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Overview of Dental Claims Audits and Investigations by Medicaid and Private Payors in 2019

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Audits of Dental Claims and Dental Fraud Investigations are Increasing.(March 4, 2020):  Many dentists and dental practices around the country are glad that 2019 is behind us.  Last year was a banner year for law enforcement investigators and administrative auditors of dental claims.  Federal and State prosecutors around the country actively pursued both civil and criminal cases against individual dentists for a variety of offenses.  Notably, a number of the defendants prosecuted by the government were first identified as engaged in wrongdoing by Unified Program Integrity Contractors (UPICs) conducting Medicaid dental claims audits and private payor Special Investigative Units (SIUs) reviewing dental claims submitted by a practice for payment.  In this article, we examine the administrative, civil and criminal cases that were brought against dentists in 2019 in order to identify the conduct that led to the imposition of overpayments, the imposition of civil penalties by the government, and in some instances, the criminal prosecution of dentists for various violations of law.

I.   Administrative Dental Claims Audits Expanded in 2019:

  • Medicaid Claims Audits.

Almost a decade ago, the enactment of the Affordable Care Act[1] made it possible for state Medicaid programs to greatly increased their eligibility criteria and the scope of services offered to program beneficiaries. While eligible child enrollees were already receiving dental benefits, in many states, the number of adults qualifying for Medicaid dental benefits doubled. Not surprisingly, as Medicaid dental services have grown, the costs associated with these benefits also greatly expanded.  In response, Federal and State authorities have steadily devoted ever increasing resources to the audit and investigation of improper dental business, coding and billing practices.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has engaged a number of third-party, UPIC contractors (such as Qlarent, AdvanceMed, the CoventBridge Group, and SafeGuard Services LLC) to perform program integrity audits of Medicaid dental claims around the country.  It is important to keep in mind that UPICs are expressly required to refer suspected cases of fraud and abuse to law enforcement for further investigation and possible prosecution.  UPICs are also required to recommend the revocation of participating providers and suppliers that are non-compliant with Medicare regulations and policies.

Notably, several large private dental management companies, such as DentaQuest and Delta Dental also currently serve as dental plan administrators for various state Medicaid Advantage dental plans around the country.[2]  SIUs at DentaQuest, Delta Dental and other dental plan administrators have implemented a number of measures to identify and investigate instances of suspected fraud or improper dental billing practices.

  • DentaQuest, Delta Dental and Other Private Payor Dental Audits.

DentaQuest, Delta Dental and a number of other payors serve as administrators for private dental plans and various employer-sponsored dental insurance policies around the country.  In 2019,  private dental payors greatly expanded the scope and frequency of audits conducted by their SIUs.  Additionally, these private dental payors greatly increased their use of “prepayment review” and “payment hold” actions, both of which can adversely impact a dental practice’s cash flow and possibly cripple a practice’s ability to operate.

II.   Common Reasons for Denial Cited in Administrative Dental Audits by UPICs, DentaQuest and Delta Dental:

In 2019, the following reasons for denial were commonly cited by UPICs, DentaQuest and Delta Dental in audits we handled:

    • Failure to sign progress notes (either electronically or by hand). At first glance, you may feel that the failure to electronically-sign a dental progress note is a mere technical deficiency. Unfortunately, that isn’t necessarily the case, CMS contractors (such as UPICs) are actively denying dental claims if the associated progress note has not been signed by the rendering dentist. As set out in the Medicaid Program Integrity Manual[3] reflects, unsigned entries (referring to electronic and handwritten), shall be excluded from consideration when performing [a] medical review.”  Similarly, in several of the private dental payors cases that we handled, the payors denied claims that were not supported by signed progress notes and / or orders.  As a final point in this regard, please keep in mind that most State Dental Practice Acts include specific requirements mandating that progress notes, orders and treatment records be signed by the licensed dental professional who performed the service.
    • Billing for dental services not rendered. Unfortunately, this reason for denial has been a recurring theme cited by UPICs and SIUs alike when auditing dental records and claims for many years.  For example, recent private payor audits conducted have alleged that multiple instances were found where dentists billed for periodontal services (CDT Code D4331 – periodontal scaling and root planing) that were not performed based on the auditor’s review of the patient dental treatment records and radiographs in the fileSimilarly, insufficient documentation has been cited when denying these services based on failure to establish medical necessity. In these instances, the auditors noted that in order to diagnose and treat periodontal disease, dated pre-operative diagnostic quality radiographs and pre-operative periodontal charting is needed. Without these, periodontal disease cannot be properly diagnosed and periodontal scaling and root planing should not be conducted.
    • Misrepresentation of a non-covered service. In some respects, this improper practice is nothing more than another form of “billing for services not rendered. Simply put, in the recent cases we have seen where this has occurred, a dentist or dental practice has either purposely or erroneously characterized a non-covered dental service as a covered service. Keep in mind, the definition of a non-covered service varies from policy to policy. Additionally, the list of non-covered services under a specific policy may change from year-to-year. In any event, it is important that dental providers regularly check to ensure that the services being provided qualify for coverage and payment.
    • Misrepresentation of the provider of the dental service. This type of billing error is still commonly found in both dental and medical practices around the country. In the cases we have seen, “fraud” wasn’t the reason for the underlying misrepresentation on the ADA Claims form. In most instances, it was merely a matter of a credentialing delay. In other cases, dental practices appeared to believe that they were permitted to bill for the services under a concept similar to Medicare’s “Incident-To” ruleAlthough we have not seen a dental misrepresentation case of this type referred for criminal prosecution, it is important to remember that the ADA Dental Claims form is being electronically submitted to the health plan for payment.  Depending on the facts, an aggressive prosecutor could argue that such conduct constitutes were fraud. 18 U.S.C. §1343.
    • Unlicensed individuals found to have performed dental procedures. Generally speaking, we have seen two categories of cases where this has occurred. In the first example, a licensed professional failed to renew his Because of this administrative error, the dentist inadvertently performed dental procedures while his license had lapsed.  In the second example, a dental assistant or dental hygienist was found to have performed one or more dental procedures that were outside of their scope of practice. Both of these examples typically lead to claims denials.  They may also result in complaints to the State Dental Board.
    • 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. However, if the dental plan is Federally funded, such a failure may constitute a violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute.
    • 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.
    • Failure to properly document support for medical necessity. Properly documenting medical necessity continues to be a problem. Over the last year, our reviews have found that there was often little detail provided to support medical necessity of pediatric dental treatments provided. For example, prophylaxis was typically provided because it was medically required. Although dental notes often indicated that plaque was visible, the notes often failed to  specify any areas of build-up. Also, the level of decay was typically not included to support services such as fillings and crowns.
    • Missing dental treatment plans / consent forms. Completed dental treatment plans and consent forms have frequently been found to be missing from patient dental records. The dental treatment plans that were included were typically signed by the pediatric dental patient’s parent, but the signatures were often not dated. Signatures should be dated and these dates should correspond with the date listed as the date of authorization noted on the claim form. Many of the dates of authorization for the “signatures on file” on the claim form were after the date of service, which is an error cited in recent audits.  

 Have you received a request for dental records from a government or private payor?  Take care.  You don’t want to inadvertently 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.

