Kusserow on Compliance: OIG report on vulnerabilities in the Medicare hospice program

15 specific actions recommended to reduce Hospice vulnerability

4 million Hospice beneficiaries with an annual cost of $17 billion

CMS plans to increase hospices reimbursement by $340 million

 

The HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported on numerous evaluations, audits, and investigations of the hospice program that have resulted in questioned costs, as well as criminal and civil prosecutions. The result of this work has identified vulnerabilities in the program. By way of background, the objective of hospice is to provide great comfort and care to beneficiaries, their families, and caregivers at the end of a beneficiary’s life. This program has grown steadily over the past decade, with Medicare now paying about $17 billion annually on behalf of 1.5 million beneficiaries—grown from a half million in 2000. According to CMS, hospice expenditures are anticipated to continue rising 8 percent annually as more beneficiaries utilize the care. In their review of this program, the OIG found:

  1. Hospice providers do not always provide needed services to beneficiaries; sometimes provide poor quality care; and were not able to effectively manage symptoms or medications, leaving beneficiaries in unnecessary pain for many days.
  2. Beneficiaries and their families and caregivers do not receive crucial information to make informed decisions about their care.
  3. Hospices’ inappropriate billing costs Medicare hundreds of millions of dollars that included billing for an expensive level of care when the beneficiary does not need it.
  4. A number of fraud schemes in hospice care negatively affect beneficiaries and the program with some involving enrolling beneficiaries who are not eligible for hospice care, while other schemes involve billing for services never provided.
  5. The current payment system creates incentives for hospices to minimize their services and seek beneficiaries who have uncomplicated needs with a hospice being paid for every day a beneficiary is in its care, regardless of the quantity or quality of services provided on that day.

The OIG recommended that CMS implement 15 specific actions that relate to seven areas for improvement. The OIG called upon CMS to:

  1. Strengthen the survey process-its primary tool to promote compliance-to better ensure that hospices provide beneficiaries with needed services and quality care.
  2. Seek statutory authority to establish additional remedies for hospices with poor performance.
  3. Develop and disseminate additional information on hospices, including complaint investigations, to help beneficiaries and their families and caregivers make informed choices about hospice care.
  4. Educate beneficiaries and their families and caregivers about the hospice benefit, working with its partners to make available consumer-friendly information.
  5. Promote physician involvement and accountability to ensure that beneficiaries get appropriate care.
  6. Strengthen oversight of hospices, including analyzing claims data to identify hospices that engage in practices that raise concerns.
  7. Take steps to tie payment to beneficiary care needs and quality of care to ensure that services rendered adequately serve beneficiaries’ needs, seeking statutory authority if necessary.

Meanwhile CMS announced in proposed rulemaking plans to increase payments for hospices by 1.8 percent, or $340 million, up from $180 million increase last year. CMS also included under the new Proposed rule:

  • New standards to help determine what measures hospices will no longer have to report under its meaningful measures initiative.
  • Changes to the Hospice Compare policies site to correct massive amounts of incorrect addresses, phone numbers and profit status for providers.
  • Beginning January 1, 2019, Hospices will have 4½ months after the end of each quarter to review and correct data that will be reported publicly on the website.
  • Physician assistants will be recognized as attending physicians for Medicare hospice.
  • Aggregate cap limiting overall annual hospice payment will increase by 1.8 percent to $29,205.44.

 

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

Kusserow on Compliance: Four physicians charged in $200M prescription fraud scheme

A CEO and four physicians were charged in a superseding indictment in an investigation of a $200 million health care fraud scheme that involved a network of Michigan and Ohio pain clinics, laboratories, and other medical providers. Additional charges included wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering, and distribution of over 4.2 million medically unnecessary dosage units of controlled substances and medically unnecessary injections to Medicare beneficiaries, some of whom were addicted to narcotics. These included oxycodone, hydrocodone and oxymorphone. Some of the opioids were resold on the street.

