Denial of Medicare benefits (even non-accident related Medicare benefits) are increasing. A beneficiary may face denial of benefits for medical treatment related or unrelated to a workers’ compensation, liability, or no-fault claim.
Denial of medical benefits that are unrelated to the claimed injury or illness can occur for many reasons. On many occasions bills are improperly submitted by medical providers. If a bill erroneously documents that the treatment is related to a workers’ compensation/other insurance claim or is not supplied at all, Medicare may deny coverage until the bill is properly resubmitted. In other instances, incorrect or vague diagnoses codes are provided via reporting pursuant to Section 111 of the Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP Extension Act of 2007, causing CMS to deny future benefits.
Beneficiaries may also be denied benefits related to a workers’ compensation, liability or no-fault claim. As required by the Medicare Secondary Payer Act, a beneficiary is responsible for exhausting Medicare Set-Aside funds to cover their future medical expenses which would otherwise be paid by Medicare. At the time of settlement, it is important to advise the claimant of their obligation to protect Medicare’s interests regarding past and future medical expenses.
The right to appeal decisions denying care or benefits is a five-step process that starts with standard or expedited review by the entity making the original determination, with progression through administrative channels and to federal court, if necessary. Beneficiaries and Medicare-participating health-care providers can file Medicare appeals when a claim is denied or even partially denied.
So, the question is, what remedy should be offered to the injured party whose benefits have been denied? In addition to diligence on the part of Responsible Reporting Entities (RREs) including prompt and accurate reporting, confirming CMS records acceptance, and ensuring that misreported information is corrected and resubmitted, injured parties should be advised to utilize the normal appellate process within Medicare regarding denied treatment or benefits.
Although very similar to the Medicare Managed Care Appeals and Grievances as well as the Medicare Prescription Drug Appeals and Grievances process, the original Medicare Part A and B, Fee for Service, process has its own appeals process and procedures.
Appealing Medicare Decisions
Once an initial claim determination is made, beneficiaries (as well as participating providers, physicians and other suppliers) have the right to appeal. However:
- Physicians and other suppliers who do not take assignments on claims have limited appeal rights.
- Beneficiaries may transfer their appeal rights to non-participating physicians, or other suppliers who provide the items or services and do not otherwise have appeal rights.
- Form CMS-20031 must be completed and signed by the beneficiary and the non-participating physician or supplier to transfer the beneficiary’s appeal rights.
- All appeal requests must be in writing.
Five Levels in the Appeals Process
Medicare offers five levels in the Part A and Part B appeals process:
1. Redetermination by Fiscal Intermediaries, Carriers or Medicare Administrative Contractors
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) contracts with private insurance companies (called “carriers” for Part B, “fiscal intermediaries” for Part A, or “Medicare administrative contractors”) to perform many processing functions on behalf of Medicare, including local claims processing and first level appeal adjudication functions. A redetermination is an examination of a claim by the fiscal intermediary, carrier or Medicare administrative contractor personnel that are from the individual(s) who made the initial determination. The appellant (the individual filing the appeal) has 120 days from the date of receipt of the initial claim determination to respond to the contractor.
The appellant should attach any supporting documentation to their redetermination request. Contractors will generally issue a decision (either a letter or a revised remittance advice) within 60 days of receipt of the redetermination request. The redetermination request should be sent to the contractor that issued the initial determination to file an appeal. A minimum monetary threshold is not required to request a redetermination.
2. Reconsideration by a Qualified Independent Contractor
A party to the redetermination may request a reconsideration if dissatisfied with the redetermination. Section 521 of the Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Benefits Improvement and Protection Act of 2000 (BIPA) included provisions aimed at improving the Medicare fee-for-service appeals process. Part of these provisions mandate that all second-level appeals (for both Part A and Part B) be conducted by qualified independent contractors. The qualified independent contract reconsideration process allows for an independent review of medical necessity issues by a panel of physicians or other health care professionals. A minimum monetary threshold is not required to request a reconsideration. However, a written reconsideration request must be filed within 180 days of receipt of the redetermination (a request for a reconsideration may be made on Form CMS-20033).
The request should clearly explain why the appellant disagrees with the redetermination. A copy of the MRN, and any other useful documentation should be sent with the reconsideration request to the qualified independent contract identified in the MRN. Evidence not submitted at the reconsideration level may be excluded from consideration at subsequent levels of appeal unless “good cause” is shown for submitting the evidence untimely. Reconsiderations are conducted on-the-record and, in most cases, the qualified independent contract will send its decision to all parties within 60 days of receipt of the request for reconsideration.
3. Hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
If at least $130 remains in controversy following the qualified independent contract’s decision, a party to the reconsideration may request that a hearing be conducted by Administrative Law Judge within 60 days of receipt of the reconsideration.
Appellants must also send notice of the ALJ hearing request to all parties to the qualified independent contract reconsideration and verify this on the hearing request form or in the written request. ALJ hearings are generally held by video-teleconference (VTC) or by telephone. Appellants may also ask the Administrative Law Judge to make a decision without a hearing (on-the-record). Hearing preparation procedures are set by the Administrative Law Judge. CMS or its contractors may become a party to, or participate in, an ALJ hearing after providing notice to all parties to the hearing. The Administrative Law Judge will generally issue a decision within 90 days of receipt of the hearing request.
4. Review by the Medicare Appeals Council within the Departmental Appeals Board, (hereinafter “the Appeals Council”)
If a party to the ALJ hearing is dissatisfied with the Judge’s decision, the party may request a review by the Appeals Council. There are no requirements regarding the amount of money in controversy. The request for Appeals Council review must be submitted in writing within 60 days of receipt of the Administrative Law Judge’s decision, and must specify the issues and findings that are being contested. In general, the Appeals Council will issue a decision within 90 days of receipt of a request for review (though that timeframe may be extended for various reasons).
5. Judicial Review in U.S. District Court
If at least $1,300 or more is still in controversy following the Appeals Council’s decision, a party to the decision may request judicial review before U.S. District Court Judge. The appellant must file the request for review within 60 days of receipt of the Appeals Council’s decision.
While there may not be a remedy to stop denials of Medicare and/or medical benefits or treatment, there are certainly steps to mitigate the occurrence. Ensuring prompt and accurate reporting of data, and confirming CMS records acceptance, is a key first step. In addition, if a beneficiary’s benefits are denied, it is imperative they are advised of the normal appellate process they can use within Medicare. This combination of initial data being provided along with clear and accurate rules being provided to beneficiaries is critical to protecting future benefits.
About the Author: Christie Britt is the Vice President of Operations overseeing the extensive operations of Gould & Lamb. She has vast knowledge of Medicare Set Asides and Post-Settlement Administration from an insurance claims perspective. Christie is MSCC certified and has her Green Belt Certification in Six Sigma. She is also a member of the National Association of Medicare Set Aside Professionals (NAMSAP) and the Workers’ Compensation Claims Professionals (WCCP).