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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for bloglogo2.jpgOne of the best “investments” available today is the current 10.5% rate of interest paid by CMS on money improperly held by its contractors. The rules on when CMS will pay interest and how appeals affect interest paid on amounts recouped are set forth in 42 C.F.R. § 405.378 and 42 C.F.R § 450.379.

us check.jpgMedicare pays and charges interest from the date of a “final determination,” which is defined in §405.378(c) and generally is the date of the written advice of payment or demand for repayment. Interest starts to accrue 30 days after the notice date and is calculated in 30 day increments thereafter. This means if CMS pays or is repaid the full amount due within 30 days, there will be no interest. If CMS pays or is repaid on the 45th day, the interest due is that calculated as of the 30th day, not the 45th day.

The interest rate applied to the amount due is the higher of the rate fixed by the Secretary of the Treasury after taking into consideration private consumer rates of interest prevailing on the date of final determination or the current value of funds rate. This means that if, for example, the ALJ overturns a repayment demand that has been previously recouped or repaid, the interest rate applied to the amount repaid by CMS is the interest rate in effect on the date of the ALJ’s decision, not the rate in effect on the date of the initial repayment demand. A list of the interest rates paid by CMS since February 2001 is here so you can verify that the MAC is using the correct rate in calculating the interest due.

Section 405.378(g) provides that in the event of partial payments made over time, the amount paid is first applied to the outstanding interest and then to the principal, the same method used by credit card companies when the bill is not paid in full.

How do Requests for Redetermination by a MAC and Reconsideration by a QIC Affect the Interest Paid?

Pursuant to 42 C.F.R. § 405.942(a), a provider may seek a redetermination of an initial 544232_calendar_series_4.jpgrepayment demand “[w]ithin 120 calendar days from the date a party receives the notice of the initial determination.” However, if the amount claimed to be due has not been promptly repaid in full, § 405.379(d) permits a Medicare contractor to begin recouping the amount due from other amounts CMS owes the provider 41 days after the date of the initial repayment demand. Recoupment can be prevented or stopped, however, by a provider request for redetermination. If the provider is unsuccessful, 42 C.F.R. § 405.962(a) provides that a request for reconsideration to a QIC may “[b]e filed within 180 calendar days from the date the party receives the notice of the redetermination.” If the request for reconsideration is filed within 60 days of the adverse redetermination notice, recoupment continues to be stayed pursuant to §455.379(e)(ii). If no request for reconsideration is filed within 60 days, recoupment may be resumed, but will be stopped again by filing a reconsideration request at any time during the 180 day period. Recoupment will resume if the decision of the QIC is unfavorable.

If the provider is successful at either the 1st or 2nd level appeal, it is entitled to interest on any money held by the Medicare contractor for more than 30 days, whether received by payment from the provider or by way of recoupment. However, §405.378(j) imposes an interest penalty on providers who do not immediately pay the amount demanded in full and are not successful until appealing to an ALJ or the Medicare Appeals Council.


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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for bloglogo2.jpgCMS has entered into contracts with numerous auditing companies to review provider billing for various purposes. As time goes by, it is more and more likely that billings submitted by almost every Medicare provider will be subject to review by one or more of these audit contractors. Set forth below is a brief description of the auditing functions of the various CMS auditors.

Medicare Administrative Contractors

auditor.jpgAccording to Chapter 3 of the Medicare Program Integrity Manual (PIM), in addition to their claims processing functions, Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) have the authority to review any claim prior to payment. MACs have the discretion to select target areas because of:

  • High volume of services;
  • High cost;
  • Dramatic change in frequency of use and/or
  • High risk problem-prone areas

What this means is that a MAC, unlike a RAC, does not have to obtain CMS’ approval of what procedures it will subject to prepayment review. Also, there is currently no limitation, other than the MACs discretion, as to how many Additional Document Requests (ADR) a MAC may make.

If the MAC feels that a certain procedure is being miscoded or that there is no medical necessity for a procedure, it will conduct a prepayment review of each claim submitted for extended periods of time. This means the provider will be subject to ongoing requests for records and suffer a substantial negative impact to its current cash flow.

Recovery Audit Contractors

A demonstration Recovery Audit program was authorized by § 306 of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 and conducted from March 2005 to March 2008, in six states, to determine if Recovery Auditors could effectively be used to identify improper payments for claims paid under Medicare Part A and Part B. The Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 made the program permanent and expanded it to cover the entire country. To implement the program, CMS divided the country into four regional areas.

