Tag: Government Accountability Office (GAO)

GAO | Appointments to State All Payer Claims Databases Advisory Committee

From the General Accountability Office

WASHINGTON, DC (March 29, 2021) – Gene L. Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), today announced the appointment of six members to the newly created State All Payer Claims Databases Advisory Committee (SAPCDAC).

“At almost $4 trillion dollars annually and growing, health care spending poses significant challenges for both the economy as a whole as well as federal and state budgets. State All Payer Claims Databases can assist a wide variety of stakeholders—policymakers, consumers, providers, and payers—in monitoring health care costs, access, and quality,” Dodaro said. “We had a number of exceptional candidates interested in serving on the committee, and the experiences and perspectives of today’s appointees should greatly benefit SAPCDAC as it advises the Secretary of Labor on data standards for voluntary reporting to State All Payer Claims Databases.”

The newly appointed members are Niall Brennan, Cheryl Damberg, Emma Hoo, Frederick Isasi, Mike Kapsa, and Josephine Porter.

Congress established the committee in December 2020 to make recommendations to the Secretary of Labor on the standardized format and associated guidance for the voluntary reporting by group health plans to State All Payer Claims Databases. The Comptroller General is responsible for naming six committee members. Additionally, the Secretary of Labor has responsibility for appointing nine committee members representing various agencies within the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, as well as one chair and one representative of a State All Payer Claims Database.

The No Surprises Act, enacted as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, requires the committee to provide recommendations to the Secretary of Labor within 180 days.

For more information, please visit the SAPCDAC website, or email the Department of Labor at SAPCDAC@dol.gov. Other calls should be directed to Chuck Young in GAO’s Office of Public Affairs at (202) 512-4800.

Brief biographies of the new committee members follow:

Niall J. Brennan, MPP, is the President and CEO of the Health Care Cost Institute in Washington, DC, where he leads one of the largest multi-payer claims databases in the country, with 100 million covered lives across the commercial and Medicare sectors. Prior to that role, he held numerous positions involving health care data analytics, including as Chief Data Office at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and as a Senior Analyst at the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. Mr. Brennan advises Congressional staff and other key health system stakeholders on important health policy and transparency topics, and he has testified before Congress on these issues. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Health Data Organizations and was a cofounder and member of the All Payer Claims Database Council. Mr. Brennan received his MPP from Georgetown University.

Cheryl L. Damberg, PhD, is a Principal Senior Economist and Distinguished Chair in Healthcare Payment Policy at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, CA. She is also Professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. She leads health economic and health services research studies focused on health system performance, alternative payment models, price transparency, and the use of incentives to drive system improvement. Before joining RAND, Dr. Damberg held numerous positions, including Director of Research and Quality at the Pacific Business Group on Health. She is an international expert on health system redesign and has advised Congress, federal agencies, and the governments of Great Britain, Germany, and South Korea on the use of incentives and ways to measure provider performance. Dr. Damberg was appointed by California’s governor Newsom as Vice-Chair of the California Healthcare Payments Database (HPD) Review Committee to establish a plan for California’s all payer claims database. She now serves as a member of the HPD Advisory Committee that is guiding the implementation of the California APCD. Dr. Damberg received her PhD in Public Policy from RAND.

Emma Hoo is the Director of Pay-for-Value at the Purchaser Business Group on Health in San Francisco, CA. In that role, she works closely with employer and purchaser groups as well as health plan, provider, and consumer stakeholders to advance health care data availability and transparency. Her focus areas include advancing common Accountable Care Organization quality and efficiency measures, measurement-based behavioral health care, and adoption of patient-reported outcomes measures. She has managed data analytics and evaluation for several pilot programs to test payment reform and health delivery redesign, including an Intensive Outpatient Care Program under a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Innovation Award. She also supported the Better Quality Information initiative that aggregated Medicare and commercial claims data to assess the quality of care at various levels of the delivery system. Previously, Ms. Hoo was the Director of Operation at Baycare Medical Group, Inc., where she managed overall operations and management information systems for a 200-member primary care group. She also serves on numerous committees, including the California Healthcare Payments Data Review Committee, which supports the planning and development of a statewide all payer claims database. Ms. Hoo received her BA cum laude in Social Studies from Harvard University.

