Last week, the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA) announced the Statistical Sampling Pilot Program (Pilot Program). The Pilot Program offers Medicare providers an alternative route, along with the Settlement Conference Facilitation Pilot, to reach a final determination for claims pending at the administrative law judge (ALJ) hearing level without enduring the 2-3 year delay for hearing. Although the Pilot Program offers a time-saving and perhaps more efficient option for Medicare providers, engaging in the Pilot Program also comes with risks as Medicare providers may "put all of their eggs in one basket" and rely on a single ALJ to issue a decision that affects a large volume of claims. In some cases, the provider may know the identity of the ALJ prior to agreeing to statistical sampling, but in other cases the provider will not.

    The Pilot Program is available to Medicare providers that have requested an ALJ hearing following a Medicare Qualified Independent Contractor (QIC) reconsideration decision. At this time, the ALJ hearing requests must either be assigned to an ALJ or must have been filed between April 1, 2013 and June 30, 2013 and it must meet all jurisdictional requirements, including that it was filed timely. In order to be eligible for the Pilot Program, the Medicare provider must have a minimum of eligible 250 claims and the claims must be one of the following: (1) pre-payment claim denials; (2) post-payment non-RAC claim denials; or (3) post-payment RAC claim denials from one RAC. In addition, claims that are assigned to different ALJs or were requested in different consolidation groups may be incorporated into the request for statistical sampling.

    A Medicare provider that meets the eligibility requirements for the Pilot Program may request statistical sampling by submitting a "Request for Statistical Sampling" form that is available on OMHA's website. The provider must also submit a spreadsheet, a template is also available on OMHA's website, that provides detailed information about the claims requested to be included in the statistical extrapolation.

    After a request is submitted, if granted, a consent template will be sent to the Medicare provider. The consent template will request the Medicare provider to consent in writing to statistical sampling. After written consent is obtained, a pre-hearing conference will be held to confirm the consent, establish the universe of claims from which the sample will be taken and agree to other matters related to the hearing. Following the pre-hearing conference, the ALJ will issue an order and if no objections are received within 10 days of receipt of the order, the order will become binding. Once the pre-hearing conference order becomes binding, consent for the statistical sampling may not be withdrawn.

    After the pre-hearing conference order becomes binding, OMHA will combine the universe of claim appeals agreed to in the pre-hearing conference under a single ALJ appeal number. The appeal will be assigned to the next ALJ on the rotation unless all of the appeals had been assigned to an ALJ prior to the statistical sampling request. The random statistical sampling will be compiled by a trained and experienced statistical expert who will develop appropriate sampling methodology in accordance with Medicare guidance. At the hearing, the ALJ will review the sample units and make a decision regarding those units. It is important to note that either CMS or a CMS contractor may participate in the hearing. The decisions on the sample units will be extrapolated to the universe of claims at issue.

    The Pilot Program offers an opportunity to eligible Medicare providers with large volumes of claims to seek an alternative, and perhaps more efficient, avenue to final resolution of the claims. The new program is a welcomed creative development to solving the backlog of appeals waiting for assignment for ALJ hearing. However, Medicare providers should carefully consider before engaging in the process and fully understand the implications of agreeing to statistical sampling. Wachler & Associates will continue to provide updates on the developing Pilot Program. For more information on ALJ appeal strategies and the Pilot Program, please contact an experienced health care attorney at 248-544-0888 or wapc@wachler.com.

    June 13, 2014

    Physicians Nationwide Face Terminations as Insurance Plans Move to Narrow Networks

    In the past year, thousands of health care providers across the country have been excluded without cause from their insurance plan's provider networks. The proliferation of narrow networks - defined as health insurance plans that limit the doctors and hospitals available to their subscribers - has caused a backlash amongst providers, who claim the insurers' terminations will squeeze beneficiaries on access to care, and disrupt longstanding patient-physician relationship, emergency department care, and referral networks.

    Although the Affordable Care Act did not create narrow networks, the reform law accelerated the trend by limiting insurer's ability to continually lower benefits and exclude unhealthy individuals. Without other ways to compete, controlling providers and limiting choice is the insurers' best way to lower premiums and thus compete on the exchanges. Insurers claim that narrow networks control costs and allow for higher quality, better coordinated care.

    In most cases, however, patients choose insurance plans based on the plan's access to a specific provider network. Patients subscribe and re-subscribe to one-year commitments with the primary intent to access their long-term primary care physicians or other regularly seen providers. Patients often build relationships with these providers over several years, even decades. Now, without notice or the ability to switch their plan, the patients' physician is suddenly out-of-network and cost-prohibitive.

    For physicians, a termination from a single insurance provider can be career threatening. Physicians receiving terminations and non-renewals lose critical access to patient groups and are excluded from the referral networks they developed throughout their career.

