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Coronavirus Update – New FAQs and Toolkits for Telehealth, Telemedicine & Medicare Provider Enrollment

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(March 27, 2020): Liles Parker published an article covering CMS’ blanket waiver of certain telehealth requirements on March 16, 2020, with an updated version posted March 17, 2020.[1] This article covers developments since March 17, 2020 related to CMS telehealth requirements and provider enrollment activities in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration’s recent waiver permitting practitioners to prescribe controlled substances via telemedicine.

We recommend providers carefully review the CMS and DEA guidance specific for each service or activity for complete details or contact a Liles Parker attorney for more information.

I.   Medicare Telehealth Waiver:

On March 17, 2020, CMS announced a waiver of certain telehealth coverage requirements so that Medicare beneficiaries can receive a wider range of services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility.[2]Since then, the agency has published toolkits for general and ESRD providers that answer a number of key questions.[3]

The initial announcement regarding the blanket waiver published March 17, 2020 included the following key takeaways:

  • Effective for services starting March 6, 2020 and for the duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, Medicare will make payment for Medicare telehealth services furnished to patients in all areas of the country in all settings.
  • During this period, Medicare will make payment for Medicare telehealth services furnished to beneficiaries in any healthcare facility and in their home.
  • The Medicare coinsurance and deductible would generally apply to these services. However, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) is providing flexibility for healthcare providers to reduce or waive cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal healthcare programs.
  • To the extent the 1135 waiver requires an established relationship, HHS will not conduct audits to ensure that such a prior relationship existed for claims submitted during this public health emergency.
  • HHS’ Office of Civil Rights will exercise enforcement discretion and waive penalties for HIPAA violations against health care providers that serve patients in good faith through everyday communications technologies, such as FaceTime or Skype, during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency.[4]

Note that the waiver does not restrict coverage to patients with coronavirus or symptoms of coronavirus. Any service that a provider can safely deliver via telehealth and is on CMS’ list of approved telehealth services[5] will be permitted under the new waiver. This waiver of Medicare program and HIPAA requirements will last for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

II.   Medicare Telehealth FAQs

CMS updated its COVID-19 FAQs after publishing the March 17, 2020 telehealth waiver notice.[6] The FAQs answer several key questions we have received from clients in the last several days, including the following:

  • Question: For purposes of the statutory requirement that a patient have a face-to-face encounter with a physician or an allowed non-physician practitioner in order to qualify for Medicare home health care, can this encounter occur via telehealth during a pandemic outbreak of an infectious disease?

Answer: The face-to-face encounter, as described at 1814(a)(2)(C) and 1835(a)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act, can be performed via telehealth in accordance with the requirements under 1834(m)(4)(C) of the Social Security Act. Under the expansion of telehealth under the 1135 waiver, beneficiaries are able to use telehealth technologies with their doctors and practitioners from home (or other originating site) for the face-to-face encounter to qualify for Medicare home health care.

  • Question: Can the distant site practitioner furnish Medicare telehealth services from their home? Or do they have to be in a medical facility?

Answer: There are no payment restrictions on distant site practitioners furnishing Medicare telehealth services from their home. Individual providers may use their MAC hotline number to verbally update their practice location over the phone and would be effective immediately so practitioners could continue providing care without a disruption.

Liles Parker recommends that if a distant site practitioner intends to provide telehealth services and does not have their home listed on the enrollment file as a practice location, he or she should call their Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) to add it. Please also see the additional information below on CMS provider enrollment waivers.

We note that CMS’ telehealth waiver does not relax or remove incident to supervision requirements. We recently reviewed whether a distant site practitioner (for example, a clinical psychologist), and someone under their supervision who is not enrolled in the Medicare program (for example, a licensed counselor), could collaborate via telemedicine to care for a Medicare patient. The scenario would involve the licensed counselor providing individual therapy services via telemedicine technology. The patient would be an established patient with a plan of care established by the clinical psychologist. The psychologist and licensed counselor would not be in the same location. As of the publication of this update, CMS has not relaxed or waived the supervision requirements for incident to services; therefore, this telehealth service would not be covered unless the supervising psychologist and licensed counselor are in the same location. We will continue to monitor CMS’ FAQs and other guidance for any changes.

III.   State Medical Board Telehealth and Other Waivers:

We recommend that you check with your State licensing board to verify state requirements for telemedicine if you are unfamiliar with what is permitted in your state and the State in which you wish to provide telehealth services. The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) is maintaining a list of state actions that include waivers of licensure requirements, license renewal requirements, and other state medical board actions in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.[7] Many of these waivers address physicians from out-of-state rendering telehealth and/or telemedicine services in states where they are not licensed. Keep in mind that a physician must meet the licensing requirements both in the state where he or she is licensed and in the state where the patient being seen via telemedicine is located.

Liles Parker has advised numerous clients with regard to telemedicine services and is ready to assist you in understanding both Medicare and relevant state law during this unprecedented public health emergency.

IV.   DEA Waiver to Regarding Controlled Substance Prescribing via Telemedicine

DEA is doing its part to support enhanced telemedicine services during the COVID-19 public health emergency as well. In a recently posted FAQ,[8] DEA informed the healthcare community that while a prescription for a controlled substance issued by means of the Internet (including telemedicine) must generally be predicated on an in-person medical evaluation (21 U.S.C. 829(e)), the Controlled Substances Act contains certain exceptions to this requirement. One such exception occurs when the Secretary of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency, as Secretary Azar did on January 31, 2020.

On March 16, 2020, the Secretary of HHS, with the concurrence of the Acting DEA Administrator, designated that the telemedicine allowance under section 802(54)(D) applies to all schedule II-V controlled substances in all areas of the United States. Accordingly, as of March 16, 2020, and continuing for as long as the Secretary’s designation of a public health emergency remains in effect, DEA-registered practitioners in all areas of the United States may issue prescriptions for all schedule II-V controlled substances to patients for whom they have not conducted an in-person medical evaluation, provided all of the following conditions are met:

  • The prescription is issued for a legitimate medical purpose by a practitioner acting in the usual course of his/her professional practice;
  • The telemedicine communication is conducted using an audio-visual, real-time, two-way interactive communication system; and
  • The practitioner is acting in accordance with applicable Federal and State laws.

Provided the practitioner satisfies the above requirements, the practitioner may issue the prescription using any of the methods of prescribing currently permitted, including electronically (for schedules II-V) or by calling in an emergency schedule II prescription to the pharmacy, or by calling in a schedule III-V prescription to the pharmacy.

DEA clarified that the term “practitioner” includes a physician, dentist, veterinarian, or other person licensed, registered, or otherwise permitted, by the United States or the jurisdiction in which he or she practices, to prescribe controlled substances in the course of his/her professional practice.

V.   Additional Details on Medicare Provider Enrollment Waivers:

CMS issued a blanket waiver related to provider enrollment requirements[9] on March 13, 2020. That waiver included the following, as further explained the new FAQs published by CMS as of March 22, 2020:[10]

  • For Physicians and Non-Physician Practitioners:
    • Establishes toll-free hotlines for non-certified Part B suppliers, physicians and nonphysician practitioners to enroll and receive temporary Medicare billing privileges
    • Waives the following screening requirements:
      • Application Fee – 42 C.F.R § 424.514
      • Criminal background checks associated with fingerprint-based criminal background checks – 42 C.F.R § 424.518
      • Site visits – 42 C.F.R § 424.517
      • Postpones all revalidation actions 
  • For All other providers and suppliers (including DMEPOS):
    • Expedites any pending or new applications from providers
      • All clean web applications will be processed within 7 business days and all clean paper applications in 14 business days.
    • Waives the following screening requirements for all applications received after March 1, 2020:
      • Application Fee – 42 C.F.R § 424.514
      • Criminal background checks associated with fingerprint-based criminal background checks – 42 C.F.R § 424.518
      • Site visits – 42 C.F.R § 424.517
      • Postpones all revalidation actions;

CMS’ new FAQs include a list of the toll-free hotline numbers for each Medicare Administrative Contractor where physicians and non-physician practitioners[11] can call to receive immediate, temporary billing privileges in a jurisdiction where they are not already enrolled, or to add new practice locations to an existing enrollment. Callers should be prepared to provide the Legal Name of the enrolling practitioner, National Provider Identifier (NPI), Social Security Number, a valid in-state or out-of-state license, address information and contact information (telephone number). If basic screening criteria are met, the MAC will advise the physician or non-physician practitioner during the call that provisional billing privileges have been granted and will follow-up with a letter. If you need a retroactive effective date, the MACs may backdate your provisional enrollment as far as March 1, 2020. Individuals who receive these provisional privileges will be asked to file initial enrollment applications after the public health emergency declaration is lifted.

