Today the HHS OIG issued a Special Fraud Alert highlighting its concerns regarding two trends involving transfers of value from laboratories to physicians that the OIG believes “present a substantial risk of fraud and abuse under the anti-kickback statute.” Specifically, the OIG details risks involved with certain compensation paid by laboratories to referring physicians and physician group practices for (1) blood specimen collection, processing, and packaging, and (2) submitting patient data to a registry or database. The Special Fraud Alert reiterates the OIG’s “longstanding concerns” when payments from laboratories to physicians exceed the fair market value of the physicians’ services or reflect the volume or value of referrals of federal health care program business. Reed Smith is preparing an analysis of the Alert.
Recent Congressional hearings on health policy issues include the following:
- A House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee “21st Century Cures Roundtable” discussed steps Congress can take to bridge the gap between medical advances and the regulatory policies that govern them, and ultimately advance digital and personalized health care. The panel also released a related white paper on digital health care and is seeking feedback on this topic through July 22, 2014.
- The Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee held a hearing on “Medicare Program Integrity: Screening Out Errors, Fraud, and Abuse.” The Committee also held hearings on health care access under the ACA.
- The Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing entitled “State of Play: Brain Injuries and Diseases of Aging.”
- The Ways and Means Health Subcommittee held a hearing on MedPAC's June Report to the Congress on Medicare delivery reforms.
- The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on health insurance company profits under the ACA.
Is anybody home? Medicare contractors on the prowl for DMEPOS supplier violations of posted business hours and other physical facility standards.
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.
A number of Congressional panels have focused on following health policy issues recently, including the following:
- The House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee examined various Medicare hospital issues, including the CMS two-midnights policy, short inpatient stays, outpatient observation stays, Recovery Audit Contractor audits, and the appeals backlog.
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on two bills that seek to equalize payments between different providers: (1) the Medicare Patient Access to Cancer Treatment Act of 2014, which would establish payment parity under the Medicare program for ambulatory cancer care services furnished in the hospital outpatient department and the physician office setting; and (2) the Bundling and Coordinating Post-Acute Care (BACPAC) Act of 2014, which would provide bundled payments for post-acute care services under Medicare Parts A and B.
- The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held hearings entitled "Examining the Federal Response to Autism Spectrum Disorders" and "Medicare Mismanagement: Oversight of the Federal Government Effort to Recapture Misspent Funds."
- The Senate Special Committee on Aging focused on the role of health care providers in advance care planning.
- The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee examined the ACA minimum medical loss ratio (MLR) requirements, which requires health insurers to provide rebates to consumers if the plans do not spend sufficient proportion of premium dollars on medical care.
The OIG has issued its spring Semiannual Report to Congress, which summarizes major OIG activities during the period of October 2013 through March 2014. The OIG highlights “ramped up” oversight of Affordable Care Act implementation efforts, particularly with regard to eligibility systems, payment accuracy, contractor oversight, and data security associated with the Health Insurance Marketplaces. Other core areas for the OIG during this time included ensuring the appropriate use of prescription drugs by Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, CMS oversight of Medicare contractors, and grants oversight and management. With regard to enforcement activities during the first half of FY 2014, the OIG reported 465 criminal actions against individuals or entities that engaged in crimes against HHS programs, along with 266 civil actions (including false claims and unjust-enrichment lawsuits, civil monetary penalties settlements, and administrative recoveries related to provider self-disclosure matters), and exclusions of 1,720 individuals and entities from participation in federal health care programs. The OIG also expects recoveries of more than $3.1 billion in the first half of FY 2014 (about $295 million in audit receivables and $2.83 billion in investigative receivables.
