On September 8, 2009, the Office of Inspector General posted an eye-catching report on Medicare hospice care in nursing facilities. The OIG found that 82 percent of hospice claims for beneficiaries in nursing facilities did not meet at least one Medicare coverage requirement. The Medicare hospice benefit allows a beneficiary with a terminal illness to forgo curative treatment for the illness and instead receive palliative care. Medicare paid approximately $1.8 billion for these claims.
We have long subscribed to the belief that predicting where the government will focus its investigative resources is as simple as determining where the government feels it has the best chances of recovering overpayments. Based on the results of this report, we anticipate the government will be even more focused on monitoring compliance with hospice coverage requirements. According to the OIG report, studies suggest that the use of hospice care has grown most rapidly in nursing facilities. Skilled nursing homes, hospice care providers and the doctors who certify terminal illness requirements should read the report (http://www.oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-02-06-00223.pdf) and monitor their compliance with Medicare coverage requirements.
The report identifies several ways that hospice and skilled nursing providers frequently fail to meet Medicare coverage requirements. Eighty-one percent of claims did not meet at least one Medicare coverage requirement pertaining to election statements, plans of care, services, or certifications of terminal illness. In thirty-one percent of claims, hospices provided fewer services than outlined in beneficiaries’ plans of care. Significant to the physicians who certify compliance, four percent of claims did not meet certification of terminal illness requirements.
Reports like the one issued by the OIG this week signal the existence of a well-stocked pond to folks who like to fish for False Claims Act cases. Government investigators and whistleblowers are likely to cast their lines in these waters. It is a good time for health care providers engaged in hospice care to carefully review their compliance with hospice coverage requirements and take the steps necessary to ensure compliance.