Tag Archives: medicare

CMS Retreats on Jurisdiction for Medicare Provider Reimbursement Appeals of Self-Disallowed Items, But How Far?

By Christopher L. Crosswhite

On April 23, 2018, the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) adopted a new ruling conceding the jurisdiction of the Provider Reimbursement Review Board (“PRRB”) in certain circumstances over costs or items “self-disallowed” by the provider. In Ruling No. CMS-1727-R (the “Ruling”), the Administrator announced that the PRRB has jurisdiction over a provider’s appeal regarding Medicare payment for an item that the provider did not include in its cost report when the following circumstances exist:

  1. The appeal is pending on or after April 23, 2018, or was initiated on or after that date; and
  2. The cost reporting period under appeal ended on or after December 31, 2008, and began before January 1, 2016; and
  3. The provider had a good faith belief that the item was not allowable under Medicare regulations or payment policy.

This Ruling represents a retreat from regulations adopted in 2008, which required that in order to appeal an item to the PRRB, a provider must either claim Medicare payment for the item in its cost report or include the item as a protested amount in the cost report. CMS took the position that a provider could not be “dissatisfied” with the Medicare contractor’s determination of Medicare reimbursement, as required by the statute for a PRRB appeal, if the contractor made no determination on the item because it was not included in the cost report, even if reimbursement was prohibited under Medicare policy. The Ruling indicates that CMS is retreating from this position because of the 2016 decision of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in Banner Heart Hospital v. Burwell, which held that the PRRB had jurisdiction over the hospitals’ challenge to Medicare outlier payment regulations despite the hospitals’ failure to claim protested amounts related to their challenge. The district court found that a cost report claim for additional outlier payments would have been futile because the Medicare contractor had no authority or discretion under the outlier payment regulations to make payment as sought by the hospitals. The Ruling states that CMS has decided to apply the holding in Banner Heart in similar administrative appeals.

The Ruling does not entirely do away with the requirement of including an item in the cost report in order to pursue Medicare reimbursement for it in a subsequent appeal. First, the Ruling applies only if the cost reporting period under appeal began before January 1, 2016. This end date is not coincidental—for periods beginning on or after January 1, 2016, CMS has simply shifted the requirement that an item be included in the cost report from being a prerequisite for PRRB jurisdiction to being a so-called “general substantive requirement” for Medicare payment. Second, the Ruling applies only where the provider had a good faith belief that the item was not allowable. The Ruling indicates that “a provider would rarely be able to demonstrate a good faith belief that an item is not allowable when that item is actually allowable under a Medicare payment regulation or other policy.”

Unfortunately, the Ruling may muddy the waters regarding the use of protested amounts in the Medicare cost report. The Ruling acknowledges that providers sometimes claim items through protested amounts “out of concern that a cost report claim for reimbursement of an item deemed non-allowable might raise program integrity questions.” Notwithstanding the Ruling, “a provider still may elect to self-disallow a specific item deemed non-allowable by filing the pertinent parts of its cost report under protest.” But the Ruling then states as follows:

“However, if the PRRB… were to determine that, despite the provider’s self-disallowance of the specific item under appeal, the Medicare contractor actually had the authority or discretion to make payment for the specific item at issue in the manner sought by the provider on appeal and the provider did not demonstrate a good faith belief that such item is not allowable, then the [PRRB] shall apply the Third implementation step for this Ruling.”

Under the third implementation step, the provider’s appeal of the item is to be dismissed for failure to meet the “dissatisfaction” requirement for jurisdiction. One problem with this statement is that providers sometimes claim items as protested amounts where the Medicare contractor has disallowed the item in previous cost report audits for lack of sufficient documentation. The adequacy of documentation to support reimbursement is one area where the Medicare contractor would seem to have discretion to allow payment. Why would CMS want to discourage providers from taking a cautious approach in claiming items in the cost report that have been disallowed in previous audits?

Christopher L. Crosswhite practices in the area of healthcare law, concentrating on Medicare and Medicaid law and regulations, Medicare reimbursement controversies and appeals, and healthcare fraud and abuse provisions.

New York Times Critical of Nursing Home Arrangements with Related Companies

By Susan V. Kayser

The New York Times reported on January 2, 2018, that according to financial disclosures to Medicare, nursing home contracts with related companies accounted for $11 billion of nursing home spending in 2015. According to the report, this amounts to a tenth of nursing home costs. The basis of the Times report was an analysis undertaken by Kaiser Health News. The Times article, which focused on care problems encountered by a family at a New York nursing home, was critical of related-company arrangements, saying that they allow nursing home owners to arrange contracts where the nursing homes pay more than they might in a competitive market. Further, the article said, owners can “siphon off” profits that are not recorded on the nursing home’s books. The Times report stated that the Kaiser Health News analysis found that nursing homes doing business with related companies (1) employ, on average, 8 percent fewer nurses and aides; (2) were 9 percent more likely to have hurt residents or immediate jeopardy findings; (3) had 53 substantiated complaints for every 1,000 beds, compared with 32 per 1,000 beds where no related party arrangements were in place; and (4) were fined 22 percent more often for serious health violations and penalties at an average of $24,441, a rate 7 percent higher than homes with no related-party arrangements. The Kaiser analysis also found that for-profit nursing homes use related company arrangements more frequently than nonprofit corporations.

