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Looking Back at 2019’s Largest Healthcare Fraud Case Ever Prosecuted: Surprise! No Surprise, Florida Wins!

George Indest HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
For years, Florida has topped the lists with the highest rates of Medicare and Medicaid fraud and abuse. But even by the standards of Florida’s rampant healthcare fraud, this 2019 case stands out for its sheer size, making Florida, once again, the leader in fakes and frauds. Often joked and written about by Florida novelists such as Carl Hiassin and Tim Dorsey, this case serves to highlight why the “Debtor’s Haven” state often excels in cases of healthcare fraud.

In April 2019, after decades of alleged schemes, illegal kickbacks and money laundering in connection with fraudulent claims to Medicare and Medicaid, Phillip Esformes was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was also ordered to pay $44.2 million in money forfeitures and restitution, and forfeiture of his ownership interests in several skilled nursing homes.

A federal district judge sentenced the South Florida health care facility owner after he was found guilty in the largest health care fraud scheme ever charged by the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ).

A Case of “Epic” Fraud.

The nursing home mogul was accused of paying bribes and receiving kickbacks in a massive $1 billion Medicare fraud case touted by federal prosecutors as the largest in the nation. During an eight-week jury trial, prosecutors argued that Esformes himself made $38 million from Medicare and Medicaid payments between 2010 and 2016. Additionally, his South Florida network received more than $450 million through bribes and though services that weren’t medically necessary or which were never provided, according to the prosecution’s case.

To learn more about this case, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Convicted, But Not of Healthcare Fraud.

The shocker, in this case, is that the federal jury convicted Esformes on 20 counts of conspiracy to defraud the taxpayer-funded Medicare program. The lack of a conviction for healthcare fraud itself was puzzling. Many of his alleged co-conspirators had already pled guilty to health care fraud and some had even testified against him at trial. To learn more, click here to read one of my prior blogs on another individual involved in the case.

Despite being billed as the largest healthcare fraud case prosecuted in U.S. history, it is also a stark reminder to prosecutors of how tricky it can be to secure a conviction on any particular charge.

To read the DOJ’s press release about this case in full, click here.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Medicare Audits, Investigations and other Legal Proceedings.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in Medicare and Medicaid audits, and in ZPIC and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S. We also represent health providers in civil and administrative litigation by government agencies and insurance companies attempting to recoup claims that have been paid. Our attorneys also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, recovery actions and administrative actions seeking termination from Medicare and Medicaid Programs.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent physicians, dentists, pharmacists, psychotherapists, medical groups, clinics, pharmacies, assisted living facilities (ALFs), home health agencies, nursing homes, group homes and other healthcare providers in Medicaid and Medicare investigations, audits and recovery actions.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.


Sources:

Weaver, Jay. “Miami healthcare exec Esformes sentenced to 20 years in biggest Medicare fraud case.” Miami Herald. (September 12, 2019). Web.

Hale, Nathan. “The Biggest Stories In Florida Legal News Of 2019.” Law360. (December 20, 2019). Web.

Jackson, David. “Nursing home mogul Philip Esformes sentenced to 20 years for $1.3 billion Medicaid fraud.” Chicago Tribune. (September 13, 2019). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

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“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
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Helpful Tips to Speed Up the Medicare Prepayment Review Process

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

For Medicare providers, being notified of an impending audit is not welcome news. Being notified of a prepayment review is even worse. In a prepayment review, the health care provider must submit documentation to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) contractor before ever receiving payment. The health care provider will only receive payment (typically months later) if the contractor is satisfied with the provider’s documentation. This can be financially disastrous for the health care provider, who still must pay day-to-day expenses while waiting for a decision.

CMS Contractors.

If you have received notice of prepayment review, you first need to determine the contractor that has initiated the review. CMS contracts with four types of contractors:

– Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs);
– Comprehensive Error Rate Testing (CERT) contractors;
– Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs); and
– Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPICs).

Both the Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) and Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPICs) can initiate prepayment reviews.

