A Primer on Appealing Medicare Audits
When a Medicare contractor denies a claim, whether as part of a pre-pay, post-pay, Targeted Probe and Educate, statistically extrapolated, or other type of review or audit, the provider generally has a right to a lengthy appeal process. The process is complex and often relies on strictly enforced deadlines and requirements. In some circumstances claims can take years to fully progress through the appeals process. However, some limited cases may be eligible for settlement.
There are several entities that perform Medicare audits. The federal agency that oversees Medicare, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), performs few audits itself, but outsources these duties to a series of independent contractors, such as Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs), Unified Program Integrity Contractors (UPICs), and the Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SRMC). The vast majority of audits are performed by these contractors, although they will often use CMS’s name or logo in their correspondence and may answer phone calls by saying that they are “with Medicare.”
A healthcare provider’s options in responding to a Medicare audit are available from the very beginning. Sometimes providers receive Additional Document Requests (ADRs) from the contractor demanding information or documentation on a claim or claims. These requests should be reviewed carefully; however, they often contain boilerplate or generic language and it may be difficult to determine which specific documentation the contractor is requesting. Once the contractor reviews any additional documentation and other information that the provider supplies, the contractor will issue its audit findings and determine whether to deny certain claims. Other times, the contractor will audit claims data or other information and issue audit findings without requesting additional information from the provider.
Once a claim has been denied, the first level of appeal is Redetermination, often before the same contractor that made the initial denial. A provider must request Redetermination within 120 days of the claim denial, or the appeal may be forfeited. A shorter deadline applies to stop recoupment on overpayment demands stemming from the denials. The second level of appeal is Reconsideration before a Qualified Independent Contractor (QIC). The QIC is separate from the contractor that initially denied the claims. A provider often has the opportunity to submit additional documentation at Redetermination and Reconsideration. A provider may also retain an expert to review the contractor’s assertion or submit write-ups on the individual claims.
The third level of appeal is the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). ALJs are employees of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and may conduct a hearing on the appeal, at which witnesses and experts for the provider may testify. The contractor may appear and testify at the hearing as well. Providers may find it difficult to submit new information to the ALJ, as they must demonstrate good cause why it was not submitted at the earlier levels of appeal. The fourth level of appeal is review by the Medicare Appeals Council, also within HHS. The fifth and final level of appeal is review by a judge in a federal court.
Although providers are not required to retain an attorney to appeal their claims, the appeals process for Medicare can be extremely confusing and burdensome—there are also numerous legal and procedural arguments that can be advanced by an experienced healthcare attorney.
For over 35 years, Wachler & Associates has represented healthcare providers and suppliers nationwide in a variety of health law matters, and our attorneys can assist providers and suppliers in understanding and appealing audits and claim denials. If you or your healthcare entity has any questions pertaining to healthcare compliance, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.