CMS has just released a proposed rule that would require Medicare prior authorization (PA) for certain Medicare Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies (DMEPOS) items that the agency characterizes as “frequently subject to unnecessary utilization.“ As part of the rulemaking, CMS has developed a “Master List” of initial items that it considers to meet this standard based on being (1) identified in a GAO or HHS OIG national report published in 2007 or later as having a high rate of fraud or unnecessary utilization; or (2) listed in the 2011 or later Comprehensive Error Rate Testing (CERT) program's Annual Medicare FFS Improper Payment Rate Report DME Service Specific Overpayment Rate Appendix. CMS also proposes limiting the items on the Master List to those with an average purchase fee of at least $1,000 or an average rental fee schedule of at least $100 to allow CMS to focus on items with the largest potential savings for the Medicare Trust Fund. CMS proposes that the Master List will be “self-updating” annually, and that items generally will remain on the list for 10 years. Note, however, that presence on the Master List would not automatically require prior authorization. CMS would limit the PA requirement to a subset of items (called the “Required Prior Authorization List") “to balance minimizing provider and supplier burden with our need to protect the Trust Funds." CMS would publish the Required Prior Authorization List in the Federal Register with 60-day notice before implementation. CMS also proposes that the PA program could be implemented nationally or locally. The proposed rule does not announce the first items on the Required Prior Authorization List. Instead, CMS is seeking public comment on the number of items that should be selected initially and in the future, and the frequency with which CMS should select items.
The proposed PA process would not create new clinical documentation requirements for the selected DMEPOS items. Instead, the same information necessary now to support Medicare payment for the item would be submitted to the contractor, but before the item could be furnished to the beneficiary and before the claim could be submitted for payment. Upon receipt of a PA request, CMS or its contractors would determine whether the item complies with applicable coverage, coding, and payment rules, and then communicate a decision that provisionally affirms or non-affirms the request. CMS or its contractors would “make reasonable efforts” to provide a decision within 10 days of receipt of all applicable information, unless this timeline could “seriously jeopardize the life or health of the beneficiary,” in which case the target review period would be 2 business days.
The proposed rule also discusses, among other things: the process for updating the Master List; liability for an item on the Required Prior Authorization List if authorization is submitted and denied, the opportunity for unlimited PA resubmissions, and applicability to competitive bidding areas. The rule also would add a contractor's decision regarding prior authorization of coverage of DMEPOS items to the list of actions that are not initial determinations and therefore not appealable. The official version will be published on May 28, 2014. CMS will accept comments on the proposed rule until July 28, 2014.
In a related development, CMS has announced that it is expanding its current demonstration for prior authorization for power mobility devices to 12 additional states. CMS also will launch two payment model demonstrations to test prior authorization for hyperbaric oxygen therapy and repetitive scheduled non-emergent ambulance transport; information from these models will inform future CMS policy decisions on the use of prior authorization.
On the heels of its proposed rule to expand its health program exclusion authority, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services has published a proposed rule that would amend the health care program civil monetary penalty (CMP) regulations. The rule would codify the OIG’s expanded statutory authority under the Affordable Care Act to impose CMPs on providers and suppliers and would allow for significant penalties in a variety of scenarios, some of which could extend beyond what is currently permitted.
Reed Smith attorneys have prepared a Client Alert summarizing and analyzing the OIG’s proposed rule, including the various scenarios under which CMPs could be issued under the proposed regulations, such as: failure to report and return an overpayment; failure to grant OIG timely access to records upon request; ordering or prescribing items or services while excluded from a federal health care program, as well as arranging or contracting with an individual or entity who meets this criteria; making false statements or omitting or misrepresenting material facts in an application, bid, or contract; and failing to submit or certify drug-pricing and product information in a timely manner. In addition, the alert covers the changes in technical language proposed by OIG to clarify and more clearly define the scope of CMP regulations.
The Client Alert is available here.
On May 9, 2014, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a proposed rule that would significantly expand the exclusion regulations applicable to persons or entities that receive, directly or indirectly, funds from federal health care programs (the Proposed Rule). The Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded the OIG’s authority for exclusion, and authorized the use of testimonial subpoenas in investigations of exclusion cases. In this Proposed Rule, the OIG incorporates these statutory changes, revises the definitions applicable to exclusions, proposes early reinstatement procedures, and offers a number of proposed policy changes as to when and how exclusions may take place.
