In our Georgia business and healthcare law firm, we have noticed that cases involving Medicare fraud and billing compliance issues are published on virtually a daily basis, underscoring the critical need that physicians, nurses and other care providers and billing professionals exercise caution and vigilance in billing Medicare or other third party payers. For example, last week in Dallas, Texas, two physicians and three nurses were sentenced to prison for submitting fraudulent claims to Medicare through a home healthcare agency. The financial harm and potential billing fraud and serious “zero tolerance policy” of the Office of the Inspector and Federal Government for Medicare fraud has enhanced the financial and legal risks to healthcare providers and billing companies for all billing discrepancies. The OIG published its 2018 National Health Care Fraud Takedown providing the following statistics, which reflect law enforcement efforts to combat healthcare fraud and abuse:
In early August, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published an updated set of guidelines stating that hospitals will now be required to annually publish a list of charges online. CMS announced that the change in guidelines will “help improve access to hospital price information” and “give patients greater access to their health information.” However, hospitals are contending that the new guidelines may be problematic as they do not show prices after negotiating with insurance companies. Jeffrey Bomme, the chief legal officer at Adventist Health System, commented on the new guidelines stating the charges will not be relevant to patients because the bill may be reduced or some services may have no charge due to a hospital’s charity policy. These reported prices may also mean that patients neglect needed care because of the listed price and not the price that they may have to pay out of pocket, says Tom Nickels, executive vice president for government affairs and public policy at the American Hospital Association. Yet, the CMS feels as though the new rule will “incentivize value-based, quality care at these facilities.”
Earlier this month, Doximity released a new study that provides a national review of physician compensation information and job trends, as the strong trend of physician employment by hospital systems continues. Doximity, formed in 2011, is “the largest community of healthcare professionals in the country,” according to its website. More than 70% of physicians in the United States are verified Doximity members. Doximity is a network of physicians and other healthcare practitioners. Doximity’s membership also includes many nurse practitioners, physician assistants and pharmacists. More about Doximity can be learned from its website, www.doximity.com.
The study analyzes thousands of job advertisements posted in 20 of the nation’s largest cities and involving 15 common medical specialties. Compensation growth was calculated using self-reporting from compensation surveys of tens of thousands of full time U.S. physicians. Physician compensation grew 5.1 percent in 2017, according to the study.
The United States Department of Health and Human Resources (HHS) and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) recently issued a joint annual report for 2016 (the Report) providing details about the federal fraud and abuse program and, in particular, annual financial recoveries. Fraud and abuse law enforcement efforts continued to be a top priority for the Federal Government and an important means of defraying the rising costs of our nation’s healthcare delivery system. According to the Report, the Federal Government obtained over $2.5 billion in additional revenue in 2016 by way of health care fraud judgments and settlements.
The US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) says that it cannot meet the requirements of a federal court order to reduce the horrible backlog of Medicare appeals cases that for many years has plagued the United States and adversely impacted the ability of health care providers to be paid. The problem has been under scrutiny for some time, and the US General Accountability Office (GAO) has outlined in a report various inefficiencies to which the GAO attributes the problem. Health care providers in many instances are completely unable to, in a timely manner, vindicate their claims in Medicare appeals. Nevertheless, HHS contends that it needs more money from Congress to fix the problem.
In a case styled Am. Hosp.Assn v. Burwell, D.D.C., No. 14-cv-851, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia entered a recent Order wherein the Federal Court set annual backlog reduction targets of 30, 60, 90 and 100 percent over the next four years. In the case, the American Hospital Association and affiliated entities requested that the United States District Court compel HHS to adjudicate pending Medicare-reimbursement appeals in compliance with statutory deadlines. As explained in the Order, hundreds of thousands of appeals have languished in a terrible backlog. In the case, HHS contended that mandamus (i.e., a Court-ordered solution) was not necessary and that HHS would, eventually, resolve the issue. The Plaintiff, however, contended that a Court-ordered (and enforceable) time table for a solution was required in light of HHS’ failure thus far to fix the problem. The Plaintiff proposed the following timetable for reduction of the backlog:
Credentialing is used to evaluate physicians for different purposes and is required of almost all physicians. It is utilized by hospitals when evaluating physicians for medical staff positions and hospital privileges and when enrolling in health insurance plans as a participating provider. Unfortunately, this process has not been streamlined and can be very time consuming and complex.
