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SIU Dental Audit Reviews by DentaQuest, Delta Dental and Cigna Can Ultimately Lead to Criminal Prosecution and Imprisonment.  Are Your Dental Office’s Medical Necessity, Documentation, Coding and Billing Practices Compliant?

October 16, 2019 by  
Filed under Dental Audits & Compliance

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Dental Claims Audits are Ongoing(October 16, 2019):  A Federal District Court Judge recently sentenced a Murfreesboro, TN dentist to prison and ordered that he pay restitution to TennCare (Tennessee’s Medicaid program).  Regrettably, the types of improper billing practices cited by the government in the criminal Information filed against the defendant dentist aren’t that uncommon.  This recent prosecution serves as an excellent case study of why it is essential that dentists and dental practices take steps to ensure that their medical necessity, documentation, coding and billing practices fully comply with applicable regulatory requirements and contractual obligations.  In addition to reviewing the types of improper conduct that led to the government’s criminal pursuit of the defendants in this case, this article examines how a Special Investigations Unit dental audit (SIU dental audit) by auditors and investigators at DentQuest, Delta Dental and Cigna can ultimately lead to a referral to State or Federal law enforcement officials.  Once a referral is made, you and your dental practice may be subject to criminal investigation and prosecution.

I.  SIU Dental Audit Reviews by DentaQuest, Delta Dental and Cigna Can Result in a Referral to State or Federal Law Enforcement Officials:

In this case, a Tennessee licensed dentist reportedly owned a dental practice with three locations in Murfreesboro, TN and a single location in Lebanon, TN.   The dental practice treated patients that were covered by private-payor dental plans and Medicaid.  Payors billed by the dental practice included, but were not necessarily limited to:  DentaQuest (DentaQuest served as the administrator to the TennCare program – Tennessee’s Medicaid program), Delta Dental and Cigna.[1]  Starting in late 2014, a number of payors initiated an SIU dental audit of the defendant’s multi-location dental practice.  These included:

December 2014. DentaQuest SIU Dental Audit.   In late 2014, DentaQuest conducted an audit of select 2013 and 2014 claims submitted to the Medicaid payor plan by the practice.  After reviewing the claims, DentiQuest alleged that the practice claiming was:

    • Billing for crowns at an unusually high rate; and
    • Impermissibly billing DentaQuest for services provided by non-credentialed dentists.

Importantly, the defendant was allegedly advised of these allegations both during and after the DentaQuest audit.

December 2016 Delta SIU Dental Audit.  Delta Dental conducted an audit of 2015 and 2016 claims submitted to the payor for coverage and payment. At the conclusion of the dental claims audit, Delta Dental alleged that the dental practice:

    • Billed for dental services during the period January 2015 through May 2016 that were allegedly not provided.

Both during and after the Delta Dental audit, the defendant dentist and his office manager were allegedly advised of the allegation that the practice had billed the payor for services that were not provided.

August 2016 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Probe.  In August 2016, the defendant dentist and his office manager reportedly learned that the Tennessee Board of Investigation had initiated an investigation of the dental practice’s billing conduct.  Despite the fact that the defendants supposedly learned of the State’s ongoing investigation, they allegedly:

    • Directed employees to continue to bill for work that had not been performed.

As the summary findings of these dental claims audits reflect, the defendant dentist and the practice administrator were repeatedly advised by dental plan sponsors that a number of medical necessity, coding and documentation deficiencies had been identified.  Despite the fact that the defendants were allegedly put on actual notice of these improper coding and billing practices, the practice appears not to have taken remedial steps to correct the conduct.

II.  Overview of the Fraudulent Dental Billing Conduct Alleged by the Government:

The criminal Information filed against the defendant dentist outlines a number of documentation and billing practices that allegedly resulted in the submission of false and fraudulent dental claims to the DentaQuest (TennCare Medicaid), Delta Dental and Cigna payor plans. Not surprisingly, the types of improper conduct that the government chose to criminally prosecute are far from uncommon.  In fact, many of the dental audits we have defended on behalf of dental practices around the country have involved at least one of the documentation, coding and / or billing problems that ultimately led to the criminal referral in this case.  As both government and private payor SIU dental audit representatives will readily attest, when it comes to dental claims fraud, the old adage “. . . there is nothing new under the sun” certainly applies.[2] The types of improper conduct alleged by the government are outlined below:

Summary of Allegation

Conduct Cited by the Government

Billing for Services Not Rendered.The government alleged that the defendants submitted false and fraudulent claims to health care benefit programs for dental work that had not been completed.
Falsifying Dates of Service.  The government alleged that the defendants falsified the dates of service to make it appear as though the dental service was rendered within the timeframe required by a health care benefit program or after preauthorization was obtained from a health care benefit program so that the dental claims would be paid.
Falsifying the Identity of the Individual Who Rendered the Dental Services.The government alleged that the defendants falsified claims to make it appear as though the services had been rendered by a dentist who was credentialed to treat patients at a particular practice location, when in fact the services had been provided by a non-credentialed dentist or at a different practice location.[3]
Falsifying Dental Records.The government alleged that the defendants falsified supporting documentation and records, such as x-rays, in order to have the claims paid.
Engaging in Upcoding.The government alleged that the defendants added false language to the claim narratives to make it appear as though the practice had provided more expensive services than the services that were actually provided.
Obstruction.The government alleged that the defendants falsified took steps to conceal the fraud, including:  (1) Disciplining or firing employees who asked questions about whether the billing practices were correct or legal, (2) Instructing practice employees to tell patients and representatives from insurance companies that if the practice had billed for work that had not been done, it was simply a billing error and would be corrected, when, in fact, it was the routine practice of the organization.
False Statements / Obstruction.The government alleged that the defendants falsified took steps to make it appear as though the practice administrator was solely responsible for the fraudulent billing practices at the practice and that the defendant dentist was supposedly unaware of the fraudulent billing practices, when in fact, both individuals knew about the conduct and caused the practice to submit false and fraudulent claims.

 III.  Criminal Charges Brought Against the Defendant Dentist and Disposition of the Case:

The defendant dentist in this case entered into a plea bargain with the Federal government and agreed to waive his right to an Indictment.  As the pleadings in this case reflect, in November 2018, the defendant dentist was charged in a criminal Information with one count of criminal conspiracy under 18 USC § 1349.[4]   In June 2019, the defendant dentist was sentenced to almost three years in prison and ordered to pay almost one million dollars in restitution to the TennCare Medicaid program.[5]

How can you and your dental practice avoid engaging in the types of improper conduct identified by the government in this case? As a first step, your practice needs to develop, implement and adhere to the both the letter and the spirit of an effective compliance program.  An overview of the compliance program process is set out below.

IV.  Every Dental Practice Must Develop and Implement an Effective Compliance Program:

As you will recall, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), Office of Inspector General (OIG), issued voluntary Compliance Guidance for Individual and Small Group Physician Practices” almost 20 years ago, in 2000.[6]  As the seven element compliance guidance reflects, the term “physician” is defined to include “a doctor of dental surgery or dental medicine.” [7] With the passage of the Affordable Care Act[8]  in 2010, dental practices and other health care providers participating in Federal health benefits programs were now required to establish a compliance program as a condition of their enrollment in the Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) payor plans.  Under § 6401(b)(5) of the statute:

“Subtitle E—Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP Program Integrity Provisions

SEC. 6401. PROVIDER SCREENING AND OTHER ENROLLMENT REQUIREMENTS UNDER MEDICARE, MEDICAID, AND CHIP.

Sec. 6401(a)(7):  COMPLIANCE PROGRAMS.—On or after the date of implementation determined by the Secretary under subparagraph (C), a provider of medical or other items or services or supplier within a particular industry sector or category shall, as a condition of enrollment in the program under this title [Medicare], title XIX [Medicaid], or title XXI [CHIP], establish a compliance program that contains the core elements established under subparagraph (B) with respect to that provider or supplier and industry or category.

. . . .

Sec. 6401(b)(5):  COMPLIANCE PROGRAMS.—The State requires providers and suppliers under the State plan or under a waiver of the plan to establish, in accordance with the requirements of section 1866(j)(7), a compliance program that contains the core elements established under subparagraph (B) of that section 1866(j)(7) for providers or suppliers within a particular industry or category.”  (emphasis added).

From a practical standpoint, dental practices have been slow to make the transition from a “voluntary” to a “mandatory” approach towards compliance. In January 2017, the OIG and compliance professionals of the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) met and made modifications to the original seven elements identified in the 2000 compliance program guidance.  The seven elements were modified to include the following:

  1. Standards, Policies, and Procedures.
  2. Compliance Program Administration.
  3. Screening and Evaluation of Employees, Physicians, Vendors and other Agents. 
  4. Communication, Education, and Training on Compliance Issues. 
  5. Monitoring, Auditing, and Internal Reporting Systems. 
  6. Discipline for Non?Compliance.
  7. Investigations and Remedial Measures.[9]

 If the defendants had properly developed, implemented and diligently worked to follow an effective dental practice compliance program, it is highly unlikely that the deficiencies identified by the government would have occurred (assuming, of course, that the defendants would have worked to comply with applicable statutory and regulatory requirements).

V.  The Possible Impact of an SIU Dental Audit on Your Dental Practice:

Assuming that your dental practice does not participate in the Medicare program[10] (but does participate in the Medicaid program), a wide variety of audit entities may show up at your door to perform an unannounced audit or send you a written notice of audit.  Audit entities that may initiate a review of your dental claims include:

Your Dental Practice May be Audits by Medicaid UPICs, Medicaid RACs, State Medicaid Fraud Control Units (MFCUs) and Private Payor Special Investigation Units (SIUs).

It is important to keep in mind that many of these audit entities have overlapping areas of responsibility.  As a result, it is entirely possible that one audit entity (for instance, a Unified Program Integrity Contractor (UPIC)) may decide to look at your 2015 Medicaid dental claims, while a completely different entity (such as Medicaid Recovery Audit Contractor (Medicaid RAC)) could audit your 2016 Medicaid dental claims.  For instance:

  • UPIC / Medicaid RAC Audits. On the government side, your dental practice’s Medicaid claims may be audited by a UPIC or a Medicaid RAC working for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

 

  • State MFCU Audits. Since the Medicaid program is jointly funded by the Federal and State governments, your Medicaid claims may also be audited by your State’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU).

 

  • Audits by a Private Company Administrator of the Medicaid Program. If a private payor plan (such as DentaQuest) is serving as the administrator of the State Medicaid program, the private payor Special Investigations Unit (SIU) may initiate an audit of your Medicaid claims

 

  • Private Payor Audits. To the extent that your dental practice is a participating provider in one or more private dental payor plans, each of these private payor plans has an in-house SIU that is tasked with identifying and taking appropriate administrative action against providers and suppliers engaged in improper conduct. If a SIU identifies conduct that it believes may constitute fraud, it may choose to make a referral to law enforcement for further investigation and possible criminal prosecution.

In the case discussed above, the Special Investigation Units (SIU) of DentQuest, Delta Dental and Cigna initiated audits of the dental practice’s claims.   A private payor’s SIU is typically comprised of health care auditors and investigators, many of whom previously worked for Federal or State law enforcement agencies.  If evidence of wrongdoing is found by the SIU, the private payor may decide to take an administrative action, such as place a dental provider on prepayment review or terminate a dental provider from their payor program.  To the extent that an alleged overpayment is identified by the SIU, it may send a demand letter to a dental provider.  This ultimately could lead to the initiation of a collection action in civil court by the private payor.  In a worst case scenario, if an SIU agent identifies evidence of actual fraud (as opposed to conduct that is indicative of a mistake, error or an accident), the unit may choose to make a referral to the government for further investigation and possible criminal prosecution.

As set out in the background discussion (Section I), the dental practice in the instant case underwent several audits over a fairly short period of time.  The audits conducted included reviews by DentaQuest (as the administrator for TennCare’s Medicaid dental program), Delta Dental and Cigna.  The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation subsequently initiated its own investigation of the dental office’s billing practices.  After concluding their reviews, a criminal referral was made to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  Federal prosecutors then initiated criminal proceedings against the dentist practice owner and the practice administrator.

VI.  Responding to a DentaQuest Audit, Delta Dental Audit or Cigna Audit of Your Dental Claims:

The government does not expect you to be perfect with respect to your documentation, coding and billing practices.  Nevertheless, the government does expect you to take reasonable steps to prevent the occurrence of improper billing practices. The development and implementation of an effective compliance program is an integral part of your dental practice’s program integrity efforts.  Unfortunately, even if you diligently work to stay within the four corners of the law, mistakes will still be made and your dental claims will still be subject to audit by a State Medicaid program, DentaQuest, Delta Dental, Cigna and other dental payors.  How should you respond if you are audited by a government or private payor?

