HHS OIG Issues Proposed AKS Safe Harbor Rule

On Thursday, October 17, 2019, the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a proposed rule titled “Medicare and State Health Care Programs: Fraud and Abuse; Revisions to Safe Harbors Under the Anti-Kickback Statute, and Civil Monetary Penalties Regarding Beneficiary Inducements.”  The proposed rule would amend the existing safe harbors to the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and the civil monetary penalty rules (CMPs).  These changes are part of HHS’ Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care.  The stated purpose of these changes is to reduce the regulatory barriers and accelerate the transformation of the healthcare system away from the traditional fee-for-service payment model, and towards a value-based system that rewards healthcare providers for better outcomes.  The proposed rule can be viewed in its entirety at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2019-10-17/pdf/2019-22027.pdf. The proposed rule makes nearly a dozen major changes to the safe harbors under the AKS and the rules related to CMPs.  Among these are revisions to the recently created safe harbor for local transportation.  The proposed change to the safe harbor for free or discounted local transportation is discussed in greater detail below. The OIG is soliciting comments on a wide range of topics raised in the proposed rule. The AAA is not taking...

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New SNF Consolidated Billing Edits: FAQs

On April 1, 2019, CMS implemented a new series of Common Working File (CWF) edits that it stated would better identify ground ambulance transports that were furnished in connection with an outpatient hospital service that would be bundled to the skilled nursing facility (SNF) under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime. Unfortunately, the implementation of these new edits has been anything but seamless. Over the past few weeks, I have received numerous phone calls, texts, and emails from AAA members reporting an increase in the number of Medicare claims being denied for SNF Consolidated Billing. This FAQ will try to explain why you may be seeing these denials.  I will also try to provide some practical solutions that can: (1) reduce the number of claims denied by the edits and (2) help you collect from the SNFs, when necessary. Please note that, at the present time, there is no perfect solution to this issue, i.e., there is nothing that you can do to completely eliminate these claim denials.  The solutions discussed herein are intended only to minimize the disruption to your operations caused by these denials.   I am new to Medicare ambulance billing. Can you explain what the SNF Consolidated Billing...

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HHS OIG Issues Advisory Opinion on Community Paramedicine

HHS OIG Issues Advisory Opinion Permitting Community Paramedicine Program Designed to Limit Hospital Readmissions On March 6, 2019, the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) posted OIG Advisory Opinion 19-03. The opinion related to free, in-home follow-up care offered by a hospital to eligible patients for the purpose of reducing hospital admissions or readmissions. The Requestor was a nonprofit medical center that provides a range of inpatient and outpatient hospital services. The Requestor and an affiliated health care clinic are both part of an integrated health system that operates in three states. The Requestor had previously developed a program to provide free, in-home follow-up care to certain patients with congestive heart failure (CHF) that it has certified to be at higher risk of admission or readmission to a hospital. The Requestor was proposing to expand the program to also include certain patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). According to the Requestor, the purpose of both its existing program and its proposed expansion was to increase patient compliance with discharge plans, improve patient health, and reduce hospital inpatient admissions and readmissions. Under the existing program, clinical nurses screen patients to determine if they meet certain eligibility criteria. These include...

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CMS SNF Edits Go Into Effect – April 1, 2019

CMS Set to Implement New Common Working File Edits to Identify Ambulance Services Provided in Connection with Outpatient Hospital Services that should be bundled to the SNF under Consolidated Billing On November 2, 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued Transmittal 2176 (Change Request 10955), which would establish a new series of Common Working File (CWF) edits intended to identify ambulance transports furnished in connection with outpatient hospital services that are properly bundled to the skilled nursing facility under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime. These new edits are set to go into effect on April 1, 2019.  Why these edits are necessary? In 2017, the HHS Office of the Inspector General conducted an investigation of ground ambulance claims that were furnished to Medicare beneficiaries during the first 100 days of a skilled nursing home (SNF) stay. Under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime, SNFs are paid a per diem, case-mix-adjusted amount that is intended to cover all costs incurred on behalf of their residents.  Federal regulations further provide that, with limited exceptions, the SNF’s per diem payment includes medically necessary ambulance transportation provided during the beneficiary’s Part A stay. The OIG’s report was issued in February 2019. The OIG...

