I. HHS-OIG Report Concerning Texas HHAs.
A recent report by HHS-OIG found that a substantial number of home health agency (HHA) billings in Texas were fraudulent or inappropriate. The report noted that several common schemes were identified among home health agencies and used to sort out potentially fraudulent providers, including:
1. Overlapping with claims for inpatient hospital stays
2. Overlapping with claims for skilled nursing facility stays
3. Billing for services on dates after beneficiaries’ deaths
The HHS-OIG, CMS, and CMS Contractors (ZPICs, RACs, and MACs) are using comparative data mining to view HHS claims under a microscope, looking for any clues of impropriety, such as the errors above. Importantly, OIG found that one in four HHAs (25%) exceeded one of its sample thresholds that indicated questionable billing. Of all those HHAs with questionable billing, the majority were located in Texas. HHS-OIG recommended to CMS that several processes occur:
1. Implement a claims processing edit or improve existing edits to prevent inappropriate HHA payments for the three specific errors identified above
2. Increase monitoring of billing for home health services
3. Enforce and consider lowering the 10-percent cap on the total outlier payments an HHA may receive annually
4. Consider imposing a temporary moratorium on new HHA enrollments in Florida and Texas
5. Take appropriate action (i.e. audits and overpayment recovery) regarding the inappropriate payments OIG identified in its sample.
II. What Do These Things Mean To Your Texas Home Health HHA?
For Texas providers, the most important takeaway is that OIG has recommended (and CMS has stated it will implement) a moratorium on new HHA enrollment. That means no new agencies in the state of Texas, and, if the ban ever gets lifted, every new HHA application will be scrutinized with the utmost care. Moreover, if you close down your business, lose a provider number, or attempt to re-open an HHA, you may not be able to successfully accomplish that in Texas. In addition, CMS may even consider a reassessment of every re-enrollment application it receives from HHAs in the state of Texas.
Moreover, OIG recommended enforcement of the 10% cap on annual outlier payments. This means that an HHA who is an outlier (perhaps because of an unusually complex patient load or a large degree of business) may see their payments capped at 10% greater than the “standard” payment numbers. For an HHA that is expending a lot of resources on staff and providing high quality care to complex beneficiaries, this could represent a real problem.
Finally, CMS and Health Integrity (the Texas ZPIC) will likely closely monitor each and every HHA claim. While HHAs will continue to receive funding under the Prospective Payment System (PPS), expect a substantial increase of both post payment audits and prepayment audits. As Health Integrity begins administrative audits of those HHAs that were targeted in the sample (they may not even know their claims were reviewed since the process was entirely data-driven), many agencies may face increased scrutiny and across-the-board payment denials.
III. What You Can Do for Your Family
There are 2 steps each HHA should take. First, if you haven’t already done so, implement an effective compliance plan. Second, retain an experienced Medicare post payment audit appeals attorney to represent you through the appeals process.
A compliance plan will give your organization the tools and understanding it needs to ensure that claims are coded and billed in an appropriate fashion and that your company’s business practices and arrangements comply with the numerous laws concerning patient referrals and illegal payments. An effective compliance program begins with a gap analysis and usually includes all seven elements of a compliance plan as a framework. It is important that your staff receives comprehensive training and clear, consistent guidance on what you and your organization expect from each individual member with regards to compliance. For more ways to do this, call us today.
Second, if you have received any correspondence from Health Integrity, you should not hesitate to call an experienced Medicare appeals attorney. Both before the audit results come and after, an attorney skilled in Medicare audits and appeals can give you the guidance you need to give your claims their best chance at eventual payment. While the process can be long and arduous, in many cases it is “do or die” for your business. Health Integrity regularly imposes overpayment demands of one million dollars or more when auditing HHA claims. When the stakes are that high, you need someone on your side you can trust and who knows how this process works.
Robert W. Liles represents providers in Medicare post-payment audits and appeals, and similar appeals under Medicaid. In addition, Robert counsels clients on regulatory compliance issues, performs gap analyses and internal reviews, and trains healthcare professionals on various legal issues. For a free consultation, call Robert today at 1-800-475-1906.
Home Health Agency “Patient Recruiter” Sentenced to 63 Months in Prison for Allegedly Committing Health Care Fraud
(October 18, 2010): The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, working with the FBI and HHS-OIG has announced the sentencing of yet another defendant convicted of home health fraud. As the Department of Justice’s Press Release reflects, the defendant, a nurse who worked as a “patient recruiter“ and operator of a Detroit-area home health agency, allegedly solicited Medicare beneficiaries for the home health agency where he worked and “offered them cash kickbacks in exchange for their Medicare patient information and signatures on medical documents.” The defendant also allegedly:
“admitted that he knew the beneficiaries he recruited were neither homebound nor in need of physical therapy services.” Finally, the defendant allegedly “admitted in court papers that he knew [the home health agency] used the beneficiaries’ Medicare information to bill Medicare for physical therapy that was medically unnecessary and / or never performed.” (emphasis added).
As a result, it was estimated that $6.96 million in “false or fraudulent claims [were submitted] to the Medicare program.” In this case, the defendant was sentenced to 63 months in prison for his actions.
Commentary: Over the last few months, a number of criminal prosecutions have been brought against “patient recruiters” working for home health agencies who have allegedly been involved in wrongdoing. In most cases, the defendants have been alleged to have improperly used the Medicare information of these patients to improperly bill for services that were not medically necessary and / or were not rendered. In light of these cases, it is recommended that home health agencies carefully review their marketing practices to verify that the conduct of their employees or contractors does not violate applicable statutory and regulatory requirements. It is also recommended that home health agency Compliance Officers work with outside counsel to engage outside billing / coding personnel to conduct periodic home health claims reviews so that the propriety of the skilled nursing services billed can be properly verified.
Liles Parker attorneys represent home health agencies and their officers in Medicare audits and investigations. Please call 1 (800) 475-1906 for a free consultation.