    Providers across the country are reporting terminations, often without cause, from Medicaid, Medicare Advantage, and private insurance plans. Medicaid Managed Care and Medicare Advantage plans often cover the most vulnerable patient populations. These patients will suffer from losing their primary care physicians and often lack the ability to effectively manage their own healthcare. In some states, Attorney Generals and provider groups are challenging the insurance providers in Court, and asking state agencies to take action.

    Our firm currently represents physicians challenging terminations via their insurance plans' appeal processes. However, as the appeal processes are often limited to determining if the insurance provider followed the termination or nonrenewal procedures in their provider agreements, we have reached out to state regulators and healthcare agencies to seek assistance in protecting provider and patient rights. The insurance plans' ability to move to a narrow network is not the issue. Instead, the real issue is that in the narrowing of networks, patients must have right to keep their primary care provider in the plan or otherwise be allowed to disenroll and transfer plans to continue to see their primary care physician. Medicare and Medicaid authorities, including the states' contracts with the plans, recognize patients' right to provider choice. Those rights are enhanced with regard to primary care physicians. Provider terminations sever long standing physician-patient relationship and may lead to lower quality, less personalized care. Further, with the increase in enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, the large volume of terminations will significantly reduce access to care, a primary objective of government-provided health care.

    We are challenging whether the insurance providers, specifically those operating Medicaid Managed Care and Medicare Advantage plans, are breaching the requirements of the Social Security Act and other Medicare and Medicaid laws. Further, we believe providers and patients have extensive rights emanating out of contracts between states and the insurance plan. Our position is that all laws, regulations, codes, and policies regarding the insurance providers' operation of Medicaid and Medicare Advantage plans serve to define the relationship between the state, the plan, the provider, and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. Insurance companies terminating plans also may have breached common law contract principles by the manner in which they induce patients via providers that the plan has already determined to terminate.

    Please let our firm know if you have received a network termination or nonrenewal, and seek assistance in challenging the action via an appeal to the insurance plan or other action. Wachler & Associates has over 25 years of experience representing healthcare providers across the country. Our firm has successfully challenged insurance company actions countless times, often obtaining extremely beneficial resolutions for our clients. Further, our attorneys' industry relationships allow us to connect with state representatives and other healthcare groups to together and efficiently challenge these improper methods of termination.

    If you would like to speak to one of our experienced health care attorneys, please contact us via our website or call our offices at 248-544-0888. Our attorneys are currently challenging network terminations and will be happy to assist in your appeal.


    May 19, 2014

    OIG Proposes Significant Changes to Provider Exclusion Authority

    Last week, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a Proposed Rule that changes its provider exclusion authority and significantly alters certain provider exclusion procedures and the substantive bases for exclusion from a Federal healthcare program. The Proposed Rule was released in conjunction with another Proposed Rule on the same date regarding Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs). Comments regarding the rules are due on July 8.

    § 1128 of the Social Security Act grants the OIG authority to exclude certain individuals and entities from participation in Federal healthcare programs. If the OIG determines that an individual or entity has engaged in certain prohibited conduct, it must ban such a person or entity from participation in Federal healthcare programs for a statutorily mandated five year minimum period. However, many bases for exclusion are merely "permissive", where the OIG retains discretion in deciding whether to exclude an individual or entity.

    The Proposed Rule provides the OIG with three new bases upon which they may permissively exclude a provider or entity: the failure of ordering, referring, or prescribing providers to furnish payment information under Section 1128(b)(11); knowingly making, or causing to be made, false statements, omissions, or misstatements of material fact on a federal health care program application under Section 1128(b)(16); or convictions in connection with obstruction of a healthcare audit under Section 1128(b)(2).

    The Proposed Rule also provides the OIG with the power to issue testimonial subpoenas during exclusion investigations - a power that the OIG previously lacked. The Proposed Rule would give any member of the OIG staff the power to compel testimony of witnesses and production of evidence as it relates to an exclusion action. For certain permissive exclusions that do not require a conviction, this expanded authority will give the OIG the ability to more effectively investigate alleged improper conduct.

    Finally, in the Proposed Rule, the OIG takes the position that there is no statute of limitations for its actions pursuant to § 1128(b)(7) (false claims). Usually, governmental actions under the False Claims Act are subject to a 10 year statute of limitations period that begins on the date of the occurrence. Under the Proposed Rule, OIG provider exclusion actions arising from False Claims Act proceedings could go beyond 10 years. However, the OIG also recognizes that the age of the claim will be one factor in weighing the trustworthiness of the individual or entity.

    The OIG also has issued a number of modifications to exclusion proceedings:

    • The OIG has adjusted its aggravating and mitigating factors for higher dollar amounts of government losses;
    • The OIG seeks to provide an alternate mechanism for providers who have been excluded on the basis of actions against their licenses - one of the more common bases for exclusion - to regain the right to participate in Federal healthcare programs if they have obtained another license from a different board;
    • The OIG seeks to expand the rights of parties to make an oral argument prior to the imposition of an exclusion under Section 1128(b)(16);
    • Lastly, the OIG seeks to streamline many of its definitions under the exclusion regulations in an effort to reduce confusion.