Frederick Isasi, JD, MPH, is the Executive Director of Families USA in Washington, DC. In that role he directs national, state, and local initiatives to ensure accessible and affordable health care for all consumers. He has testified before congressional committees on the importance of establishing a national all payer claims database to improve the quality of health care, reduce costs, and provide transparency for consumers, policy makers, and other stakeholders. Prior to joining Families USA, Mr. Isasi held various leadership positions involving health care research and state multi-payer claims databases, including as Health Division Director at the National Governors Association and Vice President of Health Policy at The Advisory Board Company. Mr. Isasi received his JD from Duke University in Durham, NC, and his MPH from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Michael J. KapsaPhD, is the Chief Financial Officer of SolidaritUS Health Inc. in Washington, DC, working with local exchanges that share claims databases to develop cost-effective primary care programs for employer and labor union employees. Dr. Kapsa is also Chief Economist for America’s Agenda, a national alliance of international labor unions and employers, where he helps develop federal and state health policy and primary care delivery models aimed at reducing costs and improving health care quality and outcomes. His prior experience includes leadership positions negotiating health and other benefits for various labor union employees, including the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, the Service Employees International Union, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Dr. Kapsa received his PhD from the New School for Social Research in New York City.

Josephine Porter, MPH, is the Director of the Institute for Health Policy and Practice at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, NH, overseeing academic health care research and serving as Principal Investigator on a number of research projects. In addition, she is the Co-Chair of All Payer Claims Database (APCD) Council, a partnership with the National Association of Health Data Organizations, which serves as a national learning network for APCDs. In this role, she serves as a national authority on APCD issues, presenting on state and national panels with a focus on the use of APCDs to promote healthcare transparency. She was the lead author on an APCD Development Manual and has been actively involved in the development of a data submission standard to help bring data submission in line across the states. Prior to that, she held a variety of leadership positions in the private and public sectors. Ms. Porter received her MPH from Boston University.

GAO | Safety: States and DOT Are Implementing Actions to Reduce Roadside Crashes

From the US General Accountability Office on December 17

First responders stopped on the side of the road risk being struck by passing vehicles. To protect these workers, all states and D.C. enacted “Move Over” laws that require motorists to move over to another lane or slow down when they pass a roadside incident.

The Department of Transportation helps state officials educate the public about Move Over laws and administers funding that state officials can use for enforcement efforts. It also trains first responders in protecting themselves on the roadside.

The Department is planning to study motorist behaviors that contribute to roadside incidents and technologies that protect first responders.

Talking Medicare: GAO urges CMS to continue prior authorization

Talking Medicare: GAO urges CMS to continue prior authorization efforts

On May 21, 2018, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on the use of prior authorization models by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The GAO was asked to examine: (1) the impact of prior authorization on total expenditures, and the potential savings for items or service subject to prior authorization, (2) the reported benefits and challenges of prior authorization, and (3) CMS’ monitoring of these programs, and its plans for future prior authorization. To conduct its study, the GAO looked at payment data and other information provided by CMS. The GAO also interviewed CMS, the Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs), and selected provider, supplier, and beneficiary groups.

Prior authorization was first implemented by CMS in 2012 for certain power mobility devices (e.g., power wheelchairs) in seven states. Subsequent prior authorization models were implemented for non-emergency hyperbaric oxygen and home health services. Most relevant to our industry, CMS implemented a prior authorization model for repetitive, scheduled, non-emergency ambulance transportation in December of 2014. Originally, this model was implemented in only three states: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. In January of 2016, the prior authorization model was expanded to include the states of Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia.

The GAO’s key finding is that these prior authorization models have been effective in reducing Medicare’s expenditures for various items. The GAO’s analysis of actual expenditures found that the estimated savings from all demonstrations through March of 2017 could be as high as $1.1 to $1.9 billion. Given this fact, it should not be surprising that the GAO is calling on CMS to continue the use of prior authorization.

The majority of the data included in this report relates to non-ambulance services. However, I do want to highlight a few data points noted by the GAO.

From the model’s implementation in December 2014 through March 2017, MACs collectively handled more than 337,000 prior authorization requests, including a total of 3,231 requests for authorization of a repetitive, non-emergency, ambulance patient. This includes 2,620 initial requests, and 611 resubmissions (i.e., subsequent requests for prior authorization following the rejection of the initial request).

