(January 9, 2017): A recent report of the New York State agency that administers the Medicaid program by the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (OIG) further highlights the importance of ensuring that dentists providing services to Medicaid beneficiaries are properly licensed, enrolled as a Medicaid provider and not excluded from program participation. As the number of Medicaid dental audits continues to rise, it is essential that your dental practice take a number of steps to better ensure that your dentists and allied dental professionals meet a number of basic eligibility requirements.
I. Has Your Dental Practice Implemented a Compliance Program?
As an initial step, every dental practice participating in the Medicaid program must develop and implement an effective Compliance Program. Among its many provisions, the Affordable Care Act requires that a “provider of medical or other items or services or supplier within a particular industry sector or category” shall establish a compliance program as a condition of enrollment in Medicare, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). An effective Compliance Program can greatly assist a dental practice in its efforts to ensure that each of its dentists are eligible to provide and bill for services administered to Medicaid beneficiaries.
II. Are Your Dentists Properly Licensed?
As a first step to determining eligibility, you must ensure that the individuals providing dental services in your practice are properly licensed by the state. All states require that dentists be properly licensed in order to engage in the practice of dentistry. For example, anyone seeking to practice a profession in the State of New York must comply with a strict requirements set out in Title VIII of the New York State Education Law. Under this law, Article 133 – Dentistry and Dental Hygiene, defines the practice of dentistry in §6601. As the applicable section provides:
6601. Definition of practice of dentistry.
The practice of the profession of dentistry is defined as diagnosing, treating, operating, or prescribing for any disease, pain, in jury, deformity, or physical condition of the oral and maxillofacial area related to restoring and maintaining dental health. The practice of dentistry includes the prescribing and fabrication of dental prostheses and appliances. The practice of dentistry may include performing physical evaluations in conjunction with the provision of dental treatment.
While the definition of the practice of dentistry has been purposely written in broad, general terms, the law clearly reflects that only an individual properly licensed to practice dentistry can engage in the profession or use the title of “dentist.” As set out this section:
6602. Practice of dentistry and use of title "dentist"
Only a person licensed or otherwise authorized to practice under this article shall practice dentistry or use the title "dentist."
Should an unlicensed individual engage in the practice of dentistry, they may be guilty of a Class E Felony §6612 of the New York State Education Law. Moreover, if a licensed dentist aids of abets three or more unlicensed persons in the practice of the profession, that person may be guilty of a Class E. Felony.
As part of your ongoing compliance efforts, you should periodically verify that each of your professionals are properly licensed by the state to practice dentistry and that there are no limitations on their license. It is also important to monitor the status of any licenses maintained by members of your staff in other states.
III. Is a Dentist Properly Enrolled as a Medicaid Provider?
All states have established strict requirements that must be met if a dentist desires to enroll as a Medicaid provider. For example, the New York Medicaid Enrollment Form expressly states that:
You will be at financial risk if you render services to Medicaid beneficiaries before successfully completing the enrollment process. Payment will not be made for any claims submitted for services, care, or supplies furnished before the enrollment date authorized by the Department of Health.
Unfortunately, when audits of paid Medicaid dental claims are conducted, this is a common risk area that has been identified around the country. Dental practices bringing on new staff may mistakenly think that it is permissible to bill for dental services provided by a non-credentialed dentist (whose enrollment application with Medicaid is pending) under the number of a credentialed dentist. In most states, such a practice is improper and could subject a practice to fines, penalties and other sanctions. The enrollment process is there to help protect the integrity of the Medicaid program. If an applicant has previously been terminated, denied enrollment, suspended or otherwise sanctioned by Medicaid, a state may determination that it is not in the interests of the program to allow the applicant to participant in the program. Similarly, an applicant may have been convicted of a health care related crime or may have adverse licensure actions pending in another state. For these reasons (and others), the enrollment process is an essential tool used by the state to filter out applicants that may represent a significant risk to the Medicaid program or its beneficiaries.
IV. Have You Screened Your Dentists and Staff Through Available Exclusion / OIG Screening Databases?
Among its many duties, OIG has been delegated the authority to “exclude” individuals and entities from participating in federal health benefits programs. Depending on the nature of the offense, the decision to exclude an individual or entity may be either mandatory or permissive. There are currently 38 state databases and 2 federal databases that must be checked every 30 days to ensure that the members of your staff have not been added to the one or more exclusion list. Should you fail to properly screen and inadvertently employ an excluded dentist or other staff member, you may face overpayments, civil monetary penalties and / or other sanctions. Essentially, Medicaid will not pay for any claim if an excluded individual or entity contributed to the basket of services provided to the patient — either directly or indirectly. Exclusion screening is a fundamental component of an effective Compliance Plan. There are a number of companies that can provide these screening services for a low monthly cost. Two of our attorneys established a company, Exclusion Screening, LLC to conduct these screening services. For information on their services, you can call: 1 (800) 294-0952.
V. Lessons Learned.
As a participating provider in the Medicaid program, you are obligated to comply with a wide variety of statutory and regulatory provisions. Confirming the eligibility of each of your professional staff members to provide services to Medicaid beneficiaries is merely one of these requirements. The development, implementation of an effective Compliance Program can greatly reduce your overall level of regulatory risk.