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The Wisdom of Yogi Berra in Medical Benefit Appeals

Posted on October 31, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Keith J. Saunders, Esq., Founder & CEO of FHAS.

“This hearing will now come to order.  For the record, today’s date is…and the following parties are present…”

I have repeated this sentence thousands of times over the past twenty three years while serving as a hearing officer for the Federal Medicare program and as an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Medicaid program.  Serving as an adjudicating official for medical benefit appeals can provide one with a unique perspective on human nature and the shortcomings of the medical appeals process. 

In this post, I would like to share three takeaways from my experience in order to assist you in being a successful participant in the appeals process, whether you participate from the side of the payor or appellant.

Know the medical facts.

My first piece of advice is inspired by a quote from the great New York Yankees baseball player and manager Yogi Berra: “You can observe a lot just by watching”.  Most participants in medical benefit appeals fail to perform the requisite watching.

If you are going to successfully defend or pursue your appeal, you must know the medical facts of the case. This might seem obvious, however you would be shocked to learn how many times a claim denial is appealed and it is very apparent that the parties don’t know or understand the condition of the patient, underlying the facts of their case. For medical provider appellants who are part of large health systems, the need to survey all records within your system pertaining to the subject of the appeal is critical.

For third party payers it is likewise critical to ensure that you possess a complete understanding of the condition of the patient.  I once presided over a hearing where the health insurer was challenging the necessity for the patient to have a wheelchair.  They indicated that the medical information submitted with the claims failed to indicate that the patient could not walk.   If they had performed a survey of the medical records contained within the file they would have ascertained that the patient was a bilateral AKA. For those of you who do not frequently traverse through medical records, this acronym stands for bilateral above the knee amputee; this patient had no legs.

Understand why the claim was denied.

Turning again to Yogi Berra for my second piece of advice: “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going because you might not get there.” In order to be an effective advocate for your position, you must thoroughly understand why a claim for reimbursement has been denied by the third party payor.  One of the most frequent bases advanced for denials in both the Medicare and Medicaid programs is the blanket catchall basis of, “a lack of medical necessity”.  This basis is utilized to deny submitted claims which lack a valid physician’s signature on the order, claims which fail to meet specific medical necessity criteria, or even claims that were not submitted in a timely manner.

As an appellant, you must possess a thorough understanding regarding what has transpired from the reimbursement standpoint, end of story.  If you are an appellant, please read the basis for the claim denial being put forth by the third party payer. To take my Yogi quote further, it is impossible for you as an advocate to get where you want to go, that is, get paid, if you do not know why the claim has been denied. When you as an appellant receive a denial notice, whether it is an explanation of benefits or a remittance advice, review the basis for denial.  If it indicates that critical medical necessity evidence is missing, review your records to find it.

Arguments that the medical policy is foolish or that the payor doesn’t understand what the patient needs may make you feel better for having given the adjudicator a piece of your mind, but are ultimately ineffective. I once had an appellant argue to me that requiring a physician’s order was a foolish requirement for an orthotic device.  When I asked the gentleman making that arguments how a payor was to ascertain if an item was medically necessary, he indicated that they should just ask him, the vendor.  Needless to say that was not an effective argument.

If you have received a blanket denial, such as a lack of medical necessity, please reach out to the third party payor to ascertain what exactly is missing or unclear.  Once you have determined what the problem is, you are then in a position to solve it.

Know the coverage and payment guidelines.

My final recommendation is that you acquire an in-depth knowledge of the coverage and payment guidelines or medical policies which govern the items or services for which you are seeking payment.  As a hearing officer or ALJ, I would find myself frequently asking appellants or payor representatives to furnish the basis within the policies for the denial of items.  More often than not on both sides of a case, neither party could articulate why an item should or should not have been paid.

I suppose in those situations they turned to another quote from Yogi: “If you ask me a question I don’t know, I’m not going to answer it.” Today there is no reason for any party to be unaware or unknowledgeable regarding medical policies or coverage and payment guidelines. All commercial health insurers and government programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, publish their policies online.  Knowledge of the rules is one of the cornerstones to being a strong advocate for your position. From the provider standpoint, it is one of the critical components needed in order to have an item covered by a payor.

My advice may seem rather basic, but years of experience have shown me that it is a failure to address the fundamentals which causes most claims to be denied. In summary: 1. Know your patient and the medical records surrounding a claim; 2. Know the facts surrounding why reimbursement has been denied; 3. Know the rules which govern payment criteria for your claim.