Note that for physicians enrolling in a MAC jurisdiction where they are not currently licensed, CMS is permitting this under its waiver authority so long as the following conditions are met:

  1. The physician or non-physician practitioner must be enrolled as such in the Medicare program.
  2. The physician or non-physician practitioner must possess a valid license to practice in the State which relates to his or her Medicare enrollment.
  3. The physician or non-physician practitioner is furnishing services – whether in person or via telehealth – in a State in which the emergency is occurring in order to contribute to relief efforts in his or her professional capacity.
  4. The physician or non-physician practitioner is not affirmatively excluded from practice in the State or any other State that is part of the 1135 emergency area.

CMS’ provider enrollment waiver does not supersede State or local licensing requirements. As we mentioned above, many States are waiving out-of-state licensing requirements or streamlining their process to get a temporary license. As stated above, we recommend that you check with your State licensing board to verify state requirements both in the state where the physician or non-physician practitioner is licensed and in the State where he or she wishes to render services either in-person, or via telehealth or telemedicine.[12]

Liles Parker provides assistance to all types of providers seeking to enroll in the Medicare program.

V.   Conclusion:

Liles Parker attorneys and staff are closely monitoring HHS, CMS and CDC guidance and will update as new information becomes available. Please contact us with questions or for assistance with your response to this unprecedented National Emergency.

covid-19 public health emergencyJennifer Papapanagiotou is a Partner at Liles Parker, Attorneys & Clients at Law.  She has decades of experience representing health care providers and suppliers around the country in connection with a wide range of regulatory actions.  Questions regarding the impact of recent coronavirus guidance on your organization?  Call Jennifer for a free consultation.  She can be reached at:  1 (800) 465-1906.

[1] See the March 16, 2020 article (updated March 17, 2020) here.

[2] Medicare Telemedicine Health Care Provider Fact Sheet, dated March 17, 2020, can be found here. Frequently Asked Questions expanding on the fact sheet and giving more details on implementation can be found here.

[3] The CMS General Provider Telehealth and Telemedicine Tool Kit can be found here. The ESRD Provider Telehealth and Telemedicine Tool Kit can be found here.

[4] HHS’s Office of Civil Rights is maintaining a website with more information on this topic here.

[5] You can find CMS’ list of approved telemedicine services here.

[6] The updated FAQs from CMS last updated on March 23, 2020 can be accessed here.

[7] The FSMB list of state licensing board actions related to the COVID-19 public health emergency can be found here.

[8] DEA’s FAQ can be found here.

[9] COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Health Care Providers Fact Sheet, dated March 13, 2020, can be found here.   Provider enrollment waivers of certain requirements are outlined in the guidance.

[10] The CMS 2019-Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Medicare Provider Enrollment Relief Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) can be accessed here.

[11] Other provider types will need to file an enrollment application via PECOS or a paper application with the appropriate Medicare Administrative Contractor; however, the MACs will be expediting processing of all applications as indicated in the FAQs.

[12] The Federation of State Medical Boards list of state licensing board actions related to the COVID-19 public health emergency can be found here.

Coronavirus Update – HHS & CMS Guidance, Directives and Waivers with Respect to Telemedicine, Provider Enrollment Regulations, Claim Appeals, the Suspension of Non-Emergency Survey Inspections, Nursing Homes, Home Health Agencies, Dialysis Facilities and DME Suppliers.

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UPDATED (March 17, 2020): CMS just announced a waiver of certain telehealth coverage requirements so that Medicare beneficiaries can receive a wider range of services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility. The article below has been updated to address these key takeaways.

(March 16, 2020): On March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a National Emergency[1] related to the current Coronavirus / COVID-19 outbreak. The declaration gives Secretary Alex Azar of the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) the power to waive certain Federal requirements in Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP in order to address the outbreak. The President’s declaration was preceded by Secretary Azar’s determination on January 31, 2020[2] that a public health emergency exists.  Since these pronouncements, Liles Parker attorneys have received numerous calls asking for clarification on these waivers and other guidance from HHS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  Our clients have also asked that we provide a listing of useful links and other available resources.

As a result of President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, HHS now has broad authority to make temporary adjustments including:

  1. Applying flexibilities that are already available under normal business rules;
  2. Waiver or modification of policy or procedural norms by the Administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) under his or her authority; and
  3. Waiver or modification of certain Medicare requirements pursuant to waiver authority under § 1135 of the Social Security Act.

As of March 16, 2020, CMS has issued the following guidance, directives and waivers, specifically with regard to the coronavirus outbreak. We recommend providers carefully review the HHS, CMS and/or CDC guidance specific to each service, discipline or facility type for complete details.

I.   Impact of the Coronavirus on Telehealth / Telemedicine Regulations:

The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2020[3] signed by President Trump on March 6, 2020 included a specific provision addressing Medicare coverage and telehealth services. HB 6074 grants certain powers to the Secretary of Health and Human Services to waive some of the telehealth coverage requirements under the Medicare program. Unfortunately, the new law requires Secretary Azar to issue a waiver addressing any temporary changes to current Medicare telehealth coverage requirements. As of the publication of this article, a waiver has not been released, although CMS Administrator Seema Verma indicated during her remarks on March 13, 2020,[4] that more information would be forthcoming very soon. H.B. 6074 permits Secretary Azar to relax telehealth coverage requirements for all services CMS has approved to be provided via telemedicine as follows:

  • To relax the originating site requirements to include patient homes;
  • To waive the rural HPSA/non-MSA county geographic location requirement so that patients in any geographic location can receive covered telemedicine services; and,
  • To permit phone only telehealth services so long as the phone used has audio and video capabilities (i.e., most smartphones).

The law imposes certain restrictions, even under a waiver from Secretary Azar. Importantly, the relaxed coverage requirements would only extend to services provided by a physician or practitioner (or another physician or practitioner in that provider’s group practice) to an established patient, meaning an individual the provider has seen during the 3-year period before a telehealth service is furnished. We will update this article when a specific waiver is issued.

UPDATE (3/17/2020): CMS just announced a waiver of certain telehealth coverage requirements so that Medicare beneficiaries can receive a wider range of services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility. Here are the key takeaways from this important announcement:

  • Effective for services starting March 6, 2020 and for the duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, Medicare will make payment for Medicare telehealth services furnished to patients in broader circumstances.
  • These visits are considered the same as in-person visits and are paid at the same rate as regular, in-person visits.
  • Starting March 6, 2020 and for the duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, Medicare will make payment for professional services furnished to beneficiaries in all areas of the country in all settings.
  • While they must generally travel to or be located in certain types of originating sites such as a physician’s office, skilled nursing facility or hospital for the visit, effective for services starting March 6, 2020 and for the duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, Medicare will make payment for Medicare telehealth services furnished to beneficiaries in any healthcare facility and in their home.
  • The Medicare coinsurance and deductible would generally apply to these services. However, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) is providing flexibility for healthcare providers to reduce or waive cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal healthcare programs.
  • To the extent the 1135 waiver requires an established relationship, HHS will not conduct audits to ensure that such a prior relationship existed for claims submitted during this public health emergency.
  • HHS’ Office of Civil Rights will exercise enforcement discretion and waive penalties for HIPAA violations against health care providers that serve patients in good faith through everyday communications technologies, such as FaceTime or Skype, during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency.[18]

Note that the waiver does not restrict coverage to patients with coronavirus or symptoms of coronavirus. Any service that a provider can safely deliver via telemedicine and is on CMS’ list of approved telemedicine services[19] will be permitted under the new waiver. This waiver of Medicare program and HIPAA requirements will last for the duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. We do recommend that you check with your State licensing board to verify state requirements for telemedicine if you are unfamiliar with what is permitted in your state. Liles Parker has advised numerous clients with regard to telemedicine services.