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Update on HHS OIG Reports on Ambulance Services

Update on HHS Office of the Inspector General Reports on Ambulance Services The HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released an update to the Work Plan as the year comes to a close.  There are no new projects specific to ambulance services, but the update does provide a summary of three projects that have been completed or are in progress. Medicare Part B Payments for Ambulance Services Subject to Part A Skilled Nursing Facility Consolidated Billing Requirements (expected release 2019). In this work, the OIG  seeking to determine whether ambulance services paid by Medicare Part B were subject to Part A SNF consolidated billing requirements. The OIG will also assess the effectiveness of edits in CMS’s Common Working File to prevent and detect Part B overpayments for ambulance transportation subject to consolidated billing. Prior OIG reports have identified high error rates and significant overpayments for services subject to SNF consolidated billing. Ambulance Services – Supplier Compliance with Payment Requirements (partially completed; remainder expected release 2019). Prior OIG work has found that Medicare made inappropriate payments for advanced life support emergency transports. The OIG seeks to determine whether Medicare payments for ambulance services were made in accordance with Medicare requirements. ...

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Talking Medicare: DOJ Settlement Highlights Importance of Exclusion Testing

Talking Medicare: Recent DOJ Settlement Highlights Importance of Exclusion Testing On July 17, 2018, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine issued a press release on a settlement that had been reached with an ambulance service in Maine. As a result of this settlement, the ambulance service agreed to pay $16,776.74 to resolve allegations that it had submitted false claims to the Medicare and Maine Medicare Programs. While the Department of Justice’s press release referred to the matter as a civil health care fraud, that headline is somewhat misleading. The ambulance service was not alleged to “up-coded” its claims or to have billed for patients that did not require ambulance transportation. Rather, the ambulance service was accused of using monies paid to it by these federal health care programs to pay the salary and benefits of a woman hired to assist the company’s billing manager. The woman, who was not identified in news reports, had previously been excluded from participation in federal health care programs after surrendering her license as a pharmacy technician after being found to have inappropriately diverted certain controlled substances. The ambulance service apparently failed to conduct an exclusion test on this individual prior to placing...

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OIG Report on Overpayments For Non-Emergency Transports

OIG Report – Overpayments For Non-Emergency Ambulance Transports To Non-Covered Destinations The Office of the Inspector General released its report “Medicare Improperly Paid Providers for Non Emergency Ambulance Transports to Destinations Not Covered by Medicare“. In sum, the OIG reviewed claims that Medicare paid for 2014 – 2016 non-emergency ambulance transports. The review focused on transports to non-covered destinations. OIG found that $8,633,940 was paid by Medicare for non-emergency ambulance transports under codes A0425 (ground mileage), A0426 (ALS non-emergency) and A0428 (BLS non-emergency) during this period of time. The review was based solely on the claims and not based on a medical review or interviews of providers. The claims that should not have been paid were to the following destinations: 59% – to diagnostic or therapeutic sites other than a hospital or physician’s office, that did not originate at a SNF. 31% – to a residence or assisted living facility (and not meeting the origin/destination requirement).  6% – to the scene of an acute event.  4% – to a destination code not used for ambulance claims or where no destination modifier was used. <1% – to a physician’s office. OIG recommended (and CMS agreed) that CMS: Notify the Medicare Administrative...

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Navigating a Post-Prior Authorization World

Talking Medicare: Navigating a Post-Prior Authorization World Novitas Solutions, Inc. recently announced that it will no longer issue prior authorizations for scheduled, repetitive non-emergency transports, effective December 1, 2017. This announcement was based on Novitas’ expectation that the demonstration project will expire at the end of this calendar year. For ambulance suppliers in the states that currently operate under prior authorization, the focus invariably turns to what that means for their repetitive patient populations? First a little background. In May 2014, CMS announced the implementation of a three-year prior authorization demonstration project for repetitive scheduled non-emergency ambulance transports. This demonstration project was initially limited to the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. These states were selected based on higher-than-average utilization rates and high rates of improper payment for these services. In particular, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) had singled out these states as having higher-than-average utilization of dialysis transports in a June 2013 report to Congress. As initially conceived, the prior authorization demonstration project first went into effect on December 15, 2014. Congress subsequently elected to expand this demonstration project to additional states as part of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). Specifically,...

