Articles Posted in Compliance

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Settlement Conference Facilitation (SCF) is an alternative dispute resolution process which provides appellants and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) an opportunity to discuss a mutually agreeable resolution for claims appealed to the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) or Medicare Appeals Council (Council) levels of appeal. SCF is a one-day mediation, in which an OMHA facilitator assists the appellant and CMS in negotiating a lump-sum settlement on eligible claims, without making official determinations of fact or law.

OMHA has modified the program’s eligibility criteria for appellants and appeals under the new expanded program, which was officially released June 15, 2018. For appellants, any Medicare Part A or Part B provider or supplier (with an assigned National Provider Identifier number) is eligible for participation, so long as that provider or supplier has not filed for bankruptcy or expects to file for bankruptcy in the future; does not have past or current False Claims Act litigation or investigations against them or other program integrity concerns such as civil, criminal or administrative investigations; and has either: (1) 25 or more eligible appeals pending at OMHA and the Council combined, or (2) less than 25 eligible appeals pending at OMHA or the Council and at least one appeal has more than $9,000 in billed charges.

The updated appeals eligibility criteria are as follows:

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The Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) has been sending notices to providers recently, suggesting that the providers have been billing incorrectly, leading to overpayments from Medicare. The alleged issue stems from the billing of extremity venous studies. When performing these studies, providers will often bill under HCPCS Codes 93970 or 93971 and 93965 for the same patient on the same date of service.

The reporting requirements are unclear, and there are no bundling edits to stop practices from reporting both services for the same patient on the same day. Nevertheless, the OIG has been notifying providers that they are looking into the billing of both codes on the same dates of service, implicating that providers have been billing fraudulently.

The 2016 CPT Code Book describes the codes as the following:

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On May 24, 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a $23.85 million settlement with Pfizer, Inc., to settle anti-kickback claims against the company. The settlement arose after an investigation led by U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, which looked into the drug industry’s support of patient assistance charities. Pfizer is now among a group of multiple drug companies (Celgene Corp., Aegerion Pharmaceuticals, and Jazz Pharmaceuticals) who have settled with the Department of Justice for their use of patient assistance charities. Pfizer also signed a five-year monitoring agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, and is required to implement measures to ensure that its arrangements with patient assistance charities are in compliance with the law

Pfizer was allegedly using an “independent” charity to pay illegal kickbacks to Medicare patients, covering out of pocket costs for prescription drugs. Pfizer made donations to Patient Access Network Foundation (PAN), a copay assistance nonprofit organization, and used a specialty pharmacy, Advanced Care Scripts, to direct Medicare patients taking its drugs toward the foundation to cover their copays.

The scheme centered around three drugs, two for kidney cancer (Sutent and Inyalta), and one for arrhythmia (Tikosyn). Pfizer was allegedly aware that PAN used their donations to cover the copays of patients taking these drugs. In fact, PAN and the pharmacy would notify Pfizer when patients using these drugs got the copay assistance. Price increases of the drugs were concealed from patients but left Medicare with a higher bill.

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On May 7, 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) released a proposed rule that would rebrand the current Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Records (“EHR”) Incentives program into the Promoting Interoperability program (“PI”).

The EHR incentives program, created in 2011, encouraged eligible providers to adopt, implement, upgrade and demonstrate meaningful use of certified electronic health record technology (“CEHRT”). This program awarded over 544,000 health care providers with payment by February 2018.

With the great success of the incentives program, CMS is proposing changes that would create more transparency between patients and providers through greater access to health care information. To relieve burden to patients, and increase the ability to exchange health information among providers and patients, sharing and extracting files across systems is a new CEHRT requirement. Moreover, it will support increased patient access to their personal health information through secure email transmissions. The proposed PI program would also provide patients access to hospital price information via the internet.

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Urine drug testing is medical protocol for patients prescribed opioid drugs in order to monitor compliance and expose possible drug abuse or diversion.  In the wake of the opioid crisis, there has been an increase in the frequency and cost of urine drug tests, resulting in a corresponding increase in spending by Medicare and private insurance on such tests.  Between 2011 and 2014, spending on urine drug screens and genetic tests by Medicare and private insurance quadrupled to an estimated $8.5 billion per year.

The increase in the cost of urine drug tests is attributable to more expensive and high-tech ways of running the tests.  Presently, laboratories are moving away from simple urine screenings and installing machines for urine drug tests. There is a financial incentive attached to machine tests; under Medicare rules, each drug tested for within a single specimen validity test may be billed individually.

The spike in reimbursement by Medicare and private insurance has caught the attention of the federal government.  In 2010, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) imposed stricter rules on billing for simple urine screens; however, these rules do not cover machine testing.  In addition, in 2011, the federal government settled with Millennium Health, LLC, one of the largest urine drug testing laboratories in the United States, for $256 million after it was alleged to have billed medically unnecessary urine drug and genetic tests.

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In March of 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report titled “Many Medicare Claims for Outpatient Physical Therapy Services Did Not Comply With Medicare Requirements[summary] (the “Report”) identifying millions of dollars of overpayments for outpatient physical therapy services and signaling potential for increased governmental scrutiny to practitioners within the discipline.

