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Ninth Circuit Decides RAC Reopening is Not Subject to Appeal

On September 11, 2012 the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a Recovery Audit Contractor’s (RAC’s) initial decision to reopen a claim is not subject to judicial review. The case, Palomar Medical Center v. Sebelius, involved Palomar Medical Center arguing that a RAC has to establish good cause for an initial reopening decision. The Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, which held that the issue of good cause for reopening a claim cannot be raised after the audit’s conclusion and the revision of a paid claim.

Palomar v Sebelius.pdf

In 2007, the RAC notified Palomar that a claim from 2005 totaling $7,992.92 was under review and that records were requested to support medical necessity. Subsequently, after it submitted the requested documentation, Palomar was notified that an overpayment had been identified and the overpayment must be repaid. The overpayment was affirmed at the redetermination and reconsideration levels. Palomar then requested a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

The ALJ affirmed that the services were not medically necessary, but found that the RAC did not make a showing of good cause for the late reopening. Finally, the Medicare Appeals Council (MAC) decided that:

1. Neither the ALJ nor the MAC had jurisdiction to assess whether good cause existed for reopening because the RAC’s decision to reopen was not subject to the administrative appeals process, and
2. The services were not medically reasonable and necessary.

Palomar appealed to the District Court and then the Court of Appeals on the issue of reviewability of the reopening, but not on the issue of medical necessity of the services.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that because Congress established the RAC program, and expressly stated that reopenings were allowed under regulations promulgated by the Secretary, the regulations would control. Since the regulations explicitly state that there may be no appeal of a reopening decision because reopening decisions are final, the question of good cause to reopen a claim cannot be litigated after a RAC has revised a claim determination.

Although the court determined that the issue of good cause for reopening is not appealable, the court conceded that it was not an easy question to answer because of two competing principles: (1) Congress wanted an effective recovery audit program to reduce Medicare payments with resulting benefits for Medicare beneficiaries and taxpayers, under procedures set by the Secretary and (2) the provider has a legitimate interest in finality of determinations on its revenue for medical services. Despite the competing principles, the court ultimately concluded that to allow a provider to challenge the good cause for reopening during the appeals process could lead to the waste of resources and administrative inefficiency if the good cause was later rejected during the appeals process.

If you need help defending a RAC audit, or have questions about implementing a compliance plan, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at Wachler & Associates at 248-544-0888.

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