Counsel for HHS-OIG Discusses the Impact of Health Care Reform on Enforcement with Congress

June 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Medicare Audits

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(June 22, 2010):  In his testimony last week before the Health and Oversight Subcommittees of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Lewis Morris, Chief Counsel to the Inspector General (OIG) of Health and Human Services (HHS), emphasized the increasing speed and intensity of HHS-OIG’s multi-pronged health care fraud enforcement efforts.  Morris’ testimony reinforces the need for Medicare providers and suppliers to aggressively prepare for a knock on the door from HHS-OIG or one of its many enforcement partners.

Morris highlighted numerous new enforcement tools available under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), paying particular attention to innovations in data access and use.  These measures include consolidating and sharing data across agencies, as well as deploying new technology that allows “investigators to complete in a matter of days analysis that used to take months with traditional investigative tools.” 

He further praised the enhanced accountability measures contained in PPACA, such as HHS-OIG’s ability to impose civil monetary penalties for “failing to grant [upon reasonable request] timely access to HHS-OIG for investigations, audits, or evaluations.”  Notably, PPACA Section 6408 provides for a penalty of $15,000 for each day for failure to grant access.

Morris’ testimony also reminded the health care community that:

  • PPACA allows the HHS Secretary to suspend payments to providers or suppliers based on credible evidence of fraud.  At the same time, it expands the types of conduct constituting Federal health care fraud offenses under Title 18.
  • HHS-OIG has improved access to information from entities directly or indirectly involved in providing medical items or services payable by any Federal program.

Perhaps most significantly:

  • Medicare and Medicaid program integrity contractors (i.e., ZPICs and PSCs) are required to provide performance statistics, “including the number and amount of overpayments recovered, number of fraud referrals, and the return on investment of such activities.” (emphasis added).

 While not surprising, it is nonetheless disconcerting that ZPICs and PSCs are essentially being “graded” based on the amount of overpayments recovered,” along with the number of enforcement actions handled and referred to law enforcement.  Based on these performance measures, is there any real difference between ZPICs and RACs?  While RACs may be compensated directly based on the amount of overpayments collected (and ZPICs are not), it is crystal clear that the government’s expectations of ZPICs are quite similar.  Now, more than ever before, it is essential that providers implement effective compliance measures to cover their practices and clinics.

Should you have any questions regarding these issues, don’t hesitate to contact us.  For a complementary consultation, you may call Robert W. Liles or one of our other attorneys at 1 (800) 475-1906.

President Obama Publicizes Measures to Fight Health Care Fraud. . . Again. . .

June 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Medicare Audits

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(June 8, 2010):  For those of you who missed the first two dozen pronouncements (okay, perhaps a little exaggerated, but still . . . we the message when Congress made it a False Claims Act violation to hold onto a mere overpayment for more than 60 days), President Barack Obama has again expressed his concern about health care fraud in a national Town Hall video teleconference with Senior Citizens across the country.  He took this opportunity to further publicize his “national campaign to combat fraud and misinformation” regarding the Medicare program and the Affordable Care Act.

As President Obama reiterated, the current Administration is committed to fighting health care fraud.  To that end, the following steps have been taken:

The President has directed HHS to cut the improper payment rate, which tracks fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare Fee for Services program, in half by 2012.

 The Administration has helped support a renewed partnership between the Federal government and state Attorneys General. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder today sent a letter to state Attorneys General urging them to vigorously prosecute criminals who seek to steal from seniors and taxpayers and pledged the support of federal officials for state efforts.

 A nationwide series of anti-fraud summits hosted by the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services will bring federal, state and local officials together with representatives from the private sector to discuss tactics to fight fraud. The first summit will be held in Miami with additional summits in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Detroit, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

 A redoubling of efforts by U.S. Attorneys nationwide to coordinate with state and local law enforcement to prevent and prosecute fraud. Today, Attorney General Holder called on U.S. Attorneys to hold regular forums with local officials to discuss how to better crack down on criminals who commit fraud.

 Notably, the current administration’s focus on health care fraud enforcement is reminiscent of the major initiatives rolled out during the President Clinton’s terms in office.  As you may recall, Attorney General Reno named “Health Care Fraud” as the Department of Justice’s “#1” white collar priority.  While many voters tend to associate Republicans with “pro-law enforcement” and “anti-fraud” measures, the Democrats have clearly led in the area of health care fraud enforcement.  While the government’s review of Medicare billings have been broad-based, health care providers in Florida, Louisana, Texas and Tennessee appear to be expecially hard hit.  Medicare claims have been (and are continuing to be) audited by  ZPICs and PSCs througout the South.  Regrettably, in many cases we have found that the contractors’ audit findings have been severely flawed, failing to properly the LCD’s provisions, missing key information in the medical records submitted by the health care provider for review and asserting conclusions that are unsupported by any evidence in the case.    As a result, providers have been forced to appeal the ZPIC / PSC denial decisions through the administrative appeals system, a time-consuming and expensive process.

In any event, the message is quite clear – the current administration has been, and will continue to be, extremely aggressive in its efforts to identify and pursue both alleged overpayments and instances of health care fraud.  Unfortunately, with recent changes to the False Claims Act and the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute, incidents that might have otherwise qualified as a mere overpayment may be viewed quite differently today by Federal prosecutors. Health care providers should diligently work to ensure that their operations, coding and billing activities fully comply with statutory and regulatory requirements.

Should you have any questions regarding these issues, don’t hesitate to contact us.  For a complementary consultation, you may call Robert W. Liles or one of our other attorneys at 1 (800) 475-1906.