If you pay attention to the foregoing you will be a much stronger advocate for your position and will likewise achieve and maintain a higher success rate in your appeals. In medical benefit appeals, as in baseball, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”

About Keith J. Saunders, Esq.
Keith J. Saunders, Esq. is the Founder & CEO of FHAS, a leading provider of medical review analytics and support services to government and commercial sectors. Weaving together over 30 years of experience working on behalf of health plans, providers, and government agencies, Mr. Saunders furnishes his clients with valued-based solutions that minimize administrative waste, maximize return on investment, and yield holistic results for all stakeholders. A former General Counsel to Blue Cross Blue Shield Plans, Mr. Saunders was an Air Force Judge Advocate proudly serving in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Mr. Saunders attained his Juris Doctorate from Duquesne University and is a long-time member of the American Health Lawyers Association (AHLA).

About FHAS
FHAS, a URAC accredited IRO and ISO 9001 certified company, is one of the largest independent providers of “healthcare as a service” (HAAS) for government and commercial clients with a particular focus on adjudication services and medical claims’ review services. In 1996, FHAS began furnishing Medicare Fair Hearing Services to Durable Medical Equipment (DME) Administrative contractors located throughout the United States. Since that time, FHAS has expanded its scope of appeals services to include complex medical reviews for the following: Medicare Parts A, B, PDRC Appeals, and DME Appeals, internal and external health plan appeals, and the entire Pennsylvania Medicaid fair hearing process. FHAS utilizes a network of board certified physicians, legal professionals, and other healthcare professionals with diverse specialties, who have the expertise to render decisions for external review requests. In addition to professional services, FHAS provides enterprise-grade software solutions to healthcare and insurance industries. Their newest product Cogno-Solve is a comprehensive, RPA software platform that automates claims and appeals decision-making functions.

Epic Mounts Clumsy Public Defense On False Claims Lawsuit

Posted on November 6, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or

A former employee of a health system using Epic filed a False Claims Act whistleblower suit claiming that the vendor’s platform overbills for anesthesia services by default. The suit claims that Epic’s billing software double-bills both Medicare and Medicaid for anesthesia, as well as commercial payers.

At this point, let me be clear that I’m not accusing anyone of anything, but in theory, this could be a very big deal. One could certainly imagine a scenario in which multiple Epic customers colluded to permit this level of overbilling, which could generate staggering levels of overpayment. If so, one could imagine hospitals and health systems paying out judgments that add up to billions of dollars. To date, though, nobody’s made such a suggestion. In fact, Epic has said essentially the opposite and pointed to the need to understand how medical billing works, but we’ll get to that.

In the suit, which was filed in 2015 but unsealed this month, Geraldine Petrowski contended that Epic’s software was billing for both the base units of anesthesia for procedures and the time the procedure took.

Petrowski, a former employee with the compliance team at Raleigh, N.C.-based WakeMed Health & Hospitals, alleges that setting the billing to these defaults has resulted in “hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent bills” submitted to Medicare, Medicaid and other payers. (WakeMed is an Epic customer.)

According to an article appearing in Modern Healthcare, Petrowski developed these concerns when she worked with Epic as the provider’s liaison for its software implementation between 2012 and 2014. In the complaint, she says that she raised these concerns with Epic, but got a dismissive response. Eventually, after Petrowski kept up the pressure for a while, Epic fixed the billing issue — but only for WakeMed.

Apparently, the U.S. Department of Justice reviewed Petrowski’s case and decided not to intervene, a fact which Epic has not-surprisingly mentioned every chance it gets. Perhaps more tellingly, the vendor has suggested that Petrowski filed the suit largely because she’s clueless. “The plaintiff’s assertions represent a fundamental misunderstanding of how claims software works,” Epic spokesperson Meghan Roh told the magazine.

Now, I don’t want to go off on a rant here, but if the best public defense Epic can mount in this case is to offer some mixture of “everybody’s doing it” and “you’re a big dummy,” you’ve got to wonder what it’s got to hide.

Not only that, trying to brush off the suit as the product of ignorance or inexperience makes no sense given what’s involved. While False Claims whistleblowers can collect a very large payoff, getting there can take many years of grueling work, and their odds of prevailing aren’t great even if they make it through the torturous litigation process.

