Kusserow on Compliance: OIG Calls for Re-Examination of Critical Access Hospital Payment System

  • Medicare Beneficiaries Pay Half of the Costs for Outpatient Services at CAHs
  • Beneficiaries Pay Two to Six Times More than for Same Services at Acute Care Hospitals

The HHS Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) Office of Evaluation and Inspection (OEI) released a report on critical access hospitals (CAHs), calling for modification of how coinsurance is calculated for outpatient services received at CAHs that would reduce the current reimbursement amounts. The OIG cited higher costs Medicare beneficiaries pay when services are received at a CAH, than for the same services at acute care hospitals. This follows another OIG report from last year. Now these two reports stand back to back with a call for a review of critical access criteria for hundreds of small rural hospitals across the nation. Needless to note, there will be a lot of reaction from rural healthcare providers on this subject, as there was when the first report came out.

CAH Background

The CAH certification was created to ensure that rural beneficiaries would have access to hospital services, with Medicare reimbursing them 101 percent of “reasonable costs.” This is instead of payments made at the predetermined rates set by the Outpatient Prospective Payment System (OPPS). The system that Medicare uses to calculate outpatient coinsurance amounts for beneficiaries who receive services at CAHs differs from that used for beneficiaries who receive services at acute care hospitals. Beneficiaries who receive services at CAHs pay coinsurance amounts based on CAH charges, whereas beneficiaries who receive services at acute care hospitals pay coinsurance amounts based on OPPS rates. CAH charges are typically higher than the reasonable costs associated with CAH services or the OPPS rates that acute-care hospitals receive.

OIG Findings

The OIG reviewed claims data to calculate the percentages and amounts of coinsurance that Medicare beneficiaries paid toward the costs of outpatient services at CAHs. This data was compared to what it would be if beneficiaries paid at acute-care hospitals for the 10 most common outpatient services provided at CAHs. The OIG found that as result of coinsurance amounts being based on charges, Medicare beneficiaries paid nearly half the costs for outpatient services at CAHs. Because coinsurance amounts were based on charges, Medicare beneficiaries paid a higher percentage of the costs in coinsurance for outpatient services received at CAHs than they would have paid at hospitals under OPPS. For the 10 frequently provided outpatient services at CAHs, beneficiaries paid between two and six times the amount in coinsurance that they would have for the same services at acute care hospitals.

OIG Recommendations

To reduce the percentage of costs that Medicare beneficiaries pay in coinsurance, the OIG recommended that CMS seek legislative authority to modify how coinsurance is calculated for outpatient services received at CAHs. The OIG offered suggestions as to how CMS could modify how coinsurance is calculated for such services. These included:

  1. Computing coinsurance so that it is based on interim payment rates rather than charges, and
  2. Processing claims for outpatient services at CAHs as if they were paid under OPPS for the purpose of calculating an OPPS equivalent coinsurance.

CMS neither concurred, nor non-concurred with the OIG recommendation, preferring to sit on the sidelines for the time being; however, it is likely that CMS will eventually have to re-examine how CAH qualifications are defined and its current system of payments for CAHs.

Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

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Copyright © 2014 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.