OIG Examines Inappropriate Medicare Payments to SNFs

This post was written by Scot Hasselman and Debra McCurdy.

An OIG report released November 13, 2012 estimates that one-fourth of Medicare SNF claims in 2009 were in error, resulting in more than $1 billion in inappropriate payments. Note that the OIG’s findings were based on a medical record review of a random sample of only 245 SNF stays and 499 claims, which the OIG projected to the 6.4 million claims in the population. Based on this limited sample, the OIG found that 20.3% of SNF claims were upcoded, with about half of these claims involved SNFs billing for ultrahigh therapy resource utilization groups (RUGs) instead of lower levels of therapy or nontherapy RUGs. In addition, 2.5% of claims were downcoded and 2.1% did not meet coverage requirements because the beneficiaries were not eligible for SNF care. The OIG concludes that while “CMS has made several significant changes to SNF payments for FYs 2011 and 2012…more needs to be done to reduce inappropriate payments to SNFs.” The OIG therefore recommends that CMS: (1) increase and expand reviews of SNF claims; (2) use its Fraud Prevention System to identify SNFs that are billing for higher paying RUGs; (3) monitor compliance with new therapy assessments (including through Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) and Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) analysis and review); (4) change the methodology for determining how much therapy is needed; (5) improve the accuracy of MDS items, and (6) follow up on the SNFs that billed in error. CMS concurred with the recommendations, set forth in the report entitled “Inappropriate Payments to Skilled Nursing Facilities Cost Medicare More Than a Billion Dollars in 2009.”

The OIG report follows an earlier report published in December of 2010. That report, entitled, “Questionable Billing by Skilled Nursing Facilities,” has been discredited as an overwhelming majority of the disallowed claims underlying the report were overturned on appeal; OIG ignored the judicial dispensation of these claims in makings its allegations. The report is the latest in a series of federal effort to narrow the scope of coverage for beneficiaries in SNFs, which is interesting in light of the recent CMS settlement regarding the “Improvement Standard” in a case entitled Jimmo v. Sebelius. In Jimmo, the plaintiff alleged that HHS had adopted an “unlawful and clandestine standard” (known as the “Improvement Standard”) to determine whether Medicare beneficiaries are entitled to coverage. HHS/CMS recently settled this matter and agreed to revise the appropriate Medicare manuals, and to engage in a nationwide education campaign to inform providers and Medicare contractors of maintenance coverage standards. As in Jimmo, we believe that the federal government has adopted a clandestine policy to restrict Medicare coverage in SNFs, which is being implemented via the OIG, MAC and RAC audits, and Zone Program Integrity Contractor and Department of Justice investigations.

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