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Congressional Subcommittee Hears OIG Testimony on Medicare Benefit Integrity Contractors

On June 8, 2012, Robert Vito, Regional Inspector General for Evaluation and Inspections at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Inspector General (OIG), testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee: Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The testimony focused on the current OIG assessment of Medicare contractors’ efforts to counteract fraud at present and in the near future. The testimony focused on Zone Program Integrity Coordinators (ZPIC), who audit and investigate claims and providers enrolled in Medicare Part A and B, and Medicare Drug Integrity Contractors (MEDIC), who focus on Medicare Part C and D.

The testimony revealed that OIG reviews over the last 10 years have found recurring issues with Medicare contractor performance–issues that continue to persist. These issues include:

• Limited results from proactive data analysis.
• Difficulties in obtaining the data needed to detect fraud.
• Inaccurate and inconsistent data reported by contractors.
• Limited use by CMS of contractor-reported fraud and abuse activity data in evaluating contractor performance and investigating variability across contractors.
• Lack of program vulnerability identification and resolution.

One major area for concern for the OIG is proactive data analysis. Medicare contractors, like ZPICs and MEDICs, have continued to pursue a “pay and chase” model of benefit integrity activity, rather than the proactive approach that HHS would like to implement. Proactive analysis would potentially identify fraudulent or otherwise inappropriate claims before they are paid rather than after. Proactive and early identification of fraud and inappropriate payments accounted for only 7 percent of ZPIC investigations, according to a 2011 OIG report. The vast majority of ZPIC and MEDIC audit and investigative activity is based upon “reactive methods” like complaints from other sources.

Vito’s testimony also indicated inaccuracies and lack of uniformity in ZPIC and MEDIC data. System issues, reporting errors, and differing interpretations of fraud terms and definitions have caused drastically different reporting results from different Medicare contractors. In one case, one ZPIC reported 7 times more investigations originating from external sources than the other. This inconsistency prevented OIG from making a conclusive assessment of ZPIC and MEDIC activities.

OIG review found that despite the requirement that Medicare benefit integrity contractors identify and report systemic vulnerabilities in the Medicare program, some contractors are not reporting any vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities are defined by CMS as fraud, waste, or abuse identified through analysis of Medicare data. In 2009 a total of 62 program vulnerabilities were reported to CMS. Only 21 vulnerabilities included an estimated monetary impact as required. These 21 vulnerabilities totaled an estimated monetary impact of $1.2 billion. As of January 2011, CMS had taken no action on 75% of the vulnerabilities reported in 2009.

The testimony recommended the following continuing actions to improve benefit integrity contractor performance:

• Oversee proactive identification of fraud.
• Provide timely data access.
• Improve accuracy of contractor-reported fraud activity data.
• Assess variability in performance across contractors.
• Ensure program vulnerability identification and resolution.
• Improve overpayment identification and collection.

The OIG will also continue to review Medicare benefit integrity issues, which include continuing evaluations of overpayments and Medicare debt collection, and examining the activities of MACs and RACs. Reviews of new enrollment procedures and prepayment identification of inappropriate claims will also begin.

If you have any questions about how Medicare benefit integrity contractor activities will impact you, or need to implement a compliance plan, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at Wachler & Associates at 248-544-0888.