Reed Smith has prepared a Client Alert that provides an overview of the Proposed Rule, including: proposed revisions to definitions; new grounds for exclusion; clarifications to existing regulations to add mitigating and aggravating factors; early reinstatement procedures; and proposed procedural changes in the OIG’s exclusion authorities. In particular, we discuss the OIG’s assertion that there should be no statute of limitations within which it would have to seek exclusion. This limitless look-back authority could place a tremendous burden on providers and suppliers, since their conduct and compliance efforts could be second-guessed many years into the future, when supporting documentation and witnesses may be long gone. We also discuss how these proposed changes to the OIG’s exclusion authorities could impact the debarment authority applicable to government contracts more generally.
The Client Alert is available here.
Another OIG Fraud Rule in the Pipeline: Anti-kickback Safe Harbors, CMPs for Beneficiary Inducements, Gainsharing
On the heels of publication of sweeping proposed rules to expand its exclusion and civil monetary penalty (CMP) authorities, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) is seeking White House clearance of another rule to expand its Medicare and state health care program fraud and abuse authorities. Specifically, yesterday the OIG sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) a proposed rule that would add new anti-kickback safe harbors to reflect statutory changes, codify the Affordable Care Act’s definition of "remuneration," and add a gainsharing CMP regulation. The OIG also has indicated that a separate rulemaking on inflation adjustment for CMPs will be forthcoming, but that regulation has not yet been submitted to OMB. The OIG considers each of the proposed rules to be a stand-alone, independent rule, although there is obviously overlap in the subject matter. We will continue to closely follow these regulatory developments.
On May 9, 2014, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Human Services (HHS) published a proposed rule that would significantly expand the exclusion regulations applicable to persons or entities that receive, directly or indirectly, funds from federal health care programs. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded the OIG’s authority for exclusion and authorized the use of testimonial subpoenas in investigations of exclusion cases. In this proposed rule, the OIG incorporates these statutory changes, revises the definitions applicable to exclusions, proposes early reinstatement procedures, and offers a number of proposed policy changes as to when and how exclusions may take place. Comments on the proposed rule are due July 8, 2014.
Separately, on May 12, the OIG published a proposed rule that would implement the ACA’s expanded civil monetary penalty (CMP) authorities, including penalties for: failure to grant OIG timely access to records; ordering or prescribing while excluded; making false statements, omissions, or misrepresentations in an enrollment application; failure to report and return an overpayment; and making or using a false record or statement that is material to a false or fraudulent claim. The proposed rule addresses when and how these CMPs are applied, the methodology for calculating the penalties, and the liability guidelines under other OIG authorities. Comments will be accepted until July 11, 2014. Reed Smith is preparing Client Alerts regarding both rules, which will be available shortly.
The OIG’s “Medicaid Integrity Program Report for Fiscal Year 2013,” released earlier this month, provides details on funding for the OIG's Medicaid program integrity efforts, summarizes significant OIG Medicaid-related reviews and investigations, highlights Medicaid Fraud Control Unit activities, and notes Medicaid-related projects included in the OIG’s Work Plan for FY 2014.
On Wednesday, April 30, 2014, the House Ways and Means Committee will focus on “Ideas to Improve Medicare Oversight to Reduce Waste, Fraud and Abuse." On May 1, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee is holding a hearing on “Telehealth to Digital Medicine: How 21st Century Technology Can Benefit Patients."
Fingerprint-based background checks intended to “detect bad actors” enrolled or attempting to enroll in federal health programs
More than three years after publication of final regulations to implement Affordable Care Act (ACA) provisions that strengthen provider and supplier enrollment screening provisions under federal health care programs, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has selected a Fingerprint-Based Background Check Contractor (FBBC) and intends to phase in fingerprint-based background checks beginning in 2014.
