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CMS has Ended its Moratorium on New Home Health Agencies in Texas, Illinois, Michigan and Florida. Unfortunately, the Lifting of the Moratorium Isn’t Necessarily a Good Thing for Existing Home Health Agencies.

February 19, 2019 by  
Filed under Home Health & Hospice

Review Choice Demonstration Project(February 19, 2019):  CMS has now ended, at least for the current time, the moratorium that it placed on the approval of new home health agencies.  At the same time, home health providers that operate in Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida and Texas, and potentially other states within the Palmetto/JM jurisdiction (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee) face the likelihood that a revised pre-payment demonstration model will be implemented in the near future.

I.  Lifting of the Moratorium:

Effective January 30, 2019, CMS has officially ended the “temporary” moratorium on new home health agencies, sub-units and branch locations (collectively referred to as “HHAs,” “home health agencies,” or “agencies”) in Illinois, Michigan, Texas and Florida.[1]  This means that there is no longer in effect a federal prohibition on enrolling new home health agencies in the Medicare program in these or any other states, and that agencies in these states that wish to enroll in Medicare can now begin the process of doing so.

II.  Background of the Home Health Agency Moratorium:

CMS initially imposed a temporary moratorium to prevent the enrollment of new home health agencies in Miami-Dade County, Florida and Cook County, Illinois and surrounding counties in 2013.  CMS then extended the existing moratoria and expanded them to cover Broward County, Florida, Dallas and Harris Counties, Texas, Wayne County, Michigan and surrounding counties.  Finally, in August 2016, CMS extended and expanded the moratoria on new HHA’s to Florida, Illinois, Michigan and Texas, and further extended those moratoria through January 2019.  CMS has justified the imposition of the moratoria and selection of the geographic areas based on its view that those areas were especially at high risk for fraud, waste, and abuse.  Finally, CMS lifted the moratorium on home health agencies in these states effective January 30.

III.  What is the Anticipated Impact of Lifting the Moratorium?

As noted, above, this means that providers that wish to enroll new home health agencies in Medicare in these states may now begin that process.  However, experience has demonstrated that CMS is not reticent to take these, and other, actions when the agency believes that there is a high risk of fraud and abuse in particular localities.  Additionally, federal law and regulations require states to impose temporary moratoria on enrollment in the Medicaid and CHIP programs except in certain circumstances in areas and over time periods where Medicare takes these actions.  Finally, this relief affects only CMS approval.  It does not eliminate the need to check and comply with any restrictions that state or local governments may place on the establishment of new agencies.  Thus, as always, we continue to recommend to all home health agency providers that they establish and maintain strong compliance programs to alleviate the perceived need of moratoria in the future, and also to minimize the likelihood that their agencies will be the subject of investigation or sanctions.

IV.  CMS’s Review Choice Demonstration Project:

CMS’s Review Choice Demonstration Project is an outgrowth of the what was called the Pre-Claim Review Demonstration Project.  In August 2016, CMS initiated the Pre-Claim Review Demonstration Project for Illinois home health agencies under which these agencies were required to submit all of their Medicare claims and documentation for a pre-claim review prior to submitting them for payment.  It was only after the claim was “affirmed” that the agency could submit it for payment.

Initially, according to CMS, there was a wide variation of affirmation rates among agencies.  However, according to CMS, by the end of the first six-month period, agencies had on the average much higher affirmation rates.  The demonstration project was paused in April 2017 and has not been re-instituted or expanded past Illinois.

In light of the various problems encountered when implementing the Pre-Claim Review Demonstration Project, CMS has chosen not to re-initiate the program.  Instead, CMS revised its approach and announced that a new initiative, the Review Choice Demonstration Project was being implemented.  Once it goes “live” in a state, the Review Choice Demonstration Project will be in effect for five years.  As noted above, the Review Choice Demonstration Project is scheduled to cover services provided in Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, and Texas, with the option to expand it to other states under Palmetto’s jurisdiction.

The Review Choice Demonstration Project was initially scheduled to be implemented in December in Illinois, with a rollout in other states to follow with a 60-day advance notice. However, the Illinois rollout has been delayed awaiting approval under the Paperwork Reduction Act, after which the agency will announce the start date for the demonstration in Illinois.

Under the Review Choice Demonstration Project, agencies will have their choice of three options for the first six-month period: (1) 100% Pre-Claim Review; (2) 100% Post-Payment Review; or (3) Minimal review with an automatic 25% payment reduction.

V.  Initial Options Under the Review Choice Demonstration Project:

Under the Review Choice Demonstration Project, a home health agency will have the option of choosing among three alternatives with respect to how its claims will be handled.  These three alternatives include the following:

  • Option #1: 100% Pre-claim Review

Under the first option, a home health agency will submit the pre-claim with all relevant documentation.  If the pre-claim receives an affirmation notice, the agency can submit the claim and will receive full payment, and absent evidence of possible fraud or gaming, the claim will not be subject to post-payment review by the MAC, RAC or Supplemental Medical Review Contractor.  If a pre-claim receives a non-affirmative decision, it can be submitted again for pre-claim review with additional documentation or explanation. If a claim is submitted with a non-affirmative pre-claim decision, it will be denied with full appeal rights.   Claims submitted without receiving a pre-claim determination will be subject to prepayment review and even if determined to be payable, will be subject to a 25% reduction in payment rate.

After six months, the agency will have its affirmation rate calculated.  If it has submitted at least 10 claims and if it obtains at least a 90 % affirmation rate, the agency will be allowed to continue in this option or to choose between two other options, described, below.  If the agency’s affirmation rate for the six-month period was lower than 90% or it did not submit 10 claims during that period, it must choose between one of the three initial options.

  • Option #2: 100% Post-Payment Review

Under this option, the agency will be paid in the normal course, but will have all of its claims during a six-month period undergo complex medical review.  Subsequent to the review, the MAC will recover for any claims that it has paid during this period that it finds not to meet Medicare requirements, and the agency may appeal the decision through the normal appeals process.  If the agency has obtained at least a 90% approval rate during the six-month period, it will be able to choose either option one or one of the additional two options discussed, below.  Otherwise, it will have the option of choosing one of the initial three options for the next six-month period.

  • Option #3: Minimal Review with 25% Payment Reduction

An agency that chooses this option will have its claims reviewed under the normal process, but the payment amount will have an automatic 25% reduction.  Claims will not be subject to post-payment MAC reviews but will be subject to RAC and UPIC review under the normal review process, and any denied claims will be subject to the normal appeal process.  The 25% reduction in payment amount, however, is neither transferable to the beneficiary nor subject to appeal.  Any agency that chooses this option will not be able to change options for later periods and will remain under this option for the entire five-year “demonstration.”

VI.  Subsequent Options Under the Review Choice Demonstration Project:

An agency that has selected either Option 1 or 2, above and that has an affirmation rate of at least 90% in the prior six-month period may choose either Option 1, above – 100% Prepayment Review, or one of the two options, below – Options 4 (selective post-payment review) or 5 (spot check review).

  • Option #4: Selective Post-Payment Review

Under Option #4, the agency will be paid under normal claim processing procedures.  However, the MAC will select “a statistically valid random sample” every six months for complex review.  An agency selecting this option at any time will not be able to change options at a later point in time.

  • Option #5: Spot-Check Review

Under Option #5, the MAC will select 5% of claims to be subject to pre-payment review every six months.  The agency is able to remain in this option for the remainder of the demonstration provided that “the spot check shows that the agency is compliant with Medicare coverage rules and policy.”  If the agency fails to meet that standard, it will then be required to choose between the first three options for the next six-month period.

VII.   Recommendations:

For those agencies in one of the states selected for the demonstration, the selection of an option – whether initial or subsequent – will require some thought and analysis.  For example, Option 1 could well affect agency’s cash flow depending upon its ability to submit quickly the necessary documentation in a manner that clearly demonstrates coverage.  While CMS has suggested that the MAC will make every effort to review and make pre-claim determinations within 10 days of the first submission and within 20 days of subsequent submissions for the same claims, the continued ability of the MAC to meet these time frames will also have an impact upon cash flow.

In contrast, Option #2 will subject the agency to complex review of every claim that it submits and as those agencies that have been through the appeals process understand, the backlog of appeals has caused a substantial delay in resolution no matter how worthy the appeal on its merits.  Thus, unlike the pre-claim review process, the agency may not have the opportunity to correct its documentation and correct errors for a substantial period.

Option #3 guarantees a 25% payment reduction for all claims, while Option #4 will result in the selection of what the government may argue is a statistically valid random sample for purposes of any subsequent denials.

Under these circumstances, several things are clear.  Now more than ever, agencies in these states must have procedures in place to properly document coverage for all cases that they handle, and also a form and process to be able to support coverage and simplify the process for the MAC to come to that determination quickly and without the need for appeal or multiple submissions, depending upon the option chosen.

Liles Parker attorneys have substantial experience in working with agencies in the enrollment process for Medicare certification.  Additionally, a number of our attorneys are also certified coders and have substantial experience in developing a format to justify coverage of claims.

Michael Cook Healthcare AttorneyAny person wishing a free consultation in either area should contact the author and Co-chair of our Health Care Group, Michael Cook.  Michael can be reached at (202) 298-8750 or mcook@lilesparker.com.

 

 

 

[1] https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Provider-Enrollment-and-Certification/MedicareProviderSupEnroll/ProviderEnrollmentMoratorium.html

Texas Prosecutors are Aggressively Targeting Criminal Home Health Fraud

January 9, 2019 by  
Filed under Home Health & Hospice

Texas prosecutors are aggressively pursuing criminal home health cases. (January 9, 2019):  Despite real progress being made with respect to regulatory compliance, home health agencies, their owners, and affiliated health care professionals (such as referring / supervising physicians, therapists and staff) remain under strict government scrutiny. The government’s efforts to investigate and prosecute home health fraud cases have been especially evident in Texas.  In calendar year 2018, a number of home health agencies, owners and affiliated individuals have been indicted, prosecuted and / or sentenced in connection with their improper conduct.  This article examines many of these recent cases and discusses the improper conduct that led to these Texas home health prosecutions.