When a medical review was made of the injection claims, it was found that 100 percent of the claims were not eligible for Medicare reimbursement. In order to conceal the continued billing of these fraudulent claims to Medicare, the defendants created new shell companies and continued to engage in the same billing of fraudulent claims, often changing only the name of the company on the door to the medical practice and/or inventing new suite numbers to conceal the continuation of the fraudulent practices at the same location. Defendants also owned a diagnostic laboratory to enable them to order medically unnecessary urine drug testing from the laboratory. When Medicare conducted a medical review of claims submitted by the laboratory, it determined that 95 percent of the claims were not eligible for Medicare reimbursement and ordered the diagnostic laboratory to repay $6.9 million in improper payments.

Another scheme involved money laundering in connection with a $6.6 million wire transfer and the withdrawal of $500,000 in cash, which was hidden in plastic bags in the closet of the house.  The indictment alleges that transferred proceeds derived from the conspiracy were used to allow the defendants to live an extravagant lifestyle and spend millions of dollars on luxury items—clothing from retailers like Hermes, rare Richard Mille watches, and exotic automobiles such as a Lamborghini and Rolls Royce Ghost. The proceeds were also used to purchase a mansion and other real estate in the Detroit, Michigan area and to sit courtside or in the first row of NBA basketball games, including the NBA Finals.

 

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 © 2018 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

Kusserow on Compliance: OIG Attorneys continue cross-designation with DOJ

The HHS OIG issued its Semi-Annual Report for the first half of fiscal year (FY) 2018 (October-March) and summarizes key accomplishments, significant problems, abuses, deficiencies, and investigative outcomes relating to the administration of HHS programs and operations that were disclosed during the reporting period. Included in the report is a section referred to as the “Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Program.” Many are unaware of this program that unites under the DOJ attorneys and Special Agents of the OIG that are cross-designated as Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys. These OIG attorneys are detailed full time to the Fraud section of DOJ’s Criminal Division for temporary assignments, including assignments to the Health Care Fraud Strike Force. Other attorneys prosecute matters on a case-by-case basis. Both arrangements offer excellent litigation training for OIG attorneys and enhance collaboration between the departments in their efforts to fight fraud. Under this program, OIG attorneys have successfully litigated important criminal cases relating to the fraudulent billing of medical equipment and supplies, infusion therapy, and physical therapy, as well as other types of Medicare and Medicaid fraud.

In its report, the OIG cited as an example of how this program works in a Medicare fraud case in Texas where cross-designated Special Assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuted an individual for fraud. The individual owned and operated group homes in the Houston, Texas area and engaged in a scheme to defraud Medicare by receiving kickbacks in exchange for referring her group home residents for home health services. She pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal agents and was sentenced to 6 months in prison.

 

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.

Subscribe to the Kusserow on Compliance Newsletter

Copyright © 2018 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

Kusserow on Compliance: OIG testifies on investigative results over last three years

Gary Cantrell, HHS OIG Deputy Inspector General for Investigations, testified before a Senate Special Committee hearing to highlight the results of the OIG’s enforcement activities, focusing many of his comments on the current Opiod Crisis. He noted that the OIG Special Agents have full law enforcement powers and collaborate with other federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to combine resources to detect and prevent health care fraud, waste, and abuse. Over the last three years, OIG investigations have resulted in more than $10.8 billion in investigative receivables; 2,650 criminal actions; 2,211 civil actions; and 10,991 program exclusions.

The OIG is a lead participant in the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which combines the resources of the OIG and DOJ, including Main Justice, U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as well as State and local law enforcement, to fight health care fraud in geographic hot spots. Since its inception in March 2007, the Strike Force has charged more than 3,000 defendants who collectively billed the Medicare program more than $10.8 billion. Last year, the Strike Force led the largest takedown ever in health care fraud enforcement. It resulted in 412 charged defendants across 41 federal districts, including 115 doctors, nurses, and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving approximately $1.3 billion in false billings.

The OIG also collaborates with state Medicaid Fraud Control Units (MFCUs) to detect and investigate fraud, waste, and abuse in state Medicaid programs.  Another investigative partner is the Healthcare Fraud Prevention Partnership and the National Healthcare Anti-Fraud Association—a public–private partnership that addresses health care fraud by sharing data and information for the purposes of detecting and combating fraud and abuse in health care programs.

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.

Subscribe to the Kusserow on Compliance Newsletter

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