Medicare and Medicaid Audits of Psychologists and Other Mental Health Professionals

Over the past year I have observed an increasing number of Medicare and Medicaid audits being initiated against psychologists and other mental health professionals.

I have recently seen a number of audits initiated against psychologists and mental health professionals who treat assisted living facility (ALF) and skilled nursing facility (SNF) residents. Most often these are audits by the Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC), because this area of medical practice has been identified as one fraught with fraud and abuse. Sometimes these are only “probe” audits, initial audits requesting one (1) to five (5) medical records. Other times the MAC has been requesting anywhere from 120 to 375 records.

Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPICs).

Zone Program Integrity Contracts (ZPICs), are the primary Medicare fraud detection contractors. If a probe audit, MAC audit or other investigation of audit suspected fraudulent billing, the ZPIC may come in. The ZPIC also identifies and target various CPT codes, areas of medical practice, services and equipment that are highly susceptible to fraud. It will then initiate a ZPIC audit on its own. ZPICs receive bonuses based on amounts they recover for the Medicare program.

OIG Annual Work Plan.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) publishes a work plan each year which discusses the areas, types of medical services, CPT codes, equipment and tests it considers to be most susceptible to fraud and abuse. The new plan is usually published in the fall for the work year. It is available online.

Psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health counselors, as well as facility administrators, compliance officers, attorneys and billing and coding experts should review this work plan each year to learn what the OIG considers to be fraud and abuse and why. Measures should be immediately implemented to remedy any problems in your practice or facility that are identified.

Qui Tam or Whistle Blower Cases.

In many cases an audit or investigation may be convened against a facility, individual or group, based on the filing of a qui tam or whistle blower’s case. You won’t know this, however, because these cases are filed under seal and stay sealed, often for years. These suits are based on false claims that have been filed for Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, Veterans Administration (VA) or any other federal or state program. They are usually filed by disgruntled, former employees. These may cause the initiation of any of the types of audits discussed above.

If you suspect that this has happened, you should immediately retain legal counsel to represent you or your organization. If OIG special agents (S/As) or Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents are involved, it would be foolish not to retain an experience health law attorney before you speak to anyone.

Medicaid Audits.

I have also seen an increase in Medicaid audits by state agencies, as well.

Ordinarily, Medicaid audits are initiated by the program integrity section or division of the state agency that administers the Medicaid program, or one of the agency’s contractors. The states are under increasing pressure from the federal government to be much more aggressive in identifying Medicaid fraud and recovering the overpayments.

If Medicare or any of its contractors recover an overpayment from a provider, they will also notify the state Medicaid program and Tricare program. These will them initiate audits and collection actions.

State ZPICs.

States are now contracting with ZPICs to help detect fraud and make recoveries of large overpayments from Medicaid providers. Additionally, the Medicare ZPICs may also detect and recover Medicaid overpayments, as well.

Areas Being Targeted.

In state Medicaid audits, I have recently seen increased scrutiny in the following areas:

1. Pediatric care
2. Therapy (speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy) especially to pediatric patients and developmentally disabled patients.

3. Small assisted living facilities (ALFs), group homes, homes for the developmentally disabled (DD) and other small facilities.

4. Home health agencies.

5. Pediatric dentistry.

6. Optometry care, especially if delivered in a nursing home or assisted living facility (ALF).

7. Ambulance and medical transportation services, especially of nursing homes.

8. Psychiatric psychological and mental health.

Use of Statistical Sampling and Extrapolation Formulas to Multiply Repayment Amounts.

In both state Medicaid audits and in Medicare audits, I have experience increased reliance by the auditing agency on use of mathematical extrapolation formulas to estimate the amount that should be repaid. The formula used usually takes the overpayment that has actually been found and, based on several factors, multiplies it out to many times the actual overpayment amount. Thus, a found overpayment of $2,800 may become a demand for repayment of $280,000, based on the statistical extrapolation.

Things you should know about this are as follows.

1. Neither the Medicare program nor the state Medicaid programs should use an extrapolation formula, unless:

a. There is a “high” error rate in the claims that have been submitted; or

b. There have been prior educational efforts or prior audits of the provider, and the provider

has failed to correct the problems in claims submission previously found.
2. The states each have different guidelines, rules or regulations on when they will apply the statistical formula. Some do not use it. Some use a higher percentage error rate to prompt use of the formula and some lower. North Carolina is one of the lowest we have encountered; an error rate of more than five percent (5%) will prompt its Medicaid agency to apply the statistical extrapolation to the recovery amount.

Problems Psychologists and Mental Health Professionals May Encounter Producing Records for Audits.

Many psychologists, therapists and health professionals are being audited because they are treating patients in a nursing facility or assisted living facility.

In most cases, a history, physical, comprehensive assessment, physician orders, diagnosis, medication list, medication administration records, consultations, social service notes and other medial documents being relied upon by the therapist are reviewed and assessed in connection with treatment of the patient. The big problem here is that these usually stay in the facility. When an audit occurs, these may not all be available.

The biggest issue that Medicare and Medicaid seem to be targeting is lack of documented “medical necessity.” The auditors take the position that the audited therapist must produce copies of the documents listed above, in part, to show “medical necessity” for the services provided.

Additionally, most physicians who treat patients in nursing facilities place their own assessments, plans and notes into the facility’s chart and do not retain a copy themselves. When the audit comes, they may not be able to produce copies of their own notes and evaluations.

I recommend that any provider treating residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities (ALFs):

1. Review the local coverage decision (LCD) applicable to the code(s) you bill so you know what requirements must be met and what documentation is required.
2. Review the Medicaid provider handbook or state regulations for the services you provide if you are a Medicaid provider.

3. Obtain and keep copies of all applicable histories, physicals, care plans, physician orders, physician consults, etc. This is best done by obtaining and using a portable scanner. You can then keep the copies electronically in a properly secured, protected server in your office (backed-up, off site, of course).

4. Sign all of your evaluations, prepare your reports, evaluations progress notes and consultations on your laptop or other computer and sign it electronically before you print it out. Alternatively, if you still use paper, scan the paper copy (after signed) and maintain it electronically.

5. Do not use unusual or non-standard terms and abbreviations. If you do, you must keep an “abbreviations and definitions” list and produce it with your records in any audit response.

6. In your reports, evaluations and notes, use the terminology from the LCD and Medicaid provider handbook. Also, always include the start time, stop time and total time spent with any resident in your report, evaluation and notes.

7. Be sure the patient, patient’s next of kin/surrogate, patient’s physician or nursing home administrator signs off as having received the services each time. The patient’s signature is preferred.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Medicaid or Medicare Audits.

Medicaid and Medicare fraud is a serious crime and is vigorously investigated by the state MFCU, the Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA), the Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPICs), the FBI, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Often other state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), and other law enforcement agencies participate. Don’t wait until it’s too late. If you are concerned of any possible violations and would like a confidential consultation, contact a qualified health attorney familiar with medical billing and audits today. Often Medicaid and Medicare fraud criminal charges arise out of routine Medicaid and Medicare audits, probe audits, or patient complaints.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent physicians, medical groups, clinics, pharmacies, assisted living facilities (AFLs), home health care agencies, nursing homes, group homes and other healthcare providers in Medicaid and Medicare investigations, audits and recovery actions.

Disclaimer: Please note this article is for general education and information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or solicitation for clients. Our opinions stated herein are just that, our opinions.