CMS Likely To Tighten Audits & Reimbursement After OIG Says “Extremely High” Retail Pharmacy Billings To Medicare Part D Warrant Close Scrutiny

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) is recommending a “strong response” to improve Medicare Part D oversight of retail pharmacy prescriptions by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) based on findings of a recent study.  See hereOIG says that  “extremely high” prescription drug billings by many retail pharmacies merit scrutiny under medical necessity or other grounds.   

Under the Medicare Part D program, CMS contracts with private insurance companies, known as sponsors, to provide prescription drug coverage to beneficiaries who choose to enroll.  According to OIG, OIG has issued several reports that OIG has found that Part D had limited safeguards in place in the 6 years since Part D began.

In response to these concerns, OIG recently conducted a study based on an analysis of prescription drug event records.  Sponsors send these records to CMS for each drug dispensed to beneficiaries enrolled in their plans.  Each record has information about the pharmacy, prescriber, beneficiary, and drug.  OIG analyzed all of the records for drugs billed by retail pharmacies in 2009 and developed eight measures to describe Part D billing and to identify pharmacies with questionable billing.

Based on this study, OIG reports that retail pharmacies each billed Part D an average of nearly $1 million for prescriptions in 2009. According to OIG, the study revealed “questionable billing” by more than 2,600 of these pharmacies.  OIG reports that these pharmacies had ‘extremely high billing” for at least one of the eight measures developed and applied by OIG   For example, many pharmacies billed what OIG characterized as “extremely high” dollar amounts or numbers of prescriptions per beneficiary or per prescriber.  The Miami, Los Angeles, and Detroit areas were the most likely to have pharmacies with questionable billing.

Although OIG concedes that some of this billing may be legitimate, OIG believes that pharmacies that bill for extremely high amounts call for further scrutiny The OIG report expresses concern that these high dollar prescription drug billings could mean that a pharmacy is billing for drugs that are not medically necessary or were never provided to the beneficiary.

Accordingly, OIG is recommending that CMS:  (1) strengthen the Medicare Drug Integrity Contractor’s monitoring of pharmacies and ability to identify pharmacies for further review, (2) provide additional guidance to sponsors on monitoring pharmacy billing, (3) require sponsors to refer potential fraud and abuse incidents that may warrant further investigation, (4) develop risk scores for pharmacies, (5) further strengthen its compliance plan audits, and (6) follow up on the pharmacies identified as having questionable billing.  CMS concurred with four of the recommendations and partially concurred with the other two.

Private health plans and other payers are likely to review the study to determine whether it provides justification for closer scrutiny of prescription drug claims made to private payers. 

Whether or not private health plans follow suit, retail pharmacies and other providers should anticipate that CMS will increase scrutiny and challenges of prescription drug charges submitted to Medicare Part D.  Accordingly, retail pharmacies and the physician and other providers prescribing medications likely to be billed should tighten documentation and other procedures to defend against possible medical necessity and other challenges. 

The continuing focus and success of federal health care fraud and related investigation and enforcement efforts continue to prove the need for health care providers and payers to strengthen their compliance practices and documentation to avoid getting caught in the ever tightening health care fraud dragnet.  The prosecutions of Giventer and Shavabskaya highlight that health care providers and their leaders need to manage prosecution risks under a broad range of laws in addition to focusing on management of the widely recognized exposures to prosecution under federal health care fraud laws, 

Health Care Providers Must Act To Manage Risks

In response to the growing emphasis and effectiveness of Federal officials in investigating and taking action against health care providers and organizations, health care providers covered by federal false claims, referral, kickback and other health care fraud laws should consider auditing the adequacy of existing practices, tightening training, oversight and controls on billing and other regulated conduct, reaffirming their commitment to compliance to workforce members and constituents and taking other proper steps to help prevent, detect and timely redress health care fraud exposures within their organization and to position their organization to respond and defend against potential investigations or charges.

For Legal Representation or More Information

If you need help reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to set up and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see here.

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THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

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