The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) is recommending that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) step-up efforts to collect Medicare overpayments to providers currently considered uncollectable because the provider has failed to repay overpayments identified and demanded by CMS six or more months after CMS demands repayment. The recommendations made in OIG’s Medicare’s Currently Not Collectible Overpayments Report (Report) reflect the ever-growing emphasis of HHS on reducing Medicare and other federal program costs by aggressive enforcement of Medicare and other federal regulations against providers. While CMS has not concurred with all of OIG’s recommendations in the Report, providers can expect CMS to further tighten its overpayment processes in response to these and other OIG recommendations.
According to the Report, CMS identifies billions of dollars in alleged Medicare overpayments to health care providers each year. In fiscal year (FY) 2010, overpayments totaled $9.6 billion. While CMS identifies these amounts, the Report notes that CMS does not recover all overpayments. Under CMS current accounting policies, CMS classifies overpayments for which the provider has not repaid at least 6 months after the due date on the Medicare demand letter as “currently not collectible” (CNC). CMS does not report these CNC amounts in CMS’s annual financial statements because it considers these amounts unlikely to be recovered.
The Report summaries the results of an OIG study of these CNC amounts. In the study, OIG requested details from CMS about CNC overpayments in FY 2010 and summary financial data for FYs 2007 to 2010. CMS provided most of the data from its Healthcare Integrated General Ledger Accounting System (HIGLAS). OIG also surveyed CMS and all its claims processing contractors to identify (1) hindrances to debt collection and (2) strategies to reduce the number and dollar amount of overpayments that become CNC.
According to the Report, CMS reported $543 million in new CNC overpayments across all contractors in FY 2010. However, CMS provided detailed information on $69 million in CNC overpayments for only seven contractors. Citing contractor transitions, CMS did not provide detailed data for the remaining 32 contractors. For 54 percent of CNC overpayments associated with the seven contractors, the provider type was missing in HIGLAS. For the seven contractors, 97 percent of FY 2010 CNC overpayments were not recovered. According to contractors, inaccurate provider contact information delays or prevents some overpayment demand letters from reaching providers. In addition, CMS and contractors reported that expanding the types of provider identifiers used to recover payments could improve debt collection efforts.
Based on these findings, OIG recommended that CMS should:
- Ensure the HIGLAS variable for provider type is populated for all overpayments,
- Ensure that demand letters are mailed to the contacts and addresses identified by the provider, and
- Use tax identification numbers and provider transaction access numbers in addition to national provider numbers for the collection of overpayments.
According to OIG, CMS partially concurred with the first recommendation, did not agree with our second recommendation, and concurred with our third recommendation. Accordingly, at minimum, providers should expect that CMS will step up use of tax identification and provider transaction access numbers in tracking down and collecting overpayments demanded by OIG.
The Report is just one of a plethora of activities that OIG, CMS and other HHS agencies, alone or in conjunction with the Department of Justice and other federal and state agencies are conducting in their campaign to control Medicare and other federal program costs by targeting provider reimbursements.With health care fraud and other billing audits and enforcement rising, hospitals and other health care providers should heed these reports as continuing reminders to tighten their billing practices to ensure defensibility in the event of an audit or other enforcement action.
For More Information Or Assistance
If you need assistance 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 25 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters.
Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies and to respond to DEA 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 including a number of programs and publications on OCR Civil Rights rules and enforcement actions. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, 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 with these or other compliance concerns, wish to ask about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.
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If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here.
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