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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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Are You Ready for HIPAA and HITECH Audits?

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is launching a pilot program this month to make sure covered entities are in compliance with HIPAA privacy and security rules and breach notification standards, according to the OCR. The OCR will perform up to 150 audits to assess HIPAA compliance.

The HITECH Act requires HHS to perform periodic audits to check for HIPAA compliance. The audits will be conducted from November 2011 through December 2012. Initially these audits will likely focus on hospitals and insurance companies, but HMEs could also be a target.

Though early audits are likely to be educational, in order to get a basic assessment of where providers stand in regards to HIPAA, that doesn’t mean there won’t be repercussions for violations. Because the privacy rule has been established since 2001 and the security rule has been established since 2003, providers can not be completely excused for missteps.

HIPAA violations can result in severe penalties (per section 1177 of HIPAA) including:

• a fine of up to $50,000, or up to 1 year in prison, or both; (Class 6 Felony)
• if the offense is committed under false pretenses, a fine of up to $100,000, up to 5 years in prison, or both; (Class 5 Felony)
• if the offense is committed with intent to sell, transfer, or use individually identifiable health information for commercial advantage, personal gain, or malicious harm, a fine up to $250,000, or up to 10 years in prison, or both. (Class 4 Felony)
• Civil fines can also be imposed by the Secretary of DHHS with a maximum is $100 for each violation, with the total amount not to exceed $25,0000 for all violations of an identical requirement or prohibition during a calendar year. (Class 3 Felony).

Since the final rule for the HITECH Act hasn’t been finalized, the OCR can only expect providers to make decent judgments about the provisions in the interim final rule.

Providers need to review where they’re at with privacy and security compliance and make any improvements. This pilot program of audits will likely be expanded (and the more violations the OCR encounters, the larger the likelihood of strict enforcement), so all providers should be aware of current practices and how to ensure compliance.

For more information about HIPAA and other healthcare audits, visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Medicare Fraud Initiative Leads to Arrests of Over 100 Health Professionals

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

A recent Medicare fraud operation conducted between several federal agencies has resulted in the arrest of over 100 doctors, nurses and other medical professionals. They have been charged with various crimes relating to Medicare fraud. The arrests were made on May 2, 2012 in seven cities nationwide, but more than half took place in South Florida.

This  multi-agency attack on medical professionals and health care providers was a joint effort between law enforcement agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Medicaid Fraud Control Units (MFCU) and other state and local law enforcement agencies. In addition to arresting over 100 medical professionals, these agents also executed 20 search warrants in connection with ongoing Medicare fraud investigations.

Some of the charges against the health care professionals include conspiracy to commit health care fraud, health care fraud, violations of the anti-kickback statutes and money laundering. The charges are based on a variety of alleged Medicare fraud schemes involving medical treatments and services such as home health care, mental health services, physical and occupational therapy, durable medical equipment (DME), mental health counseling and ambulance services. These alleged Medicare fraud schemes resulted in a combined $452 million in false billings.

HHS also took other administrative action against 52 other health providers. These providers were tracked down through data analysis and are also accused of Medicare fraud. Because of the Affordable Care Act, HHS will be able to suspend payments to these providers the entire time until the investigations are completed.

Because of the severe state budget shortfalls and the federal deficit, we are seeing a tremendous increase in both Medicare and Medicaid fraud initiatives. If you are being accused of Medicare or Medicaid fraud, it is extremely important to retain an experienced health attorney immediately.

Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Medicare and Medicaid Issues Now Before it is Too Late

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm routinely represent physicians and other healthcare professionals in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits and recovery actions. They also represent physicians and health professionals in actions initiated by the Medicaid Fraud Control Units (MFCUs), in False Claims Act cases, in actions initiated by the state to exclude or terminate from the Medicaid Program or by the HHS OIG to exclude from the Medicare Program.

