Articles Posted in WAPC News

Published on:

In a recent court filing, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported that it has cleared approximately 79% of the Medicare appeals backlog. HHS is currently under court order to clear a backlog of hundreds of thousands of Medicare claims appeals pending before the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA).

Generally, a Medicare claim denial or overpayment demand may be appealed through five successive levels of appeals. First, Redetermination by a Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC), often the same MAC that denied the claims initially. Second, Reconsideration by a Qualified Independent Contractor (QIC). Third, appeal to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) employed by the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA), a subdivision of HHS, where the provider may be entitled to a hearing. Fourth, review by the Medicare Appeals Counsel, also within HHS. Fifth and finally, appeal to a federal district court.

The entire appeals process can take years and create difficulties for healthcare providers or suppliers. The least efficient part of the process has long been the wait, sometimes for three to five years, for an available ALJ to hear the appeal, at which point in the appeals process the only review of a contractor’s decisions has been by other contractors. This left providers in the difficult position of having significant overpayment demands based on incorrect decisions by contractors but having to wait years for independent review of their cases. This long wait also violated the regulations that govern the appeals process, which generally entitle a provider to an ALJ hearing within 90 days of the provider’s request for a hearing. At the height of the backlog, over 400,000 cases were pending at OMHA.

Published on:

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced the annual expansion of the Settlement Conference Facilitation (SCF) program. SCF is an alternate dispute resolution mechanism used to resolve Medicare claims appeals. However, because SCF is meant to help reduce the appeal backlog, only appeals filed before a certain date are eligible.  With the latest expansion, appeals involving requests for Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing or Medicare Appeal Council review filed on or before June 30, 2021 are now eligible for SCF.

Generally, a Medicare claim denial or overpayment demand may be appealed through five successive levels of appeals. First, Redetermination by a Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC), often the same MAC that denied the claims initially. Second, Reconsideration by a Qualified Independent Contractor (QIC). Third, appeal to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) employed by the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA), a subdivision of HHS, where the provider may be entitled to a hearing. Fourth, review by the Medicare Appeals Counsel, also within HHS. Fifth and finally, appeal to a federal district court.

The entire appeals process can take years and create difficulties for healthcare providers or suppliers. The least efficient part of the process has long been the wait for an available ALJ to hear the appeal, which can take three to five years, at which point the only prior review of a contractor’s decisions has been done by other contractors. This has left providers in the difficult position of having significant overpayment demands based on incorrect decisions by contractors but having to wait years for independent review of their cases. In response to this, HHS is now under court order to reduce this backlog of cases.

Published on:

On September 10, 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it would make $25.5 billion in new funding available for healthcare providers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This funding includes allocations of $8.5 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) for providers who provide services to rural Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or Medicare patients, as well as an additional $17 billion in Provider Relief Fund (PRF) Phase 4 funding for a broad range of providers who can document expenses and lost revenue associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

PRF Phase 4 payments are based on providers’ lost revenue and expenditures between July 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021, in conformity with the requirements of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2020 (CRRSAA). PRF Phase 4 is intended to reimburse smaller providers for their lost revenues and pandemic-related expenses at a higher rate compared to larger providers. This characteristic stems from the Biden Administration’s ongoing commitment to social equity, as smaller providers tend to operate on thinner margins and often serve vulnerable or isolated communities when compared to larger providers. Because Medicaid, CHIP, and Medicare patients tend to be lower income and have greater and more complex medical needs, PRF Phase 4 will also include bonus payments for providers who serve these individuals. HRSA will price these bonus payments at the generally higher Medicare rates to ensure equity amongst providers serving low-income children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and seniors. In parallel, HRSA will make ARP payments to providers based on the amount of Medicaid, CHIP, and/or Medicare services they provide to patients who live in rural areas as defined by the HHS Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. For both programs, HRSA will use existing Medicaid, CHIP, and Medicare claims data to calculate payments.

In order to streamline the application process, providers will apply for both the PRF and ARP programs in a single application. To help ensure that provider relief funds are used for patient care, PRF recipients will be required to notify the HHS Secretary of any merger with, or acquisition of, another healthcare provider during the period in which they can use the payments. Providers who report a merger or acquisition may be more likely to be audited to confirm their funds were used for pandemic-related expenses. The application portal will open on September 29, 2021. Moreover, HHS is also releasing detailed information about the methodology utilized to calculate PRF Phase 3 payments in order to promote transparency in the PRF program. Providers who believe their PRF Phase 3 payment was not calculated correctly according to this methodology will now have an opportunity to request a reconsideration. Specific details on the PRF Phase 3 reconsideration process have yet to be announced.

Published on:

Demonstrating its commitment to audit Provider Relief Fund (PRF) recipients, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has hired several outside contractors to provide audit or program integrity services relating to the PRF. The PRF is a $175 billion fund created by Congress through the CARES Act and administered by HHS (and its sub-agency the Health Resources and Services Administration or HRSA) to provide financial relief to healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. HHS has subdivided the PRF into various general and targeted distributions. These distributions were paid to providers in several waves between April 2020 and the present.