 

 

 

 

You’ve Got to be Kidding. . . the Government Wants More “Bounty Hunters” Conducting Medicare Audits?

March 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Medicare Audits

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(March 12, 2010): Yesterday, the White House announced that President Obama  intends to back additional bipartisan plans to stamp out waste in government-run medical programs for the elderly and needy.  The White House said this new effort to root out improper payments in the Medicare and Medicaid programs could double taxpayer savings over the next three years to at least $2 billion.

“We cannot afford nor should we tolerate this waste of taxpayer dollars,” the White House said.   The government believes that approximately $54 billion was lost through improper Medicare and Medicaid payments in 2009. Medicare is the government-run program covering elderly Americans and Medicaid is for the country’s poorest.

President Obama is seeking to crack down on waste and fraud as his administration strives to secure an overhaul of the $2.5 trillion healthcare system to contain costs and expand coverage to tens of millions of more Americans.  The action endorses Republican-backed proposals on alleged health care wrongdoers.

Similar to the current RAC reimbursement scheme, the proposed new plan will offer private auditors a share of the money that they recoup in order to encourage them to work harder to uncover improper payments under Medicare and Medicaid.   President Obama is also expected to back bipartisan legislation to expand the ability of government agencies to undertake these so-called payment recapture audits by providing more funds.  No additional information on how this will impact CMS was given.

As many health care providers will readily attest, over the past year, it appears that there has been a marked increase in PSC and ZPIC audits, almost all of which are accompanied by demands for extrapolated damages.  Once again, this points to the importance of self-assessment and an effective compliance strategy.  Asked to comment on this new “risk” to health care providers, Robert W. Liles, Managing Partner at Liles Parker, Attorneys and Counselors at Law, responded:

”Our firm has represented a number of health care providers around the country.  We have aggressively fought to have improper claims denial overturned.  This new risk will increase the likelihood that providers who have not been subjected to RAC audits in the past may now find themselves being examined by RAC-like auditors in the future.  Coupled with existing PSC and ZPIC audits, sole practitioners, small practice groups and clinics will find their coding and billing practice under the spotlight.  Unfortunately, based on recent cases we have handled, it appears that PSCs and ZPICs are increasingly imposing their own views regarding what is required, well beyond the four corners of CMS-authorized provisions set out under LCDs and LMRPs covering the services at issue.  Fortunately, when faced with the facts, ALJs have applied a reasonable approach and most of the claims at issue have been found to be payable.  We recommend that health care providers carefully review their documentation practices to lessen the likelihood that ZPICs, PSCs, RACs and these new third-party reviewers can successfully argue that the claims don’t qualify for coverage.”

Should you have any questions regarding these issues, don’t hesitate to contact us.  For a complementary consultation, you may call Robert W. Liles or one of our other attorneys at 1 (800) 475-1906.

Hold on Tight – 2010 Could be Rough for Providers. . .

February 27, 2010 by  
Filed under HEAT Enforcement

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(February 27, 2010): The number of auditors, reviewers, investigators and prosecutors going after health care providers is increasing and signals an alarming, unprecedented effort by the government to uncover and recover alleged Medicare overpayments to health care providers.

Health care providers now face not only simple repayment demands, but also civil False Claims Act cases and criminal Medicare / Medicaid fraud claims identified by various new government contractors. Regrettably, we have seen unintentional mistakes, incomplete documentation and technical errors cited as the basis for seeking the repayment of millions of dollars, representing Medicare services rendered long ago, in some cases as many seven years before the demand letter was sent.  Perhaps most troubling is the fact that no one, including the ZPIC and / or PSC conducting the medical review, doubts that the medical services were rendered and in most cases, the Medicare beneficiary benefited from the care and treatment provided.  Today, every health care provider must beware of:

  • “RACs” — Recovery Audit Contractors.
  • “ZPICs” — Zone Program Integrity Contractors.
  • “MICs” — Medicaid Integrity Contractors.
  • “MCFU” — Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.
  • “HHS-OIG” — Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General.
  • “DOJ” — U.S. Department of Justice, and
  • “HEAT” — Healthcare Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Task Force (in a number of U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country).

RACs and the havoc they are expected to wreak is old news, quite frankly. The newest players in town, ZPICs, MICs and HEAT Teams should be at the top of your current list of concerns. As you will recall,   CMS consolidated functions of all Program Safeguard Contractors (PSCs) and Medicare Prescription Drug Integrity Control (MEDIC) contracts into ZPIC contracts.  ZPICs are designed to combine claims data (FIs, Regional Home Health Intermediary, Carrier, DMERC) and other data to create a platform for documenting complex data analysis.  While RACs (until recently) have focused solely on recovering money, ZIPCs also look for fraud.

MICs are just now revving up around the country.  Unburdened by many of the restrictions placed on RACs, providers with a heavy Medicaid beneficiary base should diligently review their Medicaid coding and billing efforts to better ensure compliance with applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.

HEAT Teams are made up of top level law enforcement and professional staff from DOJ and HHS.  HEAT was implemented to prevent fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws and prevent waste that focuses on improving data and information sharing between the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services and law enforcement agencies.  HEAT is working to strengthen program integrity activities to monitor and ensure compliance and enforcement.  HEAT’s tools to identify fraud include hotlines and web sites for healthcare workers and ordinary citizens.  Furthermore, HEAT officials are helping state Medicaid officials conduct better audits and provide better monitoring to detect fraudulent activities.

Should you have any questions regarding these issues, don’t hesitate to contact us.  For a complementary consultation, you may call Robert W. Liles or one of our other attorneys at 1 (800) 475-1906.