MAC Prepayment Reviews.

MACs will initiate prepayment reviews of health care providers suspected of improper billing for services. If the MAC detects anything resembling fraud during the process, the prepayment review can extend for up to a year or more. However, MACs will generally terminate the prepayment review when the health care provider demonstrates a pattern of correct billing. Health care providers who are notified of a MAC prepayment review should consult with an experienced health care attorney from the beginning of the process. An experienced health attorney will be able to assist the health care provider to ensure everything is in place for a speedy prepayment review.

ZPIC Prepayment Reviews.

A MAC may refer a health care provider to a ZPIC for a benefit integrity prepayment review if they suspect fraud. A ZPIC can also initiate a benefit integrity prepayment review based on data analysis.  Unlike MACs, ZPICs generally are less willing to communicate with health care providers about the prepayment review.

Additionally, there are different time limitations for a benefit integrity prepayment review. The MAC prepayment review is governed by Medicare Manual provisions that stipulate a maximum length of time on a prepayment review. However, a benefit integrity prepayment review can last indefinitely, if the basis for the review is not timely and properly addressed by the health care provider.

Further, ZPICs make fraud referrals to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Thus, health care providers should view ZPIC correspondence as the start of a potentially larger investigation. An experienced health care attorney should be contacted immediately after a health care provider receives any contact from ZPIC.

How to Accomplish a Speedy Review.

In many cases, the health care provider will be on Medicare prepayment review until its billing accuracy reaches a certain percentage. However there are other steps to help speed up the Medicare prepayment audit process.

1.  Read all Correspondence from the Contractor Carefully.

Pay close attention to all correspondence sent by the contractor. Make a note of the due date given and make sure your response is sent well within the time limits. Denials will usually occur if a response is not received by the given deadline. Also be sure that you send your response to the correct office.

2.  Be Familiar with Local Coverage Determinations (LCDs).

You should read and be familiar with any and all applicable local coverage determinations (LCDs) and national coverage determinations (NCDs) for any codes, services, supplies or equipment you are billing.

3.  Contact an Experienced Health Care Attorney Immediately.

A health care attorney who is experienced in prepayment reviews will be able to help you file a proper response in a timely fashion. An attorney will also be able to help find out additional information on why you have been placed on prepayment review and exactly what documentation the auditor is looking for. Alternatively, a health care consultant who has actual experience in working on Medicare cases and who has been an expert witness in Medicare hearings may be able to assist, as well.

4.  Contact the Contractor Responsible for the Review.

After you have consulted with an attorney, schedule a call with the contractor responsible for your prepayment review. During the call learn as many details about the audit as you can and find out what the reviewer wants in the documentation.

However, do not:
a. Argue with the auditor.
b. Berate or demean the auditor.
c. Challenge the auditor’s knowledge, competence or credentials.
d. Ask the auditor to prove anything to you.
e. Demand to speak to the auditor’s supervisor.

5.  Do Not File Duplicate Claims.

Keep track of all requests for additional documentation and when they were received. Do not think that you need to file another claim for the same items just because you have not received a response as quickly as other claims where additional documentation was not requested. If you provide duplicate claims, the contractor’s decision can be delayed.

6.  Organize all Submissions and Results.

You must keep track of the date you receive the document request for a claim, the date you submitted the documentation for review, the result of the audit and the date the result was received. This will help you realize how quickly claims are reviewed. If a one claim’s review has taken longer than the others you’ve submitted, you can contact the reviewer to make sure they have received the claim and everything is in order.

7.  Follow-up with the Contractor for Feedback.

Keep in contact with the contractor throughout the review. This will help to maintain the relationship you initiated after first receiving notice of the prepayment review. This will also help you keep track of any issues and resolve them. Be sure to discuss how you can improve your claim submissions to meet the standards of your particular reviewer.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late; Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Medicare and Medicaid Issues Now.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent health care providers in prepayment reviews. They also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.