The Report revealed that an audit found $367 million in improper payments for outpatient physical therapy services between July 1 and December 31, 2013. The finding was based upon data extrapolation, in which the OIG reviewed 300 sample claims and determined that 184 of the claims (61.33%) did not comply with Medicare requirements for medical necessity, documentation, or coding.

The OIG directly faulted the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) for the overpayments, finding that the current controls in place are insufficient to prevent improper payments to providers. The OIG issued three recommendations to CMS in order to prevent future incorrect expenditures:

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On March 22, 2018, the latest development in American Hospital Association (AHA) v. Azar (formerly referred to as AHA v Burwell) emerged as Judge Boasberg issued an order to have the AHA develop strategies to assist the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in reducing the Medicare appeals backlog. The request comes in response to a lack of effective action by HHS to reduce the number of backlogged appeals.

Major events in the case include:

  • May 22, 2014: Initial complaint filed by the AHA, alleging that HHS was violating Federal law by failing to process appeals within the legally-mandated timeframes. The problem was and continues to be highlighted at the administrative law judge (ALJ) level of appeals, where wait times for the processing of claims regularly takes years;
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On December 22, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a $32.3 million settlement (the Settlement) with Kmart Corporation, to settle False Claim Act (FCA) allegations against the company. The Settlement was based upon allegations that Kmart’s in-store pharmacies misled government payers by knowingly failing to report discounted prices and representing its drug prices as being higher than what was offered to the general public. Per the Settlement, Kmart does not admit to any wrongdoing.

The Settlement arises from a whistleblower suit filed in 2008. The suit alleged that Kmart failed to report discounted drug prices to Medicare Part D, Medicaid, and TRICARE. To determine reimbursement rates for medications, the government generally relies on a pharmacy’s “usual and customary prices” charged to consumers. According to the allegations, Kmart offered discounts to certain cash-paying customers but did not disclose those discounted prices when reporting its pricing to the government. Kmart argued that the special discount prices offered to a limited consumer base did not constitute “usual and customary” costs, but this argument was rejected in favor of increased transparency by pharmacies.

The Settlement sends a message to pharmacies regarding the importance of transparency, and that even prices offered only to a limited number of patients should be reported to the government. According to Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler of the DOJ, “This settlement should put pharmacies on notice that there will be consequences if they attempt to improperly increase payments from taxpayer-funded health programs by masking the true prices that they charge the general public for the same drugs.” The whistleblower who brought the original suit will receive $9.3 million of the $32.3 million settlement, potentially sending a strong message to prospective whistleblowers as well.

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On August 11, 2017, a further development came in the Medicare appeals backlog saga, as the D.C. Circuit Court reached a decision on the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS’) appeal to the case American Hospital Association (AHA) v Burwell. The decision (“Appeal Decision”) handed down last week was decidedly pro-HHS, and is a setback for the AHA and healthcare providers with appeals pending at the administrative law judge (ALJ) level. The Appeal Decision has the potential to completely undo any progress created by the original December decision.

The Circuit Court came to a 2-1 decision, ordering the District Court to reconsider its mandate that HHS completely eliminate the Medicare appeal backlog by the end of 2020. The Circuit Court based its decision on the idea that the District Court decision had the potential of mandating that HHS violate its legal duty to only pay out legitimate Medicare claims. HHS is required to “protect” the Medicare trust fund, and in the process taxpayer dollars. However, HHS is also required by law to process ALJ appeals within 90 days, a duty which has gone unmet for years and was the basis of the District Court’s decision.

The AHA filed its initial suit in 2014, and after being initially dismissed, the AHA received a favorable decision in December 2016, a decision that is now in jeopardy of being undone. The December decision dictated certain yearly “targets” for HHS and the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to meet regarding decreases to the number of backlogged appeals at the ALJ level. HHS objected to these benchmarks, and in fact to any mandated reduction, based on several arguments, including that the backlog cannot be eliminated without arbitrary settlements regardless of the actual merits of the claims.

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In July 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) revealed its plans to review the $14.6 billion in incentive payments the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) made to hospitals between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2016, pursuant to Medicare’s electronic health record (EHR) technology program. The OIG plans to review these payments in order to identify errors and inaccuracies which may have resulted in overpayments to hospitals

This announcement comes less than a month after the June report from the OIG, titled “Medicare Paid Hundreds of Millions in Electronic Health Record Incentive Payments That Did Not Comply with Federal Requirements (the “Report”) (an official OIG summary is available here). The Report was based upon a review of EHR Incentive Program payments made to 100 professionals, which found 14 improper payments in the amount of $291,222. Extrapolating these results, the OIG estimated a total of $729.4 million in improper payments to the over 250,000 EHR incentive eligible providers in the CMS system. According to the OIG, the $729 million figure is roughly 12% of the total payments made in connection with the EHR incentive program. A majority of the 14 improper payments discovered during the OIG’s review were based on providers failing to maintain accurate and detailed records—an issue which often arises with Medicare overpayments.

The OIG completed its report by making several recommendations to CMS: