In May of 2014, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report detailing its findings regarding Medicare payments for evaluation and management (E/M) services. E/M services are performed by physicians in order to assess and manage a beneficiary’s health. The OIG found that coding errors in documents for routine patient E/M services have resulted in the Medicare program paying out billions of dollars in improper payments each year. Earlier in 2014, the OIG reported that the overall Medicare program lost about $50 billion during 2013. In conducting this study, 63 percent of the claims sampled by the OIG were for established patient office/outpatient visits. Only 4 percent of the visits the OIG analyzed were for initial or subsequent skilled nursing care.
The OIG reports that for the 2010 fiscal year, Medicare payments for E/M services totaled $32.3 billion, which accounted for almost 30 percent of all Part B payments. The OIG also noted that in 2012, physicians began to increase their billing of higher level codes, which resulted in higher payment amounts. In its report, the OIG found that 55 percent of E/M services were incorrectly coded and/or lacked sufficient documentation, including: 26 percent of E/M claims were up-coded; 15 percent of E/M claims were down-coded; 12 percent of E/M claims were insufficiently documented; and 7 percent of E/M claims were undocumented altogether. In order to ensure that payments for E/M services are properly coded and supported by sufficient documentation, the OIG made the following recommendations to CMS: (1) educate physicians on coding and documentation requirements for E/M services; (2) continue to encourage contractors to review E/M services billed for by high-coding physicians; and (3) follow up on claims for E/M services that were paid for in error.
As indicated by this report, providers can expect greater scrutiny of their E/M claims by CMS audit contractors. In our experience, CMS audit contractors routinely down-code the level of E/M service billed by providers. Often times, these services are down-coded because CMS determined that the level of E/M service billed is not supported by the accompanying medical records (e.g., the visit note did not support the level of medical decision making component required by the code that was billed). With the increased audit attention relating to E/M services, providers must ensure that they are thoroughly documenting the services provided, and that each component of the E/M service is supported by the medical record. Failure to do so could leave providers vulnerable to audit contractors.
If you are currently undergoing an audit by CMS and need assistance defending claim denials, or have questions about how to proactively prepare for an audit or mitigate audit risk, please contact an experienced health care attorney at Wachler & Associates via phone at 248-544-0888 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.