The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced that it intends to increase scrutiny on hospice providers as a result of increased reports and CMS findings suggesting potential hospice services fraud. CMS stated that it is strengthening its hospice program integrity strategy through actions such as site visits and proposed regulations to minimize impacts to Medicare beneficiaries.
As part of this revitalized focus on hospice integrity, CMS has highlighted several observed situations that it views with heightened scrutiny. Certain reports cited by CMS have supposedly identified instances of hospices certifying patients for hospice care when they were not terminally ill and providing little to no services to patients. CMS has also indicated that the listed address for some hospices appears to be non-operational. One particular alleged trend CMS has focused on is known as “churn and burn,” where a new hospice opens and starts billing, but once that hospice is audited or reaches its statutory yearly payment limit, it shuts down, keeps the money, buys a new Medicare billing number, transfers its patients over to the new Medicare billing number, and starts billing again.
In response to these purported findings, CMS embarked on a nationwide hospice site visit program, making unannounced site visits to every Medicare-enrolled hospice. As of mid-August 2023, CMS has visited over 7,000 hospices, and indicated that nearly 400 hospices are being considered for potential administrative action as a result. While many of these hospices may very well be able to demonstrate compliance with Medicare requirements, if CMS finds grounds to conclude that a hospice is allegedly non-compliant, this may result in significant consequences such as suspension or revocation. Further, CMS has noted that rapid hospice growth trends in four states – Arizona, California, Nevada, and Texas – has led the Centers to implement a provisional period of enhanced oversight in these states. During this provisional period, CMS plans to conduct medical reviews before making payments on claims submitted by newly enrolling hospices.
CMS has also introduced several proposed regulatory changes in connection with its focus on hospices, including proposals that would:
- Prohibit the transfer of the provider agreement and Medicare billing privileges of a new hospice for 36 months – similar to the existing rules for home health agencies;
- Clarify that the definition of “Managing Employee” on the Medicare enrollment application form includes the administrator and medical director of a hospice;
- Implement a hospice Special Focus Program (SFP) that would increase oversight of poor-performing hospices that have repeated cycles of serious health and safety deficiencies; and
- Include criminal background checks for owners upon initial Medicare enrollment.
In light of these actions and others connected to this increased scrutiny by CMS, hospice providers should make efforts to stay up to date regarding Medicare enrollment and billing requirements and best practices. Hospice providers may expect increased audit activity and other investigation and enforcement actions in the near future.
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 Medicare audits or healthcare compliance, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.