The GAO provisional affirmation rate for both initial and resubmitted authorization requests rose in each demonstration between the initial implementation date and March 2017. For example, the GAO noted that the affirmation rate (i.e., the rate at which patients are approved for repetitive ambulance transportation) during the first six months of the non-emergency ambulance model was 28 percent. This rose to 66 percent during the most recent six-month period (October 2016 through March 2017). The GAO noted that MAC officials attributed this increase, in part, to provider and supplier education, which they felt improved the documentation being submitted by providers and suppliers. While this is undoubtedly true, it is also likely the case that the MACs refined their approval process over time.

The GAO estimated the total potential savings from the prior authorization model for ambulance to be nearly $387.5 million from December 2014 through March 2017. Importantly, 90 percent of that savings was attributable to reductions in utilization in the original three states. Moreover, more than half the reduced expenditures took place within the first six months of the demonstration project.

In terms of fitting this report into the larger picture, I think it is best viewed as further confirmation of what we already suspected: namely, that the federal government perceives prior authorization to be an effective tool for combating the perceived overutilization of ambulance to transport patients to and from dialysis. CMS indicated as much when it adopted the program in 2014. Medicare payment data has borne out those expectations. Recently, CMS issued its first interim report on prior authorization’s effectiveness. The GAO’s report adds an independent imprimatur to that belief.

Big picture, all of the stars appear to be lining up for an expansion of prior authorization next year. Stay tuned!!

Have an issue you would like to see discussed in a future Talking Medicare blog? Please write to me at bwerfel@aol.com.

House Holds Hearing on Veterans Choice Program

The House VA Committee hearing started at 7:30 p.m., but it was well-attended and lasted until 10 p.m. The witnesses included Senator John McCain (R-AZ), VA Secretary David Shulkin, and representatives of the VA Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office. Senator McCain and Secretary Shulkin were both warmly welcomed by Members of the Committee on a bipartisan basis.

Chairman Roe (R-TN) emphasized the need to act quickly to extend the authorization for the Veterans Choice Program, which expires on August 7. To that end, the House VA Committee is voting today on a bill to eliminate the sunset of the program’s authorization. In addition, the Committee will consider broader legislation later this year to make comprehensive reforms to the Choice Program. He noted that the VA has additional funds available but will not be able to spend them once the authorization expires. A copy of Chairman Roe’s opening statement is available here.

Secretary Shulkin testified in support of extending the Choice Program, and he clarified that the VA was not seeking additional funding – just the authority to spend funds already obligated. He noted that the VA already is being forced to deny Choice Program coverage to veterans whose episodes of care would extend beyond the August 7 expiration date (e.g., pregnancy).

Secretary Shulkin also urged Congress to support the VA’s efforts to bring appointment scheduling in-house for care coordination purposes. However, the VA OIG witness noted challenges in records going out to community-based providers and coming back to the VA. The GAO witness also underscored the need for the VA to have better systems in place in order to effectively coordinate care, which will take time to procure and implement. Rep. Brownley (D-CA) echoed that point, calling the VA’s information technology systems a “Model T in a Tesla world.” Rep. Esty (D-CT) also urged improvements in the VA’s information systems and expressed concern that veterans are being improperly billed.

Other Members, including Rep. Wenstrup (R-OH) and Rep. Poliquin (R-ME), raised concerns about continuing delays in the processing of claims and payments to providers. Secretary Shulkin agreed that providers deserve to be paid for their services, noting his own experience as a physician in the private sector. He acknowledged that the VA is not processing enough claims electronically today, and he advised that he plans to pursue options outside the VA for systems procurement going forward.

Many Members also raised serious concerns about treatment of PTSD and mental health conditions for veterans, including Rep. Wenstrup (R-OH), Rep. O’Rourke (D-TX), Rep. Sablan (D-MP), Rep. Banks (R-IN), Rep. Rutherford (R-FL) and Rep. Takano (D-CA). Rep. O’Rourke emphasized that suicide among veterans is the most serious crisis, and Secretary Shulkin agreed that it is his number one priority. The Secretary announced that the VA will begin providing urgent mental health care that also will include individuals other than those service members who were honorably discharged. He added that the VA needs 1,000 more mental health providers, as well as telemental health services, and is looking to expand community partnerships to address suicide.