In the meantime, CMS has reminded providers of the following options to provide covered non-face to face services to Medicare patients:

  • Medicare pays for “virtual check-ins” for patients to connect with their doctors without going to the doctor’s office. These brief, virtual check-in services are for patients with an established relationship with a physician or certain practitioners where the communication is not related to a medical visit within the previous 7 days and does not lead to a medical visit within the next 24 hours (or soonest appointment available). The patient must verbally consent to using virtual check-ins and the consent must be documented in the medical record prior to the patient using the service. The Medicare coinsurance and deductible would apply to these services. Doctors and certain practitioners may bill for these virtual check-in services furnished through several communication technology modalities, such as telephone (HCPCS code G2012) or captured video or image (HCPCS code G2010).
  • Medicare also pays for patients to communicate with their doctors without going to the doctor’s office using online patient portals. The individual communications, like the virtual check ins, must be initiated by the patient; however, practitioners may educate beneficiaries on the availability of this kind of service prior to patient initiation. The communications can occur over a 7-day period. The services may be billed using CPT codes 99421-99423 and HCPCS codes G2061-G206, as applicable. The Medicare coinsurance and deductible would apply to these services.
  • In addition, Medicare beneficiaries living in rural areas may use telehealth technology to have full visits with their physicians. The patient must be present at an approved telehealth originating site and must receive services using a real-time audio and video communication system at the site to communicate with a remotely located doctor or certain other types of practitioners. Medicare pays for many medical visits through this telehealth benefit. The Medicare coinsurance and deductible would apply to these services. For additional information on this benefit, please see CMS’s Telehealth resource page [5] for additional details and requirements.
  • Medicare Advantage Plans were given the authority to expand their telehealth coverage through enhanced benefit packages last year, but coverage still varies from plan to plan. CMS also issued a waiver on March 10, 2020 permitting (but not requiring) Medicare Advantage Plans to expand access to certain telehealth services. We recommend checking with the plans with which you contract for specific details or contact Liles Parker for assistance.
  • Many State Medicaid programs already cover telehealth/telemedicine services provided to patients in their homes. Liles Parker can assist in determining what your State Medicaid program covers.

II.   Impact of the Coronavirus on Medicare Provider Enrollment Regulations:

CMS has issued a blanket waiver related to provider enrollment requirements[6] to do the following:

  • Establish a toll-free hotline for non-certified Part B suppliers, physicians and nonphysician; practitioners to enroll and receive temporary Medicare billing privileges;
  • Waive the following screening requirements:
    • Application Fee – 42 C.F.R § 424.514
    • Criminal background checks associated with FCBC – 42 C.F.R § 424.518
    • Site visits – 42 C.F.R § 424.517
  • Postpone all revalidation actions;
  • Allow licensed providers to render services outside of their state of enrollment; and,
  • Expedite any pending or new applications from providers.

Liles Parker provides assistance to all types of providers seeking to enroll in the Medicare program.

III.   Impact of the Coronavirus on Medicare Claim Appeals:

CMS has issued a blanket waiver applicable to fee-for-service Medicare, Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D claim appeals.[7]  The blanket waiver provides for the following relief:

  • Extensions to file an appeal
  • Waiving timeliness for requests for additional information to adjudicate the appeal;
  • Processing the appeal even with incomplete Appointment of Representation forms but communicating only to the beneficiary;
  • Processing requests for appeal that don’t meet the required elements using information that is available.
  • Utilizing all flexibilities available in the appeal process as if good cause requirements are satisfied.

IV.   Suspension of Non-Emergency Survey Inspections Due to Coronavirus:

On March 4, 2020, CMS issued a Memorandum[8] advising that it is temporarily suspending non-emergency survey inspections, allowing providers to focus on the most current serious health and safety threats, like infectious diseases and abuse. Specifically, survey activity is limited to the following (in Priority Order):

  • All immediate jeopardy complaints (cases that represents a situation in which entity noncompliance has placed the health and safety of recipients in its care at risk for serious injury, serious harm, serious impairment or death or harm) and allegations of abuse and neglect;
  • Complaints alleging infection control concerns, including facilities with potential COVID-19 or other respiratory illnesses;
  • Statutorily required recertification surveys (Nursing Home, Home Health, Hospice, and ICF/IID facilities);
  • Any re-visits necessary to resolve current enforcement actions;
  • Initial certifications;
  • Surveys of facilities/hospitals that have a history of infection control deficiencies at the immediate jeopardy level in the last three years;
  • Surveys of facilities/hospitals/dialysis centers that have a history of infection control deficiencies at lower levels than immediate jeopardy.

CMS is maintaining a website[9] with consolidated guidance to surveyors related to coronavirus and infection control in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, home health, and dialysis facilities.

V.   Nursing Homes:

CMS issued a revised Memorandum[10] on March 13, 2020 with specific guidance to nursing homes, including:

  • Directing nursing homes to temporarily restrict all visitors and nonessential personnel with a few exceptions such as end-of-life situations, and to cancel all communal dining and group activities.
  • Screening their staff and outside healthcare providers using CDC guidelines for restricting access to health care workers.
  • Notifying their local health department if a resident is suspected of having COVID-19. Facilities that can follow the infection prevention and control practices recommended by CDC may or may not need to transfer the patient, depending on the severity of the patient’s symptoms. If a resident must be transferred to a hospital, careful coordination with EMS and the receiving facility must be performed, including placing a facemask on the patient during transfer.
  • Accepting patients diagnosed with COVID-19 and still under Transmission-Based Precautions for COVID-19 as long as the facility can follow CDC guidance;
  • Accepting patients who are not diagnosed with COVID-19 from hospitals or other locations where a case of COVID-19 was/is present; and,
  • Obligations to maintain appropriate PPE and alcohol-based hand rub supply levels, while assuring facilities they will not be cited by surveyors so long as they can demonstrate they are having difficulty obtaining the supplies for reasons outside their control. Nursing homes are advised to contact with their local and state public health agency to notify them of any shortage, follow national guidelines for optimizing their current supply, and identify the next best option to care for their residents.

CMS also exercised its authority to waive certain coverage requirements for skilled nursing services on March 13, 2020, including the following:

  • CMS is waiving the 3-day prior hospitalization for coverage of a skilled nursing facility (SNF) stay for those people who need to be transferred as a result of the coronavirus emergency. In addition, for certain beneficiaries who recently exhausted their SNF benefits, it authorizes renewed SNF coverage without first having to start a new benefit period.
  • Second, CMS is waiving 42 CFR 483.20 to provide relief to SNFs on the timeframe requirements for Minimum Data Set assessments and transmission.

VI.   Home Health Agencies:

CMS has issued a blanket waiver[11] to provide relief to home health agencies (HHAs) on the timeframes related to OASIS Transmission. The waiver also allows Medicare Administrative Contractors to extend the auto-cancellation date of Requests for Anticipated Payment (RAPs) during emergencies. Please consult with your home health MAC for specific guidance.

Additionally, on March 10, 2020, CMS issued guidance [12] on addressing potential and confirmed COVID-19 cases and mitigating transmission including screening, treatment, and transfer to higher level care (when appropriate).

VII.   Hospitals:

On March 4, 2020, CMS issued guidance[13] regarding infection control and prevention related to COVID-19 cases.  In addition, CMS has issued blanket waivers applicable to hospitals[14] addressing a number of issues.[17] Some of the most significant include:

  • CMS is waiving the requirements that Critical Access Hospitals limit the number of beds to 25, and that the length of stay be limited to 96 hours.
  • CMS is waiving requirements to allow acute care hospitals to house acute care inpatients in excluded distinct part units, where the distinct part unit’s beds are appropriate for acute care inpatient.
  • CMS is waiving to allow acute care hospitals with excluded distinct part inpatient psychiatric units that, as a result of a disaster or emergency, need to relocate inpatients from the excluded distinct part psychiatric unit to an acute care bed and unit.
  • CMS is waiving requirements to allow acute care hospitals with excluded distinct part inpatient Rehabilitation units that, as a result of a disaster or emergency, need to relocate inpatients from the excluded distinct part rehabilitation unit to an acute care bed and unit.

