This post was written by Paul W. Pitts, Carol C. Loepere, Elizabeth Carder-Thompson, and Nancy Sheliga.
Medicare suppliers of durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics, and supplies (DMEPOS) should be on the alert for enhanced Medicare supplier standard compliance monitoring by CMS, the National Supplier Clearinghouse (NSC), and their agents. Recently, these entities have taken draconian actions to revoke the enrollment of a number of suppliers who failed to be present during indicated hours of operation. Recent Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decisions have upheld such revocations for technical violation of the Medicare supplier standard, even in the face of extenuating circumstances, reinforcing the need for suppliers to review their practices and policies to ensure full compliance.
Medicare supplier standard number 7 requires suppliers to appropriately maintain their physical facilities, including being accessible and staffed during posted hours of operation, maintaining a permanent visible sign in plain view, and posting hours of operation. In addition, supplier standard 7 requires the supplier’s business location to be accessible to the public, Medicare beneficiaries, CMS, NSC, and their agents (although there is an exception for “closed door” businesses, such as a pharmacy or supplier providing services only to beneficiaries residing in a nursing home, under certain circumstances).
Since compliance with all Medicare supplier standards is a condition of Medicare participation, suppliers must be present during published business hours or face revocation of their supplier number. This includes having staff present during lunch, unless the posted hours of operation specifically exclude certain lunch hours, and during holidays unless otherwise posted. We have observed a trend in deficiencies relating to supplier standard 7 being found during CMS and/or NSC supplier site visits resulting in supplier number revocations. For instance, suppliers have been found in violation when staff are out to lunch during a site visit or when an inspector uses the wrong set of elevators in a multi-use office building and is therefore unable to find the supplier’s office.
Recent ALJ decisions have upheld revocation of various DMEPOS suppliers’ billing privileges in similar situations. In one case, the supplier appealed the decision, noting that the days the surveyor attempted to visit the site were Christian and Jewish holidays. The ALJ, however, ruled that the timing of religious holidays was irrelevant because the supplier’s signage failed to notify the public that the business was closed for religious holidays (Lubell v CMS, Docket No. C-14-380, Decision No. CR3192, April 7, 2014). In another case, the supplier appealed the decision, arguing that its door was locked for the protection of its single staff member and that the staff member may not have noticed the inspector knocking due to being on lunch break. The ALJ upheld this revocation as well, noting that the office’s posted hours of operation did not indicate that the office would be closed for lunch. In that decision, the ALJ further ruled that the business was not accessible because the supplier’s locked-door approach represented an inappropriate restriction on access and indicated that a supplier may not close, even temporarily, during its posted hours of operation (Southeastern Orthotics and Prosthetics, Inc. v CMS, Docket No. C-14-315, Decision No. CR3208, April 23, 2014). In both of these cases, the ALJs held that retroactive revocations are not permitted under supplier standard 7, despite attempts by regulators to revoke the suppliers’ enrollments retroactive to the day of their second unsuccessful attempts to visit the sites.
As a reminder, suppliers must comply with all 30 supplier standards set out in 42 CFR § 424.57, an abbreviated version of which can be found on the NSC website. Given that Medicare authorities have been emphasizing supplier standard 7, we strongly encourage suppliers to ensure that their hours are posted, their offices are open to the public, and their staff are prepared for unannounced site visits at all times during posted business hours. Suppliers also should ensure that their address on file with the NSC is up to date and specific as to suite, room, and floor. In addition, we recommend that suppliers regularly review and update their Medicare 855S enrollment application whenever any changes to its content occur. Changes to a Medicare DMEPOS supplier’s enrollment information are due 30 days after they take place.