By way of background, CMS published a final rule on February 2, 2011 pursuant to Section 640 of the ACA, which required the Department of Health and Human Services to establish procedures for screening providers and suppliers participating in federal health care programs (specifically, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program). Among other things, the final rule applies various screening tools, including unannounced site visits, background checks, and fingerprinting, based on the level of risk associated with different provider and supplier types. CMS established three levels of risk – limited, moderate, and high – and every provider and supplier category is assigned to one of these three levels. Individuals who maintain a 5 percent or greater direct or indirect ownership interest in a provider or supplier in the high risk category -- including newly-enrolling home health agencies (HHAs) and newly-enrolling durable medical equipment, orthotics, prosthetics, and supplies (DMEPOS) suppliers -- are subject to a fingerprint-based criminal history report check of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System.
While the final rule was effective March 25, 2011, as mandated by the ACA, CMS delayed the effective date of the fingerprint-based criminal history record check provision until after additional subregulatory guidance was issued. CMS awarded a $4.19 million FBBC contract to Accurate Biometrics, Inc. in March 2014, a significant step in the implementation process. Following this award, CMS issued a provider update announcing that it intends to phase in the fingerprint-based background check implementation beginning in 2014. Not all providers and suppliers in the "high" level of risk category will initially be a part of the fingerprint-based background check requirement, but eventually the fingerprint-based background check will be completed on all individuals with a 5 percent or greater ownership interest in a provider or supplier that falls under the high-risk category.
Providers and suppliers subject to the fingerprint requirements will receive a notification letter from their Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC), and applicable individuals will have 30 days from the date of the notification letter to be fingerprinted at one of at least three locations identified by the FBBC (individuals will incur the cost of having their fingerprints taken). After fingerprinting is complete, the fingerprints will be forwarded to the FBI, which will compile the background history and share results with the FBBC within 24 hours of receipt. The FBBC will assess the data and provide a "fitness recommendation" to CMS indicating whether the criminal history record information contains enrollment violations or otherwise fails to meet requirements or guidelines established by CMS for enrollment of a Medicare provider or supplier; CMS will then make the final determination about the provider or supplier. CMS will notify providers and suppliers if the assessment of the fingerprint-based background check results in the denial of an enrollment application or revocation of existing Medicare billing privileges. The CMS guidance also provides information on standards for securing the data under the review process.
This announcement marks the latest steps in seemingly ever-escalating CMS efforts to clamp down on fraud and abuse in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. While the initial targets of the fingerprint-based background requirements are new DMEPOS suppliers and HHAs, the policy also will apply to those who are elevated to the high risk category in accordance with enrollment screening regulations, which could include providers/suppliers coming back into the Medicare fee-for-service program after a moratorium is lifted, or providers which have been subject to a payment suspension, exclusion, or revocation. It is likely that some "owners" of entities, such principals of investment firms with financial interests in providers and suppliers, will balk at the whole idea of being fingerprinted. Moreover, the pending fingerprint process will doubtless provide even more opportunities for administrative missteps, and erroneous and time-consuming supplier/provider number revocations.
While attention has been focused on Medicare physician payment data released by CMS yesterday, upcoming Sunshine Act data will shine a new spotlight on financial relationships between physicians and pharmaceutical and medical device companies – with potential FCA implications.
Last week marked the deadline for pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers and group purchasing organizations (GPOs) to register with and submit aggregate 2013 payment and investment interest data to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on certain financial relationships between themselves and physicians and teaching hospitals, as required by the Physician Payment Sunshine Act.1 In May, manufacturers and GPOs will be required to submit to CMS detailed 2013 payment data. With some exceptions, CMS will be making these data public by September 1, 2014. While the publicly available data are intended to provide more transparency for patients – to allow them to have a better understanding of the financial relationships between physicians and pharmaceutical and medical device companies – patients will certainly not be the only group interested in this public information. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG), Department of Justice (DOJ), and relators’ attorneys will likely utilize these data to initiate investigations and support complaints under the federal False Claims Act (FCA). As with the recent release of the 2012 Medicare Part B Physician Fee Schedule data, members of the media will likely make inferences about certain financial relationships.