The RACs are responsible for identifying improper payments for:

  • Items or services that do not meet Medicare’s coverage and medical necessity criteria.
  • Items that are incorrectly coded and
  • Services where the supporting documentation submitted does not support the ordered service.

keyboard.jpgAutomated reviews conducted by the RACs typically focus on DME, physician and outpatient claims and do not require the production of additional records by the provider. Complex reviews, which do involve the production of additional medical records by the provider, involve coding issues, Diagnosis Related Group (DRG) validations and medical necessity reviews. CMS must approve the issue a RAC wants to review and has imposed limits on the number of medical records a RAC may request. Each RAC has established a website that lists, among other things, the claims that have been approved for audit.

CMS recently announced that a three year RAC pre-payment review demonstration project will begin on August 27, 2012. CMS conducted an Open Door Forum on August 9, 2012 to discuss the operation of this new program. The transcript of the Open Door Forum can be found here

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for bloglogo2.jpgIn Part 1 of this post, I provided a brief history of the evolution of the Medicare and Medicaid RAC programs and highlighted provider concerns with the contingent fee part of the program. In this post, I will discuss why I believe that the contingent fee process developed by CMS does not comply with the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and why, if this argument is presented in a proper case, there is a significant possibility that a Federal Court will issue an injunction stopping the program and order the return of the money paid to CMS in response to RAC demands.

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Among other protections afforded by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution is the guarantee that the Federal Government may not deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. A basic tenet of due process is conceptualized in the Latin phrase “nemo iudex in causa sua” which translates to “no one should be a judge in his own cause.”

supreme_court.jpgThe United States Supreme Court has considered on a number of occasions the circumstances under which the receipt of money by a judge or other decision maker violates due process. It has held that a litigant’s right to due process is violated when the mayor of a town receives a portion of the fines he imposes while acting as a judge. It has also held that a litigant’s right to due process is violated where fines imposed by a mayor while acting as a judge represent a significant portion of his town’s revenue, even though the mayor did not directly receive any part of the fine. In a recent decision, the Court held that due process required a justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court to not participate in an appeal involving a company in which the company and its CEO had contributed significant amounts of money to the justice’s campaign for election to the court. This quotation from the Supreme Court’s opinion in Tumey v. Ohio succinctly sums up why money perverts due process:

Every procedure which would offer a possible temptation to the average man as a judge to forget the burden of proof required to convict the defendant, or which might lead him not to hold the balance nice, clear, and true between the State and the accused denies the latter due process of law.

Why the Contingent Fee Arrangement between CMS and the RACs Violates Due Process

corrupt1.jpgThe structure of the program created by CMS gives to the RACs the sole and unreviewable authority to create, from a previously paid claim, a provider overpayment and the right to demand payment from the provider. It is through these actions, taken solely by the RACs, that the RACs create their income. If they want to make more money, they create more overpayments; if they want to make less, they find fewer overpayments. In my opinion, this direct link between the RAC’s income and its decision as to whether a specific claim was improperly billed might lead them not to hold “the balance nice, clear, and true between the State [CMS] and the accused [provider]” as the Tumey Court noted and why the RAC program denies the latter due process of law.

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for bloglogo2.jpgTo date, most of the discussion about the RACs has revolved around the merits of an individual claim and the repayment demand appeal process, including whether the RACs have to establish good cause at an ALJ hearing to justify the reopening of a claim more than 1 year old.

Fifth_amd.jpgPart 1 of this post provides a brief history of the evolution of the Medicare and Medicaid RAC programs and highlights provider concerns with the contingent fee part of the program. In Part 2, I will discuss why I believe that the contingent fee process developed by CMS does not comply with the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and why, if this argument is presented in a proper case, there is a significant possibility that a Federal Court will issue an injunction stopping the program and order the return of the money paid to CMS in response to RAC demands.

A brief history of RAC contingent fees.

In § 306(a) of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003, Congress directed CMS to 1124695_per_cent_2.jpgconduct a project to demonstrate the use of recovery audit contractors in identifying underpayments and overpayments under Parts A and B of Medicare and to recoup overpayments. Congress further provided that payment may be made to the RACs on a contingent basis from amounts they recovered. In § 302 of the Tax Relief and Healthcare Act of 2006, 42 U.S.C. § 1395ddd(h), Congress made the recovery audit program permanent and directed it be expanded to all fifty (50) states by January 1, 2010. Congress also directed that the RACs be paid on a contingent basis out of funds recovered by the RACs from overpayments, and in such amounts as the Secretary specified for the identification of underpayments.
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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for bloglogo2.jpgPart 1 of this post provided information on the number of appeals being filed by providers from RAC repayment demands and, for those appeals already decided, the extraordinary success providers have had in getting RAC decisions overturned. In some cases, the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) opens the door to the recovery of the fees and costs incurred by the provider in prosecuting the appeal if the provider prevailed in an “adversary adjudication” before an ALJ, and if the position of CMS was not “substantially justified.”

