Adoption of annual wellness visits increasing at a moderate rate

Trends in annual wellness visits (AMV) indicate a modest increase in the percentage of Medicare beneficiaries receiving an AWV from 7.5 percent in 2011 to 15.6 percent in 2014, according to a study of the trends related to annual wellness visits (AWV) published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on April 19, 2017. The study found that “adoption of AWV was concentrated in ACOs [accountable care organizations] and among certain PCPs [primary care physicians] and regions of the country.”

Addition of the AMV to Medicare benefits

The AMV was added to Medicare benefits by section 4103 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) as part of its preventive care measures for Medicare beneficiaries. Medicare pays for 100 percent of the visit. The AWV became effective in January 1, 2011. According to the study, the AWV “has been promoted as a way for physicians and other clinicians to encourage evidence-based preventive care and mitigate health risks in aging patients.”

Study findings

Among the results of the study are the following findings: (1) white individuals, urban residents, and those from higher income areas and with one or two comorbidities were more likely to obtain an AWV; (2) beneficiaries that received an AWV in previous years were more likely to receive an AWV; (3) 44.4 percent of all AMVs had a concurrent problem-based visit; (4) most AMVs were performed by primary care physicians; and (5) physician practice groups or regions using more AWVs did not deliver more health care overall. The researchers also noted that beneficiaries reported unexpected out-of-pocket costs when AWVs are billed concurrently billed with problem-based visits.

The study conclusions

The study concluded that the decision to perform an AWV was primarily driven by practice factors and noted that this conclusion aligned with reports of physicians and health systems having incorporated templates, workflows, or dedicated nonphysician health care professionals to complete, document, and bill for AWVs. According to the researchers, the study had limitations, including: (1) whether AWVs increase the use of preventive care or mitigate health risks, (2) claims data could not show how often AWVs were performed by nonphysicians under physician supervision, and (3) the extent to which AWVs represent delivery of additional visits versus substitution for other visits..

Preventing and fighting surprise medical billing: steps consumers should take

Thirty-two percent of insured individuals who had problems paying medical bills reported receiving care from an out-of-network provider that their insurance did not cover, while 69 percent of those individuals said they were not aware that the provider was not in their plan’s network when they received the care, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) survey published in January 2016. Betsy Imholz, special projects director and a surprise medical bill expert at Consumer Reports, noted in a January 17, 2017, article that “the problem is only growing worse as our healthcare system grows more complex and more insurance companies narrow the network of doctors they contract with or shift to insurance plans that eliminate coverage for out-of-network services.”

What is a surprise medical bill?

A medical bill that an insured individual receives from an out-of-network provider when the individual is unaware that the provider is out-of–network is referred to as a “surprise medical bill.” Out-of-network providers may charge patients whatever they choose and may bill the patient for the amounts that were not paid by the patient’s health plan, referred to as a “balance bill.”

According to a March 2017 KFF report on surprise medical bills, such bills may arise from an emergency when the individual does not have the ability to select providers. Often, emergency room (ER) physicians do not participate in the same health plan networks as the hospitals where they work. In addition, the patient may not have had the ability to choose the hospital or the ambulance provider. In situations when a patient receives planned care, such as a planned surgery from an in-network provider (for example, a hospital or ambulatory surgical center), other providers involved in the surgery may not be in the same network. In many nonemergency situations, the in-network provider rather than the patient arranges for the other providers participating in the procedure or treatment. Such providers may include anesthesiologists, radiologists, pathologists, and surgical assistants.

What consumers can do

Individuals can prevent surprise medical bills by avoiding receiving services from out-of-network providers, when possible, and fight surprise medical bills after receiving them. A Center on Health Insurance Reforms (CHIR) report identified the following steps for patients to take to prevent unexpected charges:

  • Use provider directories and other plan provided information to identify in-network providers;
  • Ask providers if they are in the patient’s health plan network;
  • After receiving a balance bill, the patient should review the plan’s explanation of benefits and notices about consumers rights;
  • Before paying a balance bill, the patient should contact the health plan and the provider to find out if the plan is willing to pay the bill and/or if the provider will accept a lesser amount; and
  • Contact the state insurance department to see if there is a remedy under  state law.