  • Call an Experienced Health Lawyer for Assistance. Effectively responding to a government or private payor audit of your dental claims is essential if you hope to reduce the possible adverse effects of an audit.  An experienced health lawyer can walk you through the process and interact directly with the payor to seek an extension of the deadline to submit dental records and advise you on the documentation, coding and billing requirements that are required by a given payor.  Notably, the Liles Parker attorneys who would represent you and your practice in a dental audit are both experienced health lawyers AND have achieved certification as Certified Medical Reimbursement Specialists (CMRSs) by the American Medical Billing Association (AMBA) and / or Certified Professional Coders (CPCs) by the American Academy of Professional Coders.

 

  • Don’t ignore a SIU dental audit of your claims. It has been our experience that approximately 20% of all dental audit requests are either ignored by a dental practice or were set aside for later review and then got lost in the ever-growing pile of administrative correspondence received by a dental practice.  Don’t allow this to happen.  Most payors will give a dental practice a deadline to submit any responsive, supporting dental records.  This submission deadline can be as little as a few days to as much as 30 days.  If the payor does not receive the requested records by the deadline, it will automatically deny the dental claims.

 

  • Are there indications that the government or private payor intends to try and extrapolate damages? If a payor describes the group of dental medical records requested as a “statistically relevant sample” or uses similar descriptive terminology, call your legal counsel.  While not typically seen in private payor audits, we have seen numerous instances where a private payor has attempted to extrapolate any damages identified in connection with their audit.  Depending on applicable law and the terms of your contract with the payor, your legal counsel may be able to get the extrapolation dismissed.  If the payor does, in fact, have the authority to extrapolate damages, Liles Parker attorneys will often work with a statistical expert to conduct a preliminary assessment of whether or not the sample selected is, in fact, a sample that is representative of the universe of dental claims at issue.

 

  • Assemble the dental records requested. Take the time to assess the specific claims at issue and the supporting documentation in each file.  Are there additional places (e.g., files in storage) where additional supporting documentation may be kept?  If the documentation appears to be incomplete, you may be able to supplement the records with an affidavit. Are there any referring or ancillary providers that might have supporting documentation (e.g., referrals or orders from another dental professional, laboratory or X-ray test result)?

 

  • Retain duplicates of any information that you submit to the SIU dental auditor. Should you choose to go it alone and not be represented by legal counsel, you need to make sure that you secure a complete copy of the documentation sent to the payor.  It should be kept separate from your working files.  Should an appeal prove necessary, you will need to know the information on which the payor based its denial decision.

 

  • Don’t turn an administrative or civil audit into a criminal case. Dental records, progress notes, x-rays and other documents must be signed and dated by the health care provider at the time the services are rendered or conducted.  In conducting your review, did you find that the claims documentation is legible and complete?  If not, change your practices now.  Wholesale efforts to go back and supplement incomplete documentation may constitute obstruction of justice if incorrectly handled.  Never make changes to a patient’s documentation or dental records without first discussing the issues presented with legal counsel so that you can ensure that a third party reviewing the updated records will not be misled as to the nature of the changes or revisions AND when the changes or revisions were made.  In other words, your records must accurately show when changes, corrections or additions were made to the patient’s dental records.  Late entries to a record must be dated as such.  More than likely, government and private payor auditors will give very little (if any) credit to late entries or supplemental records unless the service being supplemental was recently performed.   The falsification of information in a patient’s dental record (or in other records presented to the government, its agents or private payor auditors) can constitute a criminal violation and could lead to much bigger troubles for you and your dental practice than a mere overpayment.

Private payor SIUs are an important source of referrals for State and Federal prosecutors. Your compliance with a payor’s medical necessity, documentation, coding and billing requirements will be carefully reviewed by a SIU if your dental claims are subjected to an audit by the payor’s anti-fraud unit.  If evidence of criminal fraud is identified, there is real possibility that your conduct will be referred to the government for further investigation and possible prosecution.  Your adoption and implementation of an effective compliance program will greatly reduce your level of risk.  Liles Parker attorneys have extensive experience working with dental practices around the country to develop and implement an effective compliance program.  Part of this process includes the performance of a “GAP Analysis” to determine whether the practices current practices are consistent with applicable regulatory and contractual requirements.  If deficiencies are identified, remedial steps can then be taken to bring the practice back into compliance.

