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.
SCF is generally available in appeals where the provider has requested an ALJ hearing or review by the Medicare Appeals Counsel but has not yet been assigned an ALJ or scheduled for hearing. SCF is essentially an opportunity to settle the case with HHS without having to litigate through the entire appeals process. Importantly, where a provider solicits a settlement offer through SCF, but then rejects the offer, the provider does not lose the right to continue through the appeals process. However, not every case is appropriate for SCF. Depending on the strength of a case and the position of the provider, some cases may be better litigated before the ALJ.
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 and appealing audits and claim denials. If you or your healthcare entity has any questions pertaining to healthcare compliance, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or email@example.com.