III.   Civil Investigations / False Claims Act Dental Cases Brought in 2019:

Last fiscal year, the Federal government won or negotiated over $3 billion in judgments and settlements under the civil False Claims Act. Of the $3 billion in settlements and judgments recovered by the Department of Justice this past fiscal year, $2.6 billion involved the health care industry. It is worth noting that these recoveries only reflect Federal funds, millions of dollars more were also recovered for State Medicaid programs.   Despite the fact that literally billions of dollars were recovered from health care providers and suppliers using the False Claims Act, very few of the settlements and judgments were related to dentists, dental practices and / or dental management companies.  Examples of False Claims Act dental recoveries made in 2019 include:

    • December 2019. In this case, the government alleged that from 2014 through 2015, the defendant dentist presented claims to the State Medicaid program for dental services that were never provided.  Connecticut’s Superior Court ordered the defendant to pay treble damages, along with a civil penalty of $1.5 million.
    • March 2019. In this case dental fraud case, after reviewing a sample of patient dental records, the State Attorney General’s Office found that a dental practice has defrauded the State Medicaid program.  To resolve the allegations, the defendant dentists agreed to pay $1 million under the State False Claims Act and agreed to be voluntarily excluded from participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

 IV.   Criminal Prosecutions of Illegal Dental Business Practices in 2019:

As the case overviews below reflect, both Federal and State prosecutors aggressively prosecuted dentists for their illegal conduct in 2019.  Examples of the criminal prosecutions pursued in dental cases last year include:

    • October 2019.  Virginia.  In this case, a Virginia-licensed dentist was sentenced to nearly eight and a half years in prison for conspiracy to distribute prescription opioids and muscle relaxant pills without a legitimate medical purpose.  The government alleged that the defendant was involved in an elaborate scheme to prescribe opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone pills for his personal use and the use of his co-conspirators
    • October 2019. Missouri. Federal prosecutors allege that two dentists at a Missouri dental practice participated in two different schemes to defraud Medicaid.  In the first scheme, patients were allegedly provided a $50 Ortho-Tain mouth pieces designed to straighten teeth but the Medicaid program was then billed $700 for a “speech aid prosthesis.” In the second scheme, federal prosecutors say the dentists provided dentures and other dental services to patients who did not qualify for Medicaid reimbursement and then submitted claims to Medicaid anyway Federal prosecutors say these two schemes netted $885,748.
    • September 2019. Maryland. The dental practice owner (and former dentist) at a Maryland practice agreed to pay over $5.4 million in restitution and nearly $4 million in a forfeiture money judgment after pleading guilty to health care fraud for involvement in a $5 million-plus Medicaid fraud scheme. Authorities said the former dentist (who is currently serving a 16-year sentence for sexual assault of patients), used his dental practices to submit fraudulent claims to D.C. Medicaid for thousands of unprovided provisional crowns, which resulted in around $5.4 million worth of improper payments from the program between August 2012 and February 2016.
    • August 2019. Illinois. An Illinois dentist was indicted on 13 counts of health care and wire fraud after prosecutors say he billed Illinois Medicaid hundreds of thousands of dollars for dental procedures he never performed. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois stated. In all, it is alleged that Kim collected more than $700,000, which prosecutors want paid back to the state.
    • July 2019. Arkansas.  In the case, an Arkansas dentist received a five-year suspended prison term and was ordered to pay $33,383.05 in restitution, $100,149.15 in damages and $2,500 in fines after pleading guilty to defrauding Medicaid. Authorities said the dentist submitted more than 3,100 fraudulent claims to Medicaid for X-rays and various dental services between September 2015 and December 2017, which resulted in $186,461 worth of improper payments from the program.
    • June 2019. Tennessee.  A Tennessee dentist and practice owner was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison and was ordered to pay $965,448 in restitution after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud for orchestrating a scheme to defraud TennCare and other health care benefit programs. Authorities said the dentist caused the submission of fraudulent claims to TennCare and other health benefit programs for unprovided or incomplete dental work from November 2013 to January 2018.
    • June 2019. California.  A California dentist based out of Los Angeles was sentenced to more than three years in prison for health insurance fraud and was ordered to pay restitution of more than $1.4 million after pleading guilty to submitting fraudulent claims to multiple private insurers for unprovided dental care services.
    • April 2019.  New Jersey.  An unlicensed dentist from New Jersey was convicted in a $2 million fraud case in New York.  The unlicensed dentist was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay restitution of almost $1 million after being convicted for his role in the $2 million health insurance fraud scheme.  Prosecutors allege that the unlicensed dentist worked as a dentist in Manhattan and conspired with others to pay kickbacks to patients and submit fraudulent claims to health insurers for unprovided dental services or services. 

V.   Steps a Dental Practice Can Take to Reduce Regulatory / Statutory Risk:

  • Don’t Ignore a Request for Dental Records from a Medicaid or Private Payor Auditor? 

It has been our experience that a significant portion of all requests for dental records and claims information are either overlooked or ignored by a dental practice.  This error can result in a payor terminating your agreement.   Legal counsel can often intervene on your behalf and obtain an extension of time in which to submit the requested documents. We have seen several cases where a dental practice’s failure to response to the payor’s records request in a timely fashion resulted in the automatic denial of the claims being audited.

  • Implement an Effective Dental Compliance Program.

First and foremost, it is recommended (and if you take Medicaid it is required by law) that you develop and implement an effective Compliance Program.  This would include an aggressive plan to conduct periodic internal audits of your dental claims to ensure that the services have been provided, fully documented, were medically necessary and were coded / billed properly. When was the last time you conducted an internal dental claims audit and examined whether the services you are providing fully reflect medical necessity requirements, are documented to meet the requirements of the payor, and are properly coded and billed? What did you find?  Who conducted the audit, someone from your dental practice, or an outside dental consultant?  Be sure and engage any outside dental consultant through legal counsel.

  • Screen Your Employees, Contractors and Agents Against Available Screening Databases.

Dental providers should screen their applicants, clinical staff, administrative staff, contractors, vendors and agents on a monthly basis.  At this time, there are more than 40 different databases that need to be checked.  These databases include:

(1) List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE). Maintained by HHS-OIG.
System for Award Management (SAM). Maintained by the General Services Administration.
40 State Medicaid Exclusion Registries. Maintained by either the State Attorney General’s Office or the State Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU).

Questions regarding your screening obligations?  Call the helpful folks at Exclusion Screening, PLLC with any screening questions.  They can be reached at: 1 (800) 294-0952

  • Call a Qualified Health Law Attorney for Help in Responding to a Dental Audit.

 Hopefully, you won’t face a Medicaid or private payor dental audit in the near future.  If you do, it is essential that you engage qualified legal counsel to guide you through the process.  A knowledgeable, experienced lawyer can interact directly with the payor and work towards a reasonable resolution of the case.  Legal counsel can also provide guidance with respect to payor documentation, coding and billing requirements. Importantly, 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.

Are you facing a dental claims audit or investigation? We can help.  For a free consultation, please call Robert at:  1 (800) 475-1906.

Dental Claims AuditsRobert W. Liles serves as Managing Partner at the health law firm, Liles Parker, Attorneys and Counselors at Law.  Liles Parker attorneys represent health care providers and suppliers around the country in connection with dental claims audits and investigation.  Is your dental practice being audited? Give us a call.  For a free initial consultation regarding your situation, call Robert at: 1 (800) 475-1906.

[1] Signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010.

[2] As Medicaid dental rolls have increased, many states have chosen to engage a third-party to administer their Medicaid dental programs, such as Delta Dental or DentaQuest.  At last count, Delta Dental administers dental programs serving more than 80 million Americans, many of whom are participants in a government-sponsored program.  Similarly, DentaQuest administers dental programs serving over 25 million beneficiaries, most of whom are covered by a government-sponsored program.

[3] Medicaid Program Integrity Manual, 1.7.5 “Medical Review for Program Integrity Purposes.”