Robert W. Liles Healthcare LawyerIs your dental practice being audited by DentaQuest, Delta Dental or Cigna?  If so, give us a call.  We can help.  A number of Liles Parker attorneys are experienced defending dental practices in Medicaid and private payor audits.  Moreover, these attorneys are both experienced health lawyers AND Certified Professional Coders (CPCs).  For a free consultation, please give us a call:  1 (800) 475-1906.

 

[1] Each of these plans qualify as “health care benefit programs” as defined by 18 USC § 24(b).

[2] Ecclesiastes 1:9 reads, in part “What has been is what will be, and what has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun.”

[3] Are Your Providers Properly Credentialed with Each Payor?  How long does it take for the payor to credential a new dentist?  Once a new dentist is approved, will the payor cover dental claims back to the submission date of credentialing package?   We are seeing a huge rise in the number of overpayments based on failure to credential.  A detailed discussion of this credentialing issue is discussed in an article entitled: The Dangers of Billing Payors for the Services of a Non-Credentialed Dentist / Non-Participating Dentist.”

[4] Under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, a criminal defendant in a Federal case has a constitutional right to be indicted by a Grand Jury.  An Information is typically used by the government when a defendant voluntarily pleads guilty (typically after entering into plea bargain negotiations with the government).

[5] Notably, the defendant practice administrator has not entered a guilty plea and is scheduled to be tried in December 2019.

[6] 65 Fed. Reg. 59434. (October 5, 2000).

[7] 65 Fed. Reg. 59434, 59435.

[8] A copy of the Affordable Care Act can be found at the following link:  https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/PLAW-111publ148/pdf/PLAW-111publ148.pdf

[9]See Measuring Compliance Program Effectiveness – A Resource Guide.” 

[10] Generally speaking, traditional Medicare does not cover most routine dental care procedures, such as cleanings, fillings, tooth extractions, dentures, or other common dental procedures. Under certain circumstances, Medicare Part A may cover dental services that are needed in connection with the provision of a covered Part A service (e.g. an operation your jaw).  Additionally, some Medicare Advantage are now starting to cover a limited scope of routine dental procedures.

Delta Dental Audits are Ongoing Around the Country. Are You Prepared?

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Delta Dental Audits are Ongoing Around the Country(May 15, 2017):  Over the last decade, both state and federal law enforcement agencies have aggressively investigated and prosecuted instances of Medicaid dental fraud.  In recent years, these efforts have been widely implemented (and expanded) by private payor Special Investigative Units (SIUs).  One dental benefits program in particular has been especially active in this regard – Delta Dental.  This not-for-profit dental insurance company has been engaged to administer a number of state[i], federal and private dental benefits programs around the country.  Delta Dental audits are increasing in frequency and are focusing on dental practices around the country.

Delta Dental is the proverbial “800 Pound Gorilla” of dental benefits programs.  For more than 60 years, Delta Dental has provided dental coverage to individuals, employers, associations and groups around the country.  At last count, Delta Dental was estimated to provide dental insurance to approximately one-third of all Americans.  More than 73 million individuals (in more than 129,000 associations and groups) are currently covered by Delta Dental Insurance. It has been estimated that Delta Dental processes more than 2.2 million dental claims each week.[ii]  Depending on the jurisdiction, Delta Dental benefit programs may cover state programs (such as Medi-Cal), federal programs (such as TriCare and CHAMPUS) and a host of private, non-governmental associations and groups.  As a result, there is high likelihood that your dental practice currently provides oral health treatment services to patients covered by Delta Dental.  This article examines a number of the audit practices that you may encounter if your dental claims are targeted by Delta Dental’s SIU.

[Updates examining Delta Dental audit practices are also available at the following links: (Article dated October 16, 2019; Article Dated March 4, 2020)].

I. How Are Delta Dental Audits Generated?

The primary targeting tools utilized by dental payors to identify improper dental claims and business practices are “Predictive Modeling and Data Mining.” Other significant sources of audits typically include “Complaints” by beneficiaries, other dental practices (such as competitors), former (and, often disgruntled) employees.  Delta Dental SIU’s have also consistently monitored a dental provider’s “Error Rate” when selecting specific targets for audit and investigation.