I. Texas Home Health Prosecutions in Calendar Year 2018:

Several significant home health fraud cases were investigated and prosecuted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Texas during 2018. These cases included, but were not limited to the following:

  • Southern District of Texas. December 2018.  In this case, the owner of a home health agency allegedly paid marketers and group home owners for Medicare beneficiary information which he used to bill Medicare and Medicaid for home health services that were either not provided or did not qualify for coverage and payment.  The government also alleged that the defendant owner personally falsified home health patient assessment forms to make the beneficiaries appear sicker on paper to receive higher reimbursement rates from Medicare,”and that he instructed agency employees to falsify home health certifications and forge physician signatures. A jury found the defendant guilty and he was sentenced to 109 months in prison. The defendant was also ordered to pay $3.5 million in restitution to the Medicare program.
  • Northern District of Texas. October 2018. Two owners and the administrator of a home health agency were convicted in this prosecution of various health care fraud violations after a six-day trial. The owners were convicted of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, and one of the owners and the administrator were convicted of two counts of making a false statement in connection with a health care benefit program. At trial, evidence was presented that both of the home health agency owners had previously been excluded from participating in federal health benefit programs. The government alleged that the administrator concealed the fact that the home health agency owners were excluded parties. The government further alleged that the administrator signed false documents indicating that a third person was the owner of the agency and that no one associated with the home health agency had been excluded from participating in federal health benefits programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.  Federal prosecutors were also able to show that the home health agency had billed the Medicare and Medicaid programs more than $3.7 million to which it was not entitled because the agency was owned by excluded parties. The defendants have not been sentenced as of the date of this publication.
  • Northern District of Texas. October 2018.  In this case, a licensed vocational nurse who was also the part-owner of a home health agency was sentenced to 120 months in prison for her role in the fraudulent submission of home health claims to Medicare for payment. The former part-owner and supervising physician at a physician house call company was also sentenced to 42 months in prison for his role in the fraud. Two additional home health agency employees were also convicted for their roles in the fraud. At trial,the government produced evidence that the supervising physician certified the medical necessity of home health services for a number of patients who had never been seen,and that the physician billed Medicare for over $1.6 millionin medically unnecessary home health certifications and physician home visits.
  • Southern District of Texas. October 2018. A patient recruiter was sentenced to 108 months in prison today for her role in a $3.6 million home health Medicare fraud scheme in this health care fraud case. At trial, the government submitted evidence to prove that the defendant patient recruiter sold personal patient information to a home health agency which it then used to bill the Medicare and Medicaid program for services that were either not medically need or were never even providedNotably, the patient recruiter paid Medicare beneficiaries, doctors, physical therapy companies and others for the paperwork and Medicare beneficiary information and services needed to facilitate the fraud.  Finally, to hide the fraud, the patient recruiter tried to make it look like she was paid an hourly wage and the marketing services she was providing were legal and proper.
  • Southern District of Texas. June 2018.  The part-owner of a home health agency, who also served as the agency’s Director of Nursing, was indicted in this prosecution for conspiracy to commit health care fraud.  The government has alleged that the defendant, along with an unnamed group of co-conspirators, paid physicians to falsely certify the medical necessity of home health services for Medicare beneficiaries.  The defendant and the unnamed group of conspirators are also charged with paying patient recruiters for referring Medicare patients to the home health agency.  The government has also filed a criminal forfeiture count in the indictment in which it claims that more than $16 million is subject to forfeiture.
  • Southern District of Texas. June 2018.  The owner of a Harris County home health agency was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury for Conspiracy to Defraud the United States, paying and Receiving Health Care Kickbacks, and substantive violations of the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute. Specifically, the government has alleged that the defendant owner and a number of co-conspirators paid kickbacks to several patient recruiters in exchange for referring Medicare beneficiaries to the owner’s home health agency. The government also alleges that the defendant owner and his co-conspirators paid kickbacks to a number of physicians in exchange for their certification of Medicare-required paperwork, and that they paid Medicare patients for their Medicare information in order to bill the Medicare program for home health services.  The case is set for trial in 2019, and the government also has included a criminal forfeiture count in the indictment, seeking the forfeiture of at least $1.2 million
  • Eastern District of Texas. June 2018.  In this case, the owner of a Missouri City, Texas home health agency, was indicted for conspiracy to violate the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute and f or violations of the Aiding and Abetting statutory requirements. The defendant and a co-conspirator patient recruiter are alleged to have paid cash amounts ranging from approximately $1,600 to $2,900 to Medicare beneficiaries to sign up for home health services with the defendant’s home health agency. The matter is set for trial later this year.
  • Southern District of Texas. May 2018. After a three-day trial, a Federal jury found a patient recruiter for a Texas home health agency guilty for her role in a $3.6 million Medicare fraud case. The patient recruiter was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit health care, five counts of health care fraud, and one count of conspiracy to pay health care kickbacks.  At trial, evidence was introduced that showed that the defendant and her co-conspirators submitted claims to Medicare for home health services that were not medically necessary and, in some case, were not provided. According to the government, the patient recruiter paid beneficiaries, doctors, physical therapy companies, and others for the paperwork, Medicare beneficiary information, and services needed to facilitate the fraud.”
  • Southern District of Texas. January 2018.  In this final case, a Texas mayor (a licensed physician and Medical Director) and three owners of a number of home health and hospice providers services, were indicted for their roles in an alleged $150 million health care fraud and money laundering scheme. The government has alleged that the owners caused kickbacks and bribes to be paid to the defendant physician (and other physicians) who served as Medicare Directors for their home health agency in exchange for falsely certifying that Medicare patients qualified for services. The defendant owners are alleged to have fraudulently kept patients on hospice services for years when such care was not medically appropriate.  A number of the defendants are also alleged to have made a false statement to the FBI and / or obstructed justice by producing false and fictitious records to a Federal Grand Jury.

II. What Lessons Can be Learned from these Home Health Prosecutions?

At the outset, it is important to note that none of the home health fraud prosecutions discussed above were based on differing professional assessments of the Medicare beneficiaries’ clinical condition or on a battle between medical experts over the medical necessity of home health services.  Instead, Texas prosecutors focused on illegal payments in the form of kickbacks and bribes by home health owners and operators in exchange for the referral of Medicare patients, falsification of certifications or statements, and/or for acquisition of beneficiary information. In other words, the Federal criminal cases being brought against home health owners, operators and affiliated physicians were based on the parties’ fraudulent conduct, not on the quality of care provided or the medical necessity of the home health services. Several fundamental lessons to be learned based on these cases include:

Lesson #1:  Sooner or later, improper Medicare claims practices and criminal wrongdoing WILL be identified by law enforcement or one of the contractors working for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). 

Since first passing the Medicare and Medicaid programs in 1965, the government has been compiling utilization, coding, and billing data related to the services billed to Federal and State health benefit programs.  CMS shares access to this information with a number of private claims processing and / or program integrity contractors.[1]  These entities are required (as part of their contractual obligations to CMS), to conduct data mining analyses of provider and supplier coding, billing and utilization practices.  While criminal conduct may escape discovery in the short run, it is essential for home health agencies, their owners, patient recruiters and affiliated physicians to recognize that there is a strong likelihood that the government will ultimately find out about the wrongdoing.

Lesson #2: Don’t pay kickbacks. . . ever. You will eventually be caught.

The Anti-Kickback Statute became a felony in 1977.[2]  Under the Anti-Kickback Statute, it is a criminal violation to offer, pay, solicit or receive anything of value to induce referrals or generate referrals reimbursed by Federal health care programs.[3]The Department of Health and Humans Services, Office of Inspector General (OIG) first publicized the agency’s concerns regarding home health related kickbacks in a “1995 Special Fraud Alert.”[4]  At that time, the OIG identified the following business practices as improper and potential violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute:

“Payment of a fee to a physician for each plan of care certified by the physician on behalf of the home health agency. 

Disguising referral fees as salaries by paying referring physicians for services not rendered, or in excess of fair market value for services rendered.

Offering free services to beneficiaries, including transportation and meals, if they agree to switch home health providers.

Providing hospitals with discharge planners, home care coordinators, or home care liaisons in order to induce referrals.Providing free services, such as 24-hour nursing coverage to retirement homes or adult congregate living facilities in return for home health referrals.

Subcontracting with retirement homes or adult congregate living facilities for the provision of home health services to induce the facility to make referrals to the agency.”  

Most of the Texas home health prosecutions pursued by DOJ prosecutors in 2018 involved illegal kickback conduct that the government first identified its 1995 Special Fraud Alert.  Despite the fact that more than twenty years have elapsed, a number of home health agency owners, operators, marketing personnel and referring physicians have continued to engage in illegal kickback activities.

Lesson #3: Don’t play games. Efforts to deceive the government or obstruct an investigation will only compound your problems.

In the criminal cases outlined in Section II above, a number of the defendants engaged in deceitful conduct. Several examples of the deceitful conduct included:

“A home health agency owner was alleged to have falsified home health patient assessment forms. 

A home health agency owner was alleged to have instructed home health staff to falsify physician signatures.   

A home health agency administrator was alleged to have signed false documents indicating that a third-party owned the agency and that no excluded parties were associated with the agency, when in fact, the true owners had been excluded from participation in the Medicare program.  

Defendants were also alleged to have made a false statement to the FBI and / or obstructed justice by producing false and fictitious records to a Federal Grand Jury.”

There are several Federal statutes that are implicated by this type of deceitful conduct.[5]  Statutory provisions that may be implicated (depending on the facts), include, but are not limited to:

Fraud and False Statements (18 U.S.C. § 1001). It is illegal for any person, in connection with any matter before any branch of the federal government or any federal agency, to do any of the following: (1) falsify or conceal a material fact; (2) make any material misrepresentations; or (3) make or use any false document knowing that such document contains a material falsehood. 

False Statements Involving Health Care Programs (18 U.S.C. § 1035).  It is unlawful for any person to, in any matter involving a health care benefit program and in connection with the delivery of or payment for health care services, knowingly: (1) falsify or conceal a material fact; (2) make a material misrepresentation; or (3) use a document knowing that it contains a material misrepresentation.

Health Care Fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1347).  It is unlawful for any person to knowingly: (1) defraud any health care benefit program; or (2) obtain by false pretenses any money or property owned or under the control of a health care benefit program. 

Obstruction of a Criminal Investigation into Health Care Offenses (18 U.S.C. § 1518).  It is unlawful to prevent, obstruct, or delay the communication of information relating to a federal health care offense to a criminal investigator. 

False Statements Involving Federal Health Care Programs (42 U.S.C. § 1320a–7b(a)). It is unlawful for any person to: (1) knowingly make a false statement in an application for benefits or payment under a federal health care program; (2) knowingly make a false statement for use in determining rights to benefits or payment under a federal health care program; (3) knowingly conceals or fails to disclose any event affecting one’s eligibility for benefits or payment under a federal health care program; (4) knowingly use the benefits or payment of another under a federal health care program for some reason other than their intended purpose; (5) knowingly present a claim for a physician’s service under a federal health care program where the person presenting the claim knows the service provider was not a licensed physician; or (6) knowingly assist another in disposing or transferring of assets such that he or she will be eligible for benefits under a federal health care program. 

Violations of these statutes are often uncovered during the course of administrative audits by CMS program integrity contractors. These types of violations may also arise in connection with patient complaints and whistleblower cases.

Lesson #4:  Medical Director agreements — it all comes down to the nature of the business relationship. 

Both parties need to recognize the importance of conducting due diligence before entering into a contract with a Medical Director.  Does the home health agency have an effective Compliance Program in place? Has either the home health agency or the physician being considered for a Medical Director position been the subject of an adverse action by Medicare, Medicaid, or a private payor?  To paraphrase the Greek philosopher Aesop, “You are judged by the company that you keep.”

When reviewing Medical Director agreements, government prosecutors and investigators are trained to conduct a critical assessment of these business relationships.  Are the terms of the Medical Director agreement consistent with Fair Market Value principles?  Has the Medical Director properly documented the services he or she provided and properly recorded the amount of time being spent in the performance of his or her Medical Director duties?  How many patient referrals are generated by your Medical Directors?  In a perfect world, a home health agency would not receive any patient referrals from the agency’s Medical Director.  To the extent that an agency’s Medical Director does, in fact, make a significant number of referrals to the agency for home health services, the government will understandably wonder whether the referrals being made are in exchange, in whole or in part, for the monies being paid to the physician under the Medical Director agreement.

