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CMS Proposes to Eliminate the Narrative Requirement for Documented Face-to-Face Encounters for Home Health Agencies

In a recently released proposed rule, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) proposes to eliminate the narrative requirement from the home health face-to-face encounter documentation requirement. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and implementing regulations, the certifying physician must document that the physician himself or herself or an allowed nonphysician practitioner conducted a face-to-face encounter with the beneficiary no more than 90 days prior to the home health start of care date or within 30 days of the start of home health care. As part of the home health certification requirements, the documented face-to-face encounter must include a brief narrative of why the clinical findings of the encounter support that the patient is homebound and in need of intermittent skilled nursing services or therapy services.

According to CMS, the narrative requirement was adopted in an effort to achieve greater physician accountability in certifying a patient’s eligibility to receive home health care as well as establishing the patient’s plan of care. However, as CMS noted in the proposed rule, the home health industry is experiencing numerous problems meeting the narrative requirement. Accordingly, since the effective implementation of the face-to-face encounter requirement in April 2011, many home health agencies have seen an increased number of claims denied by Medicare audit contractors due to inadequate narratives supporting the services. In its proposed rule, CMS acknowledges some of the challenges faced by home health agencies in meeting the face-to-face narrative requirement, including:

• A perceived lack established standards for compliance that can be understood and applied by physicians and home health agencies;
• Frustration in the industry of having to rely on physicians to satisfy the face-to-face requirement without incentives to encourage physician compliance;
• Concerns that the narrative requirement is redundant when detailed evidence to support the need for homebound status and medical necessity is available in clinical records; and
• The narrative requirement was not explicitly codified in the Affordable Care Act.

In agreeing with the industry’s complaints, CMS now proposes to eliminate the narrative requirement for the documented face-to-face encounter. However, CMS noted that there should be sufficient evidence in the patient’s medical record to demonstrate that the patient meets Medicare eligibility criteria for home health services. Also, CMS reaffirms in its proposed rule that the certifying physician would still be required to certify that a face-to-face encounter occurred no more than 90 days prior to the start of care date for home health services or within 30 days of the start of the home health services, and that the face-to-face encounter was related to the primary reason the patient requires home health services.

Finally, in situations where skilled nursing visits for management and evaluation of the patient’s plan of care are ordered by the physician, the proposed rule provides that the physician must still include a brief narrative that describes the clinical justification for the management and evaluation service as part of the certification/recertification process.

If finalized in its current form, the provisions in the proposed rule would eliminate the brief narrative requirement for documented face-to-face encounters. However, home health providers should implement the necessary compliance protocols to ensure the medical documentation contains sufficient information to support the patient’s need for home health services. Failure to meet this standard or any of the other certification requirements could result in an increased risk of claims being denied by Medicare audit contractors. If you or your entity has any questions related to the face-to-face encounter or certification/recertification requirements, or need assistance in defending against or proactively preparing for a Medicare audit, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or at wapc@wachler.com.