No, I’m more inclined to think that Epic has tipped its hand already. I’d argue that fixing only the WakeMed billing system shows what the legal folks call mens rea – a guilty mind — or at least a willingness to ignore potential wrongdoing. Not only that, if the system was operating as expected, why would Epic have gotten involved in the first place? Its consulting services don’t come cheap, and I’m guessing that Petrowski didn’t have the authority to pay for them.

It doesn’t look good, people…it just doesn’t look good.

Sure, the hospitals and health systems using Epic’s billing solution are ultimately responsible for the results. Maybe Epic is completely blameless in the matter this case. Regardless, if Epic’s hands are clean, it could do a better job of acting like it.

Hospital Execs Underestimate QPP Impact

Posted on July 7, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or

A new survey by Nuance Communications suggests that hospital finance leaders aren’t prepared to meet the demands of MACRA’s Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), and may not understand the extent to which MIPS could impact their bottom line. Worse, survey results suggest that many of those who were convinced they knew what was involved in meeting program demands were dead wrong.

The survey found that many hospital finance leaders weren’t aware that if they don’t participate in the MIPS Quality Payment Program (QPP), they could see a 4% reduction in Medicare reimbursements by 2019.

Not only that, those who were aware of the program didn’t have a great grasp of the details. More than 75% respondents that claimed to be somewhat or very confident about their understanding of QPP got the 4% at-risk number wrong. Meanwhile, 60% of respondents either underestimated the percent of revenue at risk or simply did not know what the number was.

In addition, a significant number of respondents weren’t aware of key QPP reporting requirements. For example, just 35% of finance respondents that felt confident they understood QPP requirements actually knew that they had to submit 90 day of quality data to participate. Meanwhile, 50% either underestimated or did not know how many days of data they needed to provide.

On a broader level, as Nuance noted, the issue is that hospitals aren’t ready to meet QPP demands even if they do know what’s at stake. Too many aren’t prepared to capture complete clinical documentation, develop business processes to support this data capture and raise provider awareness of these issues. In other words, not only are finance leaders unaware of some key QPP requirements, they may not have the infrastructure to meet them.

This is a big deal. Not only will their organizations lose money if they don’t meet QPP requirements, but they’ll miss out on a 5% positive Medicare payment adjustment if they play by the rules.

Lest the respondents sound careless, let’s do a reality check here. Without a doubt, the transition into the world of MIPS isn’t a simple one. Hospitals and medical practices will have to meet deadlines and present quality data in new ways. That would be a hassle in any event, but it’s particularly difficult given how many other quality data reporting requirements they must meet.

That being said, I’d argue that even if they’ve gotten a slow start, hospitals have enough time to meet the basic requirements of QPP compliance. For example, turning over 90 days of quality data by March of next year shouldn’t be a gigantic stretch in contrast to, say, submitting a year’s worth of data under advanced Meaningful Use models. Not to mention the Pick Your Pace option of only 1 measure which avoids all penalties.

Clearly, having the right health IT tools will be important to this process. (Not surprisingly, Nuance is picking its own reporting tools as part of the mix.) But I’m struck by the notion that organizations can’t live on technology alone in this case. As with many problems in healthcare, tech solutions aren’t worth much if the business doesn’t have the right processes in place. Let’s see if finance executives know at least that much.

Meaningful Use Has Done Its Job

Posted on September 19, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or

While Meaningful Use has been challenging at times, the vast majority of hospitals seem to have stayed on top of things. In its new report on the IPPS negative payment adjustments for fiscal 2017, CMS said that 98% of eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals managed to avoid Medicare payment dialbacks for next year, because they successfully attested to stage 1 or stage 2 Meaningful Use compliance, according to EHR Intelligence.

CMS began making Medicare payment adjustments on October 1, 2014 for eligible hospitals, of which there are more than 4,800 in the United States. The current adjustment will fall into place on October 1, 2016, as a reduction in the percentage increase to the Inpatient Perspective Payment System.

The negative payment adjustments to the IPPS now stand at 75%, up from 25% for the 2013 reporting period. Eligible hospitals had a chance to apply for hardship exceptions to the payment adjustments, though if they haven’t done so already it’s too late, as the window for seeking those exceptions for 2017 closed in April of this year. But as noted, few hospitals will be affected.