Publicly available contracts provide a glimpse into HHS’s actions regarding the PRF. Over the last year, HHS has contracted with KPMG to provide “program integrity support,” Kearney & Company to provide “PRF Audit support services,” and Creative Solutions Consulting to provide “audit and financial review services.” Combined, HHS has committed approximately $5.5 million to these contracts. Reports indicate HHS has hired PricewaterhouseCoopers and Grant Thornton, as well.

Although HHS’s retention of contractors is nothing new, these agreements signal to providers that HHS is not taking PRF reporting lightly. Providers who received and retained payments through the PRF are required to file reports justifying their use of the funds and documenting their compliance with the terms and conditions of the payments. Providers must report information on healthcare-related expenses attributable to coronavirus, lost revenue attributable to coronavirus, other pandemic assistance received, and administrative data. Providers who received more than $500,000 in aggregate payments are required to report some data elements in greater detail, including specific information regarding operations, personnel, supplies, equipment, facilities, and several other categories. Thus, some providers will be required to report significant amounts of financial information in considerable detail.

Published on:

The Biden Administration is planning to rescind the “Most Favored Nation” rule, which would have employed a model that required Medicare to pay no more for certain drugs than the price paid for those drugs by other developed nations. On September 13, 2020, former President Trump signed an executive order directing HHS to test payment models for Medicare Parts B and D in which Medicare would pay for certain drugs up to the “most favored nation” price, defined as “the lowest price, after adjusting for volume and differences in national gross domestic product, for a pharmaceutical product that the drug manufacturer sells in a member country of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that has a comparable per-capita gross domestic product.” On November 20, 2020, CMS issued an interim final rule to implement the executive order. However, on December 23, 2020, a federal court temporarily blocked the policy from taking effect on January 1, 2021 because the rule did not adhere to the notice and comment procedures required by the federal Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

In comments to the interim final rule, many hospitals and providers expressed opposition to the Most Favored Nation rule, claiming that the rule would impose unjustified expenses and place the entire burden of lowering drug prices on hospitals and providers rather than drug manufacturers or Medicare. Since the rule relies on price controls to lower drug spending, the rule was also opposed by drug manufacturers and fiscal conservatives who argued it would stifle innovation and access to new cures. If finalized, the rule would have created the CMS Innovation Center’s first nationwide mandatory experiment, which would represent a significant departure from the agency’s historical preference of testing new payment models among smaller subsets of healthcare organizations. Hospitals argued CMS does not have the power to execute such a large experiment, claiming the model “is not a test at all” and amounts to “the adoption of a nationwide policy for the highest expenditure drugs,” according to the Federation of American Hospitals (FAH). FAH also noted that the 50 drugs included in the model make up about 80% of the Medicare spending for Part B drugs. CMS left open the possibility for a future rule similar to the most favored rule, explaining that its decision to not move forward with the rule does not preclude the agency from pursuing a similar policy at a later date.

For over 35 years, Wachler & Associates has represented healthcare providers and suppliers nationwide in a variety of health law matters. If you or your healthcare entity has any questions pertaining to healthcare compliance, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or wapc@wachler.com.

Published on:

The first reporting deadline for the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) is less than two months away, the first batch of reports are due September 30, 2021. The PRF is a $175 billion fund created by Congress through the CARES Act and administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide financial relief to healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. HHS has subdivided the PRF into various general and targeted distributions. These distributions were paid to providers in several waves between April 2020 and the present.

In June 2021, HHS released long-awaited updates on the reporting requirements for entities that received payments from the PRF. These reporting requirements divided the payment based on when the provider received the payment and then set deadlines for reporting based on when the provider received the payment. Providers who received payments between April 10, 2020 and June 30, 2020, the first to receive payments, are required to file their reports by September 30, 2021. This time period includes most of the payments made under the Phase 1 General Distribution, some of the payments made under the Phase 2 General Distribution, and some payments made under the Target Distributions.  The reporting portal opened on July 1, 2021 and is currently available to these recipients.

Providers who received and retained payments through the PRF are required to file reports justifying their use of the funds. Providers must report information on healthcare-related expenses attributable to coronavirus, lost revenue attributable to coronavirus, other pandemic assistance received, and administrative data. Providers who received more than $500,000 in aggregate payments are required to report some data elements in greater detail, including specific information regarding operations, personnel, supplies, equipment, facilities, and several other categories. Some providers will be required to report significant amounts of financial information in significant detail, which may require time to compile or calculate. Further, HHS continues to update the guidance surrounding PRF reporting. Providers should be aware of the potential complexity of PRF reporting as the deadlines begin to approach.

Published on:

Important deadlines for hospitals to report cardiac medical device-related overpayments are fast approaching. Based on an audit by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), required hospitals to investigate and report any overpayments from the last six years related to manufacturing credits for replaced cardiac medical device implants. CMS’s deadlines to file these reports begin in August 2021.

