A new study in the BMJ suggests that the more services a physician provides to his or her patients, the less likely the physician is to be sued for malpractice.  The study examined the use of resources by attending physicians in several Florida acute care hospitals during a ten-year period from 2000-2009, in relation to the number of malpractice claims brought against the physicians in the year following care.  Researchers found that physicians who billed higher than average hospital charges were sued less often than lower-billing physicians.

The study builds on evidence that most physicians in the United States report practicing “defensive medicine”, commonly understood to be “medical care provided to patients solely to reduce the threat of malpractice liability rather than to further diagnosis or treatment.”  Prior to this study, no research had been published on whether greater resource use by physicians is associated with reduced claims for malpractice.

The researchers focused on physicians from seven specialties, including obstetrics, which tends to have a higher rate of malpractice claims than other specialties.   The evidence clearly showed that a physician’s risk of being sued for malpractice was reduced among those who performed and billed for more services.  However, the authors noted that the data only show a correlation.  Further research is necessary to understand why higher spending is linked to a lower risk of malpractice claims.

Perhaps the greatest value from this study is that the results corroborate the belief that defensive medicine reduces the likelihood of claims for malpractice.  Interestingly, the authors note that the effectiveness of defensive medicine could be a reason why efforts to reduce physician spending have been difficult.

The full study is available online at:  http://www.bmj.com/content/351/bmj.h5516-0.

The long-anticipated implementation of ICD-10 coding finally began this past Thursday, October 1, 2015.  As of that date, government and commercial payors ceased to accept claims under the old coding system (ICD-9).  The transition has been five years in the making due to a government delay in 2012.

The new system has five times the codes of the prior system, including everything from “problems in relationship with in-laws” to “pedestrian injured in collision with roller skater” to “burn due to water-skis on fire”.  The hope is that the breadth and detail of the new codes will provide greater accuracy and increase reimbursement rates.  However, the complexity of ICD-10 could also cause substantial delays in reimbursement from both the provider side and the insurer side.  While CMS and other insurers are committed to ensuring that the implementation of the new system is completed, it is up to each provider to prepare for and manage the transition in their own practice.

Here are a few tips for your practice during the transition:

  • Mitigate the risk of longer-than-expected reimbursement times by setting aside a reserve fund to cover interim operating expenses, such as payroll, in the event of a one to two week delay in reimbursement during the next few months.
  • Whenever your staff has specific claims questions, contact the appropriate payor sooner rather than later.
  • If you haven’t already, consult your practice management and EHR software vendors to find out how they recommend using their technology with the new coding system.
  • In an effort to speed up the learning curve, consider asking your billing and coding staff to dual code a few charts each day.  This will give them additional opportunities to train, while reducing the need for extra training sessions down the line.

You may have heard that CMS recently expanded its authority to deny enrollment and revoke the Medicare billing privileges of providers and suppliers.  The new changes could affect any physician, group practice or other Medicare provider or supplier.  As the changes are wide reaching, all Medicare providers and suppliers, and anyone providing support services for such providers or suppliers (such as billing companies or administrative staff), should be knowledgeable about CMS’ expanded authority.

Some important changes include:

  • CMS may deny the enrollment of a new provider or supplier if one of its owners previously owned a Medicare billing entity that (1) has had its billing privileges terminated or revoked, and (2) continues to have overpayments or other Medicare debt.
  • CMS may deny the enrollment, or revoke the billing privileges, of a provider or supplier if the provider/supplier, or an owner or managing employee of the provider or supplier, has been convicted within the last 10 years of any state or federal felony which CMS determines is detrimental to the best interests of the Medicare program and its beneficiaries.
  • CMS may revoke the billing privileges of any provider or supplier which CMS determines has engaged in a “pattern or practice of billing for services that do not meet Medicare requirements”.

I co-authored two articles on the new regulations that provide providers and suppliers (as well as billing companies) with what they need to know about the important changes.  One of the articles was the Cover Article for the May/June 2015 Issue of BC Advantage Magazine (available in print and accessible online for those individuals having a login to the BC Advantage website at: http://www.billing-coding.com/detail_article.cfm?ArticleID=5310).

The other article was published in Physicians News Digest (accessible to the public online at the following link:  http://physiciansnews.com/2015/04/16/physicians-beware-cms-may-deny-or-revoke-medicare-provider-privileges/).

The new regulations took effect on February 3, 2015.