Call now at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources Include:

Weaver, Jay. “Feds Arrest More Than 100 Medicare Fraud Suspects in South Florida, Nationwide.” Miami Herald. (May 02, 2012). From
http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/05/02/2779369/feds-arrest-about-100-medicare.html

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs. “Medicare Fraud Strike Force Charges 107 Individuals for Approximately $452 Million in False Billing.” U.S. Department of Justice. Press Release. (May 02, 2012). From http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/May/12-ag-568.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.

Alleged HIPAA Privacy Violations at the Center of a Recent Physician Group Settlement with HHS

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

A small physician group has reached a settlement with the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) over alleged Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) violations. The settlement was reached on April 17, 2012 and requires Phoenix Cardiac Surgery (PCS) to pay OCR $100,000 and enter into a one-year corrective action plan (CAP).

The Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan can be viewed here.

HIPAA Complaint Against PCS Stemmed from Internet Calendar Postings

OCR’s investigation of PCS was launched in 2009 after a complaint was received. Click here to view a HIPAA complaint that you can file online. The complaint alleged that PSC had disclosed protected health information (PHI) on patients on the Internet. After investigating the complaint, the OCR alleged that PCS violated the HIPAA privacy and security rules. According to the OCR, PCS posted clinical and surgical appointments on a publicly accessible, Internet calendar. The OCR also alleged that PCS employees e-mailed protected health information to their personal e-mail accounts.

Furthermore, PCS allegedly did not have adequate administrative, physical and technical safeguards in place to protect patient data. The OCR alleged that PCS did not appoint a security officer as required by HIPAA or perform an accurate and thorough risk assessment, also required by HIPAA. The CAP required by the settlement will require PCS to implement policies to ensure full compliance with HIPAA’s privacy and security rules.

Are You In Compliance with HIPAA?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, sometimes referred to as the Kennedy-Kassenbaum Act, was enacted into law as Public Law (P.L.) 104-191, 110 Stat. 1936. Among its many different provisions, it included basic minimums to ensure the privacy of personal medical information. Its main privacy provisions are codified in federal law in different sections of the U.S. Code.

Medical Practices Should Use Caution When Working With Electronic Health Information

This case provides a good example of the downside of information technology (IT). While electronic health information assists in increasing accessibility and efficiency, it can also increase a practice’s risk of violating HIPAA’s Privacy Rule and Security Rule.

All medical practices that utilize electronic health information need to ensure that they have effective IT security, education, policies and procedures in place to protect themselves from HIPAA’s violations.

Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Defending HIPAA Complaints and Violations

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in investigating and defending alleged HIPAA complaints and violations and in preparing Corrective Action Plans (CAPs).

For more information about HIPAA violations, electronic health records or corrective action plans (CAPs) please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Sources Include:

HHS Press Office. “HHS Settles Case with Phoenix Cardiac Surgery for Lack of HIPAA Safeguards.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Apr. 17, 2012). Press Release. From
http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2012pres/04/20120417a.html

Lewis, Nicole. “Online Calendar Mistakes Cost Doctors Group $100,000.” Information Week. (Apr. 23, 2012). From
http://www.informationweek.com/news/healthcare/security-privacy/232900727

Sterling, Robyn. “HHS Settlement for Lack of HIPAA Safeguards.” Proskauer Privacy Law Blog. (Apr. 25, 2012). From
http://www.jdsupra.com/post/documentViewer.aspx?fid=e548966a-d7eb-4f47-a0af-de15db487dbb/

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.

Compliance with Conditions of Participation Necessary for Reinstatement of Terminated Medicare Billing Privileges or Revoked Medicare Provider Number and Participation Agreement

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

We have recently experienced an alarming increase in the number of Medicare providers receiving notices that their Medicare billing privileges are being terminated.  These include home health agencies (HHAs), independent diagnostic testing facilities (IDTFs), ambulance and emergency transport providers, physicians, pharmacies, durable medical equipment (DME) providers, medical groups, physical therapists and therapy providers.  In most cases, this is because the health care provider has failed to update its address with the Medicare Program.  To see a prior article we wrote on this, click here.