  • Predictive Modeling / Data Mining. Delta Dental SIUs actively conduct analyses of a dental providers’ utilization and claims submission practices.  If the care and treatment practices of a specific dentist or dental group appear to be inconsistent with those its peers, the dental provider will be flagged for audit as an outlier.  To the extent that your dental practice or organization is subjected to an audit, it is essential that you determine whether your dental coding and billing practices fully comply with applicable regulations and / or contractual requirements. If so, you must be prepared to explain to an SIU (and in some cases, to law enforcement) why the anomalies identified through data mining or predictive modeling are not evidence of fraud or overpayment.  Dental providers facing this situation should work with experienced legal counsel to ensure that the arguments to be presented fully address the payor’s concerns.  Failure to do so may result in an expansion of a dental claims audit.

  • Insufficient / Inadequate Dental Documentation. Understandably, Delta Dental SIUs actively encourage beneficiaries and others to report incidents of possible billing fraud, waste and abuse.   Delta Dental SIUs and other dental payors have repeatedly found that the documentation practices of many dental providers are often incomplete and fail to comply with the minimum standards required by Delta Dental and / or other payors.  As a result, when an SIU investigates a complaint, the Investigator assigned to the case often alleged that the care and treatment services billed were medically necessary and qualify for coverage and payment under the payor’s plan.

  • Error Rate. Not surprisingly, to the extent that a dental provider’s prior claims have been denied, dental payor SIUs have often utilized a provider’s error rate as a targeting tool.  The theory employed by dental payors is that dental providers with a history of denied claims are more likely to have problems documenting medical necessity, meeting a payor’s coverage requirements, properly coding and billing a dental claim, and / or fully documenting a patient’s care.

II. Typical Problems Identified by Delta Dental SIUs When Conducting Delta Dental Audits:

Regardless of the reason(s) an audit of your dental claims may have been generated, once it is initiated, Delta Dental’s SIU isn’t limited in its scope of audit review.  In other words, even though an audit have been pursued due to the fact that a dental provider’s utilization of a specific service is far more frequent that what would normally be expected, the payor’s SIU is not restricted from examining other potential areas of non-compliance.  For instance, several of the problem areas repeatedly identified by Delta Dental when conducting dental claims audits have included:

  • Routine failure to collect the patient’s full payment or share of cost without notifying the carrier. Is your dental practice consistently collecting co-payments and deductibles that may be owed by a covered beneficiary?  In the case of non-government administered plan, the unsupported waiver of these amounts may constitute a breach of contract (In the case of a state or federal funded plan that is administered by Delta Dental, such a failure may constitute a violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute.

  • Concealing other available coverage. The failure to identify (and bill) additional dental payors is often cited as a basis for an overpayment in dental claims audits conducted by Delta Dental and other payors.

  • Misreporting dates to circumvent calendar year maximums or time limitations. The misreporting of dates in an effort to evade calendar year maximums and / or time limitations may constitute a violation of one or more state and federal fraud statutes.

  • Submitting claims for covered services when non-covered services are provided. The mischaracterization of services in an effort to get an otherwise non-covered service paid by a payor is very problematic.  Dental payor SIUs view such conduct as evidence that a dental provider is purposely attempting to avoid the payment denial of a non-covered service or claim.

  • Providing medically unnecessary services. Delta Dental SIUs are quick to deny claims that do not fully document that the services at issue are both medically necessary and appropriate.  These types of denials often fall into two categories.  The first category would include services that are not authorized under a patient’s plan due to frequency limitations.  The second category would include services that are allegedly not warranted in light of the patient’s dental care and treatment needed.  It is It is important to keep in mind that a service or claim can be medically necessary yet still not qualify for coverage and payment.  Ultimately, every dental service or claim, regardless of whether the beneficiary is a Medicare, Medicaid, or private plan participant, must be examined to see if it qualifies for coverage.  In making coverage determinations, many dental payors have interpreted the phrase “reasonable and necessary” to reflect that a dental service is safe, effective and not experimental or investigational.  When applying these terms, dental payors often look to see whether a dental service has been proven safe and effective based on authoritative evidence, or alternatively, whether a service is generally accepted in the dental community as safe and effective for the condition for which it is used.