For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Sources:

Baird, Jeff. “Q&A with Jeff Baird: How to Prepare for and Survive Prepayment Reviews.” Home Care. (Sept. 13, 2010). From http://homecaremag.com/news/prepayment-review-faq-20100913/

Greene, Stephanie Morgan. “5 Steps to Get Off Pre-Payment Audit – Quickly!” Harrington Managment Group. (Mar. 18, 2011). From
http://homecaremag.com/news/prepayment-review-faq-20100913/

About the Author:  George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

Tag Words: prepayment audit, prepayment review, Medicare audits, Medicare, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, CMS, RAC, Recovery Audit Contractor, ZPIC, Zone Program Integrity Contractor, MAC, Medicare Administrative Contractor, CERT contractor, Comprehensive Error Rate Testing contractor, overpayment, prepayment reviews, First Coast Service Options, Medicare contractor, Medicare fraud, Medicare investigation, Medicare overbilling, OIG

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2018 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

ZPICs Seek “Voluntary” Agreements from Physicians for Auto-Denial Edits for Home Health Services

MLS Blog Label 2By Michael L. Smith, R.R.T., J.D., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law, and George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the primary purpose of Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPICs) is to investigate instances of suspected fraud, waste, and abuse.  The specific actions employed by ZPICs to fulfil this mission include:

–  Investigating potential fraud and abuse for CMS administrative action or referral to law enforcement;
–  Conducting investigations in accordance with the priorities established by Center for Program Integrity’s (CPI) Fraud Prevention System;
–  Performing medical review, as appropriate;
–  Performing data analysis in coordination with CPI’s Fraud Prevention System;
–  Identifying the need for administrative actions such as payment suspensions and prepayment or auto-denial edits; and,
–  Referring cases to law enforcement for consideration and initiation of civil or criminal prosecution.

However, it appears that some of the ZPICs have been overly proactive in identifying the need for payments suspensions and are asking providers to voluntarily agree to payment suspensions for certain claims.

Click here to read more on ZPICs from CMS.

Physicians Being Targeted by ZPICs for Auto-Denial Edits.

Recently, physicians have been approached by ZPICs and asked to voluntarily agree to a payment edit on their National Provider Identifier (NPI) that would automatically deny any claim for payment for home health services that listed the physician as the ordering, attending, or referring physician.  A ZPIC requesting a specific physician to voluntarily cease ordering any home health services appears to go further than identifying the need for administrative action including a payment suspension.

The activities a ZPIC may use to fulfil its obligations to CMS are:

–  Request medical records and documentation;
–  Conduct interviews;
–  Conduct onsite visits;
–  Identify the need for a prepayment or auto-denial edits and refer these edits to the Medicare Administrative Contractors (MAC) for installation;
–  Withhold payments; and,
–  Refer cases to law enforcement.

The following functions are reserved for the MACs and not functions of the ZPICs.

–  Provider outreach and education;
–  Recouping monies lost to the Trust Fund (the ZPICs identify these         situations and refer them to the MACs for the recoupment);
–  Medical review not
–  Complaint screening; for benefit integrity purposes;
–  Claims appeals of ZPIC decisions;
–  Claim payment determination;
–  Claims pricing; and
–  Auditing provider cost reports.

While a ZPIC may refer a provider to the MAC for the imposition of an auto-denial edit, some ZPICs seem to have taken this process a step further and are attempting to have physicians voluntarily agree to the auto-denial edits.

Issues with Agreeing to an Auto-Denial Edit.

A physician who voluntarily agrees to an auto-denial edit could create significant problems for his or her patients and practice.  A physician agreeing to an auto-denial edit would need to cease ordering home health services and would need to refer the patients that need home health services to another physician.  Any physician that has been approached by a ZPIC seeking a voluntary auto-denial edit should consult competent legal counsel before agreeing to the auto-denial edit.

We have heard if ZPIC representatives allegedly intimidating or attempting to intimidate physicians who routinely order home health services for patients into agreeing to such auto-denial edits.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late; Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Medicare and Medicaid Issues Now.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S. They also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.