OIG’s Renewed Interest in Orthotic Audits and Investigations: What Your DME Company Needs to Know

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UPIC Audits of Medicare Orthotic Claims are Increasing(February 8, 2019):  A series of recent reports out of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Inspector General (OIG) underscore the Federal government’s renewed concerns with respect to orthotic braces, including underlying medical need for these items.  From 1994 to 2000, OIG issued half a dozen reports pertaining to orthotics audits and investigations.  However, since 2000, OIG’s focus shifted to other areas of program integrity concern (such as home health and hospice).  Between November 2018 and January 2019, however, OIG issued three reports regarding orthotic braces, highlighting that these items are on OIG’s radar once again. These three OIG reports are: “Medicare Improperly Paid Suppliers for Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies Provided to Beneficiaries During Inpatient Stays” (A-09-17-03035) (November 2018); “Pacific Medical’s Billing of Medicare for Orthotic Braces” (A-09-17-03027) (December 2018); and “Kelley Medical Equipment and Supply, LLC, Received Unallowable Medicare Payments for Orthotic Braces” (A-09-17-03030) (January 2019).   Over the past month, we have seen a significant uptick in the number of new orthotic audits and investigations by Medicare contractors, including Unified Program Integrity Contractors (UPICs).  The purpose of this article is to discuss a number of the program integrity issues that Durable Medical Equipment (DME) suppliers are facing in connection with UPIC audits of orthotic claims billed to Medicare. 

I.     Medicare Coverage and Payment Requirements

Medicare Part B covers Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies (DMEPOS), including orthotic braces. To be paid by Medicare, a service or an item must be reasonable and necessary for the diagnosis or treatment of illness or injury or to improve the functioning of a malformed body member. Orthotic braces are defined as rigid and semi-rigid devices which are used for the purpose of supporting a weak or deformed body member or restricting or eliminating motion in a diseased or injured part of the body.” Examples of orthotic braces include back, knee, and ankle-foot braces.

The DME Medicare Administrative Contractors (MAC) have developed Local Coverage Determinations (LCDs) for most covered orthotic braces (one of the most notable exceptions, however, is shoulder braces). The LCDs outline the conditions under which DME MACs will pay suppliers for those braces. For example, the LCD for back braces or “spinal orthoses” (LCD L33790) provides that: “A spinal orthosis (L0450 – L0651) is covered when it is ordered for one of the following indications:

  1. To reduce pain by restricting mobility of the trunk; or
  2. To facilitate healing following an injury to the spine or related soft tissues; or
  3. To facilitate healing following a surgical procedure on the spine or related soft tissue; or
  4. To otherwise support weak spinal muscles and/or a deformed spine.

Before submitting a claim for an orthotic brace to the DME MAC, a supplier must have on file the following:

  • Written documentation of a verbal order or a preliminary written order from the treating physician,
  • A detailed written order from the treating physician,
  • Information from the treating physician concerning the beneficiary’s diagnosis,
  • Any information required for the use of specific modifiers, and
  • Proof of delivery of the orthotic brace to the beneficiary.

The Medicare Program Integrity Manual specifically emphasizes that a supplier should obtain as much documentation from the beneficiary’s medical record as it determines necessary to assure itself that the orthotic brace meets Medicare requirements”.

II.    OIG’s Recent Reports:

In the first of OIG’s recent reports, dated November 2018, OIG found that Medicare should not have paid suppliers any of the $34 million for DMEPOS items that were provided during inpatient stays. Notably, 43% of the total overpayment identified by OIG was for prosthetics and orthotics, including braces. Separate from the $34 million figure, OIG determined that Medicare beneficiaries inappropriately paid $8.7 million in deductibles and coinsurance to the suppliers for the DMEPOS items. Generally, during an inpatient stay, Medicare should not pay a supplier for DMEPOS items provided to a Medicare beneficiary. The items are supposed to be provided directly by the inpatient facility or under arrangements between the facility and the supplier. This is because the Medicare payments made to the facilities represent payments in full for all inpatient hospital services, including DMEPOS items. OIG attributed the inappropriate payments for these supplies, in part, to inadequate Common Working File (CWF) pre-payment and post-payment edits which failed to prevent or detect the overpayments. OIG determined that if the system edits had been designed properly since 2008, Medicare could have saved $223.1 million and beneficiaries could have saved $56.3 million in deductibles and coinsurance. Based on its findings, OIG recommended in part that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recover the $34 million and that the suppliers refund the deductible and coinsurance amounts to the Medicare beneficiaries.

OIG’s other two reports, dated December 2018 and January 2019 respectively, were quite similar to one another. OIG audited a supplier of orthotic braces in Tracy, California and a supplier of orthotic braces in Durant, Oklahoma for the same audit period, January 1, 2015 through March 31, 2017. In both cases, the overpayments identified by OIG were exclusively attributed to the failure on the part of the suppliers to establish medical need for some of the orthotic braces. In the California case, OIG determined that the supplier billed for orthotic braces that were not medically necessary for nine claims and could not provide medical records for two claims. In the Oklahoma case, OIG determined that the supplier billed for orthotic braces that were not medically necessary for 67 beneficiaries and could not provide medical records for nine beneficiaries. OIG stated verbatim with respect to both suppliers: These deficiencies occurred because [the supplier] did not always obtain sufficient information from the beneficiaries’ medical records to assure itself that the claims for orthotic braces met Medicare requirements.” An example of a medically unnecessary back brace was provided by OIG as follows:

Medicare paid [the Oklahoma supplier] $754 for providing a back brace to a 62-year-old beneficiary. According to the physician order dated March 7, 2017, the brace was prescribed for lower back pain. However, the medical records did not indicate a complaint of back pain, and there was no mention of a back brace. Rather, according to the medical records, the beneficiary saw his physician on March 2, 2017, for relief of persistent cough and chest congestion. As a result, the independent medical review contractor found that the back brace was not medically necessary.

Based on its findings, OIG recommended to both suppliers that they (1) refund the identified overpayments; (2) assess their claims outside of OIG’s audit period and refund any identified overpayments within 60 days; and (3) obtain as much information from beneficiary medical records as the suppliers deem necessary to assure themselves that claims for orthotic braces meet Medicare requirements.

III.   Our Recommendations for Suppliers of Orthotic Braces:

Given the audit and investigation activity surrounding suppliers of orthotic braces, it is important for suppliers to reassess Medicare coverage and payment requirements and their documentation practices. In particular, suppliers need to ensure they are obtaining and maintaining sufficient medical records from the ordering providers. As we have discussed in previous articles, while suppliers are not entitled to make determinations regarding medical need, they are tasked with evaluating medical records and ensuring that the records support the Medicare beneficiary’s medical need for the orthotic brace prescribed. The OIG reports make very clear that the party responsible for an overpayment is the supplier, and not the ordering provider. In order to ensure you are satisfying your documentation obligations, we recommend that you:

  1. Consult with your healthcare attorney and have them review a sample of claims. The best way to ensure that your claims are satisfying Medicare coverage and payment rules, and that you are meeting your documentation obligations, is to have a third party with strong knowledge in this area assess a sample of your claims who can then give you objective feedback and constructive recommendations.
  2. Train and retrain your staff on Medicare coverage and payment rules and supplier documentation requirements. As a business owner, you are likely relying on a team of employees to obtain and review the necessary documentation and to process the claims for the orthotic braces. You are only as strong as your weakest link, as they say. Sharing these OIG reports with your employees and setting up a team conference to discuss them would be a great start! Your healthcare attorney can likely arrange a conference agenda and guide your team through OIG’s reports, as well as effectively educate you and your employees on Medicare coverage and payment rules and supplier documentation requirements.
  3. Implement a compliance plan tailored to the scale of your business and the DME supplies you distribute so that compliance will persist in the long-term. Ultimately, regular auditing of claims and regular training of employees, as well as sound policies and procedures, are the most effective ways to ensure long-term, ongoing compliance throughout the life of your business. Medicare rules and audit activity are constantly evolving. A compliance plan is the way to stay on your game.

We anticipate ongoing UPIC audits and investigations pertaining to orthotic braces on account of OIG’s findings and concerns. Our attorneys can assist you if you have received notice from your local UPIC, or if you are interested in taking proactive steps, like developing a compliance plan or auditing your claims internally.