Most often this occurs when a site visit by the Medicare administrative contractor (MAC) (previously called the carrier or fiscal intermediary) arrives at the business location on file with Medicare and finds the provider’s business location has changed.  Other times the termination is because of a minor technical violation of Medicare rules, such as being closed when a site inspector shows up, failing to have hours of operation posted, failing to have a required insurance policy in place, failing to be open at the time the inspector shows up, or other similar reasons.

If the health provider does nothing to appeal the revocation, then there is a required waiting period of at least one year before it can even reapply to the Medicare Program.  The termination may also have extremely serious consequences regarding participation in the state Medicaid Program, licensure, other contracts, clinical privileges, participation on insurance provider panels and related businesses.

We recommend immediately retaining an experienced health attorney to help you prepare and file a corrective action plan (CAP), request for reconsideration of the decision and an appeal, if necessary.  We recommend that you include proof of currently meeting every required condition of participation (COP) for your health specialty, service or item.  We include copies of written policies adopted, new forms, new procedures, insurance policies, copies of CMS forms 855 that were previously submitted, and other documents that may be required by the COP.  Please see our prior blog/article on submitting CAPs.

For access to each of the conditions of participation (COP) and conditions for coverage (CFC), click on the following link, or cut and paste it into your internet browser:

http://www.cms.gov/Regulations-and-Guidance/Legislation/CFCsAndCoPs/index.html?redirect=/CFCsAndCoPs/

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.

Copying and Pasting Clinical Notes in Electronic Health Records Could Be Considered Healthcare Fraud

1 Indest-2008-1By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) is concerned about healthcare providers carelessly copying and pasting clinical notes in electronic health records (EHRs). According to an audit report released on December 10, 2013, copying and pasting in EHRs can lead to fraudulently duplicated clinical notes, which can be considered healthcare fraud. This practice is allegedly widespread across medicine, according to a Modern Healthcare article. Federal officials say there is a need to crackdown on this behavior.

Click here to read the entire audit report from the HHS OIG.

This is the first of two reports on fraud and vulnerabilities in EHR systems. The second report from the OIG will be on weaknesses in how the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) payment contractors monitor for fraud in EHRs. This report is scheduled to be published soon.

Report Looks at Hospital Policies Regarding Copy-and-Paste Features.

The audit report studied 864 hospitals that had received subsidies for EHR systems as of March 2012. Out of those hospitals, only twenty-four percent (24%) had any policy regarding the improper use of copying-and-pasting in EHRs. The report concluded that too few hospitals actually have policies defining the proper use of copy and paste in EHRs.

According to Modern Healthcare, adoption of EHR systems has coincided with a rapid rise in higher-cost Medicare claims. This has led to officials looking into whether EHRs are enabling illegal upcoding. Officials say that EHR features such as copy and paste make it too easy to bill for work that wasn’t actually performed and help increase reimbursements, according to Modern Healthcare. Click here to read the entire article from Modern Healthcare.

In the report the HHS OIG recommends that the CMS strengthen its efforts to develop a comprehensive plan to address fraud vulnerabilities in EHRs. It was also suggested that CMS develop guidance on the use of the copy-paste feature in EHR technology.

Tips to Help Avoid Copy-and-Paste Errors.

Tools commonly available in EHRs that allow physicians to copy and paste patient information should be used with extreme care, according to an article on American Medical News. The article offers health care providers some guidelines to help avoid errors related to copying and pasting.

– Avoid copying and pasting of text from another person’s notes.

– Avoid repetitive copying and pasting of laboratory results and radiology reports.

– Note important results with proper context, and document any resulting actions. Avoid wholesale inclusion of information readily available elsewhere in the EHR because that creates clutter and may adversely affect note readability.

– Review and update as appropriate any shared information found elsewhere in the electronic record (e.g., problems, allergies, medications) that is included in a note.

– Include previous history critical to longitudinal care in the outpatient setting, as long as it is always reviewed and updated. Copying and pasting other elements of the history, physical examination or formulations is risky, as errors in editing may jeopardize the credibility of the entire note.

