Kusserow on Compliance: Court will not reconsider order to clear Medicare claims appeals backlog

On December 15, 2016, HHS asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to reconsider its December 5 order requiring the agency to clear the Medicare appeals within four years, stating it would not be able to meet the requirements under the schedule recently ordered without “substantial new resources and authorities.”  The court rejected this argument, as it had already been presented by HHS and considered by the court in reaching its order.  Unless HHS appeals the Court’s decision in American Hospital Association v. Burwell (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, January 4, 2017), this will conclude the 2.5 year litigation initiated by the American Hospital Association (AHA) and several hospitals.   Plaintiffs challenged the failure of HHS to meet statutory timeframes related to adjudication of Medicare claims appeals. The Court adopted the plaintiffs’ proposed timetable for clearing the backlog, requiring a 30% reduction of the current backlog of cases pending at the administrative law judge (ALJ) level by December 31, 2017, a 60% reduction by December 31, 2018, a 90% reduction by December 31, 2019, and a 100% reduction by December 31, 2020.

A failure to meet the deadlines would mean that claimants may move for default judgment in their favor. HHS is further obligated to submit a report every 90 days on its “progress in reducing the backlog and includ[ing] updated figures for the current and projected backlog, as well as a description of any significant administrative and legislative actions that will affect the backlog.” The HHS Secretary argued that the timetable would require her to “make payment on Medicare claims regardless of the merit of those claims.”  The Court responded by noting that HHS has already violated Medicare statute by not complying with statutory deadlines for Medicare appeals and the timetable provides a reasonable period for “proper claim substantiation.”  “If the Secretary fails to meet the [court ordered] deadlines, plaintiffs may move for default judgment or otherwise enforce the writ of mandamus.”

Tom Herrmann, JD, who served over twenty years as a former ALJ and executive in the Office of Counsel to the Inspector General, observed that health care providers and suppliers with pending appeals will welcome the court action requiring HHS to take steps to comply with the statutory deadlines for resolution of appeals.  He explained that governing law and regulations require an ALJ to hold a hearing and render a decision within 90 days of a party’s filing of an appeal with Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA).  However, they have been unable to meet this deadline, resulting in a backlog of 1 million pending appeals.  A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report last June was highly critical of the HHS appeals process and the failure to meet deadlines, and the OMHA moratorium on accepting new appeals requests in order to catch up has not worked.

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.

Hospital appeals settlement recipients identified by CMS

More than 2,000 hospitals that received almost $1.5 billion in total settlement money from CMS for fee-for-service denials based on patient status reviews for admissions prior to October 1, 2013, were identified by name, provider number, total claims settled, and amount of money received. The settlement, which was paid in 2015 at 68 percent of the net allowable amount, gave providers a guaranteed timely payment in exchange for withdrawing pending appeals that were tied up waiting through a large administrative hearing backlog. Settled claims numbers ranged from one to almost 3,000, with amounts paid between $0 and almost $16 million.

The settlement was a one-time offer by CMS to alleviate the burdens on the Medicare appeals system. The agency only settled claims for patients admitted prior to October 1, 2013, because it believed that the two-midnight rule, which began on that date, would reduce future appeals volume (see CMS offers partial payments for certain Part A hospital claims under appeal, Health Law Daily, September 3, 2014; CMS pays $1.3B to settle hospital inpatient claims, Health Law Daily, June 15, 2015).

The administrative hearing backlog remains a problem for CMS, which last month proposed regulations to improve the efficiency of the Medicare appeals process and address the increasing number of backlogged appeals waiting for administrative adjudication (Proposed rule, 81 FR 43789, July 5, 2016). The settlement offer was made nine months after Nancy Griswold, Chief Administrative Law Judge for HHS’ Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA), said that there were 375,000 claims waiting for adjudication and suspended new requests for hearings before an administrative law judge. As of April 2016, however, OMHA had over 750,000 pending appeals. The two-midnight rule, which did not have the desired effect of reducing appeals, has also ended after hospital backlash (see 1.5 percent payment cut overshadows end of Two-Midnight, Health Law Daily, August 3, 2016).

Kusserow on Compliance: GAO issues report critical of Medicare appeals process

The Backlog Saga Continues

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a review of the appeals process for Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) claims and issued a report in June 2016 that was highly critical of the Medicare appeals process. The process consists of four administrative levels of review within HHS, and a fifth level in which appeals are reviewed by federal courts. Appeals are generally reviewed by each level sequentially, as appellants may appeal a decision to the next level depending on the prior outcome. Under the administrative process, separate appeals bodies review appeals and issue decisions under time limits established by law, which can vary by level. They have not been meeting those deadlines for years. In fact, they have 700,000 pending appeals that would take years to clear up, even if new appeals were not filed.

The GAO found that CMS and two other components within HHS that are part of the Medicare appeals process have not made available full-use data collected in three appeal data systems to monitor the Medicare appeals process. It also found variations in how appeals bodies record decisions across the three systems, including the use of different categories to track the type of Medicare service at issue in the appeal. Absent more complete and consistent appeals data, the ability to monitor emerging trends in appeals is limited and is inconsistent with federal internal control standards that require agencies to run and control agency operations using relevant, reliable, and timely information. The GAO recommended that HHS take four actions, including improving the completeness and consistency of the data used by HHS to monitor appeals and implementing a more efficient method of handling appeals associated with repetitious claims.

Following the release of this report Nancy Griswold, Chief Administrative Law Judge, Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA), and Constance B. Tobias, Chair, Departmental Appeals Board (DAB), reported submitting a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on changes to the Medicare claims appeal process as part efforts to eliminate the backlog of appeals currently pending at the OMHA and the DAB. The proposed changes designed to reduce the number of pending appeals and streamline the Medicare appeals process. They also sought increases in the budget for FY 2017 to add resources to work on the backlog problem.

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 © 2016 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.