Lorraine Rosado Healthcare AttorneyLorraine Rosado, JD, CMCO, CMRS, Lorraine Rosado, JD is an experienced health law attorney with the firm, Liles Parker, Attorneys & Counselors at Law.  She is also a Certified Medical Compliance Officer (CMCO) and a Certified Medical Reimbursement Specialist (CMRS). Lorraine represents DME suppliers and a wide variety of other healthcare providers around the country in connection with Medicare, Medicaid and private payor audits and investigations. You can reach Lorraine at (202) 298-8750



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.

ZPIC Audits / UPIC Audits: The Impact of Transmittal 768 on the Medicare Appeals Process Timeline

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Transmittal 768(April 12, 2018): A big concern with the Medicare appeals process is the ghastly backlog at the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA) for an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing coupled with the government’s authority to recoup alleged overpayments after the second level of appeal (reconsideration). There is renewed buzz regarding the backlog and potential recourse given the Fifth Circuit’s decision on March 27, 2018 in Family Rehabilitation, Inc. v. Azar, No. 17-11337, which affirmed the possibility for providers to sue for an injunction to prevent Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) from recouping overpayments until administrative appeals are concluded under the collateral-claim exception. But what about the snail-like pace of postpayment reviews at the very beginning of this process?  As discussed below, Medicare’s Transmittal 768 may alleviate this continuing problem to some extent.

I.  Continuing Delays by ZPICs / UPICs in Completing an Initial Review – Overview of the Problem:

Before claims are appealable, they have to be denied on review. A major source of massive extrapolated alleged overpayments are postpayment reviews by Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPICs) and their successor Unified Program Integrity Contractors (UPICs). Our experience has been that these reviews usually take many months, even years. This is in spite of the fact that providers are required to turn over the requested records in somewhere between 15 and 30 days, maybe even 45 days if the provider requests an extension. The investigators typically remain tight-lipped throughout the review and investigation process. Inquiries about the status of a review are usually met with no response or cryptic feedback like “The review findings will be provided at the conclusion of the review.” In the meantime, providers are expected to sit on their hands. Then one day, a letter arrives which often reflects an unmanageable alleged overpayment figure for the provider and the provider is left to dispute the alleged overpayment through “Medicare’s Byzantine four-stage administrative appeals process” – in the words of Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith in Family Rehabilitation, Inc. v. Azar.

II.  New Timelines Under Transmittal 768 for ZPICs / UPICs to Complete a Postpayment Review:

There has been a development that may effectuate speedier postpayment reviews by ZPICs and UPICs. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued guidance, which imposes a new timeline and requirements on these contractors effective March 1, 2018. Specifically, the transmittal adds the following requirements to Chapter 3 of the Medicare Program Integrity Manual:

the UPICs / ZPICs shall complete postpayment medical review and provide the lead investigator with a final summary of the medical review findings that includes reference to the allegations being substantiated/not substantiated by medical review, reasons for denials, and any observations or trends noted within 60 calendar days” and “[t]he counting for the 60-day time period begins when all of the documentation is received by the UPIC / ZPIC contractor.”

Please note, however, that this is an internal timeline for the contractors (as between the medical reviewer(s) and lead investigator), meaning that providers should not expect to receive the postpayment audit results within 60 days of having submitted the records to the UPIC / ZPIC. However, Transmittal 768 may be useful to put pressure on the contractors when reviews are pending for months or years on end.

For a detailed discussion of the ZPIC program and process, please see: ZPIC Audits.

Healthcare LawyerLorraine A. Rosado, J.D., is a Senior Associate at Liles Parker and has extensive experience representing Medicare providers and suppliers around the country in administrative claims audits, suspension and revocation cases.  She is also performed a number of IRO reviews in connection with annual CIA reviews by HHS-OIG.  Should you have any questions regarding an administrative enforcement action, please feel free to call Lorraine for a free consultation.  She can be reached at: (202) 298-8750.

UPIC Claims Audits of Medicare Services are Underway! Are You Ready?

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UPIC Claims Audits(Updated March 20, 2020):  Historically, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has relied on a network of private contractors to handle the program integrity functions for both the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Over the years, these private contractors have taken on increasingly significant roles in the detection and audit of instances of fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  This article examines several of the program integrity contractors currently liable to audit your claims.  These contractors include Unified Program Integrity Contractors (UPICs), Medicare Drug Integrity Contractor (MEDICs) and Supplemental Medical Review Contractors (SMRCs).


I.  Early Historical Background of Fiscal Intermediaries (FIs) and Carriers:

The Medicare and Medicaid program were first enacted into law on July 30, 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. When the programs were subsequently implemented in 1966, the government chose to use private health care payors to process the claims of Medicare beneficiaries.  Private entities were awarded contracts to serve as “Fiscal Intermediaries” and “Carriers.”  Fiscal Intermediaries were responsible for handling Part A claims.  Generally, Part A claims include those associated with hospital care, skilled nursing facility care, non-custodial nursing home care, hospice care and home health services.[1]  In contrast, Carriers were responsible for handling Part B claims.  Unlike Part A, Medicare Part B covers a wide variety of medically necessary outpatient care and treatment services.[2]  It also covered a number of preventative services. Additionally, Medicare Part B covers certain types of supplies and durable medical equipment.  Until 2003, Fiscal Intermediaries and Carriers were responsible for fulfilling a number of Medicare program education, administrative processing and program integrity roles. As described below, upon the enactment of the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) the duties and responsibilities of Fiscal Intermediaries and Carriers were assumed by Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs).

II.  Historical Background of Medicare Program Integrity Efforts:

Prior to 1996, funding for Medicare program integrity activities was included in Medicare’s general administrative budget. As such, it had to “compete,” so to speak, with all of the claims-related education and processing programs paid for out of Medicare’s general administrative budget. As you can imagine, this led to a variety of budgetary conflicts and counterproductive competition between programs to obtain an appropriate   share of available program integrity funding. The General Accounting Office (GAO) issued reports in 1993 and 1995 calling for separate, dedicated funding for Medicare program integrity activities.[3]

III. Passage of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 – Establishment of Program Safeguard Contractors (PSCs):

On August 21, 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted into law.  While HIPAA is practically synonymous with medical privacy among both lay persons and most health care providers, law enforcement’s view of the statute was quite different.  Under HIPAA, both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Inspector General (OIG) received sizeable, recurring funding that was to be used solely for the investigation and prosecution of cases involving health care fraud, waste and abuse.

Among its many provisions, HIPAA also established the Medicare Integrity Program (MIP). The MIP was created in an effort to further enhance the ability of the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) to detect and deter fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare program. HCFA (later renamed the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS))[4] has traditionally relied on a network of private contractors to handle the program integrity functions for both the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  As part of the MIP, HCFA created the Program Safeguard Contractor (PSC) program.  From a program integrity standpoint, PSCs were a major step forward.  Among their many duties, PSCs were expressly tasked with identifying potential cases of fraud and making referrals to OIG and DOJ, as appropriate

IV.  Enactment of the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) of 2003 – Creation of MACs and ZPICs:

The MMA was subsequently signed into law on December 8, 2003.  The MMA greatly simplified the administrative processing of Medicare claims through its implementation of a comprehensive Medicare Fee-For-Service Contracting Reform program.  Under this program, CMS used the competitive bidding process to replace the existing system of Fiscal Intermediaries (responsible for processing Part A claims) and Carriers (responsible for processing Part B claims) with unified administrative claims processing entities known as Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs), responsible for handling both Part A and Part B claims.[5]

In addition to completely revising the administrative claims processing scheme (through the creation of MACs), the MMA also directed that newly-established Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPICs) would take over the responsibility for handling Medicare program integrity functions and activities. A total of seven ZPIC zones were created to work with the MACs in their jurisdiction.  Each of these ZPICs were responsible for performing program integrity functions for Medicare Parts A and B claims.

