Articles Posted in Medicare Appeals

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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.

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If you are appealing a reconsideration issued by a Qualified Independent Contractor (QIC) and you have not received a decision within 90 days you may have the right to have your appeal escalated to the next level before the Medicare Appeals Council.

An appellant who has properly filed a request for hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and whose appeal remains pending after 90 days may with certain restrictions, file a request with the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA), to escalate the appeal to the Medicare Appeals Council. 42 C.F.R. 405.1016. If the request meets the requirements for escalation and the ALJ, or attorney administrator, does not issue a decision, dismissal order, or remand order, within five calendar days, or within 5 days from the end of the 90-day ALJ decision if the request is filed prematurely, the OMHA, will send a notice that the QIC reconsideration decision will be the decision that will be reviewed by the Council. The Council then has 180 calendar days to issue a decision, or dismissal or remand order. 42 C.F.R. 405.1106

The Council may take any of the following action subsequent to an escalation: Issue a decision based on the record before the QIC, and any additional information entered on the record before the ALJ; conduct any additional proceedings that the Council determines are necessary to issue a decision; remand the case back to the OMHA for further proceedings; dismiss the request for review because the appellant does not have the right to escalate the appeal; or dismiss the request for a hearing if the ALJ or attorney adjudicator could have dismissed the request. 42 C.F.R. 405.1108 Continue reading

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a final rule on January 17, 2017 titled “Medicare Program: Changes to the Medicare Claims and Entitlement, Medicare Advantage Organization Determination, and Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage Determination Appeals Procedures,” (Final Rule), that went into effect March 20, 2017. This Final Rule revised the appeal process before Administrative Law Judges. The Final Rule in its entirety can be found here. The new rule is designed to reduce the number of appeals and the time needed to adjudicate appeals before an ALJ, part of the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals, and the next level of appeal held before the Medicare Appeals Council, part of the Departmental Appeals Board. HHS hopes to eliminate the appeal backlog by fiscal year 2020.

The Final Rule will permit a Medicare Appeals Council’s decision to have precedential value to provide consistency, reduce resources need to adjudicate an appeal, and possibly reduce the number of appeals. It also allows attorney adjudicators to decide appeals without a hearing, review dismissals by a Qualified Independent Contractor (QIC), issue remands to CMS contractors, and dismiss a request for hearing when requested by the appellant. These changes will reduce the time that ALJs spend on administrative matters and allow more resources for conducting hearings. The Final Rule will also limit the number of CMS contractors that can participate in a hearing, improve administrative efficiency, by for example allowing an ALJ to vacate its own dismissal, and conduct most hearings via telephone (unless the appellant is an unrepresented beneficiary). Continue reading