For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Comments?

Have you heard of these auto-denial edit requests from ZPICs? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

About the Authors: Michael L. Smith, R.R.T., J.D., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

CMS Delays Stage 3 Meaningful Use for Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs

MLS Blog Label 2By Michael L. Smith, R.R.T., J.D., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law, and George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On December 6, 2013, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a revised timeline for the implementation of Stage 3 meaningful use measures for the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs.

According to CMS, Stage 2 will be extended through 2016, and Stage 3 will begin in 2017 for those hospitals, physicians and other eligible providers that have completed at least two years of Stage 2 meaningful use. These changes affect two groups of eligible providers: providers who started Stage 1 in 2011, and who are currently scheduled to start Stage 3 in 2016, and those providers who started Stage 1 in 2012, and who are scheduled to start Stage 3 in 2016.

This announcement does not change when providers must start Stage 2, nor does it affect the requirement for hospitals and critical access hospitals to upgrade to EHR technology to receive incentive payments. The Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive programs are staged in three steps with increasing requirements for participation. Eligible providers who do not meet meaningful use requirements will still be penalized with reduced Medicare reimbursement starting January 1, 2015.

To read more from CMS, click here.

Reasons for the Timeline Change.

According to Modern Healthcare, CMS stated that the goal of the timeline change is two-fold. First, to allow CMS and the Office of National Coordinator (ONC) to focus on assisting providers to meet Stage 2 demands for patient engagement, interoperability and information exchange, as well as use data collected during the phase to inform policy decisions for Stage 3.

CMS expects that it will release a notice of proposed rulemaking for Stage 3 in the fall of 2014, and the corresponding ONC notice for proposed rulemaking for the 2017 Edition of the ONC Standards and Certification Criteria will also be released at that time. Click here to read the entire article from Modern Healthcare.

What this Means for You.

If you begin participation with your first year of Stage 1 for the Medicare EHR Incentive Program in 2014:

– You must begin your 90 days of Stage 1 of meaningful use no later than July 1, 2014 and submit attestation by October 1, 2014 in order to avoid the 2015 payment adjustment.

If you have completed one year of Stage 1 of meaningful use:

– You will demonstrate a second year of Stage 1 of meaningful use in 2014 for a three-month reporting period fixed to the quarter for Medicare or any 90 days for Medicaid.
– You will demonstrate Stage 2 of meaningful use for two years (2015 and 2016).
– You will begin Stage 3 of meaningful use in 2017.

If you have completed two or more years of Stage 1 of meaningful use:

– You will still demonstrate Stage 2 of meaningful use in 2014 for a three-month reporting period fixed to the quarter for Medicare or any 90 days for Medicaid.
– You will demonstrate Stage 2 of meaningful use for three years (2014, 2015 and 2016).
– You will begin Stage 3 of meaningful use in 2017.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physicians and medical groups on EHR issues. It also represents pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, nurses and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving the DEA, Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think of the revised timeline for the implementation of Stage 3 meaningful use? Will this affect you? If so, how? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Conn, Joseph. “Meaningful-Use Deadline Pushed Back One Year.” Modern Healthcare. (December 6, 2013). From: http://bit.ly/1kkAtsC

Tagalicod, Robert and Reider, Jacob. “Progress on Adoption of Electronic Health Records.” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (December 13, 2013). From: http://www.cms.gov/eHealth/ListServ_Stage3Implementation.html

About the Authors: Michael L. Smith, R.R.T., J.D., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Doctors’ Medicare Payment Data to be Released Spring 2014

6 Indest-2008-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

For years, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has kept private its records on Medicare claims payments made to individual physicians. However, beginning March 18, 2014, the government may disclose the payment data on a case-by-case basis. According to CMS, this directive is a push by the Obama Administration to crack down on doctors who are making a habit out of repeatedly overcharging Medicare. On January 15, 2014, CMS stated that recalcitrant providers could face civil fines and exclusion from Medicare and other federal health care programs. According to CMS, a recalcitrant provider is defined as one who is abusing the program and not changing inappropriate behavior even after extensive education to address these behaviors.