Additional tips for patients were addressed in an April 6, 2017, article in Consumer Reports written by Donna Rosato. In cases of emergency care or if ambulance service is needed, Rosato recommended the individual to ask the first responders or ER doctors to provide documentation confirming that the individual had no choice and transport by ambulance was medically necessary. She noted, however, as a preventive measure, that individuals find out, before needing to go to an ER, which nearby hospitals are in-network and which ER physicians are in-network. Then, in an emergency, if possible, the individual can request to be taken to an in-network ER. In nonemergency situations, such as a planned surgery, Rosato also suggested that individuals obtain a list from the doctor’s billing staff (and hospital) of other providers that may be part of the procedure or treatments such as an anesthesiologist, radiologist, and pathologist. Then contact the insurance plan and ask if the providers identified are in-network. If the providers are out-of-network, the individual should notify the attending physician and request providers who are in-network.

Experts weigh in on LTC requirements for patient care, provider compliance

On October 4, 2016, CMS issue a Final rule making extensive changes to long term care facilities (LTCFs) requirements of participation (ROP) with the goal of aligning LTCF requirements with current clinical practice standards to improve resident safety and the quality and effectiveness of the care and services delivered to residents. Kris D’Ann Maples, in-house counsel at Hillcrest Health Services and Lyn Bentley, MSW, Vice President, Quality and Regulatory Affairs, American Health Care Association (AHCA), addressed significant provisions of the new rules that will impact health care providers at the 2017 Health Care Compliance Association Compliance Institute on March 26, 2017.

The Final rule

The new requirements (81 FR 68688, October 4, 2016) represent the first significant revision of LTCF requirements for Medicare and Medicaid since 1991. The revised requirements are aimed at reducing unnecessary hospitalizations and health care acquired infections, improving behavioral health care, safeguarding LTCFs residents from the use of unnecessary psychotropic drugs, enhancing care planning, and improving quality assurance and performance improvement. In addition to the changes to the requirements, CMS is developing a new survey process that will go into effect November 2017. The new survey process incorporates the new requirements and merges with the quality indicator system. The LTC rules take effect in three phases. Phase 1 took effect November 28, 2016, Phase 2 will take effect November 28, 2017, and Phase 3 is scheduled for November 28, 2018.

Maples told attendees to be on the alert to changes in the regulations prior to implementation dates based on the current administration’s plan to abolish the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148). Section 6102(b) of the ACA amended Social Security Act Sec. 1128I, and mandated the operating organization have a compliance and ethics program in place. Such programs must be effective in preventing and detecting criminal, civil, and administrative violations under the Social Security Act and promoting quality of care consistent with the regulations promulgated by the HHS Secretary working with the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG).

Themes of the rule

Bentley noted that the Final rule reflects the dramatic cultural and technology changes over three decades. She recommended providers closely read the new definitions CMS included in the Final rule, emphasizing that CMS has changed the definition of a number of terms. Among the themes identified by Bentley are patient centered-care, facility based-responsibility, quality of care and quality of life, and the changing patient population, which includes patients with behavioral health issues. Regarding facility-based responsibilities, Bentley pointed out that LTCFs must know the center, patients and staff, which requires a competency-based approach.

Residents’ rights

Bentley added that the new rule that requires LTCFs to establish a grievance policy, notify residents how and where to file a grievance, and identify a grievance officer who would be responsible for grievance process. Among the grievance officer’s responsibilities are receiving and tracking grievances, leading investigations, maintaining confidentiality, meeting documentation requirements, and issuing decisions to the resident. In addition, the grievance officer must coordinate with state and federal agencies and meet state and federal laws and regulations (42 C.F.R. Sec. 483.10(j)). The regulation also includes additional notification requirements.

Significant is use of the word “willful” in the definition of abuse as it relates to the regulation addressing freedom from abuse, neglect, and exploitation (42 C.F.R. Sec. 483.12). Bentley specifically pointed out that “willful” in the definition means that “the individual acted deliberately, not that the individual intended to inflict injury or harm.” According to the Bentley, the term “willful” as used in the definition could raise serious questions about behavior that would not be considered abuse. For example, if a nurse is bathing a patient in one bed and she sees the patient in nearby bed about to fall, while preventing the patient about to fall from falling, the other patient might try to get out of bed and fall. In this case, the nurse’s actions were deliberate and there was no intention to inflict injury or harm to the patient that she was bathing.

