All Medicare stakeholders need to know MACRA

Although the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) (P.L. 114-10) is best known for changing Medicare provider payments, its true goal is improving the quality of care delivery across the health spectrum. As a result, according to Todd Gower and Lisa Alfieri from the Risk Transformation, Health compliance sector of EY, providers must enhance their relationships and contracts with providers. Gower and Alfieri, speaking at a Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) webinar titled “MACRA: Not just for Providers,” explained that having the proper infrastructure to obtain and organize all necessary documentation is the key to surviving MACRA.

Gower and Alfieri stressed the need for new discussions within health systems, noting that MACRA has potential to transform the health care system “equally, if not far more” than the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148). As it implements MACRA, HHS is having new conversations with stakeholders including whether the shared risk will actually improve care, and whether the current proposed criteria (see Halfway through QPP ‘transition year,’ CMS proposes substantial changes , June 21, 2017) are too restrictive. They praised HHS’ website on the Quality Payment Program as a new way to communicate with providers and other stakeholders.

MACRA is a complex law with wide-reaching repercussions. Gower and Alfieri suggested infrastructure updates, and predicted that the most-advanced providers will be seeking commercial payer partners by 2019 to maximize incentives for value-based care (VBC) payment models. Therefore, payers should create or enhance existing VBC offerings now to meet that expected need. MACRA steering committees are important to ensure compliance and update risk management programs for providers, but also for non-provider groups.

Kusserow on Compliance: Effective hotline programs

All healthcare organizations need confidential compliance communication channels. First and foremost among them is a hotline. By definition, all effective compliance programs should have a hotline. It is an important avenue of communication between employees and management, in that it permits employees to report sensitive matters outside the normal supervisory channels.  The reality is that developing and monitoring a hotline is a critical part of any effective compliance program. It provides an avenue of communication that permits employees to report sensitive matters outside the normal supervisory channels. The compliance officer bears the responsibility of constantly reviewing and improving the effectiveness of the hotline operation.  The US Sentencing Commission, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), and Department of Justice (DOJ) all call for having a hotline, as well as other authorities, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for publicly traded companies and the federal courts in connection with unlawful harassment. Failure to establish positive internal compliance reporting channels often results in reporting externally to the OIG and DOJ from “whistleblowers.” The challenge is establishing effective internal compliance communication. Today, it is the exception to find organizations trying to manage a hotline function internally. The fact is that any advantage of internally operated hotlines is more than off-set by the disadvantages.

From a practical standpoint, it simply is not cost effective to operate a hotline 24/7 internally.  Even those that decide to operate and manage the function in house are confronted with a number of challenges—it is extremely inefficient, costly and seldom meets any minimum standards. Hotline numbers will need to be “backstopped” against tracing and all caller identification systems have to be blocked. People answering the calls in house should not be highly visible to the work force. Confidence comes from neither party being known to the other. Hotline vendors have the training and experience to handle complainants. Callers are generally nervous and afraid and knowing they are providing information to an outside party generally is reassuring. They always raise the question of whether anonymity is truly offered and whether employees will ever sufficiently trust calling an employee. It has become the standard practice for organizations to outsource their hotline to a vendor.  However, evaluating those providing the best service at the right price is a challenge. The following are questions that can be used to determine a properly qualified vendor. Those failing key tests should be avoided as they may prove to be a future liability.

 

Questions for hotline vendors

  1. Cost of Service. Does the vendor charge an established fixed rate or sliding rate based upon number of calls? Seek a fixed, not a variable rate, based upon number or time of calls. A good rule of thumb is that the cost of a hotline service should not exceed $1-3 per employee per year.

 

  1. Industry Focus. Can the vendor evidence having understanding and expertise of issues related to the health care industry? Failing to understand healthcare standards and regulatory matters limits the ability to properly debrief callers. Ask for a breakdown of the types of clients they serve by industries.

 

  1. Hours of Service. Does the vendor provide 24/7 service? If not, don’t use them.

 

  1. Call Centers. Does the vendor provide call services? If so, avoid them completely. Call centers provide outbound calls used to promote services and products. Others answer after hour services for businesses (doctors, plumbers, electricians, etc.) and relate messages to their clients. The people doing this are performing a clerical function and answering hotline calls requires more professional expertise. Furthermore, there is the risk of having calls interrupted by a call for some needing emergency service.

