Published on:

Senate Finance Committee Examines Medicare Appeals Backlog

On April 28, 2015, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee held a hearing to address the rising Medicare appeals claims backlog. At the hearing, Nancy Griswold, Chief Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA), blamed the backlog on a lack of funding and an unprecedented amount of appeals. ALJ Griswold stated that the average processing time for each claim has soared to 550 days, more than quadrupling over the past five years. There are currently over 500,000 Medicare appeals pending review.

While appeals continue to stack up, OMHA’s budget was increased from $69 million to $82.3 million over the past fiscal year (FY). Additionally, OMHA’s staff has expanded from 492 employees to 514 employees for the same FY. However, ALJ Griswold claimed that this boost in resources is still not enough. In FY 2013, OMHA received 700,000 claims, which represents an astonishing increase from the 60,000 claims received just two years prior. Despite the staggering amount of claims, only 60 officers are assigned to handle cases.

Although Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch acknowledged the importance of preventing improper Medicare payments, he emphasized the seriousness of the backlog is due to the “insurmountable increase in appeals.” Senator Hatch also noted that 60 percent of appeals are found in favor of defendants, and questioned how initial decisions are being made and whether providers are facing undue burdens.

At the hearing, ALJ Griswold urged senators to support President Obama’s proposed budget, which would increase OMHA’s budget by approximately $300 million. OMHA reported that the funding would be allocated towards doubling the office’s capacity to process cases. In the alternative, ALJ Griswold suggested a refundable filing fee to prevent providers from filing claims just to “game the system.” In support of ALJ Griswold, Sandy Coston, CEO of Medicare administrative contractor Diversified Service Options, suggested that CMS could reform the initial level of appeals in order to streamline access to subsequent appeals levels. Although Senator Hatch did not offer any endorsements, he continued to express the seriousness of the backlog in appeals and its detrimental effect on the Medicare system.

Wachler & Associates continues to monitor the OMHA appeal backlog, and our attorneys have attended two OMHA Medicare Appellant Forums hosted by OMHA and CMS in Washington D.C. Although we support the various initiatives and pilot programs presented by OMHA, we agree with ALJ Griswold that a significant increase in OMHA resources is needed to address the appeal backlog.

Despite the appeal backlog and processing time, Medicare providers and suppliers must continue to appeal Medicare contractors’ overpayment determinations and preserve their appeal rights. Wachler & Associates represents healthcare providers and suppliers in a variety of healthcare matters, including appeals of Medicare overpayment determinations at all levels of review. If you or your healthcare entity have any questions regarding the Senate hearing, or seek help in defending an overpayment demand by a recovery audit contractor (RAC), please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com. To remain up-to-date on healthcare regulatory developments, please subscribe to our blog by adding your email address in the window on the top right of this page.