In 2014, the American Hospital Association sued the Secretary of Health and Human Services to compel HHS to clear the delay in the Medicare administrative appeals process and to comply with the statutory ninety-day time frame for Administrative Law Judge hearings. (The August 11, 2017, court of appeals opinion can be found here.)
Congress directed HHS to establish an appeals process for denied Medicare reimbursement claims and directed that the appeals process be completed within certain time parameters. The entire appeals process was designed to take less than one year to complete and set time limits on each stage of the appeal: 60 days for stage one, the redetermination; 60 days for stage two, the reconsideration; 90 days for stage three, the hearing before the ALJ; and 90 days for stage four, the hearing before the Medicare Appeals Council. The fifth stage is judicial review in a district court. (For more information about the appeals process click here and here.) For many years the appeals process functioned within these parameters.
Beginning in 2001, there was an increase in appeals. This increase, which was dramatic and unexpected, was caused by a large number of new beneficiaries, and providers appealing almost every denied claim. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, under the Medicare Recovery Audit Program, HHS hired recovery audit contractors known as RACs to review every claim paid and identify overpayments. The RACs then sought to recoup those overpayments, which could have been paid to the provider years ago. When a RAC identifies an overpayment, the provider could either pay it or file an appeal. Many providers decided to file an appeal, and appeals increased from 56,600 in fiscal year 2011, to 607,402 appeals waiting for an ALJ hearing in June 2017. Although providers can skip this level and escalate the appeal, providers forfeit certain rights and have been reluctant to do so. (See, How to Advance your Appeal After a Reconsideration by a QIC.) Without some form of relief, the backlog is expected to grow to over 950,000 by 2021 and some claims which have already been filed are expected to take over 10 years to complete.