New SAMHSA Rule Allows Disclosure of Patient Substance Use for Payment, Healthcare Operations

By Lisa W. Clark and Erin M. Duffy

On January 3, 2018, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) finalized revisions to the Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records regulations, found in 42 CFR Part 2. The new final rule implements the changes proposed a year ago by SAMHSA in its supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM), which was issued alongside the first major changes to the federal regulations governing Part 2 covered data since 1987. After receiving public comment on the SNPRM, SAMHSA has finalized provisions relating to the disclosure of patient-identifying substance use information for payment and healthcare-related purposes and the disclosure of patient-identifying substance use information for the purposes of carrying out a Medicaid, Medicare or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) audit or evaluation. The new final rule also permits lawful holders to issue an abbreviated notice of the prohibition on redisclosure to accommodate electronic health record systems with standard character limitations on free text fields.

Read the full story on the Duane Morris LLP website.

Cybersecurity and Emergency Preparedness for Long-Term Care

On January 13, 2017, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) sent a Memorandum (“Memo”) to State survey agency directors encouraging long-term care providers to “consider cybersecurity when developing or reviewing their emergency preparedness plans.” The Memo was a follow-up to the CMS long-term care emergency preparedness rule published in the Federal Register on September 16, 2016: “Medicare and Medicaid Programs; Emergency Preparedness Requirements for Medicare and Medicaid Participating Providers and Suppliers.” Under that final rule, long-term care facilities were held to additional standards, including requirements to have emergency and standby power systems in place. Nursing homes were also required to create plans regarding missing residents that could be activated regardless of whether the facility has activated its full-scale emergency plan. The rule was spurred on by recent flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and other emergency disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, according to CMS.

Whether State surveyors will actually enforce lack of cybersecurity plans for emergency preparedness as violations remains to be seen from this Memo. But certainly, a State survey agency could impose deficiencies for failure to have a proper cybersecurity plan and/or a proper cybersecurity back‑up plan as part of a facility’s emergency preparedness going forward. It is not clear why CMS decided to send this encouragement Memo three months after the Final Rule on emergency preparedness, but it likely has something to do with the fact that 2016 was a banner year for HIPAA privacy infractions and HIPAA enforcement by the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”), the entity responsible for HIPAA compliance. In 2016, payouts for HIPAA violations skyrocketed to record heights of $23.51 million from OCR enforcers against health care providers. That number was triple the previous record of almost $7.94 million in payouts in 2014, followed by $6.19 million in payouts in 2015.

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Another Healthcare Fraudster Convicted

In addition to the sentencing Tuesday of Patricia Akamnonu, owner of Ultimate Care Home Health Services, for 10 years for conspiring with her husband and others to commit healthcare fraud, late yesterday the owner and manager of three Miami-area home health agencies, Khaled Elbeblawy, was convicted on counts of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and pay healthcare kickbacks.

The $57 million healthcare fraud scheme involved Elbeblawy and his co-conspirators submitting false claims to Medicare for services that were not actually provided, not medically necessary, or for patients who were procured through kickbacks to doctors and patient recruiters.

The case was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which operates in nine cities across the country, and has charged nearly 2,000 defendants who have collectively billed more than $6 billion.

 

 

Wife Joins Husband Behind Bars for Healthcare Fraud

On Tuesday, January 19, a federal judge in Texas sentenced Patricia Akamnonu to 10 years in federal prison for her role in a conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud.   Akamnonu and her husband, Cyprian  Akamnonu, who together owned Ultimate Care Home Health Services, pleaded guilty to their role in the conspiracy, which involved them and others recruiting Medicare beneficiaries for treatment at Ultimate and then billing for skilled nursing services that the beneficiaries either did not qualify for or were not necessary.  Mr. Akamnonu is currently serving out a similar 10-year sentence, and both were ordered to each pay $25 million in restitution.

The conspiracy, which raked in $40 million plus for Ultimate and $375 million for all of the co-conspirators, is considered one of the largest healthcare frauds in history.  Dr. Jacques Roy, who certified more than 78% of the false claims submitted to Medicare by Ultimate and the Akamnonus, is scheduled to be tried for his role in the conspiracy in May 2016, and faces a possible life sentence.

A reminder to providers that healthcare fraud can carry stiff criminal and civil penalties.

