A proposed settlement agreement was filed in the federal District Court of Vermont on October 16, 2012 which, if approved, would clarify Medicare coverage for beneficiaries of skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), home health services (HH), and outpatient therapy services (OPT).
The settlement proposal is the result of Jimmo v. Sebelius, a class action lawsuit brought by a class of Medicare beneficiaries that challenges Medicare contractors’ consistent denials of home health services provided to Medicare beneficiaries because a beneficiary’s condition failed to improve or did not have the possibility for improvement. The home health provider community and Medicare beneficiary supporters have consistently advocated that Medicare contractors’ denial of home health services based on the alleged “improvement standard” was inconsistent with Medicare policy and regulations. The class action lawsuit challenged the “improvement standard” arguing that medically necessary home health services may be provided to Medicare beneficiaries with chronic conditions because although their conditions may not “improve,” the home health services will prevent the beneficiaries from deteriorating further. The proposed settlement, filed in October, includes provisions that would require the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to not only revise portions of the Medicare Manuals to clarify that an “improvement” requirement does not exist for medically necessary home health services, but to also educate Medicare contractors and other reviewers on the appropriate standards to apply when reviewing home health services.
Among the provisions of the settlement proposal are revisions to the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual. Revisions would be made to chapters 7, 8, and 15 of the manual, and would clarify coverage standards for SNF, HH, and OPT care to cover patients that have no improvement potential, but still need maintenance care in their current state of health. The clarified standards would allow for coverage of skilled SNF, HH, and OPT services for maintenance of a patient’s condition even if there is no restoration or improvement potential. Currently, most Medicare contractors consistently deny coverage for home health services that are provided to beneficiaries with no restoration or improvement potential. In addition to the revisions to the Medicare manuals, the proposed settlement would include two review periods for the plaintiffs to review changes to the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual before any of the terms are implemented as rules in the Medicare manuals. During the two review periods, 21 and 14 days respectively, Plaintiffs would be allowed to provide comments and suggestions which the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) must make a good faith effort to utilize.
CMS would also be required under the settlement agreement to engage in an educational campaign about the revisions for providers, suppliers, and contractors. The campaign would include written materials communicated via MLN Matters articles and program transmittals, as well as changes to CMS call center customer service scripts.
In addition to the educational materials, the settlement would also require CMS to hold an open door forum on the manual revisions, as well as hold two national calls. The two national calls, one for providers & suppliers and one for contractors & adjudicators, would communicate the policy clarifications related to the revisions.
The proposed settlement, if approved, would have a major impact on home health providers and Medicare beneficiaries. Consistently during the Medicare appeals process, on behalf of our clients we have advocated against Medicare contractors’ improper denial of home health services because the beneficiary did not “improve” during the certification period. Although we have experienced some success on behalf of our clients, particularly at the Administrative Law Judge hearing stage of appeal, the inconsistent standards applied by lower level Medicare contractors meant that our clients were forced to spend their time and resources appealing improper claim denials. If approved, the proposed settlement could eliminate inconsistent decisions and help facilitate home health care providers’ reimbursement for medically necessary services.
If you have questions about how, if approved, the proposed settlement agreement could affect you, or need assistance defending a Medicare contractor audit, please contact an experienced Wachler & Associates healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888.