A Primer on Opting-Out of Medicare
With low rates of Medicare reimbursement, complex and unclear regulations, tremendous administrative burden, and the often arbitrary actions of Medicare contractors, a growing number of physicians and healthcare providers may wonder if there is an alternative to participation in Medicare. There is. Some providers have the option to “opt-out” of Medicare. Opting-out of Medicare refers to the process by which a healthcare practitioner foregoes any right to bill Medicare and collect reimbursement from Medicare. Instead, the practitioner is reimbursed directly by his or her patients. Opting-out of Medicare can be part of a larger concierge medicine model. Not every provider type is eligible to opt-out of Medicare, but for those who may opt-out, it can be an intriguing option.
Unfortunately, opting-out of Medicare cannot be accomplished by simply not enrolling in the Medicare program. Because the entitlement to Medicare services technically belongs to the beneficiary, a provider who provides Medicare-covered services to Medicare beneficiaries generally must either bill Medicare for the services or opt-out. The provider generally cannot bill the beneficiary (other than co-pays, etc.) for Medicare-covered services because, among other reasons, the beneficiary may then be entitled to bill Medicare themselves for the covered services. These rules generally do not apply to services that are not covered by Medicare.
Therefore, a healthcare practitioner who intends to bill Medicare beneficiaries directly for services that would otherwise be covered by Medicare must undergo the formal process of opting-out of Medicare. First, the practitioner must submit a set of documents, including an affidavit, to the Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) in any jurisdiction in which they would otherwise submit Medicare claims. Second, the practitioner must enter into a “private contract” with every Medicare beneficiary to whom he or she provides Medicare-covered services. These “private contracts” are required to contain several specific terms in order to be effective. Once a provider opts-out, the opt-out is generally effective for two years. While a practitioner must opt-out for all patients and all services, opting-out generally does not affect a practitioner’s ability to order other items or services that are covered by Medicare or the practitioner’s group’s ability to bill Medicare.
A “private contract” by an opt-out practitioner can sometimes be incorporated into a general concierge medicine agreement with patients. However, any practitioner considering a concierge practice should also consider state law, as many states have laws that govern or restrict how a concierge practice can function. A Medicare opt-out or a concierge medicine model can involve complex issues across state and federal law, as well as the business and patient care considerations of the practice.
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 new developments in healthcare law and regulation. If you or your healthcare entity has any questions pertaining to opting-out of Medicare or healthcare compliance, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.