Lesson #5:  Do you employ sales or marketing personnel? Regardless of whether you refer to a position as a Community Outreach Coordinator, a Marketing Specialist or a Physician Liaison, the government will still carefully review how these individuals are compensated, and the actual duties that are being performed.    

Marketing activities that may constitute ordinary business courtesies if extended to an actual or potential referral source in another industry, are often illegal in the context of Federal health care programs. Home health agencies that employ or contract with individuals to conduct marketing services on behalf of the agency need to ensure that the services being performed do not violate the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute or, if applicable, a state’s bribery law or all-payor statute.  Compensation agreements that reward a marketing individual based on the number of patient referrals generated are especially problematic.

III.  Conclusion:

The likelihood that your home health agency will be subjected to a Medicare or Medicaid audit or investigation increases every day.  As a participating provider in one or more Federal health care programs, providers have an affirmative obligation to ensure that your claims are properly documented, coded, and billed.  Additionally, providers must ensure that otherwise payable home health service claims have not been “tainted” by any statutory or regulatory violation of the Stark laws, the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute or the False Claims Act. When examining whether a claim is “payable,” a provider needs to remember that even though the medical service at issue may have been medically necessary and qualified for payment, if it is the result of an illegal activity, it will be tainted and will likely not qualify for payment. Unfortunately, many providers have never researched or reviewed the proper rules covering the work they provide.  If you have questions?  Give us a call.  Liles Parker attorneys have extensive experience representing home health providers around the country in connection with Medicare audits and investigations.

Robert W. Liles, J.D., M.B.A., M.S., serves as Managing Partner at the health law firm Liles Parker, PLLC.  Liles Parker attorneys represent home health and hospice agencies around the country in connection with Medicare and Medicaid audits and investigations of home health and hospice services.  Has your agency received an administrative request or a subpoena for records?  Give us a call.  We can help. For a free consultation, please call: 1 (800) 475-1906.

[1] CMS works with claims processing contractors (Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs)), and program integrity contractors (such as Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs), Supplemental Medical Review Contractors (SMRCs) and Uniform Program Integrity Contractors (UPICs) to identify overpayments and instances of potential fraud which may be referred to law enforcement authorities for investigation and prosecution.

[2] 42 U.S.C. 1320a-7b(b). The Medicare-Medicaid Anti-Fraud and Abuse Amendments of 1977 (Public Law 95-142), made violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute a felony. It also made those who offered remuneration for referrals and those who received them subject to various penalties.

[3] Under 42 U.S.C. 1320a-7b(f),a “Federal health care program” is defined as:

“(1) any plan or program that provides health benefits, whether directly, through insurance, or otherwise, which is funded directly, in whole or in part, by the United States Government (other than the health insurance program under chapter 89 of title 5); or

(2) any State health care program, as defined in section 1320a-7(h) of this title.”

[4] Federal Register, August 10, 1996 (Volume 60, Number 154). A copy of this Special Fraud Alert can also be found on OIG’s website.

[5] For each of the criminal statutes identified below, there are corresponding regulations which would authorize the imposition of Civil Money Penalties by the Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS/OIG), see, 42 U.S.C. 1320a-7a(a).

Home Health Providers Under the Microscope — The Review Choice Demonstration Project is Here

October 4, 2018 by  
Filed under Home Health & Hospice

(October 4, 2018):  Last week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), confirmed that it intends to initiate the Review Choice Demonstration for Home Health Services project on December 10, 2018.  The Review Choice Demonstration project is slated to initially begin in Illinois. This initiative is the renamed, repackaged version of the prior Pre-Claim Review Demonstration project that was initiated, then placed on hold (due in large part to provider protests), in April 2017.  This article provides an overview of the long and sorted history leading up to the Review Choice Demonstration project.

I. Although Dropping, the Improper Payment Rates for Home Health Services Remain Excessive:

The last few years have been rough on home health providers.  As the government has been quick to note, one of the primary components of the Medicare Fee-for-Service (FFS) improper payment rate has consistently been the excessive level of improper payments made for home health services.  Broken down by fiscal year, the improper payment rates for home health services have included:

Fiscal Year

Report Period

Home Health Improper Payment Rate

FY 2014

July 1, 2012 – June 30, 2013

51.4%

FY 2015

July 1, 2013 – June 30, 2014

59%

FY 2016

July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015

42%

FY 2017

July 1, 2015 – June 30, 2016

32.3%


Although the improper payment rate for home health services has dropped considerably from FY 2015 to FY 2017, it still constitutes a major portion of the overall Medicare FFS improper payment rate.  During the FY 2017 report period, it is estimated that more than $6.1 billion in improper payments was made by Medicare for home health services.  When reviewing the improperly paid claim lines associated with FY 2017, the Comprehensive Error Rate Testing (CERT) contractor tasked with this project found that more than 89% of the errors were due to documentation deficiencies. 

II. Overview of Corrective Actions and Initiatives Taken by CMS to Address Home Health Documentation Deficiencies:

The FY 2017 CERT contractor findings with respect to documentation have merely further strengthened the government’s long-standing belief that home health providers (and referring physicians), need ongoing education and guidance with respect to the medical necessity, documentation, coverage and payment requirements that must be met.  Over the last few years, CMS and its contractors have implemented a variety of corrective actions intended to address documentation and medical necessity deficiencies that have been identified in connection with Medicare home health claims. Examples of these actions have included Probe and Educate Reviews[1], the initiation of the Pre-Claim Review Project[2], the development of Home Health Plan of Care / Certification and Progress Note Clinical Templates[3], and the establishment of a Home Health Recovery Audit Contractor[4].  CMS also revised the Physician Face-to-Face Narrative Requirement[5] for home health services. Several of these corrective initiatives are discussed in more detail below:

A. Probe and Educate Reviews.

In late 2015, home health Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) began pulling five claims sample from each home health agency in their jurisdiction for prepayment review purposes.  The claims subject to review covered episodes of service beginning on or after August 1, 2015.  The purpose of the Probe and Educate Review initiative was to better ensure that home health agencies were fully complying with applicable medical necessity, documentation, certification, coverage and payment requirements.[6] Systemic problems identified by home health MACs through the Probe and Education Review process has included:

  1. Failure to comply with face-to-face requirements. For example, in some cases, the certifying physician signature was missing. In other cases, the encounter notes did not document the elements required to show that the patient was eligible for home health services.
  2. Failure to identify an estimate of time for continued need when recertifying the medical necessity of services.
  3. Failure to fully complete and / or properly complete the initial certification documentation required.
  4. Bailure to timely respond to an Additional Documentation Request (ADR) request from a Medicare contractor in a timely fashion.

B. Pre-Claim Review Demonstration Project.

Section 402(a)(1)(J) of the Social Security Amendments of 1967 authorizes the Secretary, HHS, to:

‘‘develop or demonstrate improved methods for the investigation and prosecution of fraud in the provision of care or services under the health programs established by the Social Security Act (the Act).’’

Using this authority, and inn consideration of the excessively high home improper payment rate for home health services, in June 2016, CMS announced[7] the initiation of a new Pre-claim Review Demonstration project. Theoretically, the demonstration project was not intended to create any new clinical home health documentation requirements. Home health agencies covered by the demonstration project would be required to submit supportive medical documentation to the CMS contractor for review prior to being paid. This approach was intended to help educate providers and better ensure that home health claims qualified for coverage and payment. The demonstration project was also intended to test whether the use of a pre-claim review process would improve the government’s ability to identify, investigate, and prosecute home health fraud. Originally, the demonstration project was scheduled to be put into place in five states. CMS and its contractors planned on rolling out the project over a six-month period: 

  • Illinois: August 1, 2016
  • Florida: October 1, 2016
  • Texas: December 1, 2016
  • Michigan and Massachusetts: January 1, 2017

Two months later, CMS took its first steps towards putting the planned three-year project into place by implementing it in Illinois.  To characterize the implementation as “problematic” would be generous.  From its very start, Illinois home health providers, both large and small, experienced significant problems meeting the reviewer’s documentation requirements, thereby resulting in significant provider payment delays. Bending under political pressure, the planned roll-out in Florida was placed on hold. This effectively delayed implementation in the remaining three states as well.  After several false starts, the initiative was ultimately placed on hold in March 2017.  For a more detailed discussion of the Pre-Claim Demonstration project, please see the following article.  Additional information may also be found here.

C. Home Health Plan of Care / Certification and Progress Note Clinical Templates:

As required under 42 CFR 484.60, Condition of participation: Care planning, coordination of services, and quality of care, Medicare patients are accepted for treatment on the reasonable expectation that a home health agency can meet the patient’s medical, nursing, rehabilitative, and social needs in his or her place of residence. In order to accomplish this:

“Each patient must receive an individualized written plan of care, including any revisions or additions. The individualized plan of care must specify the care and services necessary to meet the patient-specific needs as identified in the comprehensive assessment, including identification of the responsible discipline(s), and the measurable outcomes that the HHA anticipates will occur as a result of implementing and coordinating the plan of care. The individualized plan of care must also specify the patient and caregiver education and training. Services must be furnished in accordance with accepted standards of practice.”

Similarly, 42 CFR 424.22, Requirements for home health services, mandates that a physician certify and recertify a patient’s eligibility for home health services in order to qualify for coverage and payment by Medicare.  Additional certification and recertification requirements are set out under the regulations.

Finally, CMS develop a template Progress Note that could be used by a physician and, when permitted under state law, by a physician assistant, a nurse practitioner, a clinical nurse specialist  and / or a certified nurse midwife to document that home health services are medically necessary and appropriate and to confirm that a Medicare patient is, in fact, homebound.

III. Rise of the Review Choice Demonstration Project:

In consideration of the various challenges encountered when trying to roll-out the Pre-Claim Review Demonstration project, CMS ultimately placed the initiative on hold in April 2017.  It is important to keep in mind that the underlying problem that gave rise to the Pre-Claim Review Demonstration project – an excessively high improper payment rate associated with home health services – was still (and continues to be) a serious program integrity concern. Additionally, it was abundantly apparent that wholesale changes would need to be made if the initiative were to be reintroduced. 

Over the next year, CMS completely reworked its prior initiative in an effort to provide additional flexibility for home health agencies that may be covered by an updated version of the project.   As reflected in the Federal Register, the “new and improved” initiative was named the Review Choice Demonstration project. As with its earlier iteration, the revised version of the demonstration project is intended to:

“help assist in developing improved procedures for the identification, investigation, and prosecution of potential Medicare fraud. The demonstration would help make sure that payments for home health services are appropriate through either pre-claim or postpayment review, thereby working towards the prevention and identification of potential fraud, waste, and abuse; the protection of Medicare Trust Funds from improper payments; and the reduction of Medicare appeals.”

CMS has again proposed that the demonstration project will be implemented in five states. Much to the dismay of Illinois, Florida and Texas home health providers, they are STILL on the list of targeted states.  Michigan and Massachusetts are no longer slated to be part of the demonstration.  In their place, CMS has substituted Ohio and North Carolina.  CMS has stated that the new list of five states are:

“known areas of fraudulent behavior and had either a high home health improper payment rate or a high denial rate during the home health Probe and Educate reviews.”

Notably, CMS has indicated that there is the possibility that the Review Choice Demonstration project may later be expanded to other states in the Palmetto / JM jurisdiction.