Data Made Public to Fight Healthcare Fraud.

According to The New York Times, federal officials estimate that 10 percent (10%) of payments in the fee-for-service Medical program are improper. Supporters of releasing the data say it could help identify patterns of waste and fraud. The Medicare payment data, combined with data from other sources, could be enormously useful to consumers, researchers and whistleblowers analyzing patterns of health spending.

Physician groups express caution in Medicare releasing individual payment information, saying it could lead to public misunderstanding and unintended consequences, according to The New York Times.

Click here to read the entire article from The New York Times.

Data Prohibited From Being Release for Past Thirty Years.

In 1979, a federal district judge in Jacksonville, Florida, issued an injunction that prohibited Medicare officials from releasing what Medicare pays individual doctors. The ruling, in a lawsuit filed by doctors, said such disclosure would violate the Privacy Act and constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. In May 2013, the judge lifted the injunction.

According to a MedPage Today article, the decision does not require the wholesale release of Medicare payment data but allows Medicare officials and courts to consider the merits of each request.

To read the entire article from MedPage Today, click here.

Healthcare Providers Should Prepare for Possible Public Scrutiny.

Although it remains to be seen how CMS will implement its new policy, health care providers should be prepared for the possibility that their coding, billing and reimbursement patterns will become the subject of public scrutiny, particularly those providers in specialized areas including internal medicine, radiation oncology and ophthalmology.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Healthcare Fraud Cases.

Attorneys with The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program. We also handle Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S.

Our attorneys also represent health care professionals and health facilities in qui tam or whistleblower cases both in defending such claims and in bringing such claims. We have developed relationships with recognized experts in health care accounting, health care financing, utilization review, medical review, filling, coding, and other services that assist us in such matters. We have represented doctors, nurses and others as relators in bringing qui tam or whistleblower cases, as well.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think about the decision to release payment data for physicians? How will this effect health care providers? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Pear, Robert. “Doctors Abusing Medicare Face Fines and Expulsion.” The New York Times. (January 25, 2014). From: http://nyti.ms/1cpIaOg

Pittman, David. “Medicare to Release Doc Pay Data This Spring.” MedPage Today. (January 14, 2014). From: http://bit.ly/1ndaCHu

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

 

 

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

CMS Recovery Audit Prepayment Reviews to Begin Summer 2012

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is planning to start the Recovery Audit Prepayment Review (RAPR) Demonstration Project on June 1, 2012. It was originally scheduled to begin January 1, 2012.

Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs) to Review Claims with High Rates of Improper Billing.

The Recovery Audit Prepayment Review allows Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs) to review claims before they are paid. The goal is to ensure that the provider complied with all Medicare payment rules. Prepayment reviews will be conducted on certain types of claims that have been found to result in high rates of improper payments.

Certain States will be the Focus of the Initial Launch of Recovery Audit Prepayment Reviews.

The Recovery Audit Prepayment Reviews will focus on states with high populations of fraud-prone and error-prone providers. These states are California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, and Texas. The Recovery Audit Prepayment Reviews will also include four states with high claims volumes of short inpatient hospital stays. These states are Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

More States May be Included in the Recovery Audit Prepayment Reviews in the Future.

