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Dermatology Fraud Risk Areas – Impossibly Long Days

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

Failure to Supervise and Impossibly Long Days

Payment of $302,000 and Forced Corporate Integrity Agreement – July 2016

fraud and abuse dermatologistsThe government alleged the dermatologist in this case repeatedly billed for services under the “incident to” billing rules during periods when the dermatologist was not present in the office.  Some of the services were allegedly performed when the doctor was traveling out of the country.  The government also alleged the doctor billed for impossibly long days including one day where 26 hours were billed.

This case illustrates the need to comply with the “incident to” billing rules.  Those rules permit a physician extender’s services be billed under the physician in certain circumstances.  In order to qualify to bill incident to, the physician must be physically present within the office suite at the time the extender performs the service.  The physician cannot order the procedure and then leave the office while the procedure is being performed.  There are new Medicare rules clarifying some aspects of the “incident to” billing rules.  There was a previous ambiguity that some providers interpreted as permitting the physician that ordered the service to bill for the services, even though another physician actually supervised the performance of the service.  The rules revision clarified only the supervising physician can bill the services as “incident to” his or her service.  The ordering physician can only bill the service if he or she also supervises the extender.

Dermatology Practice Fraud and Abuse Risks Identified in Florida Case

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

Dermatologist Fraud and Abuse Risks – Identified from Florida Case Targeting Demotologist

Dermatology Risk Areas Fraud and AbuseAn allegation from a competing dermatologist resulted in a Federal government investigation of a Florida dermatologist.  The dermatologist was accused of charging the Medicare program for unnecessary biopsies and radiation treatments that were not rendered, not properly supervised, or given by unqualified physician assistants.  It was alleged the doctor was not even in the country when some of the procedures at issue were performed.  The unnecessary charges were alleged to have totaled around $49 million over a 6-year period.

The dermatologist did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement.  Rather, he alleged the overbilling resulted from his unique practice that relied on radiation, instead of disfiguring surgery, to help patients.  The doctor claimed he had cured “over 45,000 non-melanoma skin cancers with radiation therapy” over a 30-year period.  The problem with that argument appears to be the fact that the dermatologist was not trained or qualified in providing radiation oncology treatments.

There are a number of interesting things about this case.  The case was brought by a competing physician as a whistleblower.  The physician who brought the case expressed concern about having to treat patients that the accused doctor had misdiagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma.

The case also alleged significant billing for services allegedly provided when the doctor was not even in the office.  The accused doctor alleged he was available by phone while the procedures at issue were being performed.  This raises interesting issues under the rules regarding “incident to” billing.  Those rules permit a physician to bill for physician extender services.  In order to qualify to bill a service as “incident to” a physician’s service, the billing physician must meet supervisions requirements.  The physician must be physically present within the office suite during the performance of the procedure in order to qualify to bill a service as “incident to” the physician’s services.

It appears there were a number of things going on in this case.

  • There appears to have been a pattern of diagnosing a higher level of severity than was supported by the patient’s condition.
  • There was a routine use of radiation therapy, even in cases that were not medically appropriate.  This placed patients at potential risk.
  • There appears to have been questions whether the accused doctor was authorized to perform radiation therapy.
  • There were issues regarding improper use of the “incident to” billing rules when the doctor was not present to actively supervise the service.
  • There was also some evidence the doctor had offered incentives for staff to misdiagnose and over utilize the radiation treatment.
  • There was an alleged kickback arrangement with another physician who operated a clinical laboratory.

Challenging Physician Payment Sunshine Act Disclosures

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

The Affordable Care Act added the Physician Payment Sunshine Act (Sunshine Act) as section 1128G to the Social Security Act. The Sunshine Act requires applicable manufacturers of drugs, devices, biologicals, or medical supplies and certain group purchasing organizations to report annually to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) certain payments or items of value that are provided to physicians and teaching hospitals.  The Sunshine Act also requires CMS to publish payments reported on a public Web site.

