By Dana Finnegan, MDaudit.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has made no secret of its intentions to crack down on fraud, abuse, and waste, throwing more budget dollars into audits, heightening program integrity oversight of Marketplace plans, and exploring new methods of using advanced technology to conduct more rapid and thorough documentation reviews.
Historically, as CMS goes, so do commercial payers, putting healthcare organizations in the crosshairs of an unprecedented level of third-party external audits. To emerge relatively unscathed, organizations need to put in place proven processes that guide immediate and effective actions in the wake of adverse findings.
With limited time to correct the internal processes or billing practices that contributed to the problems, many organizations are turning to corrective action plans (CAPs) to streamline and accelerate their response to unfavorable outcomes. Those that do also realize the added benefit of having their chances of future billing compliance risks significantly reduced while their ability to achieve revenue integrity is enhanced.
The Audit Environment
The signs of an aggressive audit environment are everywhere. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in its 2022 budget, allocated a staggering $2.6 billion to halting fraud, abuse, and waste in its Medicare and Medicaid programs – up from $180 million in 2021. A primary target is Medicare medical review of fee-for-service claims – which CMS has likely increased due to a robust rate of return to the Trust Funds (estimated to be more than $9-to-$1, based on a three-year rolling average).
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has also ramped up its scrutiny of how well provider organizations complied with requirements tied to the use of nearly $180 billion in Provider Relief Funds and with recently enacted mandates such as the No Surprises Act. One survey found that almost 25% of hospitals respond to as many as 2,000 external audit-related monthly requests from multiple sources. While results of many of those audits are confidential, Medicare Fee-for-Service data show a 6.26% improper payment rate in their 2021 report.
When audits by commercial payers identify problems such as overpayments, they may require the provider organization to generate and implement an actionable CAP for the relationship to continue. And while a CAP is not required when a RAC audit uncovers issues with billing practices, the offending provider organization should act swiftly to not only remedy the immediate problem – generally by refunding the overpayments – but also to identify and address any underlying practices or processes that may put the organization at risk for future issues and liability.
Audit pressure isn’t just external. Many healthcare organizations are also ramping up internal scrutiny – and they’re not always happy with the findings. When looking specifically at internal audits, the Healthcare Auditing and Revenue Integrity: 2021 Benchmarking and Trends Report from MDaudit found that more than 30% of the time, audit outcomes are unsatisfactory and have not met acceptable thresholds.