At this point, it’s worth taking time to stop and admire how this took place. Even when you consider that the feds handed lot a lot of money in incentives, this has all happened relatively quickly as IT investments go. Everyone likes to talk about how successful the banking industry was at rolling out interoperability with ATMs, but I doubt the backroom negotiations went any faster than the cascade of Meaningful Use attestations. In other words, Meaningful Use did its job.

After all, very few programs achieve close to 100% compliance under any circumstances. Even if providers face large government fines, no initiative is going to get 100% of the industry on board. So bringing 98% of eligible hospitals on board within a few scant years is an impressive achievement, particularly considering the healthcare industry’s record of foot dragging when it comes to new technologies.

Of course, the industry has clearly gone well beyond the need for Meaningful Use’s rather mechanical reporting requirements, valuable though they may have been as a training ground. So if we assume that Meaningful Use isn’t that, well, meaningful anymore, what’s next?

The answer is….drumroll…quality. Most hospitals will be focusing on the larger and more complex quality measurement demands imposed by the next generation of incentive payments proposed by CMS.

As many readers know, the Medicare Meaningful Use program for ambulatory is being rolled into the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), along with the Physician Quality Reporting System and Value-Based Modifier programs. beginning with the 2017 performance year.

Meaningful Use now has a new name in ambulatory care, Advancing Care Information, and strong performance on this measure can contribute up to 25% of the MIPS score a provider receives – or in other words, smart health IT deployment still counts. But that’s dwarfed by the 50% of the score contributed by strong quality performance.

This shift away from IT-specific performance measures is necessary and valuable. But as federal authorities lay out their new incentive programs, it’s worth giving good ol’ Meaningful Use a send-off. A job needed to be done, and however unsubtly, MU did it. We’ll see how quickly the MIPS program rolls over to replace MU in hospitals.

Hospitals Struggle To Use EHRs To Report eCQMs

Posted on July 18, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or

A new study by CMS has found that hospitals are struggling to use their EHRs to report electronic clinical quality measures. The agency found that while EHRs helped contractors collect data remotely using hospital staffers, EHR platforms “had not yet matured” enough to meet the specs required, according to Managed Care magazine.

The CMS findings came from a validation pilot study of eCQMs. The goal of the pilot study was to evaluate approaches for validating eCQMs for the Hospital Inpatient Quality Reporting program.

The program, which was mandated by the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003, authorized CMS to pay hospitals a higher annual update to their payment rates if they successfully reported designated quality measures. Later legislation mandated that Medicare hospitals that don’t successfully report would be hit with a 2.0% reduction in the annual rate of inflation used to calculate payment.

One might guess that putting EHRs in place would help hospitals comply. But it appears that this is not been the case in many instances. In fact, hospital IT leaders are facing some significant challenges in linking EHR data to the required reporting format.

To accurately report eCQMs, hospitals must create complete and accurate Quality Reporting Data Architecture (QRDA)-I files based on 2014 eCQM specifications. But hospitals reported that they were having a hard time mapping the information in the EHR systems to the QRDA-I specifications, particularly given the use of unstructured data fields and multiple source of information for various events, Managed Care reported. Measures match rates, in turn, were rather low, ranging from 12% to 49%.

The hospitals involved in the pilot also said that data mapping and workflow issues were major problems. For example, as it turned out much of the information they needed was locked up in free text, notes or scanned documents rather than discrete data fields. That made it impossible for those hospitals to extract the data and mapping to the elements found in the QRDA-I files.

To solve these problems, pilot hospital reported, CMS should consider addressing three key areas: boost communication, outreach and education to raise hospital and vendor understanding of eCQMs; cut down the burden imposed by eCQM adoption; and offer tools and guidance to help hospitals with eCQM implementation.

As CMS learns, the help hospitals want should be forthcoming. In the report, CMS said that it plans to conduct additional validation pilots in the future. The agency said its goal will be able to help hospitals and vendors transition to eCQM reporting, and over time to increase the accuracy of the data that gets reported.

EMR Vendors Slow To Integrate Telemedicine Options

Posted on August 27, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or

Despite the massive growth in demand for virtual medical services, major EMR vendors are still proving slow to support such options, seemingly ceding the market to more agile telemedicine startups.

Independent telemedicine vendors targeting consumers are growing like weeds. Players like Doctor on Demand, NowClinic, American Well and HealthTap are becoming household names, touted not only in healthcare blogs but on morning TV talk shows. These services, which typically hire physicians as consultants, offer little continuity of care but provide a level of easy access unheard of in other settings.

Part of what