In 2013, CMS issued final regulations interpreting and clarifying the requirements of the Sunshine Act.  The final regulations clarify the reporting process, identify exceptions and exclusions from the reporting requirements, and provide further details regarding what constitutes a reportable relationship.  The final rule delineates the specific data elements reporting organizations are required to include and the required reporting format.  Reporting organizations failing to make required reports are subject to potential civil monetary penalties.  Continued

Dental Practice Compliance Programs – Essential Elements of Compliance Policies

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Should a Dental Practice Have a Compliance Program?

Compliance programs are an accepted requirement in most of the health care industry.  There seems to have been less importance attached to the establishment of systematic compliance programs in the dental practice area.  I believe part of the reason why the dental industry has lagged behind other health care providers in the compliance area is that there is very little Medicare reimbursement involved in the usual dental practice.  Certainly much of the reason for compliance program involve Medicare enforcement actions.  However, dental practice that under-emphasize compliance are assuming a great deal of unnecessary risk.

Certainly some dental providers receive Medicare reimbursement for a portion of their services.  Oral surgeons for example regularly perform services that are covered under the Medicare program.  Many practices accept Medicaid reimbursement or reimbursement from other Federal health programs.  Additionally, practices that receive reimbursement from federally funded health care plans are required under Federal law to establish and effective compliance program that contains the “core elements” set forth in Federal law.  The Federal standard required dental providers who receive this type of reimbursement to actively operate a compliance programs that is effective in preventing and detecting criminal, civil and administrative violations and in promoting the quality of care that is provided by the practice consistent with federal regulations.

There are many reasons beyond reimbursement requirements to operate a compliance program.   Dental practices must maintain systematic process to assure compliance with OSHA regulations, HIPAA and state privacy regulations, and a variety of other federal and state rules and regulations.  Some of these regulatory areas are subject to aggressive governmental oversight including periodic audits and inspections.  Other areas are not subject to aggressive enforcement.  All of these areas, even those where there is no aggressive enforcement, can expose the dental practice to liability if a complaint is made by an employee, former employer, patient, competitor, or other individual.  Some of these potential complainants can even establish whistleblower status and can bring private action for recovery.

Some practices that implement compliance programs and perform audits over billing and collection practices are pleasantly surprised when they discover that they have actually been under-billing.  Audit of potential risk areas can indeed identify missed revenue opportunities.  This does not happen in every instance, but there are circumstances where the audit process actually identifies new revenue streams.

For most providers, operating a compliance program will have the benefit of deterring potential future liability.  If detected early, it is much easier to deal with a potential infraction when it is self-discovered before the potential damages become insurmountable.  It is one thing to deal with potential over-payment or failure to follow a regulation.  It is much more difficult to resolve these issues when they are brought into the open from an outside party.  By that time, potential sanctions may have multiplied to an unmanageable level.  For example, if the False Claims Act applies, a simple over-payment can be multiplied by 3, plus $11,000 to $21,000 per claim can be added to the otherwise manageable over-payment amount.

In summary, there is every reason for a dental practice to actively operate a robust compliance program.  Those that believe that a compliance program is not needed because Medicare reimbursement is not present should think again.  Eventually, it is highly likely that the failure to maintain an active compliance program will catch up with you.  I have represented many health care providers who have been subject to the negative impact of not operating a compliance program.  I can tell you that they all share the same regret that they did not deal with compliance proactively while they had the opportunity.

For those of you who are still reading, I want to briefly describe the 7 basic elements of a compliance program.  Each of these elements can be expounded on further, but I will touch on them briefly here.

  1. Appointment of a high ranking member of management to act as compliance officer. In a smaller practice, a compliance responsible individual can be used.  Compliance program structure can be scalable to the size and resources of the provider and the nature and complexity of the business.
  2. Compliance policies should be put in place that describe the process to be used to conduct ongoing compliance activities. Compliance policies will define compliance operations and will also outline requirements in risk areas that are specific to the nature of the practice.
  3. Employees, contractors and others must be trained on basic compliance program elements and risk areas that are applicable to their job functions.
  4. Creating a compliance reporting system and protecting those who make complaints from retaliation or retribution.
  5. Enforcing disciplinary standards that hold employees responsible for following compliance requirements.
  6. Operating a system to continually identify areas of potential compliance risk within the practice.
  7. Maintaining a system of appropriately responding to identified compliance problems through creation of appropriate corrective action, self-disclosure or other appropriate action.