Rep. Banks noted interest among Indiana veterans in greater access to alternative treatments for PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Secretary Shulkin underscored that he is “most concerned about areas like PTSD, where we do not have effective treatments.” He also advised that the VA has established an “Office of Compassionate Innovation” (separate from the VA’s Center for Innovation), which will focus on finding new approaches to health and physical wellness and explore alternative treatment options for veterans when traditional methods fall short.

Rep. Wenstrup inquired about the VA’s GME and residency programs, as well as its associations with academic institutions. Secretary Shulkin responded that the VA is “doubling down” on partnerships with academic medical institutions.

Chairman Roe concluded his remarks by emphasizing the need to extend the Choice Program authorization soon and to consolidate the VA’s community-based care programs. He also expressed support for the VA’s decision to stop developing its own information technology internally.

GAO Report on Revised Provider Enrollment Screening Process

In March 2011, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) implemented a revised process for processing the enrollment of new Medicare providers and suppliers. This revised process also applied to existing Medicare providers and suppliers that were revalidating their enrollment information. This new process included assigning all providers and suppliers to one of three risk categories—limited, moderate, and high—based on the perceived risk of fraud and abuse. The risk category then determines the applicable screening process used for providers within that risk category.

Please note that ambulance providers and suppliers were placed in the moderate risk category. This risk category includes a verification of the information provided by the provider on its enrollment application, a check of the provider’s state licensure, a check of any adverse legal actions against the provider, and a site visit of the provider.

On December 15, 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the initial results of this revised provider enrollment screening process.

In its report, the GAO indicated that CMS applied its revised enrollment screening process to over 2.4 million newly enrolling and revalidating Medicare providers and suppliers from March 25, 2011 through December 31, 2015. Other relevant findings include:

  • The total number of enrolled Medicare providers and suppliers increased from 1.4 million in March 2011 to 1.9 million in December 2015, an increase of more than 30%.
  • CMS denied more than 6,000 applications for ineligible providers and suppliers. The most commonly cited reason for a denial was the failure of applicant to meet the provider/supplier type requirements. This included situations where the provider/supplier did not hold the required certification for that provider/supplier type.
  • CMS rejected 17,000 applications as incomplete. The GAO found that approximately 25% of the rejected applications were the result of the application being filed in error, either by the provider/supplier or the MAC. 21% of applications were rejected as being duplicates. Another 16% of rejections were the result of the provider/supplier failing to timely respond to the MAC’s request for additional information.
  • CMS screening of existing providers/suppliers resulted in more than 660,000 provider numbers being deactivated. This was typically (47%) the result of the provider failing to respond to the MAC’s request that they revalidate. Another 29% were the result of the provider/supplier voluntarily withdrawing from the Medicare program. Another 5% of deactivations were the result of the provider/supplier not submitting a claim to Medicare within the previous 12 months. The majority of these were likely individual practitioners (e.g., physicians) that either died, or who retired from professional practice, and who failed to inform the MAC at the time of retirement to request that their provider number be deactivated. This could also include organizational providers that were sold or otherwise no longer operational.
  • These were frequently the result of an individual practitioner (e.g., a physician) failing to deactivate his or her Medicare number upon their retirement, and their either not responding to a request to revalidate, or notifying the MAC of their retirement and agreeing to voluntarily withdraw
  • CMS revoked the billing privileges of 43,000 provider/suppliers. The most common reason cited (61%) was the failure of the provider/supplier to be professionally licensed. However, within the moderate risk category, which includes ambulance, 26% of all revocations were the result of a “CMS-approved revocation,” e.g., the result of some adverse legal action against the provider/supplier which was not properly disclosed to the MAC within 30 days.

 

CMS estimated that its revised screening procedures avoided $2.4 billion in Medicare payments to ineligible providers and suppliers over this period.

CMS also reported that it made several changes to its screening process over this period. This includes the implementation of a continuous license monitoring report in November 2013, and a continuous criminal monitoring report in July 2015. This also includes fingerprint-based criminal background checks for the owners and certain key employees of categorically high-risk providers and suppliers. In December 2015, CMS also began conducting site-visits for certain limited-risk providers and suppliers.