The U.S. government recovered $3.8 billion in settlements and judgments from civil cases involving fraud against the government in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2013.2 Fiscal 2014 looks to be a record-breaking year, with ever-increasing civil settlements by major pharmaceutical companies.3
As the reporting deadlines approach, it is worth considering an interesting, and largely unknown, potential implication of the public availability of these data: How will it affect future FCA litigation? The publically available Sunshine Act data could become relevant to FCA litigation in a variety of ways; two in particular are discussed below.
Anti-Kickback Statute Violations
The data could give rise to suspicions of violations of the federal Anti-kickback Statute (AKS). The AKS makes it a criminal offense to knowingly and willfully offer or pay remuneration to induce the referral of, or arrange for the provisions of, federal health care program business.4 In other words, the law prohibits any person or entity from giving, receiving – or offering to give or receive – anything of value in return for or to induce referrals for businesses covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or any other federally funded health care program. Violators of the AKS face imprisonment, criminal, and civil fines, as well as exclusion from federal health care programs.5
It is easy to see how publishing information regarding payments from pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers to physicians and teaching hospitals could implicate the AKS, and by extension, the FCA. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) made explicit that violations of the AKS are also violations of the FCA.6 Any payment from a pharmaceutical or medical device manufacturer to a physician who prescribes a product manufactured by the company providing the payment could be viewed as potentially inappropriate remuneration intended to influence prescribing behavior.
Publically available information reported as a result of the Sunshine Act may also have off-label promotion implications. Notably, reports to CMS must include the name of the drug or the type of device that forms the basis of the payment.7 Tying the payment to a particular drug or type of device could raise suspicions of off-label promotion. A pharmaceutical or medical device manufacturer that promotes its products for uses for which the product has not yet been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), i.e., off-label uses, is at risk of FCA liability. A false claim can arise when a manufacturer promotes a product for off-label, non-covered uses (that is, for a use that both has not been approved by FDA and is not covered by the federal health care programs). Payments going to physicians who specialize in an area that is outside the scope of a pharmaceutical or medical device’s approved indication could necessarily raise suspicions that the manufacturer is promoting the product for unapproved uses.
Besides the risk of government identifying potential issues for further investigation and prosecution as a result of reported Sunshine Act data, private parties may also mine the publically available data. One substantial impediment to relators’ attorneys using Physician Sunshine Payment data in FCA litigation is the limitation that publicly available data cannot form the basis of a whistleblower claim.8 This is known as the public disclosure bar, although the effectiveness of this defense has been diminished with recent FCA amendments.
That said, the Sunshine Act data, even if not the basis of a claim, could nonetheless impact the litigation in many ways. For example, it could provide additional evidence for the government to review in reaching its decision whether to intervene in a qui tam action. Both OIG and DOJ could review the data before it is publicly available to assist in the determination that a given matter warrants intervention. Additionally, the publicly available data – beyond providing flavor in support of an FCA claim and assisting with meeting the heightened pleading standard associated with fraud allegations9 – could be a potential mine for plaintiff attorneys to locate areas of focus. Relators’ attorneys will no doubt track the data to ascertain potential problem drugs or companies about which they can then dedicate efforts to uncovering fraud and abuse in the federal health care system.
It remains to be seen how all of these risks will play out going forward. Courts will have to decide how these new data will fit into FCA litigation. OIG and DOJ will have to determine how much to rely on the new information. And relators’ attorneys will need to make decisions about how many resources to dedicate to mining the Sunshine Act data.
One potential consequence that we are already starting to see occur is that pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers may halt or limit payments to physicians, and/or that physicians themselves will be reluctant to accept such payments, e.g., for research, for expenses associated with training on a device, and the like. Companies may decide to do so for a variety of reasons, including avoiding the administrative burdens associated with tracking and reporting such payments for purposes of the Sunshine Act, fear of FCA litigation, or for public relations reasons. Many physicians simply do not want their names publicized. It remains to be seen how these trends will evolve.
