A new study supports the growing perception that clinical laboratories will see an increase in audits from commercial insurance companies as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes. These audits will likely focus on a few particular areas of the COVID-19 testing services that clinical labs have developed and provided over the past two years.
The study reviewed lab revenue in Hawaii from May to December 2020 and is likely applicable to labs in other insurance markets. The study indicated strong growth in lab revenue from PCR tests and significant profit margins from PCR tests. Because federal law, namely the CARES Act, requires commercial insurers to cover COVID-19 testing without co-pays or other costs to the beneficiary, this increase in lab revenue will generally translate to higher costs for insurance companies. Further, when Congress passed the CARES Act, it did not provide funding to insurance companies for this coverage mandate. Many have long predicted that this would lead to increased costs for insurers, which would likely be passed on to members through higher premiums. Many insurance companies have pushed back against this coverage mandate since it was enacted.
Part of the pushback from commercial insurance companies has been to audit labs in an effort to deny claims for COVID-19 testing and to claw-back funds paid to labs for COVID-19 testing. These audits tend to focus on one or more of several issues: testing for a covered purpose, testing for travel, individualized clinical assessments, standing orders, posted cash prices, and collection codes. Some labs are particularly vulnerable to these audits because, during the pandemic, many labs rushed to invest and develop COVID-19 testing capability and capacity. Meanwhile, guidance regarding the CARES Act and the circumstances under which insurance companies are required to cover COVID-19 testing came out piecemeal and changed frequently as it developed. Due to these factors, labs may have high volumes of tests that represent a good-faith, best effort at complying with the CARES Act at the time the tests were performed, but may have compliance vulnerabilities as the law is currently understood.
Many labs have already seen significant audit activity from commercial insurers and should expect to see more as the urgency of the pandemic fades and insurers seek to recoup their losses. There are many strategies that labs can employ, whether the lab is responding to an audit of its claims for COVID-19 testing or is reviewing its procedure to proactively address these issues. An experienced healthcare attorney can assist labs in navigating the process.
For over 35 years, Wachler & Associates has represented healthcare providers and suppliers nationwide in a variety of health law matters. If you or your healthcare entity has any questions pertaining to a clinical lab audits or healthcare compliance, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or email@example.com.