As set out in the September 28th Federal Register notice, CMS intended to implement the Review Choice Demonstration project in Illinois on December 10, 2018. 

A. The Review Choice Demonstration Project is Intended to Offer Flexibility to Home Health Providers.

CMS has designed the Review Choice Demonstration project so that home health agencies in affected states have several ways that they may show their “compliance with CMS’ home health policies.”  Options available to home health providers include[8]:

 

Robert W. Liles defends health care providers in Medicare auditsRobert W. Liles serves as Managing Partner at the health law firm, Liles Parker, Attorneys and Counselors at Law.  Liles Parker attorneys represent health care providers and suppliers around the country in connection with UPIC audits, ZPIC audits, OIG audits and DOJ investigations.  Are your transcranial magnetic stimulation claims being audited?  We can help.  For a free initial consultation regarding your situation, call Robert at:  1 (800) 475-1906.

 

[1] https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Monitoring-Programs/Medicare-FFS-Compliance-Programs/Medical-Review/Home_Health_Medical_Review_Update.html

[2] https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Monitoring-Programs/Medicare-FFS-Compliance-Programs/Pre-Claim-Review-Initiatives/Overview.html

[3] https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Computer-Data-and-Systems/Electronic-Clinical-Templates/Downloads/Home-Health-Services-Plan-of-Care-Certification-Template-Draft-20180709-R20.pdf

[4] https://www.cms.gov/research-statistics-data-and-systems/monitoring-programs/medicare-ffs-compliance-programs/recovery-audit-program/

[5] https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Computer-Data-and-Systems/Electronic-Clinical-Templates/Downloads/Home-Health-Services-F2F-Encounter-Template-Draft-20180709-R20.pdf

https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Computer-Data-and-Systems/Electronic-Clinical-Templates/Downloads/Home-Health-Services-F2F-Encounter-Template-Draft-20180214-R10d.pdf

[6] Additional information regarding the Probe and Educate process is outlined in MLN Matters, MLN Matters ® Number:SE1524.

[7] 81 Fed. Reg. 37598.  June 8, 2016.

[8] 83 Fed. Reg. 48818September 27, 2018.

Personal Care Services Are Under the Government’s Microscope

January 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Home Health & Hospice

personal care services (January 22, 2018): The Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) has conducted numerous audits, evaluations, and investigations involving the provision of “ personal care services ” to Medicaid beneficiaries.  In fact, from 2006 to 2012, HHS-OIG produced more than 20 audit and evaluation reports analyzing various program integrity risks presented when providing personal care services.  Much of this work was summarized in a November 2012 report entitled “Personal Care Services: Trends, Vulnerabilities, and Recommendations for Improvement.” [1] Additionally, last month, HHS-OIG published an Issue Brief highlighting the involvement of State Medicaid Fraud Control Units (MFCUs) in pursuing health care fraud and beneficiary abuse in personal care services programs.

In this article, we have taken the summary information assembled by HHS-OIG in the reports outlined above and combined this information with data collected from the 50 state MFCUs in order to provide an overview of state and federal investigations, indictments, convictions, and recoveries involving fraud, waste, abuse and patient neglect in Medicaid personal care services programs around the country.  Before examining this information, let’s go over a few basics.

I. What Are “Personal Care Services”?

The coverage and scope of a state’s specific personal care services benefit varies from one state’s Medicaid program to another.  Using Texas as an example, prior to 2006, personal care services under Medicaid were only provided to qualified minors with physical disabilities and other medical needs.  Notably, children with cognitive or behavioral disabilities did not qualify for this benefit.  As a result of a class action lawsuit settlement,[2] the Texas Medicaid State plan was amended to cover personal care services for children with disabilities and chronic health conditions enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program. Today, the Texas Department of State Health Services describes “personal care services” as:

“A Medicaid benefit that assists eligible clients who require assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) because of a physical, cognitive or behavioral limitation related to their disability, physical or mental illness, or chronic condition.”[3]

Examples of ADLs that are often provided under the personal care services benefit include bathing, eating, toileting, positioning and transferring, dressing and walking. IADLS provided under the benefit typically include doing laundry, performing light housework, shopping for groceries and preparing meals.  As these tasks and activities reflect, personal care services are non-skilled in nature.  Skilled services provided by nursing personnel do not qualify as personal care services, though they may qualify under some other benefit such as home health.

It is also important to remember that neither ADLs nor IADLs would qualify as covered personal care services if a beneficiary has the physical, behavioral and cognitive ability to perform these tasks and activities without adult supervision.

II. Who Qualifies for Medicaid-Covered Personal Care Services?

Like the service itself, whether a person qualifies for personal care services depends on the specific requirements of each state program. However, using Texas as an example, a beneficiary must:

  • Be 20 years or younger and be eligible for Medicaid.
  • Have a disability, physical or mental illness, or a health problem that lasts for a long time.
  • Have a Practitioner Statement of Need signed by a practitioner (physician, advanced practice nurse, or physician assistant) who has examined you in the last 12 months.
  • Need help with ADLs and IADLs based on the Personal Care Assessment Form (PCAF).
  • Provide a reason why your guardian cannot help you with ADLs and IADLs.[4]

III. Trends in Medicaid Personal Care Service and MFCUs: 

Between 2012 and 2015, Medicaid spending on personal care services jumped from $10.9 billion to $13.3 billion.[5] As a result, MFCUs have increasingly been tasked with investigating and prosecuting Medicaid provider fraud and patient abuse and neglect within healthcare facilities. Despite being only one of 80 types of providers regulated by MFCUs, personal care service providers constituted 38% of their indictments and 34% of their convictions. During this period indictments and convictions related to fraud by personal care service providers increased 56% and 33% respectively. In the year 2015, cases of fraud by personal care service providers constituted 12% of all MFCU investigations. Overall these trends indicate that MFCUs are concerned with the vulnerability of Medicaid beneficiaries and are more aggressively targeting personal care service providers.

IV. Current Systemic Weaknesses Facilitate Fraud, Abuse, and Neglect:

Throughout last month’s report, HHS-OIG highlighted many of the weaknesses of the current model of Medicaid personal care service oversight. Presently, there are no federal training or educational requirements for personal care service attendants so the quality of personal care services provided from one caregiver to another can vary greatly.  Additionally, thorough background checks are not consistently required.  As a result, there have been a number of instances where habitual offenders have been found to have exploited beneficiaries under their care.

Another issue of concern is that thorough documentation is not required for Medicaid personal care services, leading to the ability of an attendant to charge for services that did not occur or for time in which the attendant and beneficiary where not even in the same location. Aside from creating a window of opportunity for fraud, this also allows for personal care service attendants to neglect their beneficiaries. In the past, this scenario has led to the death of a beneficiary.  Lack of oversight also shifts the burden to report on to the beneficiary. Thus, mental and physical handicaps of beneficiaries leave them vulnerable as reporting may be rather difficult. Due to federal regulations, MFCUs are also unable to investigate or prosecute cases of abuse or neglect by in-home/community personal care service providers.

As a consequence of these systemic issues, despite being the best equipped agency to take on this task, MCFUs do not receive funding for this and are forced to refer such cases to other agencies that may be less effective in investigating and prosecuting these cases. Overall, the current model is vulnerable to fraud and leaves beneficiaries vulnerable to abuse and neglect.

V. Improper Payments to Personal Care Service Providers Will Lead to Investigations:

An improper payment is any payment that is made that, according to federal and/or state laws, should not have been made. The inconsistency in state rules and the lack of depth of federal rules complicates the generalization of improper payments. According to an audit of state Medicaid programs by HHS-OIG, the most common types of improper personal care service payments are:

  • Claims paid without supporting documentation.
  • Services provided and billed that are ineligible for Medicaid reimbursement.
  • Services provided without required supervision.
  • Services provided by an unqualified attendant.
  • Services provided by an attendant without proper verification of required qualifications.
  • Payments made for care while the Medicaid beneficiary was in an institution.

It is important to note that improper payment is not the same as fraud. Improper payments are considered a result of error and a personal care service provider is required to return the overpayment as soon as the improper payment is discovered and may face further consequences. While self-disclosure of improper payments is considered an act of good faith, the nature of the improper payment may lead into an investigation into potential waste, fraud, and/or abuse.[6]

VI. What is Personal Care Services Fraud?

The vulnerability of the current personal care services system to fraud has made these services a significant concern for MCFUs around the country. Many of the fraud cases brought in recent years have involved instances of billing for services not rendered to a Medicaid beneficiary.  Examples of this type of improper conduct has included instances when:

  • A Medicaid beneficiary was on a vacation.
  • A Medicaid beneficiary was in an institution.
  • A Medicaid beneficiary was documented to be without the personal care attendant by another healthcare provider.
  • The personal care aide or attendant was documented to be working elsewhere at the time.
  • The Medicaid beneficiary was deceased at the time personal care services were billed.

Often, wrongdoers have committed this type of fraud by having a Medicaid beneficiary sign off on blank time sheets in advance of services that are to be provided. While the Medicaid beneficiary is typically unaware of the fraudulent intentions of the personal care attendant, there have been cases where the personal care services attendant has made an agreement to share profits with the beneficiary or a family member of the beneficiary in order to obtain a signed blank time sheet.

While fraud is often committed by individual personal care aides or attendants, a personal care services agency can be held accountable if it is aware of the attendant’s fraudulent billing practices. One investigation in Alaska led to the criminal prosecution of over 40 individuals for fraud.[7] In that case, the personal care services agency was aware that employees were submitting falsified timesheets in addition to charging Medicaid for services rendered by excluded individuals.

VII. Personal Care Services Fraud Investigations:

Personal care services fraud has been an increasing concern of MCFUs. As expected, the amount of criminal investigation into personal care services fraud has risen over the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years, with a total of 1,929 individual personal care services attendants and 250 personal care services agencies being investigated for fraud at the end of 2016.[8] Convictions have risen slightly over those 2 years, with 464 individual personal care aides and attendants and 36 personal care services agencies convicted of criminal fraud charges in 2016. Overall, personal care service fraud appears to more commonly perpetrated by individual personal care service attendants, though agencies are certainly being held responsible for their role in personal care services fraud.

personal care services fraud

Table 1: The number of open investigations into personal care services fraud by agencies and attendants at the close of the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years.

personal care services fraud

Table 2: The number of criminal convictions and civil court settlements/judgements for personal care services fraud in the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years.

VIII. Recoveries from PCS Fraud Cases:

Despite an increase in civil settlements and judgements, the total amount recovered through settlements decreased substantially for both PCS attendants and PCS agencies. The result of criminal convictions has been markedly different. In the fiscal year 2016, a total of 464 PCS attendants were convicted of PCS fraud compared to only 36 agencies.[11] While personal care attendants constitute the overwhelming majority of convictions, approximately 45.8% of the amount recovered in 2016 came from personal care service Agencies. From fiscal year 2015 to 2015, the amount of PCS agencies convicted increased by 63.6%, from 22 to 36. In the same period, the amount recovered from criminal convictions of PCS agencies more than doubled, from $1,718,223 to $4,108,575. Thus, it is evident that PCS agencies are increasingly being held responsible for their role in PCS fraud.

personal care services fraud

Table 3: The amount of money recovered in personal care services fraud cases in the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years.