V.  Establishment of the Medicare Drug Integrity Contractor (MEDIC) Program:

Under the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, Congress authorized the Medicare+Choice program (Medicare Part C).  Under Medicare Part C, CMS contracts with private organizations to provide several types of private health plan options, including managed care plans.[6] The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 subsequently established Medicare Part D, a voluntary outpatient prescription drug program.  In FY 2007, CMS first awarded contracts to several regional MEDICs to address potential fraud and abuse related to the Part D benefit. These functions were later consolidated under a single contractor that is responsible for handling both Part C and D program integrity efforts nationwide, for all 50 states and Puerto Rico.  The contractor responsible for handling Medicare Part C and Part D claims is known as the National Benefit Integrity Medicare Drug Integrity Contractor (NBI MEDIC). In 2018, CMS split the NBI MEDIC functions into two separate contracts, the NBI Medicare Drug Integrity Contract (NBI MEDIC) and the Investigations Medicare Integrity Contract (I-MEDIC).  Generally, these contracts cover the following:

NBI Medicare Drug Integrity Contract (NBI MEDIC): The NBI MEDIC contract has been awarded to Qlarant. Under the NBI MEDIC contract, Qlarant is responsible for handling general plan sponsorship oversight and conducting data analytics designed to identify possible instances of fraud, waste and abuse with respect to the Part C and Part D programs.

Investigations Medicare Integrity Contract (I-MEDIC): The I-MEDIC contract has also been awarded to Qlarant.  The overall strategy of this five-year contract is to detect, prevent and proactively deter fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare Part C and Part D programs.  As Qlarant notes:

“This work focuses primarily on complaint intake and response; data analysis; assessing leads from various sources; investigative actions; administrative remedies; referrals; and program integrity efforts related to potential FWA from prescribers, pharmacies, and beneficiaries.” 

As we have previously noted, referrals from an NBI MEDIC and I-MEDIC (at this time, both of these contracts are held by Qlarant) are routinely made to the OIG, DOJ and to State Medical Boards whenever evidence of fraud, waste or abuse.  Qlarant may also initiate an audit of your prescribing practices and / or recommend that your Medicare billing privileges be revoked.  It is therefore essential that you contact a qualified health lawyer if you or your practice are audited or investigated by Qlarant (in its role under the NBI MEDIC or I-MEDIC contracts).

VI.  Rise of the Unified Program Integrity Contractors (UPICs):

As detailed in the Comprehensive Medicaid Integrity Plan. Fiscal Years 2014—2018,” issued by CMS, Section 1936(d) of the Social Security Act requires that the HHS Secretary establish a comprehensive plan for ensuring the program integrity of the Medicaid program, on a recurring 5-fiscal year basis.  To this end, CMS developed Unified Program Integrity Contractor (UPIC) program. Unlike earlier program integrity efforts, UPIC contractors have been tasked with conducting Medicare, Medicaid and Medi-Mal investigations and audits of participating health care providers and suppliers in their assigned jurisdictions. Contracts awarding integrated program integrity responsibilities have been awarded to the following UPICs:

  • UPIC Southwestern Jurisdiction Qlarant Integrity Solution, LLC qlarant.com (Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi).

  • UPIC Western JurisdictionQlarant Integrity Solutions, LLC qlarant.com (American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming).

  • UPIC Midwest JurisdictionCoventBridge Group com/midwest-upic/ (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska).

  • UPIC Northeast JurisdictionSafeguard Services, LLC safeguard-servicesllc.com/ (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, and the counties of Arlington and Fairfax and the city of Alexandria in Virginia). 

  • UPIC Southeastern JurisdictionSafeguard Services, LLC safeguard-servicesllc.com/ (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia and West Virginia).

Each of these UPIC contractors have years of experience supporting the government’s efforts to identify, deter, prevent, and reduce fraud, waste and abuse.

VII.      UPIC Claims Audits of Medicare and Medicaid Services are Currently Underway:

A number of our clients around the country have already received requests for records from the UPIC handling their jurisdiction.  One UPIC in particular, Qlarant has been especially active over the last year in sending out audit letters requesting copies of medical records, dental records and other documentation which supports the specific claims being assessed.  As discussed below, a careful review of any request that you receive may give an indication of how the case arose and whether the contractor’s review is merely claims focused or also includes an assessment of the provider’s business relationships and practices.

Requests for documents sent by UPICs can vary in terms of scope, purpose and due date.  There are several points that should be considered whenever a UPIC request for medical records or dental records is received by a Medicare or Medicaid provider:

  • When must the requested documents be sent to the UPIC? Over the last year, a number of UPIC requests for documents have required that the documentation must be submitted to the contractor within 15 days. This is really frustrating in light of the fact that as set out in the Medicare Program Integrity Manual (MPIM), Section – Time Frames for Submission,[7] the contractor is supposed to give a health care provider 30 days to submit the documents being requested.  Although most ZPICs will readily agree to an extension of time, if they only agree to extend the deadline to 30 days, they really are granting the provider anything, are they?  To date, we have not seen UPIC claims audit requests seeking documents permitting more than 30 days for the documents to be submitted.
  • What types of documents are requested in contractor’s request? Carefully review the nature of the request.  Is the UPIC only seeking administrative and claims-related medical records OR, is the contractor also seeking documentation related to a provider’s business relationships and / or business practices?
  • UPIC Claims Audits:  Most audits (and claims reopenings) by UPICs are generated as a result of data mining.  In these cases, a UPIC often restricts its review efforts (at least initially) to the claims being assessed, along with relevant, associated administrative materials.  Examples of documents sought in these types of review include, but are not limited to:
  1. Copy of claim, if available;
  2. Beneficiary Notice of Liability;
  3. Authorization of Benefits;
  4. Consent for treatment;
  5. Signed HIPAA privacy notification forms;
  6. Signature card including names and signatures of all personnel documenting in the beneficiary’s chart.
  7. Electronic signature policy;
  8. Copy of face sheet with beneficiary contact information;
  9. Signed “Consent for Treatment” authorizing the medical service;
  10. A copy of the beneficiary’s Medicare card;
  11. A legend or list that defines acronyms, symbols or abbreviations used in the medical records;
  12. A completed Advanced Beneficiary Notice (ABN), as appropriate;
  13. Copies of licenses and / or certifications of any personnel documenting in the beneficiary’s medical records. This includes, physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, and other caregivers that require licensure or certification;
  14. If electronic signatures are used, documentation which shows that the electronic signatures properly authenticated and dated. The UPIC will also typically ask for the provider to show that safeguards are in place to prevent unauthorized access;
  15. Physician orders;
  16. History and physical;
  17. Patient encounter / visit forms;
  18. Physician’s office and Progress Notes;
  19. Consultation reports (if applicable);
  20. Surgical reports (if applicable);
  21. Pathology reports (if applicable);
  22. Pathology reports (if applicable);
  23. Laboratory tests results (if applicable);
  24. Radiology reports (if applicable);
  25. Previous treatments received to include dates, diagnosis for treatment, treatments administered; and the patient’s response to treatment / progress made;
  26. Discharge notes (if applicable);
  27. Any additional medical records or findings that support the claim(s) or service(s) billed;
  • UPIC Requests for Business Records Along with UPIC Claims Audit Information:  In addition to the claims-related documents above, if a UPIC also seeks documents related to a provider’s business practices and / or business relationships (i.e. where does the provider get its referrals AND where does the provider send its referrals), there is greater likelihood that other information has been received by the UPIC which suggests that the provider may be engaging in one or more improper business practices. Providers should exercise extreme caution if this type of information is being sought.  To the extent that a UPIC finds evidence that a provider is engaging in wrongdoing, the contractor is required to make a referral to law enforcement (OIG and / or DOJ).  Examples of the business-related documents that may be sought by the UPIC include:
  1. Copies of any leases;
  2. Please provide a listing of all patients seen on the dates of the claims requested in this audit;
  3. Copies of any Medicare Director agreements;
  4. Name of EHR software used (if applicable);
  5. Name and contact information for third-party billing company (if utilized);
  6. Please provide a sample of each encounter form utilized in your office;
  7. Copy of patient collections for the period at issue which reflects any copayments and / or deductibles collected from the beneficiary;
  8. Names, addresses and phone numbers and former positions of individuals who are no longer employed by the organization and left within the past three years;
  9. If you are associated with or a member of any assignment account, do you also bill under separate provider numbers? If so, list the numbers and describe the reasons for separate billing;
  10. Copies of any consulting agreements or other business agreements with laboratories, imaging centers or any other entity whose services are billed to Medicare;
  11. List all employees or contracted staff (physicians, therapists, physician assistants, nurses, etc.) who render services and bill Medicare under your provider number;
  12. List associates, partners, employees who bill under their own PTAN numbers;
  13. List associates, partners, employees who bill under your PTAN number;
  14. List the name of the manufacturer, model number and purpose of each piece of diagnostic or treatment equipment in your office, e.g. laboratory equipment, diagnostic equipment (x-ray, MRI, EMG, nerve conduction equipment, cardiac tests, other specialty diagnostic equipment, etc.), physical therapy equipment, chiropractic equipment;
  • How many Medicare claims are to be audited?  If 10 or less postpayment claims are being reviewed, more than likely the UPIC is conducting a “Probe Sample” of the provider’s claims.  The purpose of the probe sample is to see if there appears to be a potential problem with the provider’s medical necessity, documentation, coding or billing practices.  If few problems are found, the UPIC will likely issue an “Education Letter” to the provider.  If, however, a significant number of errors are identified, the UPIC will likely expand its audit and issue a subsequent request for the supporting documentation associated with 30 or more claims that have already been paid. If the UPIC’s initial request for records asks for records associated with 30 or more claims (usually billed over a two-year period), there is high likelihood that the UPIC have pulled these claims as part of a “Statistically Relevant Sample.”  As such, the UPIC intends to extrapolated the error rate found to the entire universe of claims.
  • How Should You Respond if Your Organization Receives a UPIC Records Request? If your medical practice, home health agency or hospice is subjected to a UPIC claims audit, we strongly recommend that you immediately contact a qualified health care lawyer.  There are a number of steps you can take at this initial stage in the review that may have a significant impact on whether the UPIC determines that a more in-depth audit is needed.  Moreover, the potential overpayment may also be greatly reduced (depending on the completeness of a provider’s medical records).  Questions?  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 is a health care attorney experienced in handling prepayment reviews and audits.Robert W. Liles serves as Managing Partner at Liles Parker, Attorneys & Clients at Law.  Our Firm represents health care providers and suppliers around the country in UPIC, ZPIC, RAC and MIC audits.  We also work with providers to develop and implement an effective Compliance Program.  Call Robert for a free consultation.  He can be reached at:  1 (800) 475-1906.