1 42 C.F.R. § 403.908(a).
2 DOJ Press Release, available at: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2013/December/13-civ-1352.html. 3 See, e.g., DOJ Press Release, available at: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2013/November/13-ag-1170.html.
4 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7.
6 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b(g). Note that manufacturers may submit “assumptions documents” as part of Sunshine reporting. Although CMS stated in the preamble to the Sunshine regulations its belief that the contents of such documents “should not be made public,” it acknowledged that it could provide access to the documents during an audit or investigation by other HHS divisions, the Office of Inspector General, or the Department of Justice.
7 42 C.F.R. 403.94(c)(8).
8 31 U.S.C. § 3730(e)(4).
9 Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 9(b).
The OIG has released its “Compendium of Priority Recommendations,” which lists 25 priority issues for which the OIG has open recommendation and that, if implemented, would best protect the integrity of HHS programs. The 25 top priorities are as follows:
- Medicare Policies and Payments: address wasteful Medicare policies and payment rates for clinical laboratories, hospitals, and hospices; improve controls to address improper Medicare billings by community mental health centers, home health agencies, and skilled nursing facilities; detect and recover improper Medicare payments for services to incarcerated, unlawfully present, or deceased individuals; maximize recovery of Medicare overpayments; improve monitoring and reconciliation of Medicare hospital outlier payments; ensure that Medicare Advantage Organizations are implementing programs to prevent and detect waste, fraud, and abuse; and improve controls to address questionable billing and prescribing practices for Part D prescription drugs.
- Medicare Quality of Care and Safety Issues: address adverse events in hospital settings; improve care planning and discharge planning for beneficiaries in nursing home settings; address harm to patients, questionable resident hospitalizations, and inappropriate drug use in nursing homes; improve nursing home emergency preparedness and response; and ensure hospice compliance with Medicare conditions of participation.
- Medicaid Program Policies and Payments: ensure that state claims and practices do not inappropriately inflate federal reimbursements; ensure that states prevent, detect, and recover improper payments and return the federal share of recoveries to the federal government; assist states to better align Medicaid drug reimbursements with pharmacy acquisition costs; ensure that Medicaid Information Systems are fully functional; and address Medicaid managed care fraud and abuse concerns.
- Medicaid Quality of Care and Safety Issues: ensure that Medicaid home- and community-based care service providers comply with quality and safety requirements; and ensure that States improve utilization of preventive screening services for eligible children.
- Oversight of Food Safety: improve oversight of dietary supplements; and improve oversight of food inspections and traceability.
- HHS Grants and Contracts: improve oversight of grantee compliance, quality assurance, and conflicts of interest; and improve oversight of Medicare contractor performance and conflicts of interest.
- HHS Financial Stewardship: reduce improper payments and fraud; and correct deficiencies found in financial statement audits.
Note that some of these recommendations would require additional authority or other legislative change.
CMS has released data on Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) operations fiscal year 2012. Key findings included the following:
- In FY 2012, Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) RACs collectively identified and corrected 1,272,297 claims for improper payments, which resulted in $2.4 billion in improper payments being corrected ($2.3 billion in overpayments/$109.4 million in underpayments). Subtracting fees, costs, and first level appeals, the Medicare FFS Recovery Audit Program returned over $1.9 billion to the Medicare trust funds.
- The Part D RAC’s initial review focused on identifying improper payments for prescriptions written by excluded prescribers or filled by excluded pharmacies beginning with contract year 2007. Recoupment of approximately $2 million in overpayments began in the first quarter of FY 2013 for those plans identified in the Part D RAC's initial audit review. The Part D RAC is continuing its review of excluded providers and pharmacies for contract years 2008 and 2009. In addition, CMS posted a notice on April 4, 2013, seeking potential contractors to perform Part C RAC activities.