VIII.   Coronavirus Related Waivers Issued by CMS to DME Suppliers:

A blanket waiver[15] has been issued by CMS as of March 13, 2020 to address lost, destroyed, irreparably damaged or otherwise unusable Durable Medical Equipment (DME).  DME Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) will have the flexibility to waive replacement requirements such that the face-to-face requirement, a new physician’s order, and new medical necessity documentation are not required. Suppliers must still include a narrative description on the claim explaining the reason why the equipment must be replaced and are reminded to maintain documentation indicating that the DMEPOS was lost, destroyed, irreparably damaged or otherwise rendered unusable or unavailable as a result of the emergency. Please check your DME MAC website for more information or contact Liles Parker for assistance.

IX.   Dialysis Facilities:

On March 10, 2020, CMS issued guidance[16] addressing potential and confirmed COVID-19 cases and mitigating transmission including screening, treatment, and transfer to higher level care (when appropriate).

X.   Conclusion:

Liles Parker attorneys and staff are closely monitoring HHS, CMS and CDC guidance and will update this article as new information becomes available. Please contact us with questions or for assistance with your response to this unprecedented National Emergency.

Jennifer Papapanagiotou is a Partner at Liles Parker, Attorneys & Clients at Law.  She has decades of experience representing health care providers and suppliers around the country in connection with a wide range of regulatory actions.  Questions regarding the impact of recent coronavirus guidance on your organization?  Call Jennifer for a free consultation.  She can be reached at:  1 (800) 465-1906.

[1] Proclamation on Declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak, Issued on March 13, 2020.  A link to the declaration can be found here.

[2] Determination that a Public Health Emergency Exists, issued by Secretary Azar on January 31, 2020.  A link to the determination can be found here.

[3] ‘‘Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020.”  H.B. 6074

[4] Emergency Declaration Press Call Remarks by CMS Administrator Seema Verma, delivered March 13, 2020.  A link to the remarks can be found here.

[1] Medicare Telemedicine Health Care Provider Fact Sheet, dated March 17, 2020, can be found here. Frequently Asked Questions expanding on the fact sheet and giving more details on implementation can be found here.

[2] HHS’s Office of Civil Rights is maintaining a website with more information on this topic here.

[3] You can find CMS’ list of approved telemedicine services here.

[5] CMS’s telehealth resource page can be found here.  

[6] COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Health Care Providers Fact Sheet, dated March 13, 2020, can be found here. Provider enrollment waivers of certain requirements are outlined in the guidance.

[7] Ibid. Waivers to the administrative claims appeals process are outlined on page 3 of the document.

[8] Memorandum titled “Suspension of Survet Activities,” dated March 4, 2020.  A copy of the Memorandum can be found here.

[9] CMS guidance titled “Updates for State Surveyors and Accrediting Organizations” can be found here.  

[10]CMS Memorandum titled Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Nursing Homes (REVISED),” can be found here.

[11] COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Health Care Providers Fact Sheet, dated March 13, 2020, can be found here.   Home health agency guidance is on page 3 of the Fact Sheet.

[12] CMS Memorandum titled Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention Concerning Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Home Health Agencies (HHAs), was issued on March 10, 2020, and can be found here.

[13] CMS Memorandum titled Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention Concerning Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): FAQs and Considerations for Patient Triage, Placement and Hospital Discharge,” dated March 4, 2020, can be found here.  

[14] COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Health Care Providers Fact Sheet, dated March 13, 2020, can be found here.   Hospital guidance is on pages 1-3 of the Fact Sheet.

[15]COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Health Care Providers Fact Sheet, dated March 13, 2020, can be found here.   DME related guidance is on page 1 of the Fact Sheet.

[16] CMS issued guidance on March 10, 2020

[17]  Medicare Telemedicine Health Care Provider Fact Sheet, dated March 17, 2020, can be found here. Frequently Asked Questions expanding on the fact sheet and giving more details on implementation can be found here. 

[18] HHS’s Office of Civil Rights is maintaining a website with more information on this topic here.

[19] You can find CMS’ list of approved telemedicine services here.

[20]

Home Health Agency Alert: The Review Choice Demonstration Project start dates for Ohio, Texas, North Carolina and Florida are Around the Corner!

August 7, 2019 by  
Filed under Home Health & Hospice

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The Review Choice Demonstration Project starts(August 7, 2019): This article further updates our articles of February 19th and April 9th on the announcement by CMS of the implementation of the new five year “Review Choice Demonstration Project’ in five states – Illinois, Ohio, Texas, North Carolina and Florida, and the start date for the Demonstration Project in Illinois.

 

I. Background of the Review Choice Demonstration Project:

As background, the Review Choice Demonstration Project is an outgrowth of the Pre-Claim Review Demonstration Project that was initiated in Illinois in August 2016 and paused in April 2017.  Instead of continuing the Pre-Claim Review Demonstration, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a new initiative – the Review Choice Demonstration Project to be phased in for the five states listed, above.

Under the Review Choice Demonstration Project, agencies in the affected states will initially select from three options to have their home health claims reviewed:

  • Pre-claim review;
  • Post-payment review; or
  • Minimal post-payment review with a 25% reduction.

After each six-month period agencies with a 90% affirmation or approval rate will be able to choose from two additional options that may be preferable depending upon the circumstances of each agency.  Our February 19th article discusses each of these options.

II. Illinois Home Health Claims are Under the Microscope:

The Review Choice Demonstration Project initially began in Illinois on June 1 for all episodes of care beginning on that date. Prior to that date, Illinois agencies were required to make a selection as to the initial option that they chose for this period between April 17 and May 16.

On July 29, 2019, CMS announced that Ohio will be the second State to implement the Review Choice Demonstration Project.  Home health agencies in Ohio will have from August 16th to September 15th to select an option for the first six-month period, which will begin on September 30, 2019 for all episodes of care starting on or after that date.  Any agency that fails to select an option during this period will be assigned to the second option, above – post-payment review.[1]

CMS also announced that it anticipates 60 – 90 days between beginning the Demonstration in the remaining states of Texas, North Carolina and Florida, and will provide 60-days’ notice in advance of the start date.  While the announcement is somewhat unclear as to whether this period will be spread out for each remaining state or that all three will start on the same date, it is clear that agencies in each of those states and Ohio should begin planning now for that implementation if they have not already done so.

CMS has published links to the Palmetto GBA portal for selecting and registering an option during this period as well as a number of additional resources at https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Monitoring-Programs/Medicare-FFS-Compliance-Programs/Review-Choice-Demonstration/Review-Choice-Demonstration-for-Home-Health-Services.html.

III.  Planning for Implementation – Especially in Light of PDGM:

Our February 19th article goes into greater depth in explaining the various options.  However, most importantly, both articles emphasize the importance of thinking through which option makes the most sense for your agency.

Each one presents risks and benefits and the correct choice may differ depending upon the agency’s comfort and experience with denials and documentation, as well as operational capability – the one exception being that the third option – a 25% rate reduction, does not appear to be viable for any agency.  Our earlier articles also sets forth several examples of those risks and benefits and while not exhaustive, is meant to focus agencies on the thought process that your agency will want to consider in making this determination.  We thus cannot strongly enough recommend that each agency take the necessary time to consult with knowledgeable individuals both internal and external in making this determination for each 6-month period, and not wait until the last minute to do so.

Of equal, or perhaps greater, importance is the need for agencies in affected states to have procedures in place to prepare and quickly access documentation to properly support coverage for the cases that they take, and to move this documentation through the system quickly, accurately, and comprehensively.  This is especially important given the advent of the Patient- Driven Groupings Model (PDGM) on January 1, 2020.  For example, coding will be a key issue in driving coverage and payment, and “getting it right” in your documentation will be critical.  Also, addressing initial non-affirmation determinations quickly for agencies that select option 1 will be critical.