Despite the progress made by CMS, the GAO did find that certain program vulnerabilities still exist. For example, the GAO found that CMS had not established performance measures to monitor its ability to place providers and suppliers in the proper risk categories. The GAO recommended that CMS establish objectives and performance measures for assessing its progress in establishing better screening procedures for new enrollments and revalidations. CMS ultimately agreed with this recommendation.


Have a Medicare question? AAA members, send your inquiry to Brian Werfel, Esq. using our simple form!

 

AAA Issues Response to GAO Claims Report

On May 13, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report entitled “Claim Review Programs Could Be Improved with Additional Prepayment Reviews and Better Data“. In the report, the GAO recommended that CMS be provided legislative authority to allow Recovery Auditors to use prepayment claims reviews to address improper Medicare payments. CMS fortunately disagreed with the GAO on the recommendation and cited better options such as prior authorization to address potentially improper payments.

The AAA has now issued a Formal Statement in response to the GAO report noting the problems with prepayment claims review for ambulance services and promoting the better alternative of prior authorization for nonemergency BLS transports of dialysis patients. The statement is in follow up to our Member Advisory providing an in-depth review of the report. Please feel free to share the statement if you receive questions about the report.

On June 26, 2015, the AAA had participated in a conference call with the GAO officials conducting the report in which AAA representatives had pushed for recommendations in line with our statement. The AAA will continue to advocate for policies to address improper payments that address the issue but are also the least burdensome to AAA members and help ensure our ability to continue to provide high-quality emergency and nonemergency ambulance services to patients.

Understanding the GAO’s Recent Report on Medicare Prepayment and Postpayment Reviews

On May 13, 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) publicly released a report on the comparative effectiveness of the various audit programs used by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and its various contractors. This report was requested by Senator Orrin Hatch, the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who had asked the GAO to examine: (1) the differences between prepayment and postpayment reviews and the extent to which CMS contractors utilize each, (2) the extent to which contractors focus their reviews on particular types of claims, and (3) CMS’ cost per review, and the amount of improper payments identified by contractors for each dollar they are paid.

To briefly summarize the GAO’s findings:

  • The Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs) generally limited themselves to conducting postpayment reviews. The GAO attributed this to the fact that the RACs were paid contingency fees based on recovered overpayments, i.e., because prepayment reviews result in a claim never being paid in the first place, there is no “overpayment” to be recovered, and, therefore, no contingency fees to be paid. The GAO did note that from 2012 to 2014, CMS conducted a demonstration project in which the RACs conducted prepayment reviews (and were paid contingency fees based on the dollar amount of denied claims), which CMS considered to be a success.
  • The Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) generally limited themselves to conducting prepayment reviews.
  • Each contractor also tended to specialize in certain types of claims. For example, the GAO noted that during 2013 and 2014, the RACs tended to focus primarily on inpatient hospital claims. The GAO found that the MACs tended to focus on physician and durable medical equipment claims. Note: the GAO included claims for ambulance services within the larger category of “physician” claims.
  • The RACs identified a total of $4.5 billion in improper payments during 2013 and 2014. For their work, the RACs were paid contingency fees totaling $312 million, a return of approximately $14 in improper payments for every dollar paid to the RACs.
  • CMS lacked reliable data on the costs and effectiveness of its MACs program integrity reviews.

The GAO made two specific recommendations. First, it recommended that CMS seek legislation that would permit its RACs to conduct prepayment claims reviews. Second, it recommended that CMS develop written guidance on how its MACs should calculate the savings attributable to prepayment claims reviews. CMS disagreed with the first recommendation, believing it unnecessary in light of other programs intended to move CMS away from “pay and chase”, including prior authorization and enhanced provider enrollment screening. CMS agreed with the second recommendation.

Focus on the RACs

For the years 2013 – 2014, the GAO found that the RACs focused primarily on hospital inpatient claims. For example, the GAO found that 78% of the FY 2013 claims reviewed by the RACs were hospital inpatient claims. While this number declined to 47% in FY 2014, that decline was largely attributable to CMS, under its own authority and subsequent legislation, prohibiting the RACs from reviewing certain inpatient stays during the first part of FY 2014. If you look only at postpayment reviews, the numbers were even higher, 87% in FY 2013 and 64% in FY 2014.