[1] An overview of what is covered under Part A is provided at the following link: https://www.medicare.gov/what-medicare-covers/what-part-a-covers

[2] An overview of what is covered under Part B is provided at the following link: https://www.medicare.gov/what-medicare-covers/what-part-b-covers

[3] GAO, Medicare Spending: Modern Management Strategies Needed to Curb Billions in Unnecessary Payments, GAO/HEHS-95-210 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 19, 1995); Medicare: Adequate Funding and Better Oversight Needed to Protect Benefit Dollars, GAO/T-HRD-94-59 (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 12, 1993); and Medicare: Funding and Management Problems Result in Unnecessary Expenditures GAO/T-HRD-93- 4 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 17, 1993).

[4] On September 24, 2001, the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) was renamed the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  A link to the announcement can be found here: https://www.cms.gov/Regulations-and-Guidance/Guidance/Transmittals/downloads/AB01133.pdf

[5] With the exception of home health, hospice or DME claims which are processed by specific MACs engaged by CMS to process these specific types of claims.

[6] Medicare Provisions in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (BBA 97, P.L. 105-33), Congressional Research Service, 97-802, issued August 18, 1997.  As the report reflects, a Medicare+Choice plan may include:

“(i) a coordinated care plan (including an HMO (with or without a point-of-service plan), a PPO, or a PSO), (ii) a private fee-for-service plan (private FFS),8 or

(iii) a combination of a medical savings account (MSA) plan and contributions to a Medicare+Choice MSA.”

[7] Medicare Program Integrity Manual Section

ZPICS shall notify providers that requested documents are to be submitted within 30 calendar days of the request.”

Please note, prior to its most recent update, Chapter 4, Section 4.1, of the MPIM expressly stated:

“. . . All references to ZPICs shall also apply to Unified Program Integrity Contractor (UPIC) unless otherwise specified in the UPIC [Statement of Work] SOW.”

Medicare Chiropractic Audits are Increasing!

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Medicare Chiropractic Audits(June 5, 2017):   Despite the fact that only three treatment services are covered by Medicare, the number of Medicare chiropractic audits conducted by the Department of Health Human Services (HHS), Office of Inspector General (OIG), has remained high over the last decade and is anticipated to grow throughout 2017 and 2018.  As you are aware, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Inspector General (OIG), concluded that in Fiscal Year 2016 the Improper Payment Rate for chiropractic services was 46.0%.  Even more alarming is the fact that OIG has found that the Improper Payment Rate of chiropractic Part B Medicare claims was the highest of any Part B service type in both FY 2015 and FY 2016.[1]

I.   Medicare Chiropractic Audits are Anticipated to Intensify in FY 2017 and FY 2018:

The already-active Medicare audit landscape facing chiropractors is likely the proverbial “calm before the storm.”  When you think of “Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015” (MACRA),[2] it’s likely you first think of the statute’s Quality Payment Program provisions which are intended to tie Medicare’s payments to the quality of the medical being provided.   Unfortunately, the documentation of chiropractic services have the unique distinction of being the only Part B service that are expressly address in MACRA.  A detailed discussion of the documentation requirements for chiropractic services under Medicare Part A will be addressed in a separate article.  The bottom line is simple – chiropractors participating in the Medicare Part B program are strongly encouraged to have a comprehensive assessment of their services conducted as soon as possible.  An overview of the current audit landscape is discussed below.

II.   Almost All Part B Medicare Chiropractic Audits Find Documentation Problems:

As set out in OIG’s Improper Payment Report for FY 2016, when examining the 46% of chiropractic services that were denied, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) found that  98.4% of the chiropractic denied claims were denied because of NO DOCUMENTATION or INSUFFICIENT DOCUMENTATION.  We believe that this is due, in large part, to the fact that the clinical reviewers employed by a Zone Program Integrity Contractor (ZPIC) or a Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) to audit your chiropractic claims (primarily Registered Nurses), aren’t really qualified to conduct these reviews. Sure, they can read Medicare’s guidelines governing medical necessity, coverage, documentation, coding and billing – but that doesn’t mean that they truly understand what constitutes a “subluxation” or that they can recognize that the patient’s condition warrants manual manipulation. The vast majority of medical reviewers examining your claims have little or no substantive knowledge and training in the field of chiropractic care.  Therefore, why are you surprised that the ZPIC reviewer is now alleging that 80$ – 100% of the claims you have billed to Medicare do not qualify for coverage or payment?

III.   Medicare’s Position with Respect to “Medical Necessity”:

Under Medicare, the definition of “medical necessity” is generally defined under Title XVIII of the Social Security Act, Section 1862(a)(1)(a):  As the statute provides:

“No payment may be made under Part A or Part B for expenses incurred for items or services which are not reasonable and necessary for the diagnosis or treatment of necessary for the diagnosis or treatment of illness or injury or to improve the functioning of a malformed body member.”