Finally, agencies should be updating their compliance and quality assurance programs to respond both to the PDGM payment model and to the Review Choice Demonstration Program.

Liles Parker attorneys have substantial experience in advising and working with home health agencies in preparing them for the audit process which is similar to the process that they will need in responding to the Review Choice Demonstration Project, and in identifying the risks of choosing one option in relation to the others.  For example, one of the additional two options available to agencies that score above the 90% affirmation or approval level in options 1 or 2 during a 6-month period may result in the inadvertent development of a statistical sample that can be utilized to broaden the scope of any denials and recovery.  A number of our attorneys are also Certified Professional Coders who have substantial experience in evaluating home health claims documentation. Finally, we have substantial experience in working with home health agencies in developing and updating their compliance plans.

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

 

[1] We would also note that there was a misprint in our article of April 9.  That article inadvertently referenced that Illinois providers failing to make a choice during the initial registration period would be assigned to the third option.  The corrected reference is to the second option.

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

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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

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

October 4, 2018 by  
Filed under Home Health & Hospice

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The Review Choice Demonstration Project (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]:

The Review Choice Demonstration Project

 

Robert Liles Healthcare AttorneyRobert 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.

Expect an Increase in Audits of Chiropractic Services!

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Chiropractic Services(April 16, 2018): Chiropractors around the country are again finding their services and claims under intensive scrutiny from Medicare contractors and investigators, despite the fact that only three services even qualify for coverage and payment.  Several weeks ago, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released its latest critical assessment of chiropractic services currently being billed to the Medicare program. The agency’s report, entitled “Medicare Needs Better Controls To Prevent Fraud, Waste, And Abuse Related To Chiropractic Services,”[i] reemphasizes the OIG’s prior findings that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) still lacks appropriate safeguards to prevent the submission and payment of improper, sometimes fraudulent claims for chiropractic services to the Medicare program.  This article is intended to highlight the government’s concerns and outline the steps that a provider should take to better ensure that any chiropractic services billed to Medicare qualify for coverage and payment.

I. Improper Chiropractic Claims Remain a Problem:

At the outset, it is important to recognize that in recent years, CMS and its program integrity contractors have taken a number of steps to elevate the level of scrutiny placed on questionable chiropractic claims billed to Medicare. Nevertheless, the OIG has taken the position that considerable work still needs to be done in order to better protect the Medicare program from fraudulent, wasteful and abusive chiropractic billings. For example, the average improper payment rate for Medicare Part B services has been estimated at between 9.9%-12.9%. For chiropractic services, the improper payment rate has been estimated to be between 43.9%-54.1%. About half of all chiropractic services covered by Medicare were not supposed to be covered.  The OIG has estimated that of the nearly $450 million spent by Medicare on chiropractic services every year, between $257 million and $304 million in improper payments are being made every year for chiropractic services.[ii] Over a six-year period, $2.9 billion was spent by Medicare on chiropractic services. Theoretically, this means that at least $1.27 billion was wasted over those six years.

  • Submit claims for services that never occurred.
  • Submit claims for services that were medically unnecessary.
  • Bill for services covered by Medicare but provided other services such as a massage or acupuncture.
  • Falsified patient medical records.
  • Provided services to beneficiaries without a valid license.
  • Offered incentives to patients to receive unnecessary services.

During this six-year period, 11[iii] of the chiropractors were incarcerated and over 500 chiropractors were excluded from participation in the Medicare and Medicaid programs by the OIG for various reasons. The OIG remains concerned that inadequate oversight is continuing to allow fraudulent chiropractors to hide their improper billings from regulators

II. What Solutions Has CMS Tried?

In an effort to spur more detailed documentation, CMS implemented the initial treatment date requirement for claims. This requirement has been more effective than the AT modifier requirement, as 7 out of 8 contractors do check to ensure this requirement is met. In that respect, this is a successfully implemented requirement. However, when audited, this requirement has largely failed due to inadequate documentation. Approximately 86% of all claims that included an initial treatment date did not adequately document the medical necessity of the services provided. Once again, it appears that chiropractors are aware that the initial date is necessary for payment and will include the date regardless of the quality of their documentation.

At the urging of the OIG, CMS has made significant efforts to better educate chiropractors on the importance of proper documentation and which chiropractic services are actually covered by Medicare Part B. CMS has create publications, seminars, and an educational video for chiropractors to learn about services that are covered under Medicare Part B and how to meet documentation standards. Unfortunately, either through lack of provider participation or because of difficulties in accessing the information, this initiative has largely failed.  Many chiropractors and beneficiaries remain ignorant with respect to the  medical necessity, documentation and coverage requirements of chiropractic services under Medicare Part B. For example, one of the educational videos created by CMS is supposed to educate chiropractors on how to meet documentation requirements. This video only received 8,898 views between December 2015 and January 2017. Even if we were to assume that every view was by a licensed chiropractor (which is highly unlikely), it only reached a fraction of the chiropractors participating in the Medicare program. CMS will likely need to implement more changes that may lead chiropractors to utilize educational resources and improve documentation.

III. Would A Medical Review Threshold or Service Limit Work?

Approximately 61% of private insurance plans that participate in the federal employee health benefits program (FEHBP) cover chiropractic services. Of the FEHBP private insurance plans that cover chiropractic services, there are limits between 10 and 60 services per year, with the average plan limiting patients to 21 chiropractic services per year. The concept of limiting the number of services a beneficiary has been proposed by the OIG in the past, but CMS did not agree with this solution.

A medical review threshold is a limit on the number or cost of services before a review of medical necessity must be completed to continue coverage of future services. CMS states that contractors may set thresholds for the number of services allowed before medical review, but may not limit the number of services provided. There is no CMS-level medical review threshold, but as mentioned earlier 2 of the 8 contractors have already set medical review thresholds. CMS-level medical review thresholds are already in place for out-patient therapy specialties such as physical therapy and speech-language pathology. The threshold for these two specialties is monetary, at $1,920. After a beneficiary reaches $3,700 in physical therapy or speech -language pathology services, a medical review s needed for the beneficiary to continue treatment.

The OIG conducted a nationwide review of the percentage of “unallowable payments” made for three groups of beneficiaries, divided by the number of services received in a calendar year. The first group received 1-12 chiropractic services in a year, 76% of which were unallowable payments. The second group received between 12-30 chiropractic services in a year, of which 95% were unallowable payments. The final group received more than 30 chiropractic services in a year, of which every single payment was unallowable. It is worth noting that the two contractors that had set a medical review threshold had no beneficiaries in the last category. Based on this assessment, HHS-OIG estimates that a threshold for medical review between 12-30 services would have saved Medicare between $95 million and $447 million between 2013-2015. Additionally, that same threshold would have saved beneficiaries between $24 million and $114 million in out-of-pocket expenses over the same period. 

IV. HHS-OIG Recommendations:

In addition to highlighting issue with the current system, OIG’s report provided a few recommendations for CMS to consider implementing:

  • Work with contractors to educate chiropractors on the training resources that CMS has already made available to them
  • Educate beneficiaries on which chiropractic services are and are not covered by Medicare Part B, and encourage beneficiaries to report chiropractors that are providing services that should not be covered by Medicare.
  • Identify chiropractors with high-service denial rates or aberrant billing practices, estimate the amount of overpayments made through a statistically significant sample, and recover the overpayments
  • Establish a threshold for the number of services that may be provide before a medical review is needed

V. Chiropractic Basics – Medicare Coverage Limitations: 

Chiropractors diagnose and treat subluxation disorders primarily through manual adjustment and manual manipulation of the spine.  CMS defines subluxation as “a motion segment, in which alignment, movement integrity, and/or physiological function of the spine are altered although contact between joint surfaces remains intact”[iv] More simply put, a spinal subluxation is a purported misalignment of the spinal column that can cause pain and other symptoms in patients suffering from this misalignment.  One question that regularly arises when documenting chiropractic services is:

“How does Medicare expect me to show that evidence of subluxation if present?”