- As of September 30, 2012, 36 states had implemented Medicaid RAC programs, and other states are in various stages of preparation. For FY 2012, the states have recovered a total federal and state share combined amount of $95.64 million. CMS expects recoveries to increase as more states have fully operational State Medicaid RAC programs.
As previously reported, CMS has “paused” its RAC audits in preparation for the procurement of new RAC contracts and to “allow CMS to continue to refine and improve the Medicare Recovery Audit Program.”
The OIG has issued a report examining questionable Medicare billing for electrodiagnostic tests, which are used to evaluate patients who may have nerve damage and which the OIG has identified as an area vulnerable to fraud, waste, and abuse. According to the OIG, 4,901 physicians had questionable billing for Medicare electrodiagnostic tests in 2011, based on seven measures of questionable billing developed by the OIG (e.g., physicians with an unusually high percentage of electrodiagnostic test claims using modifier 59 or 25, physicians with an unusually high average number of miles between the physicians’ and beneficiaries’ locations, and physicians with an unusually high average number of electrodiagnostic test claims for the same beneficiary on the same day). These questionable claims totaled $139 million in 2011, with physicians in the New York, Los Angeles, and Houston areas having the highest total questionable billing. In response to these findings, the OIG recommend that CMS: increase its monitoring of billing for electrodiagnostic tests; provide additional guidance and education to physicians regarding electrodiagnostic tests, and take appropriate action regarding physicians identified as having inappropriate or questionable billing.
Congressional panels continue to hold hearings to address various health policy issues, including the following:
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on “Allowing Seniors to Keep Their Medicare Advantage Plans If They Like Them." In addition, on March 26, the panel is holding a hearing entitled “Where Have All the Patients Gone? Examining the Psychiatric Bed Shortage,” and on April 1, the Committee will focus on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) proposed changes to generic drug labeling.
- The Obama Administration’s proposed FY 2015 budget for HHS was the subject of hearings by the House Appropriations Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee.
- The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held hearings on FDA initiatives and priorities, and what the U.S. health care system can learn from other countries.
- On March 26, the Senate Special Committee on Aging is holding a hearing on “Preventing Medicare Fraud: How Can We Best Protect Seniors and Taxpayers?”
The OIG has released its Medicaid Fraud Control Units Fiscal Year 2013 Annual Report, which highlights achievements from the investigations and prosecutions conducted by the 50 MFCUs along with related OIG oversight activities. In FY 2013, MFCUs nationwide reported a total of 1,341 criminal convictions in cases involving Medicaid fraud and patient abuse and neglect, and nearly $1 billion in criminal recoveries. Criminal convictions involved a variety of provider types, most notably home health agencies. MFCUs also obtained 879 civil settlements and judgments in FY 2013. Civil recoveries totaled over $1.5 billion, with cases involving a variety of provider types, particularly pharmaceutical companies. More than 1,000 Medicaid providers convicted in MFCU cases were excluded from federal health care programs by the OIG in FY 2013. The OIG notes that a lack of fraud referrals to MFCUs from Medicaid managed care organizations (MCOs) presents challenges, and MCFU officials expressed concern that some MCOs may not have incentive to refer providers suspected of fraud. The OIG also determined that ACA provider payment suspension rules require more coordination between MFCUs and State Medicaid agencies.
On March 18, 2014, the OIG issued a report entitled “State Medicaid Agencies Can Significantly Reduce Medicaid Costs for Diabetic Test Strips.” The OIG highlighted examples of states that have saved millions of dollars through the use of rebates on blood glucose test strips. The OIG also estimated potential savings for state Medicaid agencies if they adopt competitive bidding for these supplies, or if they obtained pricing comparable to pricing under Medicare’s national mail-order competition for diabetic supplies. The OIG recommends that CMS work with state Medicaid agencies to determine whether the use of manufacturer rebates and lower provider reimbursement rates could achieve net savings for the purchase of blood glucose test strips. The OIG also has created a “spotlight” page to highlight fraud and waste associated with diabetes test strips, noting previous OIG action in this area, including special fraud alerts, enforcement actions, and inspection reports.