  • Patients who use another person’s ID to obtain benefits. While the Affordable Care Act may have made great strides in expanding eligibility and increasing the availability of medical care, covered dental care has remained problematic.  As a result, we have continued to see instances where a covered beneficiary has “lent” his or her identification to a friend or family member who would otherwise not qualify for covered dental care and treatment services.

  • Limiting the availability of appointment times when compensation is capitation-based (i.e., in dental HMO type programs). Dental payors are especially sensitive to situations where it appears that a dental provider has discriminated against a patient due to the fact that the negotiated rate of reimbursement under a dental HMO plan is lower than it is under a fee-for-service plan.  Check your contracts!  This type of conduct can expose a dental provider to significant liability.

III. Steps Your Dental Practice Can Take to Reduce the Likelihood of an Overpayment Resulting from a Delta Dental Audit:

In today’s environment of sophisticated data mining, it is essential that dentists have a clear picture of how their coding and billing practices compare to those of their peers.  Unfortunately, the “benchmarking” data available to dentists is quite limited.  Nevertheless, a number of private and governmental payor reports issued in recent years can assist a dentist in determining whether its coding and billing utilization appears to be in line with what a payor would normally expect to see.

Importantly, just because a dentist’s coding and billing practices differ from those of their peers, this does not necessarily mean that the dentist’s action are illegal or improper. Over the years, we have seen dentists targeted by private and / or governmental payors due to the fact that their coding and billing actions were different from those of other dentists. In one case, we found that a dentists was recognized as an “expert” by his peers and often received highly-complex referrals by other dental providers. As a result, the number of highly complex procedures performed by the dentist exceeded those of other similarly-situated dentists in the community. In any event, you need to know how your practices compare to those of your peers.  If your dental coding and billing practices make you an outlier, you need to be prepared for an audit and be ready to explain why the services you provide are appreciably different from those of other dentists in the community.

If you have not already done so, you should develop and implement an effective Compliance Program for your dental practice.  If you participate in Medicaid, Medicaid Advantage or another state or federal health benefits program with dental benefits, you are likely already required by law to have one in place.  Additionally, most private payor dental plans are also now requiring that an effective Compliance Program be put into place.  The implementation of a living, breathing Compliance Program can go a long way towards helping your dental practice remain compliant with applicable, statutory, regulatory and contractual requirements. Are your claims being audited by Delta Dental?  Give us a call for a free consultation.  We can be reached at (202) 298-8750 or toll free at 1 (800) 475-1906. 

Robert W. Liles represents dentists and dental practices in connection with Delta Dental audits.Robert W. Liles, JD, MBA, MS is an attorney with Liles Parker, Attorneys & Clients at Law.  Our Firm has offices in Washington, DC; Baton Rouge, LA; Houston, TX and San Antonio, TX.  We represent dentists and dental providers around the country in connection with Delta Dental and other insurance payors audits of their dental claims.   Should you have questions, please give Robert a call for a free consultation.  He can be reached at:  (202) 380-8134.

 

 

[i] Delta Dental of California has administered the Denti-Cal Program for the State of California, Department of Health Care Services since 1974.

http://www.denti-cal.ca.gov/provsrvcs/manuals/handbook2/handbook.pdf#page=21

[ii] https://www.deltadental.com/Public/Company/stats2.jsp?DView=AboutDeltaDentalStats

 

Dentist Indicted on Nearly 200 Counts of New Hampshire Medicaid Dental Fraud

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New Hampshore Medicaid officials are investigating dental fraud.

(January 3, 2014):  A 57-year-old Queen City, New Hampshire dentist has recently been charged with 189 counts of Medicaid dental fraud. As a result, he could face many years in prison. The New Hampshire Medicaid program is a joint federal and state-funded health care program that serves individuals and families in that state who meet certain eligibility requirements.  It is run by the State’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and reimburses providers who deliver health care services for numerous covered medical services. Under a program called “New Hampshire Smiles,” the New Hampshire Medicaid program offers comprehensive dental treatment to eligible children. Adults enrolled in Medicaid may also receive emergency dental treatments. To receive payment for dental services rendered, an individual or group must be enrolled with New Hampshire Medicaid as a dental billing provider. Dental services must be performed by a dentist, or under the supervision of a dentist, who is enrolled as an individual provider and is currently licensed by the state. The dentist must, if required, request and obtain service authorization from Xerox, the DHHS’s fiscal agent.  Importantly, providers must agree to bill for procedure(s) using Code on Dental Procedures and Nomenclature (CDT) codes that most accurately describe the services provided.