In most instances, a Medicare contractor will review a provider’s documentation to determine if an x-ray has been used, or a physical examination was conducted to document subluxation. Each of these diagnostic methods are discussed below:

• Subluxation determination based on an x-ray. If a provider has determined that a subluxation is present based on an x-ray,[v] a Medicare contractor will likely take into consideration when the x-ray was taken and how much time has elapsed before a course of treatment was initiated. As discussed in Local Coverage Determination (LCD) L34009 published by Noridian Healthcare Solutions, LLC (Noridian), the contractor requires that an x-ray must have been taken at a time “reasonably proximate” to the start of care. Noridian considers an x-ray to be reasonably proximate to the initiation of care if it was taken no more than 12 months prior to or 3 months following the initiation of a course of chiropractic treatment. Understandably, Noridian will typically allow a chiropractor to base his / her subluxation determination on an older x-ray if a beneficiary’s medical records show that the patient has suffered from a chronic subluxation condition (such as scoliosis) for longer than 12 months AND there is a reasonable basis to believe that the chronic condition is permanent.

• Subluxation determination based on an a physical examination. If a provider has determined that a subluxation is present based on a physical examination that has been conducted, a CMS contractor is going to review the medical documentation to determine if two of the following four criteria have been identified during the examination of the patient’s musculoskeletal / nervous system, one of which must be either asymmetry / misalignment or range of motion abnormality. The four criteria examined include:

• Pain/tenderness evaluated in terms of location, quality, and intensity;
• Asymmetry/misalignment identified on a sectional or segmental level;
• Range of motion abnormality (changes in active, passive, and accessory joint movements resulting in an increase or a decrease of sectional or segmental mobility); and
• Tissue, tone changes in the characteristics of contiguous, or associated soft tissues, including skin, fascia, muscle, and ligament.

A limited scope of chiropractic services qualify for coverage under Medicare Part B if they are performed by a licensed, qualified chiropractor. Regrettably, CMS still takes the position that most of the various services offered by a chiropractor are “supportive” in nature rather than “corrective.”  In other words, CMS considers most chiropractic services to be “maintenance therapy,” which is not covered under Medicare Part B. As maintenance therapy, CMS does not consider most chiropractic services to be medically necessary.

So what chiropractic services ARE covered under Medicare Part B?  Frankly, not many. CMS specifically limits Medicare Part B coverage to hands-on manual manipulation of the spine for symptomatology associated with spinal subluxation. Additionally, qualifying hand-held manual devices (where the thrust of the force of the device is manually controlled) may also be used by chiropractors in performing manual manipulation of the spine. Notably, Medicare does not recognize any additional charges associated the use of such a hand-held device.

When documenting a covered service, a chiropractor must note the precise level of the subluxation. Depending on the number of spinal regions involved, one of three Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes can be billed:

• CPT Code 98940 (for treatment of one or two spinal regions);
• CPT Code 98941 (for treatment of three or four spinal regions); and
• CPT Code 98942 (for treatment of all five spinal regions).

The five regions of the, from the cervical area (neck) to the coccyx (tailbone) are illustrated below:

Chiropractic Services

When providing chiropractic services that are intended to provide active / corrective treatment, Medicare requires chiropractors to append the claim with an AT modifier.  The AT modifier is intended to denote the fact that “Acute Treatment” for subluxation was provided to the beneficiary.  If a chiropractor bills one of the three covered codes without an AT modifier, the service will be automatically denied as not medically necessary when the claim is processed by your Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC).

In most instances, properly coded chiropractic services (limited to 98940, 98941 and 98942) will qualify for payment.  Having said that, both CMS contractors and OIG have repeatedly found that just because a claim has been appended with the AT modifier does not mean that the chiropractic services billed were in fact, medically necessary. In multiple audits conducted over the last decade, government reviewers have found that chiropractors have failed to properly document the medical need for services billed to Medicare.

Although Medicare has not placed a limit on the number of chiropractic services that a beneficiary can receive, providers who appear to be billing an excessive number of services will quickly be flagged for medical review by a MAC, a Zone Program Integrity Contractor (ZPIC) or a Uniform Program Integrity Contractor (UPIC). It is essential that you carefully document the medical necessity of any services billed. At present, pre-authorization to confirm the medical necessity of a treatment is only required by two MACs. One contractor sets its threshold for medical review as 12 services per month but no more than 30 services per year. The other sets a threshold of 25 chiropractic services per year.

VI. Documenting Chiropractic Services:

It is important to keep in mind that under Title XVIII of the Social Security Act, §1862(a)(1)(A), services must be medically reasonable and necessary in order to qualify for coverage and payment.  Similarly, Title XVIII of the Social Security Act, §1833(e) prohibits Medicare from paying for any claims that lacks the necessary information to process the claim.  Therefore, regardless of whether the determination of a subluxation has been based on an x-ray or a physical examination, a chiropractor must ensure that complete and accurate records of the encounter are taken.

Experience has shown that in the event of an audit by a CMS contractor, the MAC, ZPIC or UPIC auditing chiropractic services will primarily base claims on a provider’s failure to properly document the medical necessity of the services billed. It is therefore essential that you review and understand your documentation obligations when billing for chiropractic claims. As a first step, you need to review:

CMS Medicare Benefit Policy Manual, Pub. 100-2, Chapter 15, Sections 30.5 and 240.
• CMS Medicare Claims Processing Manual, Pub. 100-4 Chapter 12, Section 220.

Moreover, you should continue to periodically review any LCD guidance on chiropractic services that has been issued by your MAC.  Again using Noridian’s LCD guidance as an example, during an initial visit, the MAC expects a provider to document the following six categories of information when providing chiropractic services:

A. Documentation Requirements – Initial Visit. The following documentation requirements apply whether the subluxation is demonstrated by x-ray or by physical examination:

#1. Family History / Past Medical History.
• Symptoms causing patient to seek treatment;
• Family history if relevant;
• Past health history (general health, prior illness, injuries, or hospitalizations; medications; surgical history);
• Mechanism of trauma;
• Quality and character of symptoms/problem;
• Onset, duration, intensity, frequency, location and radiation of symptoms;
• Aggravating or relieving factors; and
• Prior interventions, treatments, medications, secondary complaints.

#2. Description of the Present Illness.
• Mechanism of trauma;
• Quality and character of symptoms/problem;
• Onset, duration, intensity, frequency, location, and radiation of symptoms;
• Aggravating or relieving factors;
• Prior interventions, treatments, medications, secondary complaints; and
• Symptoms causing patient to seek treatment.

Importantly, the “symptoms” covered in your description of the patient’s present illness are required to be directly related to the level of subluxation. When describing a patient’s symptoms:

• The symptoms should refer to the spine, muscle, bone, rib and / or joint and be reported as pain, inflammation, or as signs such as swelling, spasticity, etc.
• The symptoms documented must be related to the level of the subluxation that has been cited. A statement on a claim that there is “pain” is insufficient.

Finally, the location of a patient’s pain must be described and the symptoms documented must be related to the level of the subluxation that has been cited.  Noridian further requires that the location of pain must be described and whether the particular vertebra listed is capable of producing pain in the area determined.

#3. Evaluation of musculoskeletal/nervous system through physical examination.

#4. Diagnosis. The primary diagnosis must be subluxation, including the level of subluxation, either so stated or identified by a term descriptive of subluxation. Such terms may refer either to the condition of the spinal joint involved or to the direction of position assumed by the particular bone named.

#5. Treatment Plan. The treatment plan should include the following:
• Recommended level of care (duration and frequency of visits);
• Specific treatment goals; and
• Objective measures to evaluate treatment effectiveness.

#6. Date of the initial treatment.

B. Documentation Requirements: Subsequent Visits.  The following documentation requirements apply whether the subluxation is demonstrated by x-ray or by physical examination:

#1. History.
• Review of chief complaint;
• Changes since last visit;
• System review if relevant.

#2. Physical exam.
• Exam of area of spine involved in diagnosis;
• Assessment of change in patient condition since last visit;
• Evaluation of treatment effectiveness.