Generally, where the manufacturer of a cardiac medical device implant, such as a pacemaker or defibrillator, replaces a recalls or defective device that is still under warranty, it will provide a replacement to the hospital without charge or issue a full or credit to the hospital for the cost of the device. Where the service involves a Medicare beneficiary and a hospital receives a discount or credit that is 50% or more of the cost, Medicare regulations generally require the hospital to report the credit to Medicare and accept reduced payment.

In November 2020, OIG issued a report regarding a review it conducted of 6,558 Medicare claims dated between January 1, 2015 and June 30, 2017. In its review, OIG obtained data on reportable warranty credits from the top three cardiac device manufacturers and compared this data to Medicare billing records to see whether the hospital had reported the credit to Medicare. As a result of its review, OIG alleged that over 900 hospitals had not properly reported manufacturing credits for recalled or defective cardiac medical device implants. OIG alleged that these hospitals had received approximately $33 million in Medicare overpayments and recommended that CMS recover these overpayments.

Published on:

On Friday July 9, President Biden signed an executive order focused on promoting competition in the U.S. economy. The comprehensive executive order contained many provisions relating to the healthcare industry, including directives to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support price transparency rules issued by the Trump Administration and instructions to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to prioritize hospital consolidation in its enforcement efforts. Under the order, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FTC are encouraged to “vigorously” enforce antitrust laws, even on past mergers that previous administrations have not challenged. The order includes specific provisions that address competition among hospitals, health insurers, prescription drugmakers, and hearing aid manufacturers.

HHS is directed by the order to support existing hospital price transparency regulations issued by the Trump Administration, which require hospitals to disclose cash prices and rates negotiated with insurers, as well as finish implementing bipartisan federal legislation to address surprise hospital billing. This directive may be spurred by recent reports that hospital compliance with these regulations has been inconsistent. The order further directs the HHS to standardize plan options in the national health insurance marketplace so people can comparison shop more easily.

The FDA is called upon to work with states and tribal programs to safely import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, pursuant to the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, in an attempt to lower prices for consumers. Provisions in the order similarly call on HHS to increase support for generic and biosimilar drugs and to create a plan within 45 days to address high drug prices and price gouging. The order asks the FTC to ban “pay for delay” and similar agreements by rule, under which brand-name drugmakers pay generic drugmakers to abstain from the market. Moreover, the executive order would also allow hearing aids to be sold over the counter and directs HHS to issue a rule on the matter within 120 days. Hospitals and other healthcare should understand the implications these directives may have as implementation of the executive order unfolds in the coming weeks and months.

Published on:

On June 11, 2021, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released long-awaited updates on the reporting requirements for entities that received payments from the Provider Relief Fund (PRF). HHS also pushed back the deadline for some recipients of PRF payments to use the funds. The PRF is a $175 billion fund created by Congress through the CARES Act and administered by HHS to provide financial relief to healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. HHS has subdivided the PRF into various general and targeted distributions.

Initially, the PRF reporting portal had been scheduled to open on January 15, 2021, with the first reports initially being due on February 15, 2021. However, HHS has repeatedly pushed these dates back. For the last several months, provides have been able to register and log into the reporting portal, but have been unable to file reports. Moreover, PRF recipients had previously been told that all PRF payments must be used by June 30, 2021. As June 30, 2021 approached, and no new reporting guidance or timeline had been released, providers and industry groups began to call for HHS to push back the deadline by which PRF funds must be used.

The new reporting guidance pushed this date back for some, but not all, recipients. The deadline to use the funds, as well as the reporting deadline, is now dependent on when the recipient received the payment.

Published on:

A St. Louis, Missouri based chiropractor has become the first person charged under the new COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, with the government alleging numerous civil violations and seeking civil monetary penalties. The allegations serve as a cautionary tale for healthcare providers marketing and selling goods and services relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act was enacted in December 2020 and makes it unlawful, for the duration of the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency, for any person, partnership, or corporation to engage in unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce that are associated with the treatment, cure, prevention, mitigation, or diagnosis of COVID-19. The Act is similar to Section 5(a) of the FTC Act, but adds increased penalties for violations relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Act authorizes injunctive relief and Civil Monetary Penalties of up to $42,792 per violation.

In this case, the first under the Act, the government alleged that the chiropractor and his company violated the Act by making claims about the efficacy of their products that were not supported by scientific literature. Specifically, that the chiropractor sold various vitamin supplements and claimed that they prevented or treated COVID-19. The government also alleged that the chiropractor claimed the vitamin supplements were more effective that the available COVID-19 vaccines. The government alleged that the chiropractor made these claims in numerous videos posted on various social media and other websites and misrepresented the results of studies concerning the efficacy of the vitamin supplements in treating or preventing COVID-19. According to the allegations, these claims constituted violations of the Act because, even though there are studies showing correlation between vitamin deficiencies and elevated risk from the virus, there are no randomized clinical trials that establish the vitamin supplements caused positive health outcomes in connection with COVID-19.

Contact Information