By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
We have gotten calls from many mental health professionals who have been placed on prepayment review after failing to challenge Medicare or Medicaid audit results. Once placed on prepayment review, the payments are held up for many months. Some providers are even forced out of business as a result.
Failing to challenge, follow-up on, and appeal any adverse audit results can be very detrimental. An error rate above 15% will usually result in the provider being placed on prepayment review.
What Happens During Prepayment Review.
While on prepayment review, the provider will be required to submit documentation for medical records by mail to support each claim submitted. Additionally, they must have those claims and supporting documentation audited, before any claims are paid. Often, the auditing agency will come back to the provider repeatedly to demand additional information and documentation on claims instead of immediately processing them. This can hold up the processing of the claim for months. Often, the resulting termination of income flow will force the provider out of business. This saves the government lots of money because the provider has then provided services to Medicare or Medicaid recipients for many months without getting paid for it.
These are some of the reasons why we recommend that healthcare providers always hire a Board Certified Health Law Attorney experienced in Medicare and Medicaid audits from the very beginning.
A Real-Life Example of the Trouble Caused by a Medicare Audit.
In one case we are familiar with, a therapist was audited by Medicare. The audit by the Medicare administrative contractor (MAC) requested only 30 records. The therapist provided copies of the records he thought the auditors wanted. He did not number the pages or keep an exact copy of what he provided. The MAC came back and denied 1% of the claims audited.
However, since the amount demanded back by the MAC was only a few thousand dollars, the therapist never hired an attorney and never challenged the results. Instead of retaining legal counsel and appealing the results, the therapist paid the entire amount, thinking that was the easy way out.
Unfortunately, because of the high error rate, the MAC immediately placed the therapist on a prepayment review of all claims, assuming the prior audit had disclosed fraud or intentional false coding. All claims the provider submitted from that point on had to be submitted on paper with supporting medical records sent in by mail. The MAC refused to decide on any of the claims, instead, holding them and requesting additional documentation and information from time to time. As a result, the therapist has most of his claims tied up in prepayment review, some for as long as five months with no-decision.
The therapist conveyed to me that he contacted the auditor to attempt to obtain decisions on some of his claims so that he could at least begin the appeal process if the claims are denied. He advised me that the auditor at the MAC expressed surprise that he was still in business.
Challenge Improperly Denied or Reduced Claims.
These situations are very unfair and unjust, especially to smaller healthcare providers. The reduced cash flow even for a month or two may be enough to drive some small providers out of business. Larger healthcare providers have vast resources sufficient to handle such audit situations on a routine basis. They may have similar problems but are better equipped and have more resources to promptly handle it. Rather than immediately pay whatever amount is demanded on an audit and waive any appeal/review rights, the provider should review each claim denied or reduced and challenge the ones that have been improperly denied or reduced. Otherwise, you may wind up with a high error rate which will cause you to be placed into prepayment review. Once placed in the prepayment review, it is difficult to get out of it. Often, it takes six months or longer.
Don’t Get Caught Up in the Audit Cycle.
The audit contractors will keep you on an audit cycle for many future audits if they are successful in obtaining any sort of recovery from you on the initial audit. This is similar to what happens if your tax return is audited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). If they recover a significant payment from you because you did not have the documentation to support your deductions, you can expect to be audited for at least the next two years.
The value of competent legal representation at the beginning of an audit cannot be overestimated. It is usually long after the audit is over, and the time to appeal the audit agency’s findings has passed, that the health care provider realizes he should have retained an audit consultation.
Click here to read one of my prior blogs about Medicare audits and challenging an OIG exclusion.
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.
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.
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