What is an “adversary adjudication?” – Handron v. Secretary Department of Health and Human Services

Psychologist.jpgIn 2003, Dr. Handron, a psychologist, received a demand to repay $604,038 from a Medicare contractor because his documentation did not support the services billed. The amount to be repaid was extrapolated from a nurse’s review of 2,500 of Dr. Handron’s claims. Dr. Handron retained counsel and after losing his initial appeal, appealed to an ALJ. The ALJ determined that of the 2,500 claims reviewed by the nurse, Dr. Handron had been overpaid only $5,434.48 and that because the statistical sampling procedure used by the contractor was unreliable, the extrapolation was invalid. Although the ALJ requested that a representative of the contractor or CMS appear as a non-party participant at the hearing, none did so. However, again at the ALJ’s request, CMS did provide the ALJ with documents related to the sampling procedure and extrapolation used by the contractor.

After prevailing on the vast majority of the claims in his appeal, Dr. Handron filed an application for fees and expenses under the EAJA. The ALJ, the Medicare Appeals Council and the District Court all denied Dr. Handron’s claim based upon a HHS regulation found at 45 CFR § 13.3 that defines an “adversary adjudication” as one in which CMS is represented by counsel at the ALJ hearing. The Third Circuit disregarded the regulation and held that:

[C]ongress chose language that left open the possibility that the government’s position could be represented in some other manner and by someone other than a lawyer. This indicates Congress’s recognition that the position of the United States can be represented in many ways and its desire to grant judges some discretion in determining whether particular action “represents” the government’s position. It does not suggest that the government’s position can only be represented at a hearing if a government representative physically stands before the decision-maker…
Accordingly, we have little doubt that some forms of written advocacy submitted to an ALJ can constitute a representation of the government’s position, so as to make an agency proceeding an “adversary adjudication” for purposes of the EAJA.

images (1).jpgAlthough Dr. Handron won the attorney battle, he lost the war when the Court held that something more than the provision by CMS of the claim files and documents explaining the statistical sampling methodology was required to make his ALJ proceeding an “adversary adjudication.” The Court held that for an ALJ proceeding to be an adversary adjudication, the Government must engage in:

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for bloglogo2.jpgAccording to the latest statistics from CMS, between October 1, 2010 and September 30, 2011, Part A providers filed 27,158 appeals from RAC repayment demands while 20,406 appeals were filed by Part B providers and an additional 9,056 appeals were filed by DME companies. The FY 2011 budget of the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that in FY 2011, Medicare ALJs would receive 282,000 non-RAC appeals and an additional 54,000 RAC specific appeals. Because of delays in the nationwide implementation of the RAC program, the Department’s FY 2012 budget estimates that only 41,000 RAC specific appeals will be filed with the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals by September 30, 2012. In FY 2011, CMS reports that of the Part A appeals decided, 6,226 were favorable to the provider, 14,352 Part B appeals were decided favorably and 3,930 DME appeals were favorably decided. CMS did not, however, provide the total number of appeals decided in any category, so it is impossible to calculate the provider’s “win” percentage from the CMS data.

In addition to CMS, the American Hospital Association, through its RACTrac Initiative, has been compiling data on the impact of RAC audits on its members. In its 1st Quarter 2012 report, the AHA reports that its data shows that through the first quarter of 2012, reporting hospitals have appealed 61,729 RAC repayment demands. Of the appeals decided so far, the hospitals have won 75% of the appeals, but 71% of all the appeals are still awaiting a decision.

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for bloglogo2.jpgOn July 25, 2012, CMS modified the text of its announcement of the Recovery Audit Pre-payment Review demonstration by changing the start of the demonstration from summer 2012 to August 27, 2012. CMS also announced that it will hold a Special Open Door Forum on an as yet unannounced date in August.

The history of the demonstration

implement-emr-1.jpgCMS first announced the Pre-payment Review demonstration on November 15, 2011. In a Fact Sheet released that day, CMS stated that the demonstration would begin on January 1, 2012 and last three years. During the demonstration, Recovery Auditors will review provider billing before payment is made for selected claim types chosen by CMS in FL, CA, MI, TX, NY, LA, IL, PA, OH, NC and MO and deny payment if they decide the billing is improper. The initial claim types selected by CMS for review were:

  • MS-DRG 069 Transient Ischemia;
  • MS-DRG 312 Syncope & Collapse;
  • MS-DRG 377 G.I. Hemorrhage W MCC;
  • MS-DRG 378 G.I. Hemorrhage W CC;
  • MS-DRG 379 G.I. Hemorrhage W/O CC/MCC;
  • MS-DRG 637 Diabetes W MCC;
  • MS-DRG 638 Diabetes W CC; and
  • MS-DRG 639 Diabetes W/O CC/MCC