Despite the fact that chiropractors are recognized as physicians by Medicare, CMS has steadfastly refused to cover most of the traditional care and treatment services that are offered by licensed chiropractors around the country.  Medicare Part B only covers treatment by means of manual manipulation of the spine that is used to correct a subluxation (i.e. spinal manipulation). Moreover, the coverage policies developed by CMS and its contractors make it clear that the agency has restricted the definition of what is considered to be “medically necessary” chiropractic care to only include spinal manipulation services that are active or corrective in nature.

IV.   Maintenance Therapy is Not Covered by Medicare:

CMS has essentially taken the position that maintenance therapy does not qualify as medically necessary care and therefore does not qualify for coverage and payment.   As set out in the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual, Section 30.5.B:

Under the Medicare program, Chiropractic maintenance therapy is not considered to be medically reasonable or necessary, and is therefore not payable. Maintenance therapy is defined as a treatment plan that seeks to prevent disease, promote health, and prolong and enhance the quality of life; or therapy that is performed to maintain or prevent deterioration of a chronic condition. When further clinical improvement cannot reasonably be expected from continuous ongoing care, and the chiropractic treatment becomes supportive rather than corrective in nature, the treatment is then considered maintenance therapy.  (emphasis added).

The fact that chiropractic care used to “prevent deterioration of a chronic condition” remains non-covered is especially frustrating in light of the 2013 settlement in the case Jimmo v. Sebelius.   Earlier this year, the court approved a Corrective Statement that is to be used by CMS to affirmatively discontinue the use of an “Improvement Standard” for Medicare coverage.  Unfortunately, chiropractors and dentists were specifically carved out of this new rule by CMS.  As CMS noted in its January 14, 2014 guidance intended to clarify the agency’s new position after the settlement in Jimmo v. Sebelius, Pub. 100-02 Medicare Benefit Policy.  Transmittal 179 expressly provides that:

Chiropractors and doctors of dental surgery or dental medicine are not considered physicians for therapy services and may neither refer patients for rehabilitation therapy services nor establish therapy plans of care. (emphasis added).

V.   The Types of Chiropractic Services Covered by Medicare are Extremely Limited.

Under Medicare, the types of chiropractic services that are eligible for coverage and treatment are limited to three chiropractor-administered services.  To ensure that claims are processed in in an orderly and consistent fashion, Medicare employs the Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) developed by the American Medical Association (AMA).  Level I of this standardized coding system is comprised of Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes that the AMA maintains.  The CPT uniform coding system consists of descriptive terms and identifying codes that are used primarily to identify medical services and procedures furnished by physicians and other health care professionals.  The CPT codes of the three chiropractic manipulation services that may qualify for payment by Medicare include the following:

98940: Chiropractic Manipulative Treatment (CMT); spinal, one or two regions;

98941: CMT; spinal, three to four regions; and

98942: CMT; spinal, five regions.[3]

To add insult to injury, even though a number of Medicare procedures may be within a licensed chiropractor’s state-defined scope of practice, with the exception of the three services described above, no other diagnostic or therapeutic service furnished by a licensed chiropractor, or under his / her order, is considered a covered service under Medicare.  We have handled a number of cases in recent years where the medical necessity of these manipulative treatments was never challenged by the auditing ZPIC.  Nevertheless, almost all of the otherwise-covered chiropractic claims were denied because the CMS program integrity contractor concluded that the services were improperly documented.  The primary reasons that these claims have been denied have been documentation-related.

VI.   Medicare’s Position with Respect to the Documentation of Chiropractic Services:

When providing one of these three covered services, it is essential that you carefully review Medicare’s current documentation requirements. The documentation mandates described under MACRA are not the necessarily the litmus test you should be applying.  The statutory requirements mandated under MACRA have been reviewed and interpreted by CMS so that appropriate regulations and policies implanting any applicable statutory provisions have been developed.  Additionally, as described in Section IX below, MACs are given some latitude in further defining what they require in terms of documentation.

VII.   Risks in Using a “Travel Card” if Your Practice is Subjected to a Chiropractic Audit:

Chiropractic services primarily documented with a “travel card” are likely to be denied if you are audited by a CMS program integrity contractor. Although it has been a while since we have defended a case of this type, they still occasionally arise.  For decades, travel cards have been used by chiropractors to document the care and treatment services they have provided.  Travel cards were easy and could provide an excellent picture of whether a patient was progressing.  While additional information (such as x-rays and other diagnostic studies) were also recorded in the patient’s medical record, the travel card was, and still is, utilized in a number of practices as a documentation tool.  Unfortunately, if your Medicare claims are ever audited by a ZPIC or MAC, you are likely to face a multitude of problems if you are relying on a travel card to document your services.  Unfortunately, CMS contractors (such as ZPICs and MACs)) don’t know how to read a travel card.  While there may be isolated exceptions to this statement, in the cases we have handled over the last decade, none of the auditors working for a ZPIC or for the MAC had been trained on how to read and interpret a travel card.  Additionally, most travel cards still in use don’t even come close to documenting all of the various points are set out in a MAC’s LCD.  As a result, when auditing chiropractic claims billed to Medicare, they almost always found a 100% error rate.

VIII.   Are Applicable Documentation Requirements Met if We Utilize Both a Travel Card and SOAP Note to Record the Chiropractic Services Provided?

Efforts to address the travel card problem by also documenting their services in a SOAP note format[4] have often been unsuccessful. Many experienced chiropractors love travel cards.  Their ease of use and ability to provide a quick, accurate picture of the patient’s prior care and progress are invaluable in a busy practice.  Recognizing that both government and private payors now require that a more detailed discussion of the patient’s care be documented, some chiropractors also document the care provided in a SOAP note format.  Unfortunately, in the cases we have seen, this approach typically fails to fully document the points that are now required by governmental and private payors alike.

IX.   Basic Rule for Documentation Under the Social Security Act:

Medicare’s documentation requirements are based on the fundamental obligation set out in Section 1833(e) of the Social Security Act which states that:

“no payment shall be made to any provider of services or other person under this part unless there has been furnished such information as may be necessary in order to determine the amounts due such provider or other person under this part for the period with respect to which the amounts are being paid or for any prior period.”  (emphasis added).

X.   Complying with Medicare’s Documentation Requirements:

If you intend to bill Medicare for one of the three manual manipulation services set out above, it is essential that you regularly check to ensure that your documentation practices fully comply with Medicare’s requirements. When is the last time you reviewed the documentation and coverage requirements issued applicable for your jurisdiction?  MACs have been delegated the responsibility for developing Local Coverage Determination (LCD) guidance by the Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under section 1395y(a)[5] of the Social Security Act.  This responsibility also includes the promulgation of reasonable and necessary coverage determinations.[6] Therefore, in the absence of applicable National Coverage Determination (NCD) guidance,[7] MACs are responsible issuing LCD guidance.  LCDs must adhere with applicable requirements set out under the Social Security Act, federal regulations, CMS rulings, Medicare Manual Provisions, and other forms of guidance.

An overview of the coverage and documentation requirements that must be met when providing Medicare-covered chiropractic services is set out in the Section 240.1. of the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual.  Additionally, the Medicare Program Integrity Manual (PIM), mandates that any LCD that is promulgated must reflect local medical practice within the contractor’s jurisdiction and must be supported by substantial medical evidence.[8]  A CMS contractor must ensure that LCDs are consistent with applicable Medicare statutory provisions, regulations, NCDs, and other federal guidance.[9]

When developing an LCD, MACs also consider medical literature, the advice of medical societies and consultants, public comments, and comments from the Medicare provider community.[10]  Like NCDs, an LCD’s coverage guidance on whether an item is medically “reasonable and necessary” means that the item is safe and effective and not experimental or investigational as determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process.[11]  Working within these parameters, it is important to recognize that the specific requirements for documenting your chiropractic claims may vary from one MAC region to another.