CMS is expecting that the prepayment reviews will help lower error rates by preventing improper payments instead of searching for improper payments after they occur. If these reviews are successful, other states will be included in subsequent stages of the Recovery Audit Prepayment Review Demonstration.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Medicare Audits.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent physicians, medical groups, clinics, pharmacies, durable medical equipment (DME) suppliers, home health agencies, nursing homes and other healthcare providers in Medicaid and Medicare investigations, audits and recovery actions.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Reimbursement Management Consultants, Inc. “CMS Recovery Audit Prepayment Review Demonstration Project.” Reimbursement Management Consultants, Inc. (Feb. 9, 2012). From: http://rmcinc.org/word/?p=276

About the Author:  George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Puts Recovery Audit Contractor Program on Hold

4 Indest-2009-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On February 18, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced it is in the procurement process for the next round of Recovery Audit Program contracts. This means the program is, for the time being, on hold while CMS awards new contracts. According to CMS, it will select new vendors to continue the Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) program, which is responsible for detecting improper Medicare payments. It is expected that this pause will also be used to refine and improve the RAC program. In the announcement it was not disclosed how long the program would be on hold.

Click here to read the announcement from CMS.

This news comes months after CMS revealed an enormous backlog of RAC appeals. The backup is so bad, providers are not able to submit new cases until the existing backlog clears, which could take two years or more.

Current Contracts Extended to Conclude Appeals.

According to Modern Healthcare, CMS extended its contracts with the four current vendors until December 31, 2015, for administrative and transition activities. These contracts were to end on February 7, 2014. The purpose of the extension is to allow the RACs to handle and wind down appeals. To read the entire article from Modern Healthcare, click here.

For providers this means a lull in additional documentation requests (ADRs), however it is important to remember RAC audits are not going away.

Dates to Remember.

Providers should note the important dates below:

– February 21, 2014, was the last day a Recovery Auditor could send a postpayment ADR;
– February 28, 2014, is the last day a Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) may send prepayment ADRs for the Recovery Auditor Prepayment Review Demonstration; and
– June 1, 2014, is the last day a Recovery Auditor may send improper payment files to the MACs for adjustment.

Backlog of RAC Appeals Worse Than Ever.

The RAC appeals process has become so overloaded that in December 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA) notified hospitals, doctors, nursing homes and other health care providers that the agency would be suspending acting on new requests for hearings. Health care providers were told they would not be able to submit any new appeals until the existing backlog clears, which could take two or more years. To read more on the backlog of RAC appeals, click here for my previous blog.

RAC Audits Will Be Back.

In the first three months of the fiscal year 2013, RACs recouped more than $2.2 billion from providers due to what the RACs deemed were overpayments. With money coming in, RAC audits are not going away. It has become common for state and federal regulators to enforce even the smallest violations, resulting in investigations, monetary fines and penalties. If found in violation, you will not only have to pay fines and face disciplinary action, you will also lose revenue because you will have to spend time dealing with the investigation, instead of practicing medicine. Whether you are trying to prevent Medicare and Medicaid audits, Zone Program Integrity Contractor (ZPIC) audits, or any other kind of healthcare audits, there are steps you can implement in your practice today that may save you down the line. Click here to read more on self audits.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late; Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Medicare and Medicaid Issues Now.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S. They also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.

For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Comments?

What do you think about the RAC program being put on hold? What do you think CMS should do to improve the program? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Kutscher, Beth. “CMS Recovery Audits on Hold as Contractors Wrestle Big Backlog.” Modern Healthcare. (February 20, 2014). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20140220/NEWS/302209968/cms-recovery-audits-on-hold-as-contractors-deal-with-big-backlog

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Recent Updates.” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (February 18, 2014). From: http://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Monitoring-Programs/Medicare-FFS-Compliance-Programs/Recovery-Audit-Program/Recent_Updates.html

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

 

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Man Charged with Medicare Fraud in Ambulance Scheme

By Miles Indest

A Pennsylvania man has been charged in a 23-count indictment in relation to an alleged scheme to defraud Medicare by billing for fraudulent ambulance services. The charges were announced by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on June 29, 2012.

Man Allegedly “Straw” Owner Used to Start Ambulance Company.

According to the indictment the man allegedly used a “straw” owner (someone who was not actually the owner) to fraudulently open Starcare Ambulance because he was otherwise ineligible to own the company. Between 2006 and 2011, the man allegedly billed Medicare for transporting kidney dialysis patients who did not medically need ambulance service. This indictment seeks forfeiture of over $5 million in cash as well as a GMC Hum-V (“Hummer”) vehicle.