 

  1. Hotline Service Types. Does the vendor provide multiple levels of service for (a) receiving live operator calls and (b) a web-based reporting system that prompts individual complainants? One level alone is not enough.

 

  1. Avoiding Vendor Contract Traps. Does the contract permit cancellation at any time with a simple 30 day notice? If not, don’t use them. Staying with a vendor should be because of good service, not because of being locked into them by contract terms. If you have a current contract, check the termination clauses to see if cancelling a contract is cumbersome. If it is, ask to renegotiate the termination clause. If they decline, then take steps to follow termination procedures in the contract.

 

  1. Hotline Number. Does the vendor want to use their phone number? This is a common vendor trap to lock in users to their service. You advertise their number everywhere and to change would necessitate changing all the places you have advertise the number. Always use and own your own hotline number that can be pointed to a vendor.

 

  1. Language Translation. Does the vendor provide a language translation service to address non-English speakers?

 

  1. Check Vendor Background. What is the level of hotline experience among the ownership, management, and operation of the service?

 

  1. Length of Hotline Experience. How many years of experience can the vendor evidence in the management of hotline operations?

 

  1. Policies, Procedures, and Protocols. Does the vendor provide advice on developing operating protocols for following up an allegations and complaints received through the hotline?

 

  1. Business Associate Agreement (BAA). Does the vendor offer to sign a BAA to meet HIPAA protected health information (PHI) requirements for any patient related information received through the hotline? If they don’t know what that means, forget them.

 

  1. Timelines. Will the vendor agree to provide a full written report within one business day of receipt of the call and for urgent matters, immediate notification?

 

  1. Report Delivery Security. Does the vendor deliver call reports by the most secure means? It is critical to establish a secure call report submission process to a specific responsible party and to an alternate should the primary contact be unavailable? Any delivery of reports via fax or email lack necessary security. It is critical that reports are secured to protect those filing the report, as well as those who are subject of the report or mentioned in them. HIPAA PHI, proprietary and confidential data, and personnel information must be protected. Web-based reporting is the most secure with notification of a report being provided via email.

 

  1. Routine vs. Urgent Reporting. Does the vendor assist in establishing a process that alerts the primary contact to any urgent report received? A delay in reporting a serious issue could result in potential liabilities.

 

  1. Insurance. Does the vendor provide at least one to three million dollars liability coverage? If your vendor does not have this insurance, consider changing over to one that provides this assurance.

 

  1. Caller Contact Information. Does the vendor have procedures for providing callers with a means to call back without disclosing their identity?

 

  1. Personalized Service. Does the vendor provide the identity or identities of individuals available to respond to any issues or question that may arise, whether it relates to call reports, invoice issues, or providing general advice? Not having easy access to someone or having to go through a phone system moving you from one office to another before you find a stranger who may or may not be able to answer your questions can be frustrating. If possible, seek an identified accounts manager who will be responsible for any and all issues that arise under the contract.

 

  1. Training and Assistance. Does the vendor provide guidance on the best way to promote understanding of the hotline?

 

  1. Other Useful Benefits. Are there any other services or benefit provided under the contract? This would include such things as supporting policy and procedures for hotline management, poster templates, newsletters, etc. For smaller organizations, these benefits may exceed even the service fees paid to the vendor. Find out what they offer.

 

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.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on Google+ or LinkedIn.

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Copyright © 2017 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

How to avoid coding pitfalls for ambulatory services billing

Ambulatory services documentation offers compliance challenges as complex as inpatient services documentation that providers need to be aware of to avoid potential compliance risks while documenting for billing. Ellis Knight, M.D., Senior Vice President/Chief Medical Officer, of the Coker Group, focused on ambulatory coding in an HCCA webinar titled “Clinical Documentation for Compliant Coding—It’s No Longer Just an Inpatient Issue.”

Clinical documentation improvement

Knight noted that coders “speak” a different language than clinicians and therefore clinical documentation improvement (CDI) has been mainly a translational process. Specifically in relation to medical diagnoses, translating what a clinician may write down in the clinical note versus how the coder interprets the clinical note for billing purposes. Historically the focus has been on inpatient documentation, especially documentation to justify diagnostic related group (DRG) assignment and capture of major complications and co-morbidities (MCCs) and complications and co-morbidities (CCs). As a result, the “problem” is that reimbursement occurs with parties arriving at the same diagnosis with different billing codes.

