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.