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OIG Releases SemiAnnual Report to Congress

The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS-OIG) recently issued the “Measuring Compliance Program Effectiveness: A Resource Guide“. The Guide was developed by a group of HHS-OIG professionals who wanted to provide a set of metrics by which health care providers can measure the elements of their compliance program. The authors recognize that not all the metrics are applicable to all health care providers but intended to be used as a guide. The Guide was released on March 27. You can also read the full “Semiannual Report to Congress (October 1, 2016 – March 31, 2017)“.

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...

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The Return of the Supplemental Medical Review Contractor

In a November 2016 member advisory, we discussed StrategicHealthSolutions, LLC (Strategic), the CMS Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SMRC). The SMRC is tasked by CMS to perform a variety of tasks aimed at lowering the improper payment rates and increasing the efficiencies of the medical review functions of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. In other words, the Strategic is yet another audit contractor. In our earlier member advisory, we indicated that the Strategic had sent letters to a number of ambulance suppliers requesting medical records for certain ambulance transports. Those letters indicated that the Strategic was tasked with performing postpayment reviews of “Part B therapy claims for providers with a high percentage of patients receiving therapy beyond the threshold as compared to their peers.” At this point, you are probably asking what the physical therapy cap threshold has to do with claims for ambulance services. If so, you are not alone. On behalf of the AAA, our firm contacted Strategic to request further clarification. Specifically, we asked whether the intent was to limit its review to physical therapy providers, or whether the intent was to audit ambulance suppliers. Strategic responded by indicating that it intended to limit its review to physical...

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OIG Releases Final Rule Revising Safe Harbor

Office of the Inspector General – Final Rule – Revisions to the Safe Harbors for Waiving Coinsurance, et.al On December 7, 2016, the Office of the Inspector General published a Final Rule (81 Federal Register 88368) and will be effective January 6, 2017. The Final Rule includes technical corrections to the existing Safe Harbor for referral services, a new Safe Harbor for waiver of patient cost-sharing for emergency ambulance services, a new Safe Harbor for free or discounted local transportation services, and an amendment to the definition of “remuneration” for purposes of the Civil Monetary penalties for beneficiary inducements.  Since the Final Rule covers many issues that pertain to other providers and suppliers, such as pharmacies, outpatient hospital, Federally Qualified Health Centers, Medicare Advantage Plans, etc., this Member Advisory will focus on the two issues that impact ambulance services and transportation. Safe Harbor – Cost Sharing Reductions for Emergency Ambulance Services In recent years, we have seen a number of OIG Advisory Opinions that permitted public EMS entities to waive the cost-sharing obligations of Medicare beneficiaries in specified circumstances. The OIG is now adding these as a “Safe Harbor”. The regulation, at 42 C.F.R 1001.952, will protect certain reductions or...

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When a Capitated Payment Arrangement Makes Sense

Question We operate a mid-sized ambulance services in the Midwest. Recently, one of our local hospitals entered into an agreement to become part of a large health system. We are increasingly being asked to transport patients from this local hospital to an affiliated facility in the neighboring city. These patients are being transported for consultations, medical tests, etc., and then being transported back to the local hospital. These transports become the financial responsibility of the health system, which has resulted in our monthly invoices to the hospital increasing nearly ten-fold over the past year. Recently, the hospital approached us with a proposal to move to a capitated payment arrangement. Are these arrangements permissible? And, if so, are there any “dos” and “don’ts” we should know about? Answer As the AAA’s Medicare Consultant, I am probably asked this question, or some variation of this question, several times a month. To me, these questions are a natural reaction by our industry to one of the larger tectonic shifts in health care over the past decade, namely the increasing footprint of national and regional hospital health care systems. According to the American Hospital Association, approximately 65% of hospitals nationwide were part of a...