Compliance and Ethics rules

New regulations (42 C.F.R. Sec. 483.85) require the operating organization for each LTCF to have a compliance and ethics program that meets certain requirements in the rule by November 28, 2017 (Phase 2), and the other requirements implemented by November 28, 2019 (Phase 3). Maples explained that the Final rule codifies the OIG compliance program guidance from 2000 and 2008 and that compliance will be part of the survey process going forward.

Maples identified the minimum components of a compliance program, which must be in place by November 28, 2017. These components include:

1. written compliance and ethics standards; policies and procedures that reduce the prospect of criminal, civil, and administrative violations under the law and promote quality of care;
2. corrective/disciplinary standards that outline consequences of committing violations, are enforced consistently, and provide consequences for failure to detect or report a violation;
3. the designation of a “high level” individual” in the organization who oversees compliance and ethics program;
4. sufficient resources and authority given the designated high level individual to reasonably assure program standards are met;
5. effectively communicate standards policies and procedures, including mandatory training; and
6. taking reasonable steps after a violation.

According to Maples, by the Phase 3 effective date, LTCFs must have had an annual review of the program to make any changes to reflect changes in applicable laws and regulations and improve performance promoting quality of care and deterring False Claims Act violations. LTCFs that have five or more facilities must conduct annual compliance training for all staff member, designate a compliance officer whose major responsibility in operating the compliance program requires the individual to report directly to the organizations governing body and cannot report to the general counsel, chief operating officer, or chief operating officer.

Physician practices get tips for effective communication, training, vetting

Compliance officers often encounter problems ensuring physician compliance within physician practices and face difficulties when communicating with physician practice groups. When addressing physician practice issues, Betty Baber-Kinsey, Physician Practice Compliance Officer, Tenet Healthcare, considers such things as how to get in front of potential issues before they occur, how physicians are employed, how to vet new products or new procedures, and coding and prescribing issues. Baber-Kinsey addressed these various issues at the 2017 Health Care Compliance Association Compliance Institute on March 26, 2017.

Effective communication

A compliance officer dealing with multiple physician practices is likely to face difficulties communicating across in part due to the makeup, size, and locations of the practices, Baber-Kinsey said. One decision that has to be made is whether the message is delivered in person or remotely. Baber-Kinsey suggested four methods of communication across practices. Messages can cascade down from the top executives or the board of directors to management and then staff, can be delivered through videos, or through web-ex sessions. Baber-Kinsey also recommended monthly recurring calls and bi-weekly operations calls. She noted that monthly practice managers meetings are recorded and minutes are taken.

Training

Baber-Kinsey stressed that training was all about the buy-in. She approaches training in three ways: live training, computer courses with a test, and video training. Training topics include conflicts of interest, vendor relationships, the Yates Memo, and the Physician Payments Sunshine Act (Section 6002 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) codified at Social Security Act Sec.1128G). Baber-Kinsey pointed out that video training works for new hires, for staff annual refresher training, and in specialized or targeted sessions. For annual refresher training she suggested incorporating multiple topics to reach all levels of employees within the practice, including physicians, clinical staff, billers, and coders. She suggested including videos from other sources to let the staff being trained know the issue is universal and does not apply only to them. It is important to include humor, she added.

Vetting new physicians

Baber-Kinsey uses a physician practices onboarding checklist to ensure that physicians are properly vetted. The checklist enables her to “know what they are getting before the [physicians] walk through the door.” The checklist provides who, what, and when or, as she put it, the “What, Documented, Billed.” The vetting process takes about 18 weeks. The first four weeks are involve business development and due diligence including credentialing and information technology (IT) assessments. Weeks 5 – 8 involve credentialing, human resources (HR) and IT operations. Weeks 9 – 12 involve operations, HR, and start of marketing. Weeks 13 – 16 involves operations and completion of credentialing. Baber-Kinsey emphasized that onboarding process is not finished until a billing clearance audit is completed and within goal, which means that the physician’s billing error rate is 5 percent or less.

Alternative lines of business

The latest trend for physicians is providing an alternative line of business, according to Baber-Kinsey.An alternative line of business means any items and/or products that may not fit into traditional lines of service for the primary or specialty care practice,” according to Baber-Kinsey. Examples of alternative lines of business include supplements, cosmetic procedures and services, and oncology infusion. Baber-Kinsey recommends getting in front of the alternative line of business before a physician is hired. Tenet Healthcare has a policy and procedure that addresses new and alternative lines of business.