Now that the new year is upon us, today’s post will look at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (OIG), in particular, OIG’s priorities for 2013.   According to OIG’s Fiscal Year 2013 Work Plan, it will be focusing upon a number of topics of interest – including some items not addressed last year.

OIG’s planned reviews of Medicare Part A and Part B will include:

● Billing patterns for nursing home stays.

● Accreditation of medical equipment suppliers, with a particular focus on quality standards.

● Claims submitted by medical equipment suppliers for lower limb prosthetics, power mobility devices and vacuum erection systems.

● Replacement of medical equipment, especially the frequency and necessity of that replacement.

● Independent physical therapists’ claims and whether the claims are reasonable, medically necessary and properly documented.

● Billing for electrodiagnostic testing.

● Ensuring that payments are not made for alien beneficiaries who were unlawfully present in the United States.

● Reviewing payments for Part A and Part B services to avoid claims starting after a beneficiary has died. 


Special attention should be paid to these areas in the coming year given OIG’s additional scrutiny.


Physicians who reassign their right to bill the Medicare program can still be liable for false claims submitted by the entities who obtained that reassignment, as discussed in a recent "Alert" issued by the Office of Inspector General (OIG). [PDF].

OIG also referenced settlements it reached with eight physicians who had reassigned their payments to physical medicine companies in exchange for Medical Directorship positions — when those companies subsequently billed Medicare for services that the physicians had not actually performed.

This OIG Alert highlights the ability of physicians to monitor all services billed using their reassigned provider numbers, and strongly urges physicians to do so. If not, physicians face liability for false claims asserted under their provider numbers.

We’ve known for a while now that the Medicare Recovery Audit Contractors ("RAC") program would eventually start impacting physicians and other Part B providers. That time has now come as medical practices and physicians are beginning to receive both audit and repayment letters from RACs. So, if you’re still not familiar with this aggressive audit and recovery program, you are well-advised to begin preparing for the possibility that some of your claims may be reviewed by a RAC.

Continue Reading Physicians Begin Seeing Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) Letters

It is apparent that preventive care will take on greater importance in the "reformed " health care system and while Medicare historically did not cover routine or preventive screening services, the list of preventive services now covered by Medicare has grown in recent years.  Physicians should familiarize themselves with the applicable coverage and billing rules so as not to miss an opportunity to capture revenue for these services where appropriate.  To help physicians in this regard, CMS has published a guide to preventive and screening services for physicians and other providers.  Also, for a good overview on the OIG’s current thinking on offering free screening services, physicians and other providers should have a look at the recent OIG Advisory Opinion 09-11 addressing free blood pressure screenings to walk-in visitors at a hospital.

Does your practice bill Medicare for diagnostic tests?

If so, you have until January 1, 2009 to make sure your arrangements comply with the now very complicated anti-markup rule. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published the Final Medicare Physician Fee Schedule for 2009 in the Federal register on November 19, 2009. Among other things addressed in the Fee Schedule regulations are clarifications of the diagnostic testing anti-markup rule.

Prior to the 2009 Fee Schedule changes, the anti-markup rule provided that if a physician or other supplier bills for the technical component (TC) or professional component (PC) of a diagnostic test that was ordered by the physician or other supplier and the diagnostic test was either purchased from an outside supplier or performed at a site other than the office of the billing physician or other supplier, the payment to the billing physician or other supplier (less the applicable deductibles and coinsurance paid by the beneficiary or on behalf of the beneficiary) for the TC or PC of the diagnostic test may not exceed the lowest of the following amounts:

• The performing supplier’s net charge to the billing physician or other supplier;

• The billing physician or other supplier’s actual charge; or

• The fee schedule amount for the test that would be allowed if the performing supplier billed directly.

In the 2009 Fee Schedule, CMS has now clarified that the anti-markup provisions will not apply to the TC or PC of a diagnostic test where the performing physician shares a practice with the billing physician or other supplier. With respect to a TC or PC of a diagnostic testing service, the performing physician is considered to share a practice with the billing physician or other supplier if either of the following is met:

(Alternative 1) He or she furnishes substantially all (at least 75 percent) of his or her professional services through the billing physician or other supplier; or

(Alternative 2) The TC is conducted and supervised, or the PC is performed, in the office of the billing physician or other supplier. For purposes of Alternative 2, the “office of the billing physician or other supplier” is defined as the same building where the ordering physician performs substantially the full range of patient care services that the ordering physician generally provides.