Ambulatory documentation

As such, ambulatory documentation is equally as complex as the inpatient documentation arena, involving thousands of codes. A major complicating factor is that time-frame and volume of patient encounters makes ambulatory CDI a much different work process than inpatient CDI. Knight noted that among the many compliance risks associated with ambulatory CDI, documentation must support: (1) medical necessity of services rendered (CPT codes); (2) specific services and level of care provided to the patient (CPT and HCPCS codes); (3) diagnoses (ICD-10); (4) severity of illness and clinical complexity (HCCs); and (5) quality of care rendered (HEDIS).

For medical necessity, the clinical documentation must justify the ordering of tests, performance of procedures, referrals to specialists or consultants, prescribing of medications and other activities which payers must cover. It must document services and level of services performed, as errors leave practitioners at risk for overbilling the carrier which could result in treble damages under the False Claims Act. Moreover, Knight stressed that it is not enough to just document. HCCs must be documented on an annual basis and addressed, i.e., monitored, evaluated, assessed or treated, in order to be captured. In regards to quality of care, the clinical documentation must include provision of certain quality of care measures, e.g., immunizations, tobacco use, smoking cessation counseling, BMI measurement, obesity counseling, preventive care (colonoscopy, mammography).

Improved probe and education program targets specific providers within a particular service

Targeted Probe and Education (TPE) is an improved medical review strategy that will focus on specific providers/suppliers within the service rather than all providers and suppliers billing a particular service, according to a CMS news release. The TPE program began as a pilot in one Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) jurisdiction in June 2016 and was expanded in July 2017 to three additional MAC jurisdictions. Based on the success of the pilot programs, CMS plans to expand the TPE program to all MAC jurisdictions in 2017.

Probe and Educate program

The updated medical review strategy arose from an initial medical review strategy known as Probe and Educate, which combined the review of a sample of claims with education to help reduce errors in the claims submission process, but moves from a broader review to a more targeted one. TPE claim selection differs from previous probe and education programs because the TPE claims selection is provider/supplier specific from the outset rather than a review of all providers for a specific service; thus, eliminating providers who are submitting claims that are compliant with Medicare policy from the review process.

Under the Probe and Educate program, MACs focused on review of inpatient hospital admissions related to the two midnight rule and home health eligibility requirements. MACs reviewed selected claims submitted by acute care inpatient hospital facilities, long term care hospitals, and inpatient psychiatric facilities for admissions that occur between October 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014 (see CMS issues additional guidance for “two midnight” rule for inpatient hospital admissions, Health Law Daily, November 5, 2013). MACs continued to conduct “probe and educate” reviews for inpatient stays shorter than two midnights. Under the probe and educate process outlined in an earlier CMS release, MACs reviewed claims to determine if the inpatient stay of less than two midnights was reasonable and necessary (see CMS extends RAC prohibition of reviews of stays longer than 2 midnights, Health Law Daily, February 3, 2014).

The first round of the Probe & Educate program, MACs reviewed home health agency claims to assess compliance with and to promote provider understanding of Medicare home health eligibility requirements, (see HHA claims will be reviewed to confirm understanding of eligibility requirements, Health Law Daily, November 10, 2015). In round two of the program, MACs began a one-year period of claim reviews and provider education and will start submitting additional documentation requests (ADRs) on or after December 15, 2016 (see ‘Probe and Educate’ program for home health eligibility continues, Health Law Daily, December 20, 2016).

TPE process

Based on data analysis, Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) will review claims (1) for items and services that pose the greatest financial risk to the Medicare Trust Fund or have a high national error rate and (2) of providers/suppliers that have the highest claim error rates or billing practices that vary significantly from their peers. Under the TPE, MACs will review the 20 to 40 claims per provider/supplier, per item or service, and per round, for a total of three rounds of review. After each round of review, the MAC will offer the provider individualized, one-on-one education to address errors within the provider’s/supplier’s claims based on the results of the review.

Removal from the review process

Providers/supplier may be removed from the review process after any of the three rounds of probe review, if they demonstrate low error rates or sufficient improvement in error rates. However, providers/suppliers with moderate and high error rates in the first round of reviews will continue on to a second round of reviews, followed by additional provider specific education and those providers/suppliers that continue to have high error rates in the second round of review and education will continue to the third round. Providers/suppliers that continue to have high error rates after three rounds of TJPE may be referred to CMS for additional action.