So why were the RACs focused on hospital inpatient claims, largely to the exclusion of other types of claims? The GAO believes the answer lies in how the RACs are compensated for their work. Recall that the RACs are paid contingency fees (of between 9% – 17.5%) based on the amount of the recovered overpayments. Given this fee structure, the GAO believed it was logical for the RACs to focus on claims with higher average dollar amounts per claim. The following chart shows the average amount of the improper payment identified by the RACs on a per-claim basis:

As you can see, the average overpayment for an inpatient hospital claim was more than $3,000 in FY 2013, compared with slightly more than $300 for a physician (or ambulance) claim. Assuming a 10% contingency fee, this means the RAC could expect to receive $300 for each inpatient hospital claim it reviewed, compared with $30 for a physician claim. Given these financial incentives, the RACs decision to focus on inpatient hospital claims makes sense.

Focus on the MACs

In contrast to the RACs, the Medicare Administrative Contractors focused their program integrity activities almost exclusively on prepayment reviews. The following chart shows the breakdown of MAC reviews by provider type:

As you can see, the MAC largely focused on physician and DME claims, with physician claims (including ambulance claims) accounting for 49% of MAC reviews in FY 2013 and 55% of MAC reviews in FY 2014.

The efficacy of these reviews is unclear. This is largely due to the failure by CMS to collect consistent data on the savings from prepayment claims denials. At least 3 MACs failed to provide data on the specific funds they spent on prepayment and postpayment reviews. Instead, these MACs reported their costs as part of their broader claims processing activities. MAC also used different methods for calculating the savings from prepayment reviews. For example, 2 MACs used the billed amounts by providers to calculate total savings from denied claims, despite the Medicare allowables being significantly lower than the amounts normally billed by providers. 9 MACs used the total Medicare allowable, without differentiating between Medicare’s payment and the payments made by secondary insurers and/or patients. The remaining 5 MACs compared denied claims to similar claims that were paid to estimate what Medicare saved on claims denied as part of prepayment reviews.

Impact on Ambulance Providers and Suppliers

The key finding in this report is the GAO’s belief that prepayment reviews are generally more cost-effective in preventing improper Medicare payments. The GAO believes this is because prepayment reviews “limit the need to recover overpayments through the “pay and chase” process, which requires administrative resources and is not always successful.”

While the GAO and CMS are in agreement that Medicare should move away from postpayment reviews, they appear to disagree on how, exactly, to implement that transition. The GAO’s report makes clear its belief that CMS should devote greater resources to prepayment reviews, with the GAO specifically recommending that CMS seek legislative authority to empower its RACs to take a greater role in conducting prepayment reviews. By contrast, CMS appears to favor prior authorization programs.

Only time will tell which of these views gains prominence. In the meantime, ambulance providers and suppliers should expect to see the RACs take an increasing interest in our industry.


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The GAO Releases New Report on Claims Review Programs, Recommending Additional Prepayment Review Authority and Written Guidance on Calculating Savings from Prepayment Review

On Friday, May 13, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) publicly released a new Medicare report entitled, “Claim Review Programs Could Be Improved with Additional Prepayment Reviews and Better Data,” which it shared with the Congress and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in April. The report is addressed to the Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in response to his request.

The Report examines:

1. The differences, if any, between prepayment and post-payment reviews, and the extent to which the contractors utilize these types of reviews;

2. The extent to which the Medicare claim review contractors focus their reviews on different types of claims; and

3. CMS’s cost per review and the amount of improper payments identified by the claim review contractors per dollar paid by CMS.

In compiling the Report, the GAO reviewed Administration documents, interviewed CMS officials, Recovery Auditors (RAs), and Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs). The GAO also interviewed representatives from 10 Medicare provider/supplier organizations that have experienced claim reviews on both a pre- and post-payment review basis. The AAA worked the GAO by participating in a telephone interview and providing written comments.

The GAO examined three types of contractors – the RAs, the MACs, and the Supplemental Medicare Review Contractor (SMRC). These contractors are responsible for reviewing claims that are at high risk of improper payment and claims that pose the greatest financial risk to Medicare. Only MACs conduct both pre- and post-payment reviews. RAs and the SMRC conduct only post-payment reviews, but RAs did participate in a pre-payment review demonstration project. RAs are paid on a contingent basis from recovered overpayments. During the demonstration, RAs were paid contingency fees based on claim denial amounts.