For instance, National Government Services (NGS) has issued an LCD titled “Chiropractic Services – L27350.” [12]   For chiropractic services to be medically indicated in the region managed by NGS:

“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 as demonstrated by x-ray or physical exam. (CMS Publication 100-02, Medicare Benefit Policy Manual, Chapter 15, Section 240.1.3).”

Under its section titled Limitations, NGS essentially set out the coverage requirements that must be met in order for chiropractic services to qualify for coverage and payment.  Moreover, ICD codes that support medical necessity are laid out in the guidance.  Should you code a chiropractic service with a diagnosis code that does not qualify for coverage, edits in the claims processing programs run by the MAC will automatically identify and deny the claims.

The documentation requirements set out in the LCD issued by NGS are typical of what you are likely to find in your particular region.  Nevertheless, you cannot assume that they are the same.  Check the LCD documentation requirements that have been published by your MAC.  The documentation requirements that are applied by NGS and other MACs are quite extensive.  A chiropractic audit of your Medicare claims will heavily rely on the coverage requirements set out in the LCD covering your region.

XI.   Elements to Review When Assessing Your Claims in Advance of a Medicare Chiropractic Audit:

The best time to assess your compliance with applicable Medicare medical necessity, coverage, documentation, coding and billing requirements is NOW, not after an audit has already been initiated by Medicare.  There are seven elements to be considered when assessing whether any chiropractic claims will qualify for coverage and payment.  These elements are:

Element #1: Medical Necessity – In addressing this element, every treating health care provider should ask the following question: “Were the services administered medically necessary?”

Element #2: Services Were Provided The second issue addressed is whether the services at issue were actually provided.

Element #3No Statutory Violations Are the services “tainted” by any statutory or regulatory violation, such as the Stark Law, federal Anti-Kickback or a False Claims Act violation?

Element #4Meets all Coverage Rules – Do the services meet Medicare’s coverage requirements?

Element #5Fully Documented Have the services been properly and fully documented?

Element #6: Properly Coded – Were the services correctly coded?

Element #7: Properly Billed – Were the services correctly billed to Medicare?

XII.  Consultants and Device Manufacturer Representatives:

Take care when conducting an internal review of your documentation and billing practices.  Should you decide to bring in an outside consultant to assist you in preparing for a chiropractic audit, you should be prepared to apply the doctrine of “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware).  The types of problems our clients have faced when engaging consultants generally fall within one of two categories, both of which are discussed below.

  • If it sounds too good to be true – it probably is!

Unfortunately, some consultants and device manufacturer representatives have used the challenging financial environment now facing chiropractic practices to their advantage.[13]  If a chiropractic consultant claims to have “proprietary” or “special” methods that can raise your billing revenues, or makes similar claims, be careful.

We have represented numerous chiropractic and medical practices over the years that have been led astray by coding and / or billing consultants, device manufacturers and others purporting to have identified supposed legal methods of coding and billing non-covered services so that they will, in fact, pass through the MACs edits and be paid. Years later, the chiropractic practice may learn that the practices they taught to employ are improper and do not qualify for payment.

  • Even Well-Meaning Consultants May Adversely Impact Your Practice.

Imagine for a moment that in an effort to improve your level of regulatory compliance, you have decided to engage a well-known coding and billing consultant to review your medical necessity, coverage, documentation, coding and billing practices. Assuming that the consultant is thorough, chances are that he / she will present you with a list of problems at the end of their review, you need to keep in mind that their findings are not privileged.  In other words, any reports that they issue, work papers that they prepare and actions that they take are discoverable by the government.  As a result, a list of problems identified by a coding or billing consultant can essentially be used as a roadmap for the prosecution.

You should therefore consider having a qualified health lawyer engage the consultant and direct his or her work.  Any reports would be issued to the attorney, not to you or your chiropractic practice. As a result, the work product prepared by the consultant would likely qualify and privileged and would not be discoverable by the government.  Does this mean that any errors, improper claims or other problems identified by the consultant could be “swept under the rug”?  No, not at all, but it may give the practice considerably more latitude in how they ultimately take remedial action.  Improper payments must be reported and repaid to Medicare in a timely fashion.. The problem we typically see is that non-attorneys are imprecise in how they describe a problem.  We have seen reports prepared by well-meaning consultants that are full of hyperbole and characterize certain conduct as possible fraud, when in fact, the actions that led to an overpayment were nothing more than a mere accident, error or mistake.

  • Call Liles Parker if Your Chiropractic Practice is Being Audited.

Liles Parker attorneys are not merely dedicated health lawyers.  We require that our associate attorneys study for and pass the certification requirements to be a Certified Medical Reimbursement Specialist.  Additionally, most of our attorneys and paralegals are Certified Medical Compliance Officers. Our staff has extensive experience conducting pre-audit assessments of provider documentation, coding and billing practices.  To the extent that your practice is undergoing a Medicare chiropractic audit by a UPIC, ZPIC or MAC, it isn’t too late to obtain a favorable result. Our health lawyers have extensive knowledge and experience of the Medicare appeals process, up to and including post-ALJ appeals to the Medicare Appeals Counsel and Federal Court.

Robert W. LilesRobert W. Liles Healthcare Attorney, M.S., M.B.A., J.D., has worked on the provider side in health care management, served as a federal prosecutor and now represents chiropractors and other health care providers around the country in connection with Medicare and private payor audits and investigations.  For a complementary consultation, please call us at: 1 (800) 475-1906.



[1] Chiropractic services were not separately broken out in OIG’s Medicare Fee-For-Service 2014 Improper Payment Report. https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Monitoring-Programs/Medicare-FFS-Compliance-Programs/CERT/Downloads/MedicareFeeforService2014ImproperPaymentsReport.pdf

[2] Effective January 1, 2017.

[3] These three claims are expressly covered in Local Coverage Determination (LCD) guidance issued by National Government Services (NGS) and other Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs).  For additional information please see:  https://apps.ngsmedicare.com/lcd/LCD_L27350.htm

[4] The acronym “SOAP” is a long-standing approach utilized by a variety of medical disciplines when documenting their evaluation of a patient and the plan of care to be followed.  SOAP stands for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan.

[5] See 42 U.S.C. § 1395h.

[6] See 42 U.S.C. § 1395ff(f)(2)(B).

[7] LCDs are defined as “determination[s] by a [contractor] under. . . part B. . . respecting whether or not a particular item or service is covered. . . in accordance with section 1395y(a)(1)(A).”[7]

[8] See 64 Fed. Reg. 22,619, 22,621 (Apr. 27, 1999) (stating that the purpose of local medical review policies is to explain to the public and the medical community “when an item or service will be considered ‘reasonable and necessary’ and thus eligible for coverage under the Medicare statute”); PIM Ch.1, §§ 2.1.B,, 2.3.2.

[9] PIM, supra note 17, at § 2.1.B.

[10] PIM, supra note 17, at §1.2.

[11] See Abbott Laboratories, at 29.

[12] https://apps.ngsmedicare.com/lcd/LCD_L27350.htm

[13] Unscrupulous business consultants are nothing new. Almost 20 years ago, HHS, Office of Inspector General (OIG) recognized this problem and issued guidance to providers outlining its concerns. In June 2001, OIG issued a “Special Advisory” titled “Practices of Business Consultants” which detailed the agency’s concerns in this regard.  As OIG noted, health care providers and suppliers need to be wary of potential:

  • Illegal or Misleading Representations.
  • Promises and Guarantees.
  • Encouraging Abusive Practices.
  • Discouraging Compliance Efforts.