#3. Documentation of treatment given on day of visit.  The patient must have a significant health problem in the form of a neuromusculoskeletal condition necessitating treatment, and the manipulative services rendered must have a direct therapeutic relationship to the patient’s condition and provide reasonable expectation of recovery or improvement of function. The patient must have a subluxation of the spine demonstrated by x-ray or physical exam as described above.

VII.  Conclusion

It has been more than 20 years since the OIG first identified chiropractic billings as a potential fraud and abuse problem.  To their dismay, the AT modifier requirement, initial treatment date documentation requirement, and educational resources have failed to significantly remedy the level of improper claims for chiropractic services being billed to the Medicare program. In light of the OIG’s latest report, chiropractors should expect CMS and its MAC, ZPIC and UPIC contractors to increase their audits of chiropractic claims.  Providers should also expect to see oversight through education, medical review, limits to the number of services, and documentation requirements.

What should you do?  Get back to basicsWhen is the last time you compared your medical necessity, documentation, coding and billing practices to those outlined in your respective LCD and the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual.

Need help?  Give us a call.  Our attorneys are experienced in representing chiropractors in audits and investigations of their Medicaid and private payor claims.

Robert W. Liles Healthcare AttorneyRobert W. Liles, J.D., M.B.A., M.S., serves as Managing Partner at Liles Parker, Attorneys & Counselors at Law.  Liles Parker attorneys represent chiropractors and chiropractic practices around the country in connection with Medicare, Medicaid and private payors claims audits.  We also represent chiropractors in connection with complaints filed against our clients with the State Chiropractic Board.  For a complimentary review and discussion of your issues, you can call Robert at: (202) 298-8750.  

 

[i] Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General. Medicare Needs Better Controls To Prevent Fraud, Waste, And Abuse Related To Chiropractic. A-09-16-02042. February 2018.
[ii] CMS’s Supplementary Appendices for the Medicare Fee-for-Service Improper Payment Reports for 2010–2015.
[iii] In one case, when an audit was initiated against a chiropractic practice, the chiropractor supposedly falsely reported a robbery had taken place and that medical records were stolen from his car. This triggered a fraud investigation that led to a 63-month fraud conviction, over $1 million in restitution, and a 23-year exclusion for the chiropractor.
[iv] Medicare Benefit Policy Manual, Chapter 15, §240.1.2.
[v] Noridian will usually permit a previous CT scan MRI to be used as evidence if a subluxation of the spine is demonstrated.

Veterans Administration and CMS Announce Partnership to Address Fraud Prevention

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(January 25, 2018): On January 23rd, the Veteran Administration (VA) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a “partnership to strengthen prevention of fraud, waste and abuse.”  According to the press release, under this partnership:

“VA plans to capitalize on the advancement in analytics CMS has made by concentrating on its use of advanced technology, statistics and data analytics to improve fraud detection and prevention efforts.  Additionally, in November 2017, VA invited industry experts to provide information on the latest commercial sector tools and techniques to enhance VA’s fraud detection capabilities.  In April, VA will invite these industry experts to demonstrate their capabilities for detecting and preventing fraud, waste, and abuse and recovering improper payments.”

Among other things, we can expect that the VA will begin to employ techniques utilized by CMS such as predictive analytics to identify instances where providers may be exceeding certain benchmarks in procedures, and to adopt techniques utilized by CMS in the provider enrollment process.  The VA may also be looking at outside contractors that also perform functions as  UPICs, ZPICs and RACs.  This, in turn, means that those providers that serve patients covered by the VA should review their compliance programs and billing and claims processing systems to ensure that they cover adequately VA requirements and procedures, and to ensure that they respond adequately to any investigation or threatened payment denials for those patients.

Michael Cook Healthcare AttorneyLiles Parker attorneys have significant experience in assisting clients with their compliance programs and in responding to enforcement actions such as audits, payment denials, suspensions and investigations.  Any person seeking additional information in this area should contact Michael Cook at mcook@lilesparker.com or at (202) 298-8750. 

Home Health Pre-Claim Review Demonstration Project Update!

September 20, 2016 by  
Filed under Home Health & Hospice

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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.

CMS Seeks to Overhaul Medicare Claims Appeal Process

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(July 18, 2016): The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced a series of proposed changes to the Medicare claims appeal process. The new rules primarily impact the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) level of review, and CMS has indicated that the purpose of these changes is to help reduce the backlog of pending ALJ hearing requests. As many Medicare providers are aware, the claim appeal process consists of five steps:

  1. A request for redetermination by a Medicare Administrative Contractor;
  2. A request for reconsideration by a Qualified Independent Contractor;
  3. A request for a hearing before an ALJ;
  4. A request for review by the Medicare Appeals Council; and
  5. A request for review in Federal district court

Due to the frenetic auditing activities of CMS’ contractors in recent years – particularly the recovery audit contractors – this system has become overloaded with appeals. This is particularly true with respect to ALJ hearing requests filed with the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA), where the enormous backlog has prevented OMHA from fulfilling its legal duty to decide appeals within 90 days. As of April 30, 2016 CMS estimates that there are more than 750,000 pending hearing requests. And the backlog only appears to be worsening: the average processing timeframe for an ALJ appeal has increased from 661 days to 819 days between 2015 and 2016.

CMS has stated that the changes to the claim appeals process have two main objectives: to streamline the ALJ hearing process and to increase the number of available adjudicators. Although these new changes impact most of CMS’ existing ALJ appeal regulations, the most significant revisions are summarized below.

  • The Medicare Appeals Council may render binding decisions. In many types of appeal systems, lower courts are required to follow the decisions of higher appellate courts. For example, the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court are binding on all other Federal courts.

The Medicare Appeals Council is the highest level of appeal within the Department of Health and Human Services, and it is responsible for reviewing ALJ decisions. The Council’s decisions are currently not binding on ALJs or any of CMS’ contractors. The new rules would change this and permit the Council to designate certain decisions as precedential, which means that all of CMS’ contractors and the ALJs would be required to follow them. CMS believes that permitting the Council to render binding decisions would streamline the appeals process and allow for uniformity of some coverage and procedural issues.

  • Attorney Adjudicators will assist with appeals processing. ALJs do not just conduct hearings and write decisions, they also perform a variety of other tasks related to each case, such as: determining if the provider’s appeal is timely, valid, and complete; reviewing the record to ensure all pertinent case materials are present; and determining if good cause exists to admit new evidence offered by a provider.

CMS’ new rules would create new positions within OMHA called “Attorney Adjudicators,” who will be responsible for assisting ALJs with pending appeals. These new decision makers would perform most of the ancillary tasks currently undertaken by ALJs, thereby allowing the judges to focus on holding hearings and issuing decisions.

  • The amount in controversy requirement will increase for some providers. In order to file an ALJ hearing request, the current “amount in controversy” must be at least $150. When determining whether this requirement has been met under the existing regulations, an ALJ will consider the amount billed by the provider to Medicare for the item / service / claim in question.

The new regulation will change the amount in controversy rule for providers who are reimbursed according to a fee schedule, such as physicians, labs, or suppliers of durable medical equipment. In those cases, the amount in controversy will be changed from the amount billed to the amount allowed per the fee schedule. CMS believes that this will reduce the number of appeals submitted to OMHA. It is important to note that, under this new proposed rule, providers will still be permitted to bundle claims together to meet the amount in controversy requirement for an ALJ appeal. For providers who are not reimbursed based on a fee schedule, the amount in controversy rule will continue to be determined according to the amount billed for the claim or service.

These are only three examples of the changes sought by CMS. Many other aspects of the ALJ hearing process will also change, such as when new evidence may be admitted into the record, how cases involving statistical sampling and extrapolation should be handled, and how CMS’ contractors may participate in an ALJ hearing.

In practice, some of these changes may work to the detriment of providers. For example, deeming certain Council decisions precedential would mean that the contractors and ALJs would be required to follow those decisions in identical or similar cases. This could deprive ALJs of independence and flexibility to decide cases based on the unique facts and circumstances of each appeal. CMS does not appear to have offered an estimate as to how many appeals may be affected by this portion of the new rules.