Putting these elements in place through adoption and operation of appropriate policies and standards establishes the central elements of the compliance process.  It is critical that the activity does not stop at the establishment of policies.  A compliance program must be continually operated as a living a breathing process to identify and address risk in a practice manner.  The compliance officer or responsible individual is responsible for assuring the continued operation of the program.

Risk areas in a dental practice include reimbursement rules, licensing and certification standards, OSHA regulations, HIPAA and state patient privacy laws, infection control standards, radiation regulations and standards, documentation requirements, controlled substance regulations and a host of other state and Federal regulatory requirements.  Your compliance program in effect creates the process to identify risk and proactively examine potential areas of risk to determine compliance.  An actively operating compliance program is a necessary elements of every dental practice.

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“Incident to” Billing Rules Clarified by CMS for 2016

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

Recent Changes to Medicare “Incident To” Billing Rules

incident to billing rules supervision requirementMedicare permits a physician to bill for certain services that are furnished by a nurse practitioner or other auxiliary personnel under what is referred to as the “incident to” billing rules.  The “incident to” rules permit services or supplies furnished as an integral, although incidental, part of the physician’s personal professional services in the course of diagnosis or treatment of an injury or illness to be reimbursed at 100% of the physician fee schedule, even if the service is not directly furnished by the billing physician.

A significant requirement to permit the services of physician extenders to be billed as “incident to” services requires direct personal supervision by the physician. The supervising physician does not necessarily need to be present in the same room where the procedure is being performed.  The “direct supervision” standard requires the supervising physician to be “physically present in the office suite and immediately available to furnish assistance and direction” during the time when the  auxiliary personnel is providing the service.

The 2016 Medicare physician payment rule provided some clarification on how the direct  supervision requirement under the “incident to” billing rules operates.  The new rule clarifies that the physician who directly supervises the applicable auxiliary personnel is the only party that can bill the service of the auxiliary personnel as “incident to” his or her service.  CMS considers this to be a clarification of its longstanding policy, but many providers will see this as a new restriction on the application of the “incident to” rules.

To understand the significance of this “clarification,” it is useful to note that more than one physician is often involved in the care of a patient.  It is not uncommon for one physician to visit the patient and order a test or procedure that is supervised by another physician.  Prior to this “clarification,” the physician that originally ordered the service might have billed the service as “incident to” even though another physician actually supervised the performance of the service.  The revised regulatory language clarified that this is not permitted and that only the physician that is actually present in the office suite and supervises the service can bill for the service as “incident to” their service.  When making a claim for services billed “incident to” a physician’s services, the billing number of the physician that actually supervises the performance of the service must be used rather than that of the ordering physician.

CMS clarifies the reasoning behind this rule as follows: “[B]illing practitioners should have a personal role in, and responsibility for, furnishing services for which they are billing and receiving payment as an incident to their own professional service.”

In view of this regulatory clarification, providers may wish to reexamine their billing process and procedures to clarify the correct billing for “incident to” services.  Staff should also be trained on the proper supervision of services that are billed under the “incident to” rules.

Incident To Billing Rules Changed In New CMS Regulations

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

New regulations issued by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid services on November 16, 2015 change the way that services that are furnished “incident to” the service of a physician must billed. The new regulations provide clarification that the billing provider must be the provider that actually supervises the incident to service.

Previously, regulations stated that the physician supervising the auxiliary personnel need not be the same physician upon whose professional service the “incident to”services base. The provisions in previous regulations that permitted another physician to supervise the incident to service have been removed. Now, the physician who is actually available and actually supervises must be the party whose billing number is connected with the incident to service.

The service that is performed “incident to” the services of a physician can generally be billed at 100% of the physician’s rate under the Medicare fee schedule.  However, supervision and billing standards must be complied with to avoid creating a compliance issue and potential overpayment.

All providers must look at their billing policies and procedures to be certain that they integrate the new “incident to” billing standards into their compliance policies and procedures and appropriately implement the new standard through proper training of their billing staff, physicians and support staff.  This is also a good time to refresh provider training on the extent of supervision that is required in various care settings.

