Articles Posted in Audit

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Nearly 4 years after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers continue to see payor audits and demands for repayment for services provided during the pandemic, primarily COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. While these services were an essential public function during the pandemic, constantly changing and often unclear rules and regulations governing the coverage of these services have created fertile ground for payors to allege after-the-fact that provider were not entitled to payment.

The issues asserted by payors tend to be systemic; that is, related to the process used by the provider rather than issues related to any unique characteristics of any specific claim. Therefore, these allegations often lead to demands that the provider pay back a significant portion of reimbursements for their COVID-19 services, often in the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.

COVID-19 audits tend to focus on a few common issues. Payors may audit providers based on the requirement for an “individualized clinical assessment,” including whether the ordering provider was authorized, whether the order for testing was within the scope of state law, whether the assessment was conducted by telemedicine or by a questionnaire, whether the ordering provider used a standing order, and what rules apply where a state does not or did not require an order for COVID-19 testing. The use of standing orders has become a particular point of contention, especially in cases where the practitioner who issued the standing order did not personally examine patients, was located offsite, or was under contract with and receiving reimbursement from the entity billing for the services.

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Both the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and its plethora of contractors rely on the mail to notify providers and suppliers of document requests, audit findings, disciplinary actions, and many other important items. Providers should be careful that their mailing addresses on file with Medicare are current and accurate. Failure to do so can result in the provider not receiving an important piece of correspondence and inadvertently causing significant consequences for the provider.

The Medicare Provider Enrollment, Chain, and Ownership System (PECOS) is the online Medicare enrollment management system. It allows individuals and entities to enroll as Medicare providers or suppliers. When a provider or supplier enrolls in Medicare, it must provide a series of addresses, including a correspondence address, medical review address, and payment address. Whether a provider enrolls online or uses a paper application, once the provider is enrolled, these addresses are stored in PECOS. In PECOS, a provider can check and edit their listed addresses. When CMS or a contractor needs to mail correspondence to the provider, they will look to PECOS for the address to use. As there are multiple address types listed in PECOS, which may list different addresses, the address selected may relate to the purpose of the correspondence, or a contractor may simply choose an address seemingly at random.

Items that may be sent to a provider’s address or addresses listed in PECOS may be Additional Documentation Requests (ADRs), notices of audits, notices of audit findings with appeal rights, and notices of disciplinary proceedings such as Medicare suspensions, revocations, and exclusions. A provider that does not receive one of these because of an incorrect address listed in PECOS may inadvertently fail to provide records, miss an appeal deadline, or otherwise miss the chance to address some action that Medicare takes against them. In general, where correspondence is sent to the address in PECOS, Medicare will assume that it was received and shift the responsibility to the provider to keep PECOS updated. Not receiving such mail can have devastating consequences for the provider and make subsequent appeal or remedials actions much more difficult.

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Medicare providers who use skin substitutes, allografts, and similar products for wound care are seeing a sharp increase in audits by Medicare contractors. These products often carry high reimbursement rates and require frequent reapplication. Therefore, they are seen by the Medicare program as high risk for improper payments or outright fraud. Providers who use these products or who are subjected to audit should know the consequences of an audit and that there are avenues to respond.

Many of these audits are conducted by Unified Program Integrity Contractors (UPICs), such as CoventBridge group. UPICs are Medicare contractors tasked with auditing providers for suspected fraud in claims submitted to the Medicare or Medicaid programs. Notably, UPICs are quick to deny claims and allege that the provider has committed fraud for any perceived noncompliance with documentation requirements, no matter how minor. A UPIC’s allegation of fraud can nonetheless have serious consequences for a provider, especially when not rebutted, but such allegations may be addressed through the timely appeal of claims denied by the UPIC.

Denial reasons in wound care audits generally include: the specific product was investigational or experimental, conservative treatment was not documented prior to application of the product, there is no documentation regarding why one product was chosen over another product or another course of treatment, the product was reapplied too many times or over too long a period, the patient did not show significant enough improvement to justify continued use, and that the product was not used for a “homologous use.” “Homologous use” is defined by statutes and regulations governing FDA approval for a product and generally means that tissue is used by the patient in the same manner as it was used by the donor. For example, auditors often claim that placental-derived products can only be used as a “wound covering” because the placenta “covers” the fetus, and that “wound healing” is a separate, inappropriate use. Each of these denial reasons can be addressed in the claims appeal process.

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