Man Could Face Up To 10 Years in Prison for Each Count of Health Care Fraud.

If convicted of all charges, the defendant faces a statutory maximum sentence of ten years in prison on each of the health care fraud and conspiracy counts. He also faces five years in prison for aiding and abetting in false statements relating to health care fraud, a three year term of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.

Ambulance Services Companies Are Target for Medicare Audits.

In recent years, and especially in 2012, ambulance services companies have become the target of Medicare audits and are frequently accused of billing Medicare for unnecessary services. Medicare and Medicaid audits can result in overpayment demands reaching into hundreds of thousands of dollars and assessment of fines. Ambulance services were included in the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) work plan for fiscal year 2012 as an area that would be subject to scrutiny. Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPICs) and Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs) are launching audits of ambulance service providers and emergency medical transportation companies.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Medicare Audits.

Medicare fraud is a serious crime and is vigorously investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG). Don’t wait until its too late. If you are concerned of any possible violations and would like a confidential consultation, contact a qualified health attorney familiar with medical billing and audits today.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent physicians, medical groups, clinics, pharmacies, ambulance services companies, durable medical equipment (DME) suppliers, home health agencies, nursing homes and other healthcare providers in Medicaid and Medicare investigations, audits and recovery actions.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources Include:

“Pennsylvania Man Charged With $5.4 Million Medicare Fraud.” San Francisco Chronicle. (June 29, 2012). From: http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Pa-man-charged-with-5-4-million-Medicare-fraud-3674333.php

Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs. “Pennsylvania Man Charged with Fraud in Ambulance Scheme.” Department of Justice. Press Release. (June 29, 2012). From: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/June/12-crm-840.html

Verifying Patients’ Affordable Care Act Exchange Insurance is Putting Doctors’ Office Employees Through the Ringer

10 Indest-2008-7By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The ultimate goal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is to provide millions of previously uninsured Americans with access to health care. Open enrollment does not end until March 31, 2014; however, practices are already seeing an influx of patients who have bought insurance through the exchanges. With that, some offices are reporting a new challenge being presented in doctors’ offices.

In a National Public Radio (NPR) article, some doctors’ office employees report having to call insurance companies to verify that each exchange patient is paid up. These calls are reportedly taking up to an hour or more, which costs the practice both time and resources.

Click here to read the entire NPR article.

Doctors’ Offices Used to Check Insurance Online.

In the past, practices were able to verify patients’ insurance quickly through online verification systems. However, for exchange patients, some doctors’ offices are choosing to call insurance companies to make sure the patient has paid the premium. It if is not paid, the insurance company can refuse to pay the doctor for the visit, or recoup payments already made.

Financial Risk Part of the 90-Day Grace Period Included in the ACA.

Individuals that purchased subsidized coverage through the exchanges are granted a 90-day grace period before their coverage is cancelled for nonpayment. The insurance plan is required to pay any claims incurred during the first 30 days of the grace period. However, for the next 60 days, nothing is guaranteed. If a patient visits the doctor, the insurer can “pend” the claim and wait to pay until the patient pays the premium. At the end of the 90 days, the insurer can cancel the coverage and refuse to pay the pended claims or recoup payments already made. To read a previous blog on this topic, click here.

Risk Falls on Health Care Professionals and Providers.

The rule imposes a significant risk for uncompensated care on health care providers. The rule does require insurers to tell health care providers when patients are behind on their premium payments, but the rule does not specify how the health plan will provide that notice to the providers. This is why some practices are opting to get in front of the insurance companies by calling and verifying everything is in order before proceeding with the visit. However since the calls are taking so long, this means longer hours, more overtime and higher overhead expenses.

The Office Has Options.