I.  Allegations of State Medicaid Dental Fraud are Increasing Around the Country:

Unfortunately, states across the country are seeing an increase in instances of dentists abusing the system. One of the most common instances of Medicaid dental fraud is billing for services not performed. Under this scheme, a dentist will bill Medicaid for a treatment, procedure, or service that was not actually performed. For example, a dentist may bill the program for a dental filling that never was rendered.

Dentists may also try to “double bill” Medicaid.  Here, the provider attempted to bill both Medicaid and either a private insurance company or the patient himself, for the same treatment. Dentists may also attempt to get for services provided to a patient that have already been rendered.

Another fraudulent arrangement is billing for medically “unnecessary services.”  A dentist may attempt to misrepresent a diagnosis and accompanying symptoms on a patient’s dental record, and then bill Medicaid to obtain payment for unnecessary lab exams.

Other common Medicaid dental fraud schemes include obtaining kickbacks for services, misrepresenting cost reports, upcoding CDT codes, and unbundling.

To combat Medicaid dental fraud, the federal and state governments have joined in State Medicaid Fraud Control Units (MFCUs).  In 2012, the combined task forces received a total of $217.3 million in funds. Collectively, in FY 2012, the MFCUs conducted 15,531 investigations, of which 11,660 were related to Medicaid fraud. These investigations resulted in 1,359 individuals being indicted or criminally charged. Nearly 1,000 of these indictments were for fraud, with a conviction rate was nearly perfect: 982.

III.  Dentist Defrauds the New Hampshire Medicaid System and Falsifies Evidence:

In this recent New Hampshire Medicaid case, the dentist is alleged to have made false claims to the New Hampshire Medicaid program for services performed over the past five years. These procedures included oral exams, X-rays, tooth extractions and orthopedic treatment. The indictments contend that the provider’s claims were either not medically necessary based on member treatment records or had already been paid for through the program (double billing). Each charge in the indictment carries a possible 3½ to 7-year prison sentence.

The defendant dentist has been practicing since he received his dental license in 1985. According to his attorney, none of the charges against the dentist have anything to do with the level of care provided on behalf of his patients. Since the indictment was only recently released, the attorney could not specify the exact details that the State’s attorney general’s office was basing its accusations on.  However, he did note that Medicaid regulations are extremely complicated and change regularly.  He contends that the whole issue could simply come down to a basic misunderstanding.

IV.  Closing Thoughts:

It is essential that dentists participating in any state Medicaid dental program review both their operational and documentation practices to ensure that entities processing and examining their patient treatment records can readily ascertain why certain care and treatment decisions were made. Moreover, dentists must ensure that the services billed to the Medicaid program are not just medically reasonable and necessary, but that they also qualify for coverage and payment.

By participating in your state’s Medicaid program, dentists must recognize that your practice and documentation procedures must be scrutinized with a fine toothed comb.  Many Medicaid dentists have yet to implement an effective Compliance Plan within their practice. While it is not too late, dental practices without an operative compliance program will see an increase in audits by Medicaid contractors and face greater targeting by MFCUs.  Federal and state enforcement investigations of possible incidents of dental fraud will continue to increase in the coming years.  Therefore, it is imperative that all dental practices (especially those participating in Medicaid), carefully examine its documentation practices. Dentists must ask themselves,

Is the medical necessity of each dental service fully reflected in the patient’s medical record?

Have each of the care and treatment services provided been documented in the patient’s medical record?

Do the dental services meet the state Medicaid’s regulatory requirements for coverage and payment?

Have the dental services been properly coded?

Have the dental services been properly billed?

Can you answer positively to each of these questions? If not, you and your practice may be in trouble.  Need help drafting a Compliance Plan for your practice? We would be more than happy to assist you. Call us to discuss how we can help you with your compliance efforts.

Healthcare LawyerRobert W. Liles, Esq., serves as Managing Partner at Liles Parker, Attorneys & Counselors at Law.   Liles Parker attorneys represent dentists and other health care providers around the country in licensure disputes, audits by government agencies and in contract disputes with private payors.  For a free consultation, call: 1 (800) 475-1906.