Florida hospital improperly billed Medicare almost $300,000 over two years

For over two years, University of Florida Health Jacksonville did not comply with Medicare billing requirements, due to inadequate billing controls. The noncompliance resulted in overpayments of at least $273,000, according to an audit by the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

Claims

The 695-bed not-for-profit hospital submitted 11,134 inpatient claims during the audit period (January 2013 through September 2014). Medicare paid the hospital $167 million on those claims. The OIG audit evaluated 1,305 inpatient claims that were potentially at risk for billing errors. From those claims, the OIG selected a random sample of 154 paid claims, totaling $1,964,826. Although the OIG determined that the hospital complied with billing requirements for the majority of the claims (133), the audit revealed that the hospital failed to comply with Medicare billing requirements for 21 claims, resulting in a net overpayment of $63,881 for the audit period. Based upon the sample, the OIG extrapolated that the hospital improperly received overpayments of at least $273,346 between January 2013 and September 2014.

Errors

For 19 of the 154 claims, the hospital billed incorrect diagnosis-related group (DRG) codes. For example, in one case, the hospital submitted a claim with a secondary diagnosis code 599.0 (urinary tract infection), despite the fact that the patient’s medical record indicated the patient had no signs or symptoms of a urinary tract infection. In other words, the hospital had no basis to assign code 599.0. The hospital attributed the billing mistakes to human error. The noncompliance related to the DRG codes accounted for the vast majority of the errors and led to net overpayments of $47,165.

When a patient is discharged from an acute care hospital and readmitted to the same hospital on the same day for symptoms related to the prior stay, the hospital is required to combine the original and subsequent stay into a single claim. The OIG determined that for 2 of the 154 audited claims, the hospital incorrectly billed Medicare for related discharges and readmissions that occurred on the same day. The hospital attributed the improper billing to human error.

Recommendations

The OIG recommended that the hospital:

  • refund the estimated $273,346 in overpayments to the Medicare program;
  • identify and return similar overpayments; and
  • strengthen billing and coding controls to ensure future compliance.

 

Objections

The hospital objected to the findings regarding 11 of 21 inpatient claims. Additionally, although the hospital acknowledged that human error contributed to the 10 other errors, there was “no evidence to support systemic coding or billing concerns.” The hospital also challenged the OIG’s authority to extrapolate a payment error rate.

 

 

Let the sun shine: most Americans in the dark about payments to physicians

Physicians self-report payments from members of the pharmaceutical and medical device industries at an average rate of 40 percent; however, many of the lower rates are for providers who have fewer contacts with fewer patients. According to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, 65 percent of patients saw a provider who had received industry payments in the previous 12 months. Additionally, almost no patients know that the provider had received such payments, despite the information being publicly available.

Physician Payments Sunshine Act

Section 6002 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148), known as the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, increases transparency of physician ownership and investment interests by requiring the disclosure of payments made to providers. Such payments include consulting fees, honoraria, gifts, food, entertainment, charitable contributions, and other transfers of value. This information is reported to CMS, and published online at https://www.cms.gov/openpayments/.

The purpose of this provision was to make patients aware of payments their providers received which may influence the provider’s decision-making process. However, the study notes, if patients are unaware that this information is available, they cannot make informed decisions.

Open Payments data

According to the Open Payments data, the prevalence of industry payments among physicians is around 40 percent, with variation across specialties ranging from 20 percent (pathology) to 80–90 percent (cardiology and orthopaedics). Exposure of patients to doctors who receive payments, however, is not measured by the data. As a result, individuals may incorrectly interpret the data to believe that they have a lower chance of visiting a physician who has received payments than they actually do. If patient contact with physicians who receive payments is significantly higher than the overall average, it would show that industry payments reach more patients than expected.

Study methodology

The study, the first of its kind, took a population-based approach to estimating the reach of industry payments. It used a nationally representative survey to ask patients about their knowledge of the Open Payments data and about the physicians they most often visit. The researchers then linked the physicians named with the data using National Provider Identifiers (NPIs) to determine patient-based industry exposure.