If the premium is not paid, the office is at risk to not receive reimbursements. Instead of taking that risk, the office can provide patients with other options. The patient could reschedule the appointment for a later date. Or the patient could pay the office in cash and then apply to the insurer for reimbursements. Either way, the practice will receive its proper payment.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in the Representation of Health Professionals and Providers.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, CRNAs, pain management doctors, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists and other health providers in insurance company or other third party payor reimbursements.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

Has your practice been calling insurance companies to verify patients have paid their premiums? As a health care professional or provider, are you worried you don’t have adequate financial protection? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Source:

Gold, Jenny. “Doctors’ Offices Get Put On Hold Trying to Find Out Who’s Insured.” National Public Radio. (February 25, 2014). From: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/02/25/282115303/doctors-offices-get-put-on-hold-trying-to-find-out-whos-insured

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Be Prepared for a Medicaid Audit Request

By Lance O. Leider, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by the Florida Bar in Health Law

Florida healthcare providers servicing Medicaid patients are at a higher risk for audits than anywhere else in the country.  The reason is that Florida has become synonymous with healthcare fraud.  As a result, auditing and subsequent overpayment demands are some very real possibilities.

Should you find yourself, your facility, or your health practice the subject of a Medicaid audit by your state Medicaid agency or audit contractor, there are a few things you should know.

The most important thing is that just because you are being audited, it does not mean that you or your business has done anything wrong.  State and federal governments conduct audits for many different reasons.  Typical ones include: special audits of high-fraud geographic areas, auditing of particular billing codes, randomly selected provider auditing, and complaints of possible fraud.

How to Know If You Are the Subject of an Audit.

An audit will usually begin with the provider receiving an initial audit request, usually by letter or fax.  This request will serve to notify the recipient that it is the subject of an audit.  The initial letter will not always identify the reason for the audit. It will contain a list of names and dates of service for which the auditors want to see copies of medical records and other documentation.

This stage of the process is crucial because it is the best opportunity to control the process.  Once the records are compiled and sent to the auditor, the process shifts, and you are now going to have to dispute the auditor’s findings in order to avoid a finding of overpayment.

The biggest mistake that someone who is the subject of an audit can make is to hastily copy only a portion of the available records and send them off for review.  The temptation is to think that since the records make sense to you, they will make sense to the auditor.  Remember, the auditor has never worked in your office and has no idea how the records are compiled and organized.  This is why it is imperative to compile a thorough set of records that are presented in a clearly labeled and organized fashion that provide justification for every service or item billed.

Steps to Take After an Initial Audit Request. 

The following are steps that you should take in order to compile and provide a set of records that will best serve to help you avoid any liability at the conclusion of the audit process:

1. Read the audit letter carefully and provide everything that it asks for.  It’s always better to send too much documentation than too little.

2. If at all possible, compile the records yourself.  If you can’t do this, have a compliance officer, experienced consultant, or experienced health attorney compile the records and handle any follow-up requests.

3. Pay attention to the deadlines.  If a deadline is approaching and the records are not going to be ready, contact the auditor and request an extension before it is  due.  Do this by telephone and follow up with a letter (not an e-mail).  Send the letter before the deadline.

4. Send a cover letter with the requested documents and records explaining what is included and how it is organized as well as who to contact if the auditors have any questions.

5. Number every page of the records sent from the first page to the last page of documents.

6. Make a copy of everything you send exactly as it is sent.  This way there are no valid questions later on as to whether a particular document was forwarded to the auditors.

 7. Send the response package using some form of package tracking or delivery confirmation to arrive before the deadline.

Compiling all of the necessary documentation in a useful manner can be an arduous task.  If you find that you cannot do it on your own, or that there are serious deficiencies in record keeping, it is recommended that you reach out to an attorney with experience in Medicaid auditing to assist you in the process.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Medicaid and Medicare Audits.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent physicians, medical groups, clinics, pharmacies, durable medical equipment (DME) suppliers, home health agencies, nursing homes and other healthcare providers in Medicaid and Medicare investigations, audits and recovery actions.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author: Lance O. Leider is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

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