    Wachler & Associates' health law attorneys will continue to monitor any further developments regarding the Proposed Rule and all other federal and state regulations. If you have any questions about how your entity will be impacted by the final rule or any other regulation, please contact an experienced health care attorney at Wachler & Associates via phone at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com.

    February 26, 2014

    Medicare Therapy Cap Exception Extended

    On December 18, 2013, Congress enacted legislation extending the Medicare therapy cap until March 31, 2014. The 2014 outpatient therapy cap limits are $1,920 for physical therapy and speech-language pathology services combined, and $1,920 for occupational therapy services. In order to qualify for an exception to the therapy cap limits and continue to receive Medicare reimbursement, therapists must first document the need for medically reasonable and necessary services in the beneficiary's medical record and, separately, the therapist must indicate on the Medicare claim for services that the outpatient therapy services above the therapy cap are medically reasonable and necessary. Further, starting January 1, 2014, the Medicare outpatient therapy cap limits will also apply to therapy services performed in critical access hospitals.

    Providers that meet or exceed the $3,700 threshold in therapy expenditures will be subject to a manual review. The manual review process for 2013 is not expected to change in 2014. Under the manual medical review process, Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs) will conduct either prepayment or postpayment review for claims exceeding $3,700 depending on the state. Currently, only Florida, California, Michigan, Texas, New York, Louisiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina and Missouri are subject to prepayment review, while the rest of the nation is subject to postpayment review.

    A bill that is currently working its way through Congress seeks to permanently repeal the therapy caps. The Medicare Access to Rehabilitation Act has bipartisan support and its sponsors argue that an arbitrary cap on outpatient services without regard to clinical need discriminates against some of the most vulnerable and needy Medicare recipients.

    Wachler & Associates will continue to monitor the situation and provide guidance on developments in Medicare therapy cap policy. If you or your health care entity need help developing compliance plans or reviewing and refining existing audit defense strategies, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or at wapc@wachler.com. If you would like to subscribe to the Wachler & Associates Health Law Blog, please add your email address and click subscribe in the window on the top right of this page.

    February 18, 2014

    CMS Revises Medicare Policy Manuals Clarifying that Improvement Standards are Not Required for Coverage

    On January 15, 2014, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), issued revisions to their policy manuals, including the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual, that clarify that "Improvement Standards" are not required for determining claims for Medicare coverage involving skilled care, including skilled nursing facilities (SNF), home health (HH), and outpatient therapy (OPT) benefits. The purpose of these revisions is to comply with the January 24, 2013 Jimmo v. Sebelius settlement agreement which required clarification that coverage of skilled nursing and skilled therapy services "...does not turn on the presence or absence of a beneficiary's potential for improvement, but rather on the beneficiary's need for skilled care." Citing the agreement's justification, CMS noted that, no "Improvement Standard" is to be applied in determining Medicare coverage for maintenance claims that require skilled care. Medicare has long recognized that even in situations where no improvement is possible, skilled care may nevertheless be needed for maintenance purposes (i.e., to prevent or slow a decline in condition). The Medicare statute and regulations have never supported the imposition of an "Improvement Standard" rule-of-thumb in determining whether skilled care is required to prevent or slow deterioration in a patient's condition. Thus, such coverage depends not on the beneficiary's restoration potential, but on whether skilled care is required, along with the underlying reasonableness and necessity of the services themselves. The manual revisions serve to reflect and articulate this basic principle more clearly.

    Included with the manual revisions, CMS took the opportunity to introduce additional guidance for appropriate documentation in facilitating accurate coverage determinations for claims involving skilled care. CMS noted that, "While the presence of appropriate documentation is not, in and of itself, an element of the definition of a 'skilled' service, such documentation serves as the means by which a provider would be able to establish and a Medicare contractor would be able to confirm that skilled care is, in fact, needed and received in a given case."

    The manual clarifications fulfill the first step required of CMS in the Jimmo settlement agreement. The agreement also sets forth an educational campaign, in which CMS agreed to disseminate written materials to contractors, adjudicators, providers, and suppliers, and conduct national conference calls with providers and suppliers as well as Medicare contractors, Administrative Law Judges, medical reviewers, and agency staff, to communicate the policy clarifications and answer questions. CMS has also committed to engage in accountability measures to ensure beneficiaries receive the care to which they are entitled. Such measures include review of a random sample of SNF, HH, and OPT coverage decisions to determine overall trends and identify any problems, as well as a review of individual claims determinations that may not have been made in accordance with the principles set forth in the settlement agreement.

    If you have any questions regarding the revised manuals, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at Wachler & Associates at 248-544-0888 or wapc@wachler.com.