Click here to read the entire article from American Medical News.

What This Means for Healthcare Providers Using EHRs.

The practice of copying and pasting previous information without checking can be considered careless and potentially dangerous to patients. It can be problematic when there are multiple teams taking care of one patient and using the chart to communicate. The right way is to make sure everything in the note you sign accurately reflects what happened on your shift.

In the report the HHS OIG stated that copy-and-paste features in EHRs will be under additional scrutiny. By knowing where the enforcement focus will be, providers can attempt to avoid copy-and-paste practices that are likely to lead to audits. Additionally, providers can beef up compliance efforts and policies.

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

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.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. If you are concerned of any possible violations and would like a consultation, contact a qualified health attorney familiar with medical billing and audits today. To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

In your practice do you use an EHR system? Have you had any issues with copying and pasting clinical notes? Does your practice have a copy-and-paste policy? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.|

Sources:

Carlson, Joe. “Fed Eye Crackdown on Cut-and-Paste EHR Fraud.” Modern Healthcare. (December 10, 2013). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20131210/NEWS/312109965/cut-and-paste-function-can-invite-ehr-fraud-officials-say

O’Reilly, Kevin. “EHRs: ‘Sloppy and Paste’ Endures Despite Patient Safety Risk.” American Medical News. (February 4, 2013). From: http://www.amednews.com/article/20130204/profession/130209993/2/

Levinson, Daniel R. “Not All Recommended Fraud Safeguards Have Been Implemented in Hospital EHR Technology.” Department of Health and Humans Services Office of Inspector General. (December 2013). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/assets/pdf/CH92135129.PDF

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.

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.

OIG Audit Finds Federal Database of Terminated Medicaid Providers Needs Improvement

LLA Headshot smBy Lenis L. Archer, J.D., M.P.H., The Health Law Firm

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to establish a process for sharing information about terminated Medicaid providers. The federal database, called Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program State Information Sharing System (MCSIS), is designed to prevent terminated health care providers from billing another state’s program. However, an audit by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG), released in March 2014, states the MCSIS is not working as intended.

The MCSIS is supposed to collect data from every state Medicaid program on providers that were terminated from Medicaid for cause. However, the report found that the HHS OIG is not receiving data from 17 states or the District of Columbia. It was also found that a majority of the data does not meet the ACA criteria.

To read the entire report from the HHS OIG, click here.

Specific Issues Within Database.

According to the OIG, only 27% of the 6,439 MCSIS records involve terminated Medicaid providers. The database is filled with providers who had not been terminated, but rather had died, retired, left the state or stopped working with Medicaid of their own accord. It is also reported that about one-third of the records are not related to for-cause provider terminations. A majority of the data comes from California, Pennsylvania, Illinois and New York. According to Reuters, more than half of the records submitted did not include a National Provider Identification number, which is critical to any state trying to identify a terminated provider.

Click here to read the entire article from Reuters.

Recommendations to Improve Database.

CMS is now exploring options to implement mandatory state reporting. The agency has begun requiring that states submit termination letters for each provider entered in the MCSIS, and that CMS employees review each letter to ensure the provider belongs in the system.

What This Means for Medicaid Providers.

As CMS works to improve this database, those providers who have fallen through the cracks due to the reporting lag will now face repercussions for exclusion. Exclusion from Medicaid could mean exclusion from Medicare and other federal providers. It is important that health care providers know their status regarding exclusion, and contact an experience attorneys to assist them in having their names removed from exclusion lists.

To read more on the devastating consequences of exclusion, click here for a previous blog.

Contact Attorneys Experienced in Defending Against Action to Exclude an Individual or Business from the Medicare or Medicaid Programs.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm have experience in dealing with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and defending against action to exclude an individual or business entity from the Medicare or Medicaid  Programs, in administrative hearings on this type of action, in submitting applications requesting reinstatement to the Medicare Program after exclusion, and removal from the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE).