 IX. What is Abuse or Neglect of a Beneficiary?

The current system leaves beneficiaries vulnerable to abuse. Abuse has cases revolve around incidents in which a personal care services attendant causes physical harm to the beneficiary. In a case in Florida, a personal care attendant was fired and later charged with elderly abuse after repeatedly striking, pinching, and pulling at an elderly individual and leaving bruises on the individual.[13] However, abuse is not always physical. Abuse also includes harm done by theft, in which personal care service attendants take advantage of their beneficiaries and steal valuable items from them. In one case, a personal care service attendant at an assisted living facility stole nearly $10,000 from beneficiaries.[14] In another, an attendant stole two guitars from a beneficiary and sold the guitars to a local music shop.[15] When the attendant became aware of the beneficiary’s intent to contact authorities, the attendant returned the items. In the end, the attendant was still charged with fourth degree larceny.

Drug diversion is a serious abuse prevalent in personal care service that goes beyond theft and extends into physical harm as well. In addition to the monetary loss, the beneficiary is losing the treatment they require. For many, especially in hospice care, the use of opioids is used to manage pain. When attendants take these medications, they leave the beneficiaries suffering. In one case, an attendant began to switch a beneficiary’s hydrocodone with acetaminophen, leaving the patient suffering until the attendant’s drug diversion was discovered. In addition to leaving patients suffering, the use of substitute substances and potentially unsterile equipment puts the beneficiary at risk of serious harm or death.

Neglect is defined as “the failure or omission on the part of a caregiver to provide the care, supervision, and services necessary to maintain the physical and mental health of a disabled adult or elderly person that a prudent person would deem essential for the  well-being of the patient.” Neglect is serious, as the lack of adequate care or supervision of vulnerable individuals can be fatal. In one case, a personal care service attendant did not provide the services that were billed for an entire week, leaving the beneficiary hospitalized due to malnourishment and dehydration.[16] In another case, a personal care service attendant took a mentally handicap person to a crowded shopping area and lost the individual on a winter day in Philadelphia. The attendant did not immediately seek out the beneficiary nor did the attendant contact authorities in a prompt manner. The beneficiary was later found dead due to hypothermia. Neglect can also stem from fraud. In one case in Arkansas, a personal care service attendant billed Medicaid for services rendered to a beneficiary while frequenting Casino.[17] The attendant’s neglect led to malnourishment and dehydration, eventually leading to the death of the beneficiary.

X. Investigating Abuse or Neglect of a Beneficiary:

Despite the desire of MCFUs to investigate abuse or neglect, allegations are not investigated as often and extensively as they would like due to a lack of federal and state funding to do so. From the close of the 2015 fiscal year to the close of the 2016 fiscal year, open investigations into Abuse or neglect of a beneficiary decreased marginally from 254 to 252 investigations.[18] This marginal decline indicates the limitations placed on MCFUs ability to investigate abuse or neglect of beneficiaries. All of these investigations were criminal. In the same period, criminal convictions for abuse or neglect raised from 44 in 2015 to 52 in 2016. In 2015, there was one civil court settlement for abuse or neglect by a personal care service attendant. Overall it appears that MCFUs are becoming increasingly serious about addressing abuse or neglect by personal care service attendants and will continue to do what they can within their means to address the issues.

personal care service abuse

Table 4: The number of open investigations into abuse or neglect by personal care service attendants at the close of the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years.

personal care service abuse

Table 5: The number of criminal convictions and civil court settlements/judgements for personal care service abuse or neglect cases in the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years.

 XI. Recoveries from Abuse or Neglect Cases:

As can be expected by the findings of the recent HHS-OIG issue brief, convictions of abuse or neglect of a beneficiary only increased by 8 convictions in 2016, an 18% increase from the 2015 fiscal year. This again highlights the limitations placed of MFCUs in addressing abuse or neglect of beneficiaries. However, the total amount recovered in these cases more than tripled from the 2015 to the 2016 fiscal year, from $71,817 in 2015 to $247,972 in 2016. This substantial increase in recoveries again suggests that MFCUs are increasingly serious about addressing abuse or neglect of beneficiaries.

personal care service abuse

Table 6: The amount of money recovered in personal care service abuse or neglect cases in the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years.

XII.  HHS-OIG Recommendations:

The recommendations made by HHS-OIG are aimed at creating greater state oversight of personal care services provided by aides and attendants to Medicaid beneficiaries. These recommendations include measures such as:

  • Creating an enrollment or registration process for attendants.
  • Requiring comprehensive background checks for personal care service attendants
  • Mandating greater documentation requirements for personal care service attendants, including details such as time of service and services provided.
  • Requiring beneficiary case managers to conduct more in-home/community supervisory visits.
  • Establishing mandatory training or educational standards for personal care service attendants.
  • Cross-referencing personal care service attendant and beneficiary locations to prevent fraudulent billing.
  • Federal funding for investigations and prosecutions of abuse or neglect by in-home/community personal care service agencies.

The current model provides too much opportunity for fraudulent, negligent, and abusive behavior by agency providers to be overlooked. These reforms could effectively deter personal care service providers from engaging in fraudulent, abusive, or negligent behavior by making them aware of the consequences of such behavior. In addition, these reforms would make it easier for MFCUs to effectively hold all personal care service providers accountable for their actions.

XIII.  Conclusion:

At present, despite efforts from personal care agencies to better screen their staff, Medicaid beneficiaries are still finding themselves subject to fraud, abuse and / or neglect by a significant number of individual personal care service aides and attendants each year. Unfortunately, fraud, abuse and / or neglect by personal care service aides and attendants will likely continue to be a major concern until the further safeguards are taken by both personal care agencies and regulators to better protect Medicaid beneficiaries.

In addition to conducting standard due diligence, as an owner of a personal care services agency, it is especially important that you screen your applicants (before hire), employees, vendors and contractors, against all Federal and State exclusion databases, every 30 days.  We recommend that you contact the folks at Exclusion Screening to get this accomplished.  They can be reached at www.exclusionscreening.com

Robert W. Liles is a health care attorney experienced in handling prepayment reviews and audits.Robert W. Liles, J.D., M.B.A., M.S., serves as Managing Partner at Liles Parker, PLLC.  Liles Parker is a health law firm representing personal care agencies and other health care providers around the country in connection with Medicare, Medicaid and private payor audits.  For a complimentary consultation, give Robert a call at: (202) 298-8750.

[1] As mandated by Public Law 95-452, HHS-OIG’s mission is to “protect the integrity of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) programs, as well as the health and welfare of beneficiaries served by those programs.”  HHS-OIG’s report entitled “Personal Care Services: Trends, Vulnerabilities, and Recommendations for Improvement” (OIG-12-12-01).

[2] Alberto N. et al. v. Hawkins. (No. 6:99-cv-00459) May 19, 2005.  EDTX, Tyler Division.

[3] https://www.dshs.texas.gov/region1/documents/tmp-personalCareservices.pdf

[4] https://www.dshs.texas.gov/caseman/pcs.shtm

[5] https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-12-16-00500.pdf

[6] “Waste” occurs when unnecessary services are provided that lead to a waste of resources, such as when more hours of services are rendered than are necessary. “Fraud” is defined at 42 C.F.R. §433.304 as “(in accordance with §455.2) . . . an intentional deception or misrepresentation made by a person with knowledge that the deception could result in some unauthorized benefit to himself or some other person. This includes any act that constitutes fraud under applicable Federal of State law.” “Abuse” is defined is defined at 42 C.F.R. §455.2 as “provider practices that are inconsistent with sound fiscal, business, or medical practices, and result in an unnecessary cost to the Medicaid program, or in reimbursement for services that are not medically necessary or that fail to meet professionally recognized standards for health care. It also includes beneficiary practices that result in unnecessary cost to the Medicaid program.”

[7] https://oig.hhs.gov/reports-and-publications/portfolio/ia-mpcs2016.pdf

[8] https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-09-17-00210.pdf

https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-07-16-00050.pdf

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13]http://www.myfloridalegal.com/newsrel.nsf/newsreleases/8A86BFE3E705BD60852580D5006CC686

[14] http://www.fox9.com/news/caregiver-admits-to-stealing-thousands-in-cash-jewelry-from-elderly-patients

[15] https://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/Personal-Care-Attendant-Accused-of-Stealing-Guitars-from-Client-in-Southington-464400253.html

[16] https://oig.hhs.gov/reports-and-publications/portfolio/ia-mpcs2016.pdf

[17] http://www.swtimes.com/news/caretaker-arrested-fort-smith-man-s-death?start=6

[18] https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-09-17-00210.pdf

https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-07-16-00050.pdf

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

Medicare Home Services (CPT® codes 99341-99350) are Being Audited

June 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Home Health & Hospice

(June 20, 2017):  As the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Inspector General (OIG), signaled in both its 2016 and 2017 Work Plans, the government is concerned about the rapid growth they are seeing in the number of physician home services billed to the Medicare program.  In order to qualify for coverage and payment, physicians providing this type of care are required to document why it is medically necessary to conduct a home visit of a patient in lieu of an office or outpatient visit.  In light of the restrictive nature of these services, the OIG is in the process of conducting assessments of health care organizations that bill the Medicare program for Evaluation & Management (E/M) services provided at a beneficiary’s home, sometimes colloquially referred to as “house calls.”

I.  CPT Codes Used to Bill E/M Home Services in a Patient’s Residence:

Only a limited set of codes may be used to report E/M services rendered to a patient living in their own home or apartment. CPT® codes 99341 through 99350 are used to code for Home Services.  In order to qualify for coverage and payment under the Medicare program, the documentation must show that the E/M guidelines have been met and, in the case of a nonphysician practitioner (NPP), that the home service provided fits within the scope of practice authorized in that state. A description of these codes is outlined below.  Please note, the time estimates indicated are only included in the AMA CPT Codebook descriptions.  They are not included in either the 1995 or 1997 E/M Guidelines.

Home Visit Codes – New Patient:

99341        Low severity problem, 20 min.

99342        Moderate severity problem, 30 min.

99343        Moderate to high severity problem, 45 min.

99344        High severity problem, 60 min.

99345        Patient unstable or significant new problem requiring immediate physician attention, 75 min.

Home Visit Codes – Established Patient:

93347        Self-limited or minor problem, 15 min.

99348        Low to moderate problem, 25 min.

99349        Moderate to high problem, 40 min.

99350        Patient unstable or significant new problem requiring immediate physician attention, 60 min.

These codes cannot be used if the patient resides in a shared living facility or group home.  In order for a home visit to be billed by a physician, the physician must have actually been present in the beneficiary’s home.  These codes only apply in care settings that can be properly coded as Place of Service (POS) 12 (Patient’s Home).

II.  Does a Patient Have to be “Homebound” in Order to Qualify for Home Services?

The homebound requirements of Medicare’s home health benefit are not applicable to the provision of home services (as billed under CPT codes 99341 through 99350).  In other words, a Medicare beneficiary does not necessarily have to be “confined to the home” in order for a physician to provide a covered home visit. Nevertheless, the medical record must document why it was medically necessary for the physician or qualified NPP to conduct a home visit in lieu of seeing the patient in the physician’s office or in an outpatient clinic.