Similarly, the involvement of attorney adjudicators in the process may increase the procedural hurdles encountered by providers during the appeals process. Failure to adhere to most of the procedural requirements for an ALJ hearing request may result in dismissal of the appeal. This increased focus on procedural aspects of the process will likely lead to more providers seeking assistance from attorneys to navigate the increasingly complex hearing process.

Time will tell whether these adjustments to the claim appeal regulations will actually help alleviate the backlog of pending ALJ appeals. The most direct way for CMS to accomplish that result would be to rein in the contractors responsible for the never-ending stream of audits as opposed to tweaking the rules for appeals.

If you have questions about the Medicare claims appeal process or need help with an appeal, you should contact an experienced attorney to discuss your questions and explore your options.

Medicare Claim AppealLiles Parker attorneys assist providers across the country with all matters related to claim appeals, reimbursement, enrollment, compliance, and corporate formation / transactions. If you have questions or concerns about a pending Medicare claim appeal, please contact Adam Bird for a free consultation.  He can be reached at:  1 (800) 475-1906.

CMS Announces Home Health Pre-Claim Review Demonstration Project for Five States

July 5, 2016 by  
Filed under Home Health & Hospice

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Pre-Claim Review(July 5, 2016) The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced a home health pre-claim review demonstration project to be initiated in five states. According to CMS, the purpose of the new project is to prevent improper Medicare payments, enhance quality of care, and deter waste, fraud, and abuse in the Medicare program. This pre-claim review demonstration will impact home health agencies in Illinois, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, and Michigan.

According to the Operational Guide released by CMS, the general contours of this new project will be as follows:

  • Agencies will continue to submit requests for anticipated payment (RAPs) as usual.
  • At some point prior to submission of the claim for the end of episode (EOE) payment, agencies will be required to submit documentation to the Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) that substantiates the beneficiary is homebound, requires intermittent skilled care, and that a physician has certified the beneficiary’s eligibility for home health services.
  • The MAC will render a provisional pre-claim review decision to either affirm or non-affirm coverage of the services within 10 days of receiving the agency’s documentation. The decision letter will contain a rationale for the determination.
  • If the pre-claim review decision is affirmed, the agency can then submit the EOE at the appropriate time and will receive payment as usual.
  • If coverage is non-affirmed upon pre-claim review, the decision letter should contain the reason(s) for that determination. The agency will then have an unlimited number of opportunities to submit additional documentation to further corroborate that the services meet Medicare coverage rules. Those subsequent pre-claim review decisions will either affirm or non-affirm coverage for the claim. MACs will be required to render decisions regarding resubmitted documentation within 20 days of receipt.
  • If an agency submits an EOE after receiving a non-affirmed pre-claim review decision, the EOE will be denied and the RAP will be recouped. The provider will then be able to appeal that denial.
  • CMS has portrayed the pre-claim review process as “voluntary.” However, if an agency submits an EOE without first obtaining an affirmed pre-claim review decision, payment will be immediately stopped and the claim will be subject to pre-payment review. If the reviewer approves the claim upon pre-payment review, the reimbursement for the claim will be reduced 25%. This penalty is non-appealable. If the pre-payment review decision is unfavorable, the RAP will be recouped and the provider may appeal that denial.

CMS and the home health MACs will roll out this demonstration gradually throughout the five target states over the course of six months:

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

In cases where providers do not opt to participate in the pre-claim review process, CMS has stated that the 25% penalty component of the project will be phased in three months after the commencement dates listed above.

According to Palmetto GBA, the home health MAC for Illinois, Florida, and Texas, providers will be able to submit the requested documentation via mail, facsimile, or an online portal.

Home health agencies across the five target states along with other stakeholders have aptly expressed concern as to the need for and potential ramifications of this demonstration project. Agencies are already under enormous pressure, for example, to obtain physician orders within specified timeframes along with appropriate face-to-face documentation from the certifying physicians. The pre-claim review project will only exacerbate those difficulties. In the meantime, agencies will now be expected to continue providing care to beneficiaries without any assurance that they will receive reimbursement for their services.

In our opinion, some of the biggest concerns with this demonstration relate to the timeliness and quality of the pre-claim reviews along with the possibility that the same claims could be subject to multiple audits by different entities.

Although CMS has stated that the MACs will “make every effort” to review pre-claim submissions within 10 days of receipt, there is no assurance they will consistently meet this goal. Unfortunately, the project guidelines announced by CMS do not contain any remedies for providers whose requests may be subject to lengthy processing delays.

The second concern principally relates to the quality of reviews and the adequacy of the explanations provided for “non-affirmed” decisions. Chapter 7 of CMS’ Operational Guide does not contain any requirements as to how detailed those explanations will be. If the MAC’s reasons for “non-affirming” coverage are vague or non-specific, as most unfavorable claim or appeal decisions by Medicare contractors tend to be, then many providers will be left wondering how to improve their documentation or what other records to furnish upon resubmission. This could result in significant delays in reimbursement for many agencies and substantial negative impact on otherwise compliant providers.

CMS has affirmatively stated that claims subject to the pre-claim review process will not be exempt from targeted reviews performed by other entities, such as Zone Program Integrity Contractors. Even the medical review staff at the MAC – the same entity charged with performing the pre-claim reviews – could theoretically initiate targeted medical review of home health agencies. CMS has not indicated whether claims submitted for pre-claim review could also be audited by the Recovery Audit Contractors or the Supplemental Medical Review Contractor. CMS has not offered any justification for the tremendous administrative burdens that serial audits of the same claims could impose on agencies.

In light of this new demonstration project, we recommend that agencies in all of the five states take the following steps to prepare for pre-claim review:

  • CMS has not specified exactly what documentation must be submitted with each pre-claim review request. However, the MACs are currently developing checklists for providers to use when preparing their documentation. Agencies should closely monitor their MAC’s website for this information and review it as soon as it is available. This will likely be an important tool when compiling documentation for submission.
  • Pre-claim review will apply to all home health claims – including recertification episodes – in target states as of the effective dates specified above. For example, initial face-to-face encounter documentation must be submitted with pre-claim review requests for all recertification episodes, even if the face-to-face was performed before the commencement of the demonstration project in that agency’s state. For this reason, providers should not wait to begin reviewing their documentation and searching for ways to improve it. We strongly recommend that providers initiate internal auditing protocols now, irrespective of when the demonstration may begin in their state.
  • Face-to-face documentation will likely play a key role in many pre-claim review decisions. If they have not already done so, we recommend that agencies conduct inservices with their physician referral sources now regarding timeliness and content requirements of face-to-face encounter records. If some physicians consistently refuse to document adequate or timely face-to-face encounters, agencies should consider no longer accepting referrals from those physicians.
  • Agencies should be aware that pre-claim review will likely disrupt their ordinary revenue cycles and begin taking appropriate action.
  • Agencies should regularly review Medicare coverage requirements for home health services as set forth in the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual. Moreover, agencies should familiarize themselves with the local coverage determinations (LCDs) of their MACs, which also contain guidelines for home health care. Palmetto GBA, for example, has LCDs that relate to physical / occupational / speech therapy services and home health care provided to beneficiaries with diabetes mellitus, among other topics.
  • To speed up the pre-claim review process, agencies should submit documentation via the MAC’s secure web portal instead of by mail or fax.
  • We recommend that agencies always utilize the pre-claim review process. The 25% payment reduction is too steep a penalty for non-compliance, particularly since any such claims would still be subject to pre-payment review upon submission of the EOE.

If you have questions regarding this new home health pre-claim review process, you should contact an experienced attorney to discuss additional steps that you could take to minimize the potential negative impact that this initiative will have on your agency.

Pre-Claim ReviewLiles Parker attorneys assist providers across the country with all matters related to claim appeals, reimbursement, enrollment, compliance, and corporate formation / transactions. If you have questions or concerns about a pending Medicare claim appeal, please contact Adam Bird for a free consultation.  He can be reached at:  1 (800) 475-1906.

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