In its review, the GAO found that few differences exist between pre- and post-payment reviews, but noted that pre-payment reviews “better protect Medicare funds.” The GAO found that CMS is not always able to collect overpayments from post-payment reviews and that post-payment reviews require more administrative resources than pre-payment reviews.

The provider/supplier organizations highlighted two issues that need to be resolved with regard to pre-payment review audits. First, they identified that the option to hold discussions with RAs before payment determinations are made in the context of post-payment reviews can be helpful. These discussions are not part of the pre-payment review process; nor are they part of the MAC process. CMS indicated that it is not practical to have such an option in these contexts because of the timing requirements.

Second, the providers/suppliers noted that pre-payment reviews create cash flow burdens, in light of the appeals process. When appealing a post-payment review, providers/suppliers retain their Medicare payments through the first two rounds of review. If the denial is overturned at a higher level, CMS must pay back the recovered amount with interest accrued. However, for pre-payment reviews, providers/suppliers do not receive payment and CMS does not provide interest on the dollars withheld if the provider/supplier wins on appeal.

MACs have traditionally relied upon post-payment review. MACs will also use post-payment reviews to analyze billing patterns to inform other review activities, such as future pre-payment reviews and educational outreach. CMS has encouraged MACs to perform extrapolation, especially for providers/suppliers that submit large volumes of low-dollar claims with high improper payment rates.

The SMRC reviews often include studies to develop sampling methodologies or other policies that could be rolled out more broadly in the future.

The GAO also found that different contractors focused on different claims during 2013 and 2014. RAs focused on inpatient claim reviews primarily. RAs have the discretion to select the claims they review and the GAO stated that “their focus on reviewing inpatient claims is consistent with the financial incentives associated with the contingency fees they receive, as inpatient claims generally have higher payment amounts compared to other claim types.” The GAO also found that RA claim reviews had higher average identified improper payment amounts per post-payment claim review relative to other claim types in 2013 and 2014. For the upcoming contracts, CMS has indicated that it will more closely monitor RAs to ensure that they are reviewing all types of claims. For DME claims in particular, CMS has increased the contingency fee percentage paid to the RAs for DME, home health agencies, and hospice claims.

In contracts, MAC claim reviews focused primarily on physician and DME claims. DME claims accounted for 29 percent of their reviews in 2013 and 26 percent in 2014, while representing 22 percent of total improper payments in fiscal year 2013 and 16 percent of improper payments in fiscal year 2014. DME claims also had the highest rates of improper payments in both years.

Physician claims is a broadly used term that includes labs, ambulances, and individual physician.

The SMRC focused its claim reviews on studies that CMS directs the contractor to conduct. In 2013, the SMRC reviews focused on outpatient and physician claims, but in 2014 the focus shifted to home health agency claims and certain DME suppliers.

The GAO concluded that both RAs and SMRC generated savings for CMS, but unreliable data prevented comparing these results to those of MACs. CMS paid the RAs an average of $158 per review; the RAs averaged $14 in identified improper payments per dollar paid by CMS in both 2013 and 2014. CMS paid the SMRC an average of $256 per review, and the SMRC averaged $7 in identified improper payments per dollar paid in 2013 and 2014. The higher SMRC costs related to the study costs and extrapolation.

CMS lacks reliable MAC cost and savings data. CMS does not collect reliable data on claim review funding and does not have consistent data on identified improper payments. While CMS has established ways to collect this information, some MACs are not reporting it. MACs also use different methods to calculate and report savings.

The GAO recommended that CMS take two actions:

• In order to better ensure proper Medicare payments and protect Medicare funds, CMS should seek legislative authority to allow the RAs to conduct prepayment claim reviews.

• In order to ensure that CMS has the information it needs to evaluate MAC effectiveness in preventing improper payments and to evaluate and compare contractor performance across its Medicare claim review program, CMS should provide the MACs with written guidance on how to accurately calculate and report savings from prepayment claim reviews.

CMS did not agree with the first recommendation, stating that it has a strategy to move away from “pay and chase” using different policies, such as prior authorization initiatives and enhanced provider enrollment screening. CMS concurred with the second recommendation.