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HHS OIG Report Discussion Added to Annual Conference

Late breaking AAA Conference update: In order to address a Medicare reimbursement issue we feel is critical, AAA has decided to modify the Tuesday afternoon conference session being led by Brian S. Werfel, Esq. Instead of covering medicare audits in this session, Mr. Werfel will now be leading an in depth discussion about a recent OIG Report on Questionable Billing Practices. The originally schedule session on preparing for medicare audits will be offered as a webinar. Further information about this new conference session is provided below. Understanding the Recent OIG Report on Questionable Billing Practices On September 29, 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General released a report on “Inappropriate Payments and Question Billing for Part B Ambulance Transports”.  The report concluded that Medicare paid $24.2 million during the first half of 2012 for ambulance transports that did not meet Medicare program requirements. In this special session, AAA Medicare Consultant Brian S. Werfel, Esq. will breakdown the OIG’s report, with special attention being paid to each of the 7 billing practices the OIG identified as “questionable”.  The session will include strategies that companies can implement to avoid these practices.  Brian will also discuss ongoing OIG enforcement activities related to (more…)

Member Advisory: Follow Up Regarding Recent OIG Report on Questionable Billing Practices for Ambulance Suppliers

HHS OIG Analysis Part 2 of 2 – Read Part One of the Analysis October 1, 2015 Yesterday, the American Ambulance Association summarized a report from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on certain questionable billing practices by ambulance suppliers. In this report, the OIG indicated that 1 in 5 ambulance providers had engaged in one or more of the following “questionable billing” practices”: Billing for a transport without a Medicare service being provided at either the origin Billing for excessive mileage for urban transports Billing for a high number of transports per beneficiary Billing using compromised beneficiary ID numbers Billing for an inappropriate or unlikely transport level Billing for a beneficiary that is being shared among multiple ambulance suppliers Billing for transports to/from a partial hospitalization program In this member advisory, I want to devote additional attention to the questionable billing practice the OIG referred to as “inappropriate or unlikely transport levels”. The OIG identified 268 out of the 15,614 ambulance suppliers reviewed (2%) that had questionable billing based on the percentage of claims submitted with inappropriate or unlikely combinations of transport levels and destinations.  The OIG summarized its findings as follows:...

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Member Advisory: OIG Issues Report on Questionable Billing Practices for Ambulance Suppliers

HHS OIG Analysis Part 1 of 2 – Read Part Two of the Analysis On September 29, 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report titled “Inappropriate Payments and Questionable Billing for Medicare Part B Ambulance Transports” (OEI-09-12-00351).  The report, conducted by the Office of Evaluation and Inspections (OEI), looked at claims data for 7.3 million ambulance transports furnished during the first half of 2012.  The OIG reviewed this claims data to determine whether claims were billed appropriately to the Medicare program. Summary of the OIG’s Findings The OIG determined that Medicare paid $24.2 million in the first half of 2012 for ambulance transports that did not meet certain program requirements for payment.  The OIG identified an additional $30.2 million paid for transports for which the beneficiary did not receive Medicare services at either the pick-up or drop-location, or anywhere else.  Finally, the OIG determined that 1 in 5 ambulance suppliers met certain criteria that indicated they may have engaged in questionable billing practices.  According to the OIG, more than half of all questionable transports were provided to beneficiaries residing in 4 metropolitan areas. Detailed OIG Findings Medicare paid $24.2 million...

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Member Advisory: OIG Issues Report on Questionable Billing Practices for Ambulance Suppliers

HHS OIG Analysis Part 1 of 2 – Read Part Two of the Analysis On September 29, 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report titled “Inappropriate Payments and Questionable Billing for Medicare Part B Ambulance Transports” (OEI-09-12-00351).  The report, conducted by the Office of Evaluation and Inspections (OEI), looked at claims data for 7.3 million ambulance transports furnished during the first half of 2012.  The OIG reviewed this claims data to determine whether claims were billed appropriately to the Medicare program. Summary of the OIG’s Findings The OIG determined that Medicare paid $24.2 million in the first half of 2012 for ambulance transports that did not meet certain program requirements for payment.  The OIG identified an additional $30.2 million paid for transports for which the beneficiary did not receive Medicare services at either the pick-up or drop-location, or anywhere else.  Finally, the OIG determined that 1 in 5 ambulance suppliers met certain criteria that indicated they may have engaged in questionable billing practices.  According to the OIG, more than half of all questionable transports were provided to beneficiaries residing in 4 metropolitan areas. Detailed OIG Findings Medicare paid $24.2 million...

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