Provider credentialing is meant to verify experience, expertise, and willingness to provide medical care. It is often a complex, ongoing process that can take several months to be completed and approved and is an administrative hassle for employers, insurance companies, and physicians. While credentialing was historically just proof of licensure, modern credentialing goes far beyond proof of diploma and license.
Earlier this month, the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) issued its monthly anticipated report (the Report) to Congress about the status of the Medicare Appeals backlog. The Report states on the first page, “Opportunities Remain to Improve Appeals Process,” which is a gross understatement and will likely be received with frustration by unpaid providers. At least it appears the backlog is on Congress’ radar and someone is trying to do something to improve this very difficult problem that adversely impacts so many providers.
Vitreo Retinal Consultants of the Palm Beaches, P.A. (VRC) sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources (HHS) to recover payments it made to Medicare, having previously refunded the payments to Medicare based on Medicare’s notice of overpayment. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the decision of the U.S. District Court, which upheld the administrative decision supporting Medicare’s overpayment notice. The ophthalmologist/owner of the VRC was indicted and charged with 46 counts of healthcare fraud, according to a Department of Justice press release.
Georgia Medicare Reimbursement Attorneys
VRC treated Medicare patients who suffered from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and similar retinal diseases with intravitreal injections of Lucentis, a Medicare Part B drug approved by the FDA. There was no dispute in the case that the drug was medically reasonable and necessary for treatment of AMD. However, the FDA labeling instructed that the full contents of the 2.0-mg vial be injected into a syringe for purposes of injecting a single 0.5-mg dose of Lucentis into the patient’s eye once a month. The label clearly stated that “[e]ach vial should only be used for the treatment of a single eye.” VRC did not follow the labeling instructions; rather, it treated up to three patients from a single vile.
Based on applicable Medicare reimbursement rates, if administered as per the FDA label, a physician would inject 0.5 mg into the patient’s eye, dispose of 1.5 mg, and receive reimbursement in the amount of approximately $2,025, the average total cost of the vial. VRC would bill Medicare $2,025 for every 0.5-mg dose it administered, however, and be reimbursed $2,025 for every dose. Since VRC would get up to three doses from a single vial, it was reimbursed up to $6,075 per vial, about three times the allowed reimbursement.
Medicare’s contractor issued a preliminary overpayment determination of $8.9 million. Reconsideration was denied and the overpayment determination was upheld by and administrative law judge and the Medicare Appeals Council. VRC filed suit, and the US District Court deferred to the agency decision.
The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently finalized a final rule to effectuate the federal government’s ability under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to recover self-identified overpayments, applicable to Medicare Parts A and B. CMS’ implementing overpayment rule is the latest sword in the government’s formidable arsenal to combat fraud and abuse with regard to healthcare reimbursement under federal programs. Physicians and other healthcare businesses and suppliers should take heed, as they will be subject to considerable potential financial liability and professional risks for noncompliance with the new overpayment rules. Our Atlanta/Augusta business and healthcare law firm follows developments in healthcare fraud and abuse laws.
New Teeth for ACA Fraud and Abuse Provisions
Section 6402 of the ACA requires physicians, healthcare providers and suppliers, managed care plans, and other groups to self-report and refund to the government any Medicare or Medicaid overpayments by the latter of 60 days from the date the overpayment is identified or the date any corresponding cost report is due. The failure to do so subjects the offending party to civil monetary penalties and exclusion from all federal healthcare reimbursement programs. Additionally, according to the new overpayment rules, the retained overpayment is an “obligation” under the False Claims Act (FCA), subjecting the violator to all the financial consequences that attend FCA liability. The new rule is part of CMS’ final regulations to implement the ACA’s requirements with regard to overpayments as concerns Medicare Part A and B.
CMS recently announced what it describes as the largest-ever multi-payer initiative to improve primary care in America,” known as Comprehensive Primary Care Plus (CPC+). Though much of the press release is couched in terms of improving patient care — and surely CPC+ is intended to do so — the real impetus appears to be the government’s critical need to control healthcare costs funded by federal programs.
Atlanta/Augusta, Georgia Physician Practice Lawyers
The idea is to support a new primary care delivery model that will incentivize and reward value and quality. The current Administration’s goal is to have 50% of all Medicare fee-for-service payments made via alternative payment models by 2018. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, which exists pursuant to Section 1115A of the Social Security Act (added under the Affordable Care Act) for the purpose of testing new payment and service delivery models, developed CPC+ as part of its mission, to aid the federal government in its efforts to curb its healthcare costs and enhance the quality of healthcare delivery.