III. CMS Contractors are Actively Auditing E/M Services Conducted in a Patient’s Home:

It is important to note that in addition to OIG, several CMS contractors are also actively auditing providers that have billed Medicare for E/M services conducted in a patient’s home.  As with their law enforcement counterparts, these administrative contractors are focusing their audits on whether the home visit was, in fact, medically necessary.  As you will recall, a fundamental Medicare requirement under § 1862(a)(1)(A) of the Social Security Act is that:

“. . . no payment may be made under part A or part B for any expenses incurred for items or services —

(1)(A) which, except for items and services described in a succeeding subparagraph, are not reasonable and necessary for the diagnosis or treatment of illness or injury or to improve the functioning of a malformed body member. . .”

With only limited exceptions,[1] the services provided by a physician or an NPP cannot be services that could be provided by a visiting nurse or home health agency under Medicare’s home health benefits program.

Additionally, the decision to provide home visit services must be based on the medical necessity of providing in-home care. Medicare auditors will review the patient’s medical records carefully to determine if, in fact, the patient was unable to come to the physician’s office or an outpatient clinic for care.  Moreover, even if the documentation supports that the patient was unable to come the physician’s office or outpatient clinic on a specific date due to physical or mental disabilities, if the documentation does not support additional in-home visits, they will be denied.

IV.  Know the Coverage Rules and Check Your LCD Covering Home Services:

It is essential that you understand the coverage and billing requirements governing home services as set out in the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual (MBPM) and the Local Coverage Determination (LCD) issued by your Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC).  LCD requirements may slightly vary from one jurisdiction to another.  Therefore, you need to ensure that your practices fully comply with the LCD requirements applicable to your claims.

When assessing whether one or more home services are medically necessary, Medicare auditors will carefully examine the documentation associated with each visit.  The documentation of each beneficiary encounter must include:

  1. Reason for the encounter and relevant history;
  2. Physical examination findings, and prior diagnostic test results, if applicable;
  3. Assessment, clinical impression, or diagnosis;
  4. Medical plan of care including how the visit will change/changed the care of the beneficiary.

To be clear, a physician or NPP must also obtain a full range of the administrative information normally obtained in an office visit when visiting a new patient.  For instance:

  • Did you provide the patient with necessary HIPAA privacy information? Did the patient complete a “Notice of Privacy Practices” form
  • Have you obtained an executed “Consent for Treatment” form from the patient?
  • Did you obtain a completed intake form for use with new patients?
  • Did you have the patient complete a form outlining their prior medical, family and social history?
  • Did you provide a copy of the organization’s financial policies to the patient?

V. Risk Areas When Billing for Home Services:

If audited, the Medicare reviewer examining your claims will likely deny payment if one of the following reasons for denial is identified:

  1. It appears that one or more of the home services were was conducted for the convenience of the patient, the patient’s family, or the physician, AND the documentation does not reflect that the patient was unable to come to the physician’s office or an outpatient clinic for care.
  2. The medical record does not clearly demonstrate that the patient, his/her family or another clinician involved in the case sought the initial service. In other words, what was the source of this referral?  Was the care solicited by a party representing the home visit organization?
  3. The home services are provided at a frequency that exceeds that which is typically provided in the office and acceptable standards of medical practice.
  4. The home services are not being personally performed by a physician. It is being performed by an NPP but the claim is being billed at the physician’s rate.
  5. The home services are being solely performed by an NPP but only the physician, not the treating NPP, is credentialed with Medicare.
  6.  The specific services provided during the home services could be provided by a visiting nurse or home health agency.

VI.  Conclusion:

Home services (CPT® codes 99341 through 99350) billed to Medicare are currently being audited by multiple CMS contractors around the country and by OIG.  If you receive a request for medical records from a UPIC, ZPIC or MAC, we recommend that you contact a qualified health lawyer as soon as possible.  Depending on the contractor, the records request you receive may be related to a probe audit OR it may require that you send in a larger sample of records, one that the contractor contends is a “statistically relevant sample.”  If that is the case, the contractor will likely seek to extrapolate the error rate found when it reviews your claims records.  It is imperative that you understand the ramifications of such an audit – call your health lawyer immediately.

Robert W. Liles represents health care providers in Medicare home services cases.Robert W. Liles, J.D., M.B.A., M.S., serves as Managing Partner at the health law firm Liles Parker, PLLC.  Liles Parker attorneys represent health care providers around the country in connection with Medicare, Medicaid and Private Payor audits.  For a free consultation, please call: 1 (800) 475-1906.

[1] The Medicare Benefit Policy Manual (MBPM), Sec. 60.4, “Services Incident to a Physician’s Service to Homebound Patients Under General Physician Supervision,” outlines very limited circumstances when a physician can provide services that would normally be performed by a home health agency. Should a UPIC, ZPIC or MAC conduct a postpayment audit of these services, their review will focus, in part, on whether a “substantial number of the services provided under this coverage when they could otherwise have been performed by a home health agency.”

 

 

Home Health Final Rule Creates New Exclusion Screening Obligation

March 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Home Health & Hospice

Exclusion Screening Obligation(March 29, 2017): The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has recently published a new Final Rule that makes changes to the Conditions of Participation for home health agencies. Under the Final Rule, providers are required to ensure that individuals and entities providing services under arrangement are not excluded, terminated, or debarred from any Federal health care program.  Simply put, these new requirements are an affirmative obligation to screen both the Federal and State exclusion lists.

While CMS does not provide detailed guidance on how a home health agency is supposed to meet this new requirement, it does make it clear that the responsibility of properly screening contracted entities remains with the home health agency.  Additionally, it makes no mention of how a provider could screen for a Medicaid exclusion.  This lack of clarity on how to effectively meet this Condition of Participation could be problematic since CMS may now hold a home health agency liable for failing to catch a Medicaid exclusion.  Home health agencies are cautioned to ensure that they are meeting their exclusion screening obligation / OIG screening obligation in order to avoid having their participation in Medicare terminated. What should your home health agency do?  As a start, we recommend that you review the detailed discussion on this new requirement written by Paul Weidenfeld, Esq. at www.exclusionscreening.com.

Exclusion Screening ObligationDo you have questions regarding your exclusion screening obligations / OIG screening obligations?  Give us a call.  Liles Parker attorneys represent home health agencies around the country in connection with ZPIC audits, OIG investigations, exclusion issues, False Claims Act cases and transactional matters.  Please call Robert W. Liles for a free consultation.  He can be reached at:  1 (800) 475-1906.

Home Health: Pre-Claim Review Demonstration Project

January 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Home Health & Hospice

Home health claims are being audited in the pre-claim review demonstration project.(January 9, 2017):  As the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced, the alleged error rate associated with home health claims has risen from 17.3 % in FY 2013 to 51.38% in FY 2014 and 58.95% in FY 2015.  In light of these increases, CMS has taken steps to address the home health claims error rate.  Section 402(a)(1)(J) of the Social Security Amendments of 1967 authorizes the Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop demonstration projects that:

“[D]evelop or demonstrate improved methods for the investigation and prosecution of fraud in the provision of care or services under the health programs established by the Social Security Act.”

Consistent with this authority, on February 5, 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published notice in the Federal Register that it intended to collect information that would be used by the agency to serve as a:

“[B]aseline estimate of probable fraud in payments for home health care     services in the fee-for-service Medicare program.”  42 U.S.C. 1395b-1(a)(1)(J).

On June 8, 2016, CMS announced in the Federal Register (81 Fed. Reg. 37598) that five states would be part of the new Pre-Claim Review Demonstration. These states included:  Illinois, Florida, Texas Michigan and Massachusetts.  While the program was implemented in Illinois on August 3, 2016, the rest of the implementation schedule was delayed due to a variety of implementation-related problems.

CMS has recently announced that the Pre-Claim Review Demonstration Project will be resumed and that it will be implemented in Florida on April 1, 2017.  While no implementation dates have been announced yet for Texas and the remaining test states, Texas home health providers could conceivably be facing this program as early as May 1, 2017.

In addition to providing an overview of the home health Pre-Claim Review Demonstration Project, this article examines the primary reasons for claims denial identified so far by Illinois home health agencies. In this first article, we are focusing on the denial reasons associated with errors identified with face-to-face and plans of care / certification / recertification documentation.

I. What are Medicare’s Home Health Benefit Requirements?

To qualify for the Medicare Home Health benefit, under 1814(a)(2)(C) and 1835(a)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act, a Medicare beneficiary must meet the following requirements:

  • Be confined to the home at the time of services;
  • Medicare considers the person homebound if:

1) There exist a normal inability to leave the home, and

2) Leaving home requires a considerable and taxing effort.

  • Additionally, one of the following must also be true:

1) Because of illness or injury, the person needs the aid of supportive devices such as crutches, canes, wheelchairs, and walkers; the use of special transportation; or the assistance of another person in order to leave their place of residence; or

2) The person has a condition such that leaving his or her home is medically contraindicated.

  • Under the care of a physician;
  • Receiving services under a plan of care established and periodically reviewed by a physician;
  • Be in need of skilled services;
  • Have a face-to-face encounter with an allowed provider type as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. This encounter must:

1) Occur no more than 90 days prior to the home health start of care date or within 30 days of the start of the home health care; and be related to the primary reason the patient requires home health services and was performed by a physician or non-physician practitioner.

II. Primary Reasons for the Denial of Home Health Claims Identified:

Based on the claims submitted by home health agencies in Illinois thus far, the following reasons for denial have been cited by Palmetto when reviewing agencies’ home health claims:

Denial Reason Code
Face-to-Face Errors


HH01A
The physician certification was invalid since the required face-to-face encounter document was missing (actual clinical note for the face-to face encounter visit for admissions on or after 1/1/15, or the narrative for admissions on or after 4/1/11and before 1/1/15) Refer to CMS IOM Publication 100-02, Chapter 7, Section 30.5.1.1 and 30.5.1.2.


HH01B
The physician certification was invalid since the required face-to-face encounter document was untimely and/or the certifying physician did not document the date of the encounter. Refer to CMS IOM Publication 100-02, Chapter 7, Section 30.5.1.1.2


HH01A
The physician certification was invalid since the face-to-face encounter was not performed by an approved practitioner. Refer to CMS IOM Publication 100-02, Chapter 7, Section 30.5.1.1.1


HH01D
The physician certification was invalid since the required face-to-face encounter was not related to the primary reason for home health services. Refer to CMS IOM Publication 100-02, Chapter 7, Section 30.5.1.2


Denial Reason Code
Plan of Care / Certification / Recertification


HH02A
The Plan of Care was missing. Refer to CMS IOM Publication 100-02, Chapter 7, Section 30.2.


HH02B
The content of the Plan of Care submitted was insufficient. Refer to CMS IOM Publication 100-02, Chapter 7, Section 30.2.1.


HH02C
The Plan of Care submitted was not signed. Refer to CMS IOM Publication 100-02, Chapter 7, Section 30.2.3


HH02I
The Plan of Care submitted was not signed timely by a qualified physician. Refer to CMS IOM Publication 100-02, Chapter 7, Section 30.2.4.
|


HH02D
Missing physician certification/recertification. Refer to CMS IOM Publication 100-02, Chapter 7, Section 30.5


HH02E
The physician certification/recertification submitted does not support skilled need. Documentation in the certifying physician’s medical records and/or the acute/post- acute care facility’s medical records (if the patient was directly admitted to home health) shall be used as the basis for certification of home health eligibility. Refer to CMS IOM Publication 100-02, Chapter 7, Section 30.5 and 42CFR 424.22 (a) and (c).