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for bloglogo2.jpgOn July 18, 2012 the HHS Inspector General released an audit entitled Review of Medicare Payments Exceeding Charges For Outpatient Services Processed by Wisconsin Physicians Service Insurance Corporation in Jurisdiction 5 For The Period January 1 2006 Through June 30, 2009. The audit analyzed 2,197 line items on claims for outpatient services paid by Wisconsin Physicians Service (WPS) in which the amount paid by Medicare was more than $1,000 greater than the provider’s bill and in which the line item billed for more than 3 units of service. The audit found, among other things, that incorrect units of service were reported on 1,182 line items resulting in overpayments to the providers of at least $4,411,569.

stock-photo-14852469-paid-invoice.jpgExamples cited by the OIG include one provider who billed Medicare for an incorrect number of service units on 114 line items in which the provider billed between 640 and 656 service units rather than the correct 32 service units. As a result of these errors, WPS paid the provider $219,518 when it should have paid $10,097, an overpayment of $209,421.

Another provider billed Medicare for an incorrect number of service units on 72 line items. Rather than billing between 1 and 3 service units, the provider billed between 42 and 45 service units. WPS paid the provider $178,308 when it should have paid $7,941, an overpayment of $170,367.

1314903_medical_doctor.jpgWhen questioned by the OIG about the errors, the providers attributed the incorrect payments to clerical errors or to billing systems that could not prevent or detect the incorrect billing of units of service and other types of billing errors.

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for bloglogo2.jpgIn an earlier post, I discussed the case of Palomar Medical Center v. Sebelius presently pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In Palomar, the District Court agreed with CMS that pursuant to the regulations governing administrative appeals, Palomar could not raise and an ALJ could not decide whether “good cause” existed for the RAC to reopen a claim paid more than one year earlier. After hearing oral argument, the Ninth Circuit issued an order inviting the submission of amicus (friend of the court) briefs on the questions of (1) whether the regulations bar administrative review of a RACs compliance with the “good cause” standard and (2) if the regulations do bar administrative review, may the federal courts enforce RAC compliance with the “good cause” requirement. According to CMS, the response to the second question is no because a federal court can only review a “final decision” of an agency and there has been not yet been a final decision on this question. The amicus brief submitted by the AMA and supplemental briefs submitted by the parties may be found on this webpage established by the Ninth Circuit.

St. Francis Hospital v. Sebelius

1334532_ambulance.jpgAs part of the RAC demonstration project, Connolly Consulting reopened 225 paid claims submitted by St. Francis Hospital and then demanded, through St. Francis’ fiscal intermediary, Empire Medical Services (now NGS), repayment of $1.2 million dollars. St. Francis appealed each claim and as of the time it filed its Complaint in federal court, had won 104 of its appeals with 15 appeals still pending before an ALJ. Like Palomar, St. Francis sought to raise before the ALJ and the Medicare Appeals Council the RAC’s compliance with the “good cause” standard and like in Palomar, the ALJ and Medicare Appeals Council refused to consider this issue based on 42 CFR 926(l).

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Thumbnail image for bloglogo2.jpgPalomar Medical Center v. Sebelius involves a claim paid more than one year before it was reopened during a RAC audit. After losing the first two appeals, the hospital convinced an ALJ that the RAC had not shown it had good cause to reopen the claim. However, when the Medicare Appeals Counsel (MAC) reviewed the ALJ’s decision, it concluded, based on its interpretation of the relevant regulations, that the ALJ had no authority to review the RAC’s decision to reopen the claim.

68918_law_education_series_3.jpgThe relevant regulations, which are not easy to make sense of, appear in Title 42 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). 42 CFR § 405.980(b) provides that:
A contractor may reopen an initial determination or redetermination on its own motion–

  • (1) Within 1 year from the date of the initial determination or redetermination for any reason.
  • (2) Within 4 years from the date of the initial determination or redetermination for good cause as defined in §405.986.
  • (3) At any time if there exists reliable evidence as defined in §405.902 that the initial determination was procured by fraud or similar fault as defined in § 405.902

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According to 42 CFR § 405.986(a), “good cause” is established when:

  • (1) There is new and material evidence that–
  • &nbsp&nbsp&nbsp(i) Was not available or known at the time of the determination or decision; and
  • &nbsp&nbsp&nbsp(ii) May result in a different conclusion; or
  • (2) The evidence that was considered in making the determination or decision clearly shows on its face that an obvious error was made at the time of the determination or decision.

42 CFR § 405.980(a)(5) provides that:

  • The contractor’s, QIC’s, ALJ’s, or MAC’s decision on whether to reopen is binding and not subject to appeal.

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