Findings

In the subgroup of respondents for whom the researchers could identify providers–matching 1971 physicians to 1987 respondents–the study found that 65 percent of patients, or almost two-thirds, visited a physician who had received industry payments, a much higher percentage than the 40 percent of physicians overall who receive such payments. The highest rates were among patients who visited orthopedic surgery physicians, with 85 percent of patients seeing an orthopedic surgery physician who received industry payments. In addition to patients visiting doctors who received payments at a higher rate than overall physician payment rates, the physicians that patients frequently visited who received payments, received amounts greater than were typical of physicians reported in Open Payments.

Patients reported some level of knowledge of industry payments to physicians, with 45 percent being aware that such payments are sometimes made. However, only 5 percent of patients knew whether the physicians they visited had received industry payments. Most believed that their providers had not received any payments, but 41 percent of them were incorrect.

Overall, the study found that although a minority of physicians accept industry payments, physicians who accept payments are caring for 65 percent of the adult patient population, while very few of the adult patient population is aware of industry payments or possible conflicts of interest.

Highlight on Florida: Prison for administrator involved in home health Medicare fraud conspiracy

Medicare was scammed of $2.5 million in false and fraudulent claims and another of the conspirators is heading to prison. A home health administrator was sentenced to 126 months in prison for his role in the scheme after a two-week jury trial convicted him in December 2016 of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud and one count to defraud the U.S. and pay and receive health care bribes and kickbacks.

While the administrator was the manager of Mercy Home Care Inc. and a billing employee for D&D&D Home Health Care Inc. in Miami-Dade County, Florida, he and others submitted false claims through the companies to Medicare between October 2014 and June 2015, based on services that were (1) not medically necessary, (2) not provided, and (3) for patients brought to the companies through payment of illegal kickbacks to providers and recruiters. The claims the administrator submitted to Medicare were based on forged prescriptions and falsified medical documentation, backdated so services were supposedly provided in prior years, and for beneficiaries who were coached to say they needed services when they were not homebound. According to evidence from trial, he also destroyed evidence prior to his arrest. Medicare paid approximately $2.5 million for false and fraudulent claims submitted by Mercy and D&D&D.

Ten other co-conspirators previously pleaded guilty or were convicted by the Southern District of Florida, including the owner and president of Nerey Professional Services, Inc. That co-conspirator was convicted of one count of receiving kickbacks in connection with a federal health care program and one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and pay health care kickbacks and sentenced to 60 months in prison on May 27, 2016. According to evidence from trial, the co-conspirator was involved in the conspiracy to accept kickbacks in return for referring Medicare beneficiaries to Mercy and D&D&D to serve as patients, even those who did not qualify for home health care services, between October 2014 and September 2015.

Feds snare 16 hospice providers in $60M Medicare fraud scheme

Sixteen individuals were charged with offenses related to a health care fraud scheme in a federal court in Texas. The scheme alleges that from July 2012 to September 2016, Novus Health Services, owned and operated by the 16 individuals, billed Medicare and Medicaid more than $60 million for fraudulent hospice services, of which more than $35 million was paid to Novus. The individuals submitted false claims for hospice services and continuous care hospice services, recruited ineligible hospice beneficiaries via kickbacks to physicians and health care facilities, and falsified and destroyed documents to conceal these activities. The grand jury indictment was the result of an investigation into Novus by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU).

Scheme

Novus and Optim Health Services, Inc. were operated and co-owned by one of the individuals, a certified public accountant without any medical licenses. Licensed physicians who were paid Novus medical directors provided little to no oversight of Novus’s hospice patients. Some of the indicted individuals were not physicians and they would determine whether a beneficiary would be certified for, recertified for, or discharged from hospice; whether they would be placed on continuous care; and how and to what extent they would be medicated with drugs. These decisions on medical care were often driven by financial interest rather than patient need.

The scheme also involved directing that beneficiaries be placed on continuous care, whether the beneficiaries needed the service or not, and often without any consultation with a physician. Continuous care physician’s orders were falsified and uploaded into Novus’s electronic medical records database. When a beneficiary was on continuous care, the Novus nurses would unnecessarily administer high doses of Schedule II controlled medications such as morphine or hydromorphone. The Schedule II medications were obtained with prescription forms unlawfully pre-signed by medical directors. The investigators found instances when these excessive dosages resulted in serious bodily injury or death to the beneficiaries.

If convicted, each count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and substantive health care fraud count carries a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.