HH02F
The physician certification / recertification submitted does not support homebound status. Documentation in the certifying physician’s medical records and/or the acute /post-acute care facility’s medical records (if the patient was directly admitted to home health) shall be used as the basis for certification of home health eligibility. Refer to CMS IOM Publication 100- 02, Chapter 7, Section 30.5 and 42CFR 424.22 (a) and (c).


HH02G
The physician recertification estimate of how much longer skilled services are required is missing. Refer to CMS IOM Publication 100-02, Chapter 7, Section 30.5.2.


HH02H
The home health agency generated record contained relevant clinical information addressing the “confined to the home” (homebound) eligibility requirement, which was corroborated by the certifying physician or the acute/post-acute facility documentation, but was NOT signed and dated by the certifying physician. Please have the certifying physician sign and date the relevant HHA-generated information and resubmit. Refer to CMS IOM Publication 100-08, Chapter 6, Section 6.2.3.


HH02J
The home health agency generated record contained relevant clinical information addressing the “need for skilled services” eligibility requirement, which was corroborated by the certifying physician or the acute/post-acute facility documentation, but was NOT signed and dated by the certifying physician. Please have the certifying physician sign and date the relevant HHA-generated information and resubmit. Refer to CMS IOM Publication 100-08, Chapter 6, Section 6.2.3.

III. Lessons to be Learned:

Home health agencies in Florida, Texas, Michigan and Massachusetts should carefully review the denial reasons outlined above and conduct internal audits of your home health claims documentation to determine whether your agency’s documentation is complete.  The experiences of home health agencies in Illinois can be invaluable to your efforts to better ensure the full compliance of your agency with applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.  In future installments of this article, we will examine other reasons for denial seen by Illinois home health agencies.

Home Health ClaimsRobert W. Liles, M.B.A., M.S., J.D., serves as Managing Partner at Liles Parker, Attorneys & Counselors at Law. Liles Parker is a boutique health law firm, with offices in Washington DC, Houston TX, San Antonio TX, McAllen TX and Baton Rouge LA. Robert represents home health agencies around the country in connection with Medicare audits and compliance matters. Our firm also represents health care providers in connection with federal and state regulatory reviews and investigations. For a free consultation, call Robert at: 1 (800) 475-1906.

Responding to OIG Home Health Audits

November 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Home Health & Hospice

OIG home health audits are occuring around the country.(November 23, 2016): The Office of Audit Services, Office of Inspector General (OAS), is in the process of conducting audits of large home health agencies.  These audits are being conducted, in part, because the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had determined through the Comprehensive Error Rate Testing Program (CERT) that for 2014, there was greater than a 50% error rate nationally in Medicare claims for home health services.  Additionally, it is our belief that because the advent of alternative payment methodologies is likely to diminish the relevance of the current process for medical necessity audits in the future, home health agencies are likely to experience a spike in audits of Medicare claims in the near future.

I.  Initial Results From Early OIG Home Health Audits:

Irrespective of the motivation behind the audits, the first two audit reports resulted in findings of large error rates with extraordinary recommended refunds of more than $15 million for one agency and more than $8 million for the other.  These results were generated by the application of a statistical extrapolation and a recommendation that the results be applied with an attendant request for refunds, not only for the three-year look-back period, but also for earlier years as a result of the “60 day” repayment rule.  See Medicare Compliance Review of Excellent Home Care Services, LLC, Report No. A-02-14-01005 (OAS, July 2016); Medicare Compliance Review of Home Health VNA for 2011 and 2012, Report No. A-01-13-00518 (August 2016).

As a result, we are aware of several companies that are now undergoing similar types of audits by OAS.  The review of these claims has been subcontracted to Maximus, a Qualified Independent Contractor (“QIC”) with experience in reviewing medical necessity audit determinations.

In the past for claim audits by MACs or ZPICs, clients would frequently submit the medical records without preparing any claim summaries, and instead prepare those summaries for purposes of the appeals process after the initial findings.

Because of the extraordinary refunds that have been recommended by the OAS reports cited, above, coupled with the significant delay in obtaining ALJ hearings after refunds are required, providers that receive notices of these audits may wish to take a more proactive approach to defend the legitimacy of the claims under review, including retaining and working with legal counsel at the beginning stage of this process.

II.  What is OIG Requesting in These Home Health Audits?

Specifically, providers undergoing these audits of which we are aware have been asked to submit the medical records for 100 claims.  For each of these claims, providers should bates label the pages of the claim.  Additionally, they should organize the records so that it is easy to track the various components of the adverse findings of the earlier audit reports, such as face-to-face, nursing, therapy, etc.  Finally, they may wish to consider submitting detailed claim summaries that identify how each of the claims meets the various criteria for coverage and payment, that cite to specific pages of the medical record and that are submitted at the time that the client initially submits the medical record.  Additionally, to the extent that the initial review discloses gaps or ambiguities that can be appropriately and legitimately supplemented or explained, agencies may wish to accomplish that process up front, rather than risking the potential of adverse findings that might not otherwise accurately reflect the claims.  By responding proactively, providers may be able to minimize the likelihood of recommended denials based upon misunderstandings by the reviewers.

III.  Recommendations:

Given the magnitude of the findings and recommendations for refunds in the two audit reports published to date, we strongly recommend that providers who are notified that they are to undergo these audits contact legal counsel familiar with responding to audits at the initial stage, rather than waiting for the initial recommendations or draft audit report. Knowledgeable legal counsel familiar with the audit process and the types of individuals conducting the audit, can  work effectively with the clinical team to present the records to the audit team in a manner that provides an accurate picture of the claim at the beginning stage, and by doing so, potentially minimize or avoid improper adverse findings prior to the issuance of the audit report .

Michael CookMichael Cook is the co-chair of Liles Parker’s health care group and has more than 35 years of experience representing providers in regulatory matters, including matters of this nature. Before entering private practice, Michael also represented the Federal regulators of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, is a member of the Board of Medical Assistance Services in Virginia, and has advised the campaigns of a number of candidates for state and federal office.  Any entity experiencing an audit of this nature or having questions can contact Michael at (202) 298-8750 or mcook@lilesparker.com.

Home Health Pre-Claim Review Demonstration Project Update!

September 20, 2016 by  
Filed under Home Health & Hospice

Pre-Claim Review Demonstration(September 20, 2016): On August 3, 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) implemented its “Pre-Claim Review Demonstration” project in Illinois.  This demonstration project effectively requires that Illinois home health agencies submit home health claims for review by the Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) or face possible penalties (and be forced to have the claim evaluated through the pre-payment process).  As part of the pre-demonstration project, home health agencies are required to submit a complete set of medical records which show that the claim at issue is associated with medically necessary services, meets applicable documentation requirements, qualifies for Medicare coverage and has been coded and billed correctly.  As the demonstration project has been rolled out in Illinois, many home health agencies have experienced problems with the “affirmation” process.  It has been reported that the MAC has allegedly “missed” documentation that has been submitted and that very few of the claims reviewed have been affirmed by the reviewing contractor.  While CMS has not address these specific points, it has acknowledged that additional refinements in the program are required before expansion can continue. Earlier today, CMS announced that the home health pre-claim review demonstration project is temporarily being placed on hold to allow for additional provider education efforts to be conducted.  These provider educational efforts are expected to focus on the main reasons that pre-claim requests have been “non-affirmed” and the documentation that is required to support a home health claim.  Additional information regarding the home health pre-claim demonstration review project is set out below.

I. Background:

Section 402(a)(1)(J) of the Social Security Amendments of 1967[1] authorizes the Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop demonstration projects that:

“develop or demonstrate improved methods for the investigation and prosecution of fraud in the provision of care or services under the health programs established by the Social Security Act.”[2]

The home health pre-claim review demonstration project was initiated by CMS due to the increase over the last three fiscal years of improper payment rates for home health claims. On June 8, 2016, CMS announced in the Federal Register[3] that five states would be involved in this new project to collect information to compile a “baseline estimate of probable fraud in payments for home health care services in the fee-for-service [FFS] Medicare program.” These five states include Illinois, Florida, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Texas. Furthermore, the goal of the project was to assess the use of pre-claim reviews as a means of reducing Medicare FFS expenditures for home health services by reducing improper payments while maintaining or improving the quality of care experienced by the beneficiary.”[4]

II. Pre-Claim Review Demonstration Process:

Under the pre-claim review demonstration process requires home health agencies are strongly encouraged to request a preliminary confirmation of coverage by submitting home health claims and associated clinical documentation, for review after services have begun but before the final claim for services is submitted for payment. The home health pre-claim review process is designed to better help ensure that applicable medical necessity, documentation, coverage, coding and billing rules are met before a claim is submitted to Medicare for payment.

The pre-claim review process does not create new clinical home health documentation requirements. Rather, home health agencies are only required to submit the same information they currently maintain for payment. As mentioned, they will do so earlier in the process, which will help assure that all relevant coverage and clinical documentation requirements are met before the claim is submitted for payment. CMS contends that the pre-claim review process will not delay care to Medicare beneficiaries and will not alter the Medicare home health benefit.

Home health agencies in one of the five demonstration states have been advised that if they do not submit their claims through the pre-claim review process, those claims will be flagged for prepayment review and will essentially treated like an ADR.  Moreover, after the first three months of the program, even if found to qualify for coverage and payment, CMS intends to reduce payment by 25% on each claim that is not submitted through the pre-claim demonstration review process.

III. Conclusion:

The decision by CMS to postpone the implementation of the pre-claim review demonstration in Florida was influenced, in large part, by the advocacy of supportive political and home health industry groups.  The postponement of the pre-claim review demonstration project is a major victory for health care providers in Florida, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Texas. Unfortunately, However, the implementation of the demonstration project is inevitable so providers should continue to prepare for the impact it will have on their health care practice. The exact start dates for Florida, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Texas have yet to be announced, but the dates will be provided on CMS’ website at least 30 days in advance to the implementation. Providers can expect a staggered start beginning with Florida, which provides additional time for preparation.

Pre-Claim Review DemonstrationRobert W. Liles, M.B.A., M.S., J.D., serves as Managing Partner at Liles Parker, Attorneys & Counselors at Law. Liles Parker is a boutique health law firm, with offices in Washington DC, Houston TX, San Antonio TX, McAllen TX and Baton Rouge LA. Robert represents home health agencies around the country in connection with Medicare audits and compliance matters. Our firm also represents health care providers in connection with federal and state regulatory reviews and investigations. For a free consultation, call Robert at: 1 (800) 475-1900.

 

 

[1] 42 U.S.C. 1395b-1(a)(1)(J).

[2] Id.

[3] 81 Fed. Reg. 37598.

[4] “Pre-Claim Review Demonstration for Home Health Services in Illinois,” available at http://www.palmettogba.com/Palmetto/Providers.Nsf/files/Workshop_Home_Health_PCR_Workshop_Series.pdf/$File/Workshop_Home_Health_PCR_Workshop_Series.pdf

[5] See the Palmetto GBA website for helpful resources, available at http://www.palmettogba.com/palmetto/providers.nsf/docsCat/Providers~JM%20Home%20Health%20and%20Hospice~Home%20Health%20Pre-Claim%20Review.