HCQIA and Clinically Integrated Provider Networks

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

Health Care Quality Improvement Act and Clinically Integrated Provider Networks 

Clinical Integration HCQIAClinically integrated networks present unique credentialing issues that are normally not present in hospital or facility credentialing.  These unique issues stem from the very nature of integrated networks which require providers to comply with evidence-based protocols, individualized care plans, quality metrics, efficiency standards, and other system standards.

In order to assure compliance with these standards, integrated networks need to assert much more control over the clinical practices of its provider members than has historically been exercised in the hospital setting.  Credentialing and recredentialing processes need to be put in place to assure that providers practice in conformance with evidence-based practice protocols, coordinate care with other network providers, and otherwise work well within the system.

Integrated networks face a number of choices when determining how to structure their credentialing and recredentialing processes.  A threshold decision is whether the credentialing process should be structured to take advantage of the immunities that are available under the Health Care Quality Improvement Act (“HCQIA”).

Qualifying under the HCQIA has some benefits but also carries some burdens.  In order to qualify for HCQIA immunities, the organization must implement a formal credentialing, hearing, and appeal process in order to qualify for immunities.

A CIN must also register with the HRSA and is required to make reports to the Practitioner Databank if adverse peer review determinations are made.  The CIN receives a Data Bank Identification Number and can be penalized for not reporting adverse determinations.  The reporting requirement is an issue that provider networks may wish to avoid.  The obligation to report has the practical effect of making peer review actions much more controversial and prone to litigation because a database report is a serious negative mark on a physician’s record.

On the other hand, the immunities offered by the HCQIA can be extremely valuable to a clinically integrated network.  One of the immunities that is available under the HCQIA is from the treble damage provisions under federal antitrust laws.  This immunity cannot be discounted; particularly with provider networks that make more aggressive credentialing decisions based on achievement of quality and cost issues and infirmity with system protocols.

If a choice is made to secure the HCQIA immunities, a comprehensive credentialing, peer review and fair hearing process is required as is use of the Practitioner Databank.  Furthermore, in order to qualify, adverse actions only be taken in furtherance of quality healthcare, after a reasonable effort to develop the facts, with adequate notice and hearing to the affected practitioner.  The Act and interpreting case law have created rather detailed requirements for notice and hearing.  The end result is that extensive procedural processes must be in place and consistently followed by the organization.  This of course adds another layer of complexity and cost to the organization.  At the same time, it greatly decreases the organization’s potential liability exposure which under certain circumstances could greatly exceed the cost of complying with HCQIA requirements.

OIG Fraud Alert – Medical Director Compensation Arrangements

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

medical director compsnation

Medical Director – Fraud Alert – Physician Compensation

The Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services release a new Fraud Alert on June 9, 2015.  The Fraud Alert relates to physician compensation for medical directorships and other services and warns that the compensation arrangements under these arrangements must be at fair market value and must require legitimate services to be performed in return for that compensation.  This is nothing new for those involved in physician compliance issues. However, the fact that the OIG chose this issue for a special Fraud Alert is significant in itself.

Medical director compensation has gained the attention of governmental enforcers over the years with some high profile cases that have focused on fraudulent medical director arrangements.  The compliance industry has tightened its belt on these issues; requiring strict adherence to policies and guidelines for medical director compensation. Clearly there is a legitimate need for health care providers to retain physicians to provide medical direction of various service lines.  In fact, regulations require medical director oversight in many areas.  Even where there is a legitimate need, it is necessary to carefully structure the medical director arrangement to be legally compliant.

You may find your compliance officer of health lawyer advising even more restrictive structuring of medical director arrangements as a result of this Fraud Alert.  The OIG uses Fraud Alerts to place emphasis on areas of concern.  These issuance must be taken seriously and should cause providers to review their policies, procedures and contracts to assure that they are legally compliant and could withstand scrutiny by external government investigators.

A few things to consider include:

  • Specifically defining the precise services that are required of the medical director.
  • Assuring that contracts are current, validly executed, and have not expired.
  • Require regular logs to be provided by the medical director which detail the services that are actually performed.
  • Require the service logs to correspond to specific duties that are described in the director agreement.
  • Support compensation with external fair market value opinions.
  • Cap compensation to assure that fair market value is never exceeded.