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

Comments?

As a health care provider, do you know your status regarding exclusion? Are you aware of the consequences of being excluded? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Pell, M.B. “U.S Database for Tracking Medicaid Fraud Fall Short, Auditor Says.” Reuters. (March 27, 2014). From: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/27/us-usa-medicaid-database-idUSBREA2Q08D20140327

Levinson, Daniel. “CMS’s Process for Sharing Information About Terminated Providers Needs Improvement.” Department of Health and Human Service Office of Inspector General. (March 2014). From: http://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-06-12-00031.pdf

About the Author: Lenis L. Archer is as 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.

“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.

CMS in the Hot Seat for Lax Oversight of Medicaid Managed Care Organizations

LLA Headshot smBy Lenis L. Archer, J.D., M.P.H., The Health Law Firm

For years, each state has kept an eye on its own Medicaid managed care plans, while the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is required to monitor how well each individual state is doing. However, a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report claims CMS is sleeping on the job. The report, released on June 20, 2014, stresses the need for more federal oversight of these plans.

With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Medicaid program is expected to expand significantly. Most of the new beneficiaries enrolled in managed care are covered almost entirely by federal funds. The need for federal oversight in this area is of growing importance to ensure accountability of taxpayers’ dollars.

To read the entire report from the GAO, click here.

Report Findings: MCOs Need to be Watched by the Feds.

The persistent theme of the GAO report is that CMS and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have done little to control the integrity of managed care organizations (MCOs). Federal programs have delegated managed care supervision to each individual state, but fail to provide needed guidelines and resources. CMS has not updated its MCO program guidance since 2000.

The report found neither state nor federal programs are well positioned to identify improper payments made to MCOs. Further, these programs are unable to ensure that MCOs are taking appropriate actions to identify, prevent or discourage improper payments.

For example, the report looked at state program integrity (PI) units and Medicaid Fraud Control Units (MFCU) from seven states. These anti-fraud groups admitted to primarily focusing their efforts on Medicaid fee-for-service claims. Meanwhile, claims made to MCOs have flown under their radar.

GAO Recommendations.

The GAO recommends that CMS:

– Require states to conduct audits of payments to and by MCOs;

– Update its managed care guidance program integrity practices and effective handling of MCO recoveries; and

– Provide states with additional support in overseeing MCO program integrity.

The GAO also suggests that CMS increase its oversight, especially as states expand their Medicaid programs. The GAO report recommends CMS take a bigger role in holding states accountable to ensure adequate program integrity efforts in the Medicaid managed care program. If CMS does not step up to the plate, the report predicts a growing number of federal Medicaid dollars will become vulnerable to improper payments.

The Future of MCOs.

If this report is taken seriously, be assured that audits of MCOs will become more frequent and extensive. If CMS ramps up their efforts, claims could be reviewed in detail by Medicaid integrity contractors. Now is the time to verify you are in compliance and receiving proper payments; before CMS turns the magnifying glass on you or your facility .

Comments?

What do you think of the GAO’s assessment of MCOs? Do you think CMS needs to step up and provide more oversight? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

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

Medicaid fraud is a serious crime and is vigorously investigated by the state MFCU, the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), the Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPICs), the FBI, and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Other state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), and other law enforcement agencies often participate. Don’t wait until it’s too late. If you are concerned about possible violations and would like a confidential consultation, contact a qualified health attorney familiar with medical billing and audits today. Often Medicaid fraud criminal charges arise out of routine Medicaid audits, probe audits, or patient complaints.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent physicians, dentists, orthodontists, medical groups, clinics, pharmacies, assisted living facilities (AFLs), home health care 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:

Mullaney, Tim. “Federal Government Needs to Boost Medicaid Managed Care Oversight, GAO Says.” McKnight’s Long-Term Care & Assisted Living. (June 20, 2014). From: http://www.mcknights.com/federal-government-needs-to-boost-medicaid-managed-care-oversight-gao-says/article/356779/

Adamopoulos, Helen. “GAI Calls on CMS to Increase Medicaid Managed Care Oversight.” Becker’s Hospital Review. (June 20, 2014). From: http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/gao-calls-on-cms-to-increase-medicaid-managed-care-oversight.html

Bergal, Jenni. “Advocates Urge More Government Oversight of Medicaid Managed Care.” Kaiser Health News. (July 5, 2013). From: http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/stories/2013/july/05/medicaid-managed-care-states-quality.aspx?referrer=search

About the Author: Lenis L. Archer is as 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.