Home Health Pre-Claim Reviews Are Here!

August 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Home Health & Hospice

Pre-Claim Reviews(August 23, 2016):  The home health pre-claim review demonstration project has now started and will be in place for at least the next three years. How did we get to this point?  Unfortunately, this demonstration project was initiated (in large part) based on the fact that  improper payment rate for home health claims has gone 17.3 % in FY 2013  to 51.38% in FY 2014 and 58.95% in FY 2015.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has primarily attributed this increase due to the failure of home health agencies (and their referring physicians) to fully meet documentation requirements to support the medical necessity of the services.

I. Background:

Section 402(a)(1)(J) of the Social Security Amendments of 1967[1] authorizes the Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop demonstration projects that “develop or demonstrate improved methods for the investigation and prosecution of fraud in the provision of care or services under the health programs established by the Social Security Act.”  Consistent with this authority, on February 5, 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published notice in the Federal Register that it intended to collect information that would be used by the agency to serve as a baseline estimate of probable fraud in payments for home health care services in the fee-for-service Medicare program.”  This baseline is to be comprised of information gathered from home health agencies, referring physicians and Medicare beneficiaries.

On June 8, 2016, CMS announced in the Federal Register (81 Fed. Reg. 37598) that five states would be part of the new Pre-Claim Review Demonstration project. For these states, preapproval is being required before final home health claims can be submitted.

  • Illinois (originally set to begin August 1, 2016)
  • Florida (no later than October 1, 2016).
  • Texas (no later than December 1, 2016).
  • Michigan (no later than January 1, 2016).
  • Massachusetts (no later than January 1, 2016).

II. What is CMS Telling Medicare Beneficiaries About the Pre-Claim Review Project?

CMS has notified beneficiaries by mail that a “new Pre-Claim Review Demonstration for Home Health Services” was to be initiated in Illinois on August 1, 2016.  (It was ultimately delayed until August 5, 2016). The letter sent to beneficiaries states that “This new demonstration doesn’t change your Medicare home health benefit and coverage requirements.”  CMS further outlines coverage requirements in its attached Fact Sheet, saying that a beneficiary must:

  • Be confined to the home at the time of services. Medicare considers you confined to the home (i.e., “homebound”) if:

(1) There exist a normal inability to leave the home, and

(2) Leaving home requires a considerable and taxing effort.

  • Additionally, one of the following must also be true:

(1) Because of illness or injury, you need the aid of supportive devices (such as a crutch, cane, wheelchair, or walker); the use of special transportation; or the assistance of another person in order to leave your home; or

(2) You have a condition such that leaving your home is medically contraindicated.

  • Be under the care of a physician;
  • Receive services under a plan of care established and periodically reviewed by a physician;
  • Need skilled services, which are services that only a skilled nurse or therapist can safely and effectively provide;
  • Have a face-to-face encounter (or visit) with a doctor or practitioner no more than 90 days before you start home health care or within 30 days after you start home health,

III. What is Palmetto GBA Telling Certifying Physicians and Practitioners?

By letter dated August 11, 2016, Palmetto GBA advised Illinois “Certifying Physician[s] / Practitioner[s]” patients that the Illinois Pre-Claim Review demonstration project for home health services began on August 1, 2016.   Palmetto GBA’s letter to certifying providers further stated that:

“As the certifying physician/practitioner, you are required under the Medicare program to supply the HHA or beneficiary face-to-face encounter visit notes as well as any other documentation that supports medical necessity for the home health care services ordered.”

Palmetto GBA’s letter further notes that to qualify for the Medicare home health care benefit, the patient must:

  • Be confined to the home;
  • Be under the care of a physician;
  • Be receiving services under a plan of care established and periodically reviewed by a physician;
  • Be in need of skilled nursing care on an intermittent basis or physical therapy or speech-language pathology; or have a continuing need for occupational therapy;
  • Have a face-to-face encounter with a medical provider as mandated by the Affordable Care Act for the initial episode of care.

Palmetto GBA’s letter to certifying providers concludes by stating that:

“What You Need to Know

. . . As the certifying physician/practitioner,  you are required under the Medicare program to supply the HHA or beneficiary face-to-face encounter visit notes as well as any other documentation that supports medical necessity for the home health care services ordered.”

Palmetto GBA’s letter concludes by noting: 

“Your Responsibility

If you are the certifying physician/practitioner for a Medicare patient, and plan to  order/refer home health care services, it is imperative that patient medical records include comprehensive clinical assessment data and are submitted to the HHA in a timely manner. Please watch this video on Home Health Face-to-Face  Documentation on Palmetto GBA’s website at www.PalmettoGBA.com/HHH.”

IV. Is Participation in the Pre-Claim Review Project Really Voluntary?

Both CMS and Palmetto GBA state that the demonstration project is “voluntary.”  Is it really voluntaryAs Palmetto GBA’s own website acknowledges:

“Final claims submitted without a Pre-Claim Review request during the first three months of the demonstration from the start date in that state will not be subject to a payment reduction.”

After this three month period:

“If a Home Health Agency in a demonstration state does not submit a Pre-Claim Review request, the final claim will be subject to pre-payment review. . . If no Pre-Claim Review request was submitted and the claim is determined  through pre-payment medical review to be payable, it will be paid with a 25 percent reduction of the full claim amount. . . The 25 percent payment reduction is non-transferable to the beneficiary. . . The 25 percent payment reduction is not subject to appeal.“  (emphasis added).

V. How Will a “Request for Anticipated Payment” (RAP) be Handled?

RAPs are not subject to the Pre-Claim Review process. At this time, no changes in the RAP submission process is anticipated – RAPs should be submitted in the normal process — there will not be any changes in the process and payment of a RAP.  A home health agency must submit a final claim within 120 days of the start of the episode OR 60 days after the paid date of the RAP. Please keep in mind, if a final claim has not been submitted in a timely fashion, the RAP will continue to be automatically cancelled.

VI. How Will a “Low Utilization Payment Adjustment” (LUPA) be Handled?

Home health services for less than 60days will still be subject to Pre-Claim Review, with the following exception:

  • LUPAs occur when four or fewer visits are provided in a 60 day episode. LUPAs are not subject to the Pre-Claim Review process.

VII. How Should Services With Modifier GY be Handled?

Home health services that are not covered by Medicare should be appended with a GY Modifier.  This modifier reflects the fact that the item or service does not meet the definition of a Medicare covered benefit.  Home health services billed with a GY Modifier are not subject to Pre-Claim Review.

VIII. How Should Services With Modifier GA be Handled?

Use of a GA Modifier indicates that that a provider expects an item or service to be denied because it is not reasonable and necessary.  The most common example of this situation would be for home health services that do not appear to meet the requirements under the applicable LCD.   It is appropriate to report this modifier when a beneficiary refuses to sign an ABN.  Importantly, the presence or absence of the GA Modifier does not influence Medicare’s determination for payment.  Therefore, Pre-Claim Review IS STILL REQUIRED for home health services billed with a GA Modifier.

IX. When Will Home Health Services in Texas be Subject to Pre-Claim Review?

Unless delayed (as it was for a few days in Illinois), the Pre-Claim Review process is currently scheduled to apply to all 60-day episodes of care that BEGIN on or after December 1, 2016.  This will include:

  • Initial certifications of care.
  • Recertifications of care. If a beneficiary is discharged and readmitted to the same agency within the same 60-day episode of care, these claims are subject to the Pre-Claim Review process.
  • If a new admission (start of care OASIS) is required, a new Pre-Claim Review request must be submitted by the agency.
  • If a beneficiary transfers to another home health agency during a 60-day episode of care, the RECEIVING home health agency must submit a Pre-Claim Review Please note, even if a beneficiary with a “provisionally affirmed decision” transfers to another home health agency during the same 60-day episode of care, the RECEIVING home health agency must still submit its own Pre-Claim Review request.

X. What Happens When a Claim is Submitted for Pre-Claim Review?

CMS is requiring that Palmetto make a decision and notify an agency within 10 business days (excluding federal holidays) of the initial submission for Pre-Claim Review.   Palmetto will assign a “Unique Tracking Number” (UTN) to each decision.  The decision will advise the submitting agency whether the claim is “affirmed” or non-affirmed.”   Each decision will include:

  • The UTN that has been assigned to the episode / decision.
  • Which HCPCS were affirmed.
  • A detailed explanation of which requirements were not met (if any).
  • Importantly, a provisional affirmation decision is only a preliminary finding that a future claim submitted to Medicare for the service likely meets Medicare’s coverage, coding and payment requirements.
  • A provisional affirmative decision only applies to the episode for which the Pre-Claim Review request was submitted.

XI. What Happens When Some HCPCS Codes Are Affirmed and Some are Denied?

In some instances, you may find that a Pre-Claim Review decision includes both affirmed and non-affirmed HCPCS codes. Should this occur, you can:

  • Submit the final claim with all the HCPCS codes with the UTN and the provisionally affirmed HCPCS will approve for payment and the non-affirmed HCPCS will deny with appeals rights.
  • Resubmit the PCR for the non-affirmed HCPCS codes which would result in a new UTN based on that decision which would then need to be used on the final claim.

XII. What Does it Mean When a Non-Affirmed Decision is Issued by Palmetto?

More often than not, it means that the documentation submitted does not meet one or more of Medicare’s requirements. Each notification of non-affirmation will include:

  • The UTN for the non-affirmed claim.
  • A listing of which HCPCS codes were not affirmed.
  • A detailed explanation of which requirements have not been met in order for the HCPCS codes at issue to qualify to be affirmed.

XIII. Impact of Home Health Pre-Claim Reviews on Small and Mid-Sized Home Health Agencies in Texas.

Your costs to process a claim will be significantly higher for the next three years.  The additional paperwork and effort to submit an episode for Pre-Claim Review are non-compensated and will likely prove challenging for agencies currently facing rising costs and ever-diminishing profit margins.

While CMS has issued deadlines (10 business days / 20 business days) for Palmetto to issue decisions in initial requests and resubmissions, it remains to be seen whether these deadlines will be met.  Home health agencies should anticipate delays, regardless of the goals that have been set for Palmetto. Even if Palmetto is able to process Pre-Claim review requests within its stated deadlines, home health agencies should expect to receive a significant percentage of denials (at least until it becomes more clear what Palmetto expect to see).  These denials will result in cash-flow delays.

Unfortunately, the administrative appeals process remains broken.  If you are unable to obtain a provisionally affirmed decision, you will likely face 3 – 5 years appealing a denial through Medicare’s appeal process.  Unless small and mid-sized agencies work to aggressively improve their compliance with applicable LCD rules, documentation, coverage and payment requirements, we anticipate a number of closures over the next three years.

Pre-Claim ReviewsRobert W. Liles, M.B.A., M.S., J.D., serves as Managing Partner at Liles Parker, Attorneys & Counselors at Law. Liles Parker is a boutique health law firm, with offices in Washington DC, Houston TX, San Antonio TX, McAllen TX and Baton Rouge LA. Robert represents home health agencies and other health care providers around the country in connection with Medicare, Medicaid and private payor audit actions. Our firm also represents health care providers in connection with federal and state regulatory reviews and investigations.

For a free consultation, call Robert at: 1 (800) 475-1900.

 

[1] 42 U.S.C. 1395b-1(a)(1)(J).

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