False Claims Act Claims Dismissed by Federal Court in Florida

In an important decision for providers facing a lawsuit alleging violations of the False Claims Act, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, in U.S. ex rel. Pelletier v. Liberty Ambulance Service, Inc., Case No. 3:11-cv-587-J-32MCR (Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division), dismissed the government’s complaint intervening in a qui tam action that alleged that Liberty Ambulance Service, among other providers that settled with the government prior to the dismissal, submitted false claims to Medicare and Medicaid for ambulance services that were never provided, on the basis that the government’s complaint failed to satisfy the heightened pleading requirements under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 9.

The Court’s decision is significant because the government attached to its complaint affidavits of current and former employees of Liberty and a dispatcher, along with other materials, suggesting that falsified reports were submitted to Liberty that would be payable by Medicare and Medicaid, but, as the Court found, “the allegations stop short of describing what happened once the run reports were submitted to the Liberty office for processing.”  The Court’s decision hinged on the lack of any evidence pertaining to the actual billing process employed by Liberty.  In fact, the affidavit of the person who claimed the most familiarity with that process, did not claim to have witnessed the submission to the government of any actual false claims.

Although the dismissal was without prejudice to the government amending the complaint to provide greater particularity, the decision is an important example for providers facing False Claims Act claims of how the heightened pleading requirements under FRCP 8 and 9 may strengthen their defense.

 

$125 Million Settlement For Alleged FCA Violations

In a settlement with the US DOJ in U.S. ex rel. Halpin and Fahey v. Kindred Healthcare Inc. et al., 1:11-cv-12139, Kindred Healthcare, Inc., a skilled nursing and long-term care company, has agreed to pay the federal government more than $125 million for alleged False Claims Act violations by a therapy services company, RehabCare Group, Inc., acquired by Kindred in June, 2011.

RehabCare contracts with more than 1,000 skilled nursing facilities across the country, and, along with Kindred, is alleged to have caused those facilities to submit Medicare claims for services at the highest reimbursement levels that were not actually provided, or not necessary.   Two whistleblowers stand to receive almost $24 million from the settlement.

While all providers need to have strong compliance, this is a reminder that larger providers, whose operations span multiple offices, cities and states, need to be especially vigilant and install strong company-wide compliance programs.

Final AKS and Stark Waivers in Connection With the Shared Savings Program

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued the final rule regarding waivers of the application of the physician self-referral law, the Federal anti-kickback statute, and the civil monetary penalties (CMP) law provision relating to beneficiary inducements to specified arrangements involving accountable care organizations (ACOs) under section 1899 of the Social Security Act (the Act) (the “Shared Savings Program”). For purposes of the Shared Savings Program, providers must integrate in ways that potentially implicate fraud and abuse laws addressing financial arrangements between sources of Federal health care program referrals and those seeking such referrals. The Shared Savings Program focuses on coordinating care between and among providers, including those who are potential referral sources for one another—potentially in violation of the fraud and abuse laws.

In order to provide flexibility for ACOs and their constituent parts, the following five waivers have been created:

  • ACO pre-participation waiver – waives the physician self-referral law and the Federal anti-kickback statute that applies to ACO-related start-up arrangements in anticipation of participating in the Shared Savings Program, subject to certain limitations, including limits on the duration of the waiver and the types of parties covered.
  • ACO participation waiver – waives the physician self-referral law and the Federal anti-kickback statute that applies broadly to ACO-related arrangements during the term of the ACO’s participation agreement under the Shared Savings Program and for a specified time thereafter.
  • Shared savings distributions waiver – waives the physician self-referral law and the Federal anti-kickback statute that applies to distributions and uses of shared savings payments earned under the Shared Savings Program.
  • Compliance with the physician self-referral law waiver – waives the Federal anti-kickback statute for ACO arrangements that implicate the physician self-referral law and satisfy the requirements of an existing exception.
  • Patient incentive waiver – waives the Beneficiary Inducements CMP and the Federal anti-kickback statute for medically related incentives offered by ACOs, ACO participants, or ACO providers/suppliers under the Shared Savings Program to beneficiaries to encourage preventive care and compliance with treatment regimes.

The waivers apply uniformly to each ACO, ACO participant, and ACO provider/supplier participating in the Shared Savings Program. The waivers are self-implementing; parties need not apply for a waiver. Rather, parties that meet the applicable waiver conditions are covered by the waiver.

Recent Trends In FCA Litigation Against Hospice Care Providers

The Office of Inspector General identified “reducing waste in . . . hospice care” as one of the “top management challenges” for the 2015 fiscal year.   The federal government’s efforts to respond to that challenge are illustrated by several recent developments in False Claims Act (“FCA“) cases brought against hospice care providers.  For example, the Robinson-Hill, Betts, and Gooch cases discussed herein underscore the attention given to hospice care providers and their alleged billing and personnel-related practices, and the high monetary settlements that can result from such attention.

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