“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.

 

The RACs, They’re Back! The Return of Medicare Recovery Audits

Patricia's Photos 013By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

All good things must come to an end. This includes the two-month hiatus from Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs) that healthcare professionals enjoyed. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is restarting audits of Medicare fee-for-service claims on a limited basis. The program has been suspended since June 1, 2014, due to expired contracts.

CMS announced the return of RACs on August 4, 2014.

Click here to read the latest announcements on Medicare recovery audits from CMS.

From what we have heard, there were serious problems with some of the audits that had been conducted by the RACs and CMS desired to start over with a clean slate. Just saying!

What Does Limited Basis Mean?

According to CMS, current RACs will conduct a limited number of automated reviews and a small number of complex reviews on certain claims including, but not limited to:

– Spinal fusions;
– Outpatient therapy services;
– Durable medical equipment;
– Prosthetics;
– Orthotics; and
– Supplies and cosmetic procedures.

RACs will not conduct any inpatient hospital patient status reviews for now. In the past, short inpatient stays accounted for 91 percent of the money the program recovered for Medicare.

Controversial Program.

According to an article on HealthData Management, in February 2014, members of congress argued that parts of the RAC program are unfair and violate the way that the Medicare program was intended to operate by raising out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries. To address this concern, CMS established a provider relations coordinator to increase program transparency. This was announced in June 2014, so it is too soon to determine if this position will help providers affected by the medical review process. Click here to read more from HealthData Management.

Healthcare providers have complained that they are fed up with Medicare recovery audits tying up crucial funds and physician time in endless appeals. Currently, appeals can take up to five years. There is also a two-year moratorium in place preventing new appeals from being filed. You may remember my previous blog on the enormous backlog of Medicare recovery audit appeals. Click here to read that post.

What Exactly is a RAC?

RACs are often referred to as “bounty hunters.” They are private companies contracted by CMS, used to identify Medicare overpayments and underpayments, and return Medicare overpayments to the Medicare Trust Fund. Since the program began in 2009, it has brought in more than $8 billion in allegedly fraudulent, wasteful and abusive payments to healthcare providers.

How to Prepare for a Medicare Recovery Audit.

There is no such thing as a routine Medicare audit. The fact is that there is some item you have claimed as a Medicare provider or the amount of claims Medicare has paid in a certain category that has caused you or your practice to be audited.

I previously wrote a blog highlighting some of the actions we recommend you take in responding to a Medicare audit. The most important step you should take is to consult an experienced health law attorney early in the audit process to assist in preparing the response. Click here to read more on how to respond to a Medicare audit.

We Told You RACs Would Be Back.

RACs apparently caught $3.7 billion in allegedly wasteful payments that Medicare made to healthcare providers in 2013, and was allegedly on pace to bring back $5 billion this year. That’s why the government was eager to get RACs back to work.

It is extremely 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.

Comments?

What do you think about the return of Medicare recovery audits? What are you thoughts on Recovery Audit Contractors? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

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.

Sources:

Demko, Paul. “Controversial Medicare Recovery Audits Make Limited Return.” Modern Healthcare. (August 5, 2014). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20140805/NEWS/308059962/controversial-medicare-recovery-audits-make-limited-return

Goedert, Joseph. “CMS Restarts Parts of the RAC Program.” HealthData Management. (August 5,2014). From: http://www.healthdatamanagement.com/news/CMS-Restarts-Parts-of-the-RAC-Program-48553-1.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.

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