These are just a handful of issues providers need to consider when entering these arrangements with physicians.  For further details, contact your health care attorney or compliance officer.  By all means, pull your medical director agreements off the shelf and make certain that they are legally compliant.  You cannot assume that those arrangements will not be scrutinized by government enforces.

See – Fraud Alert: Physician Compensation Arrangements May Result in Significant Liability June 9, 2015.

Primary Care Integration Strategies – The Division Model Group Practice

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

 Divisional Merger IntegrationIt is no secret that the role of primary care is central to the creation of systems to respond to health care reform and changing reimbursement models.  To the extent primary care providers have not already relinquished their strategic positions by becoming employed, entering provider service agreements or service line management agreements with hospital controlled systems, primary care providers maintain a strong position in the market.

Primary care groups are still faced with the need to create or participate in organizations that provide for the best means to manage patient care.  Primary care groups are seeking strength in numbers by creating larger groups.  The goal is to best maintain their competitive position, to diversify risk, to create efficiencies through shared savings opportunities, and to maintain appropriate levels of influence over care cycles, protocols and division of emerging, episodic-based payment.

In order to achieve these goals, some independent primary care groups are considering merger with other groups.  Oftentimes, merging providers will seek ways to maintain some degree of intra-office independence while still taking advantage of the benefit of a larger group.

Provider mergers and acquisitions, particularly between competing independent practices in the same specialty area, can create sensitive antitrust issues.  Generally, competing providers are prohibited from agreeing to the price of services.  However, otherwise competing providers who legitimately merge into a single group are legally incapable of conspiring because they are a single entity.

The tension between the desire to maintain a degree of independence and the need to effectively merge practices leads to consideration of what has become known as a “divisional merger.”  A divisional merger is similar in many ways to the concept of a group practice without walls that was prevalent during the 1990s.  Under this model, individual offices or groups of offices form divisions that maintain some degree of operational and financial independence.  Structuring divisional model groups can be extremely tricky.  Balance needs to be created in the amount of financial, governance, and operational authority that is ceded to the central board of directors and maintained in the divisions.  If too much authority is maintained at the divisional level, there is a risk that a “failed merger” will have taken place.  If a failed merger is found, the individual providers or divisions will be considered to be independent and capable of conspiring in violation of antitrust laws.

Divisional mergers raise a host of additional legal and business issues.  A divisional model group must be structured to comply with Stark Law and Anti-Kickback prohibitions.  Generally, the group and its financial structure must comply with applicable Stark Law exceptions and must be structured as a qualifying “group practice.”  An issue that arises in virtually all divisional model structures involves the treatment of ancillary revenues; in particular, “designated health service” revenues under the Stark Law.  Although primary care practices tend not to generate as much DHS revenue as specialty practices, clinical laboratory and diagnostic revenues are common.

A divisional merger will be subject to all of the same transactional and due diligence issues that apply to any other type of merger or acquisition.  Each participant will need to assess the risk associated with merging under one entity with other participants.  This involves a lengthy process of due diligence and addressing issues that are raised through the process.  Oftentimes, numerous sets of legal counsel are involved in the structural and transactional issues.

In the end, assuming that the divisional merger is properly structured, the combined entity can create significant benefits to primary care participants.

Clinical Integration – Key Factors of Integrated Networks

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Key Clinical Integration Factors

Here are just a few of the key factors that are indicative of clinical integration.

  • Collaboration and Coordinated Care
  • Care Protocols
  • Provider Selection Criteria
  • Enforcement of Standards
  • Use of Shared Data
  • Robust Quality and Efficiency Standards
  • Provider Training
  • Continual Process

I am releasing a series of articles on various legal aspects of clinically integrated networks.  Sign up for our Newsletter or grab the RSS feed to receive notification when I publish articles in the series.

 

John H. Fisher

Health Care Counsel
Ruder Ware, L.L.S.C.
500 First Street, Suite 8000
P.O. Box 8050
Wausau, WI 54402-8050

Tel 715.845.4336
Fax 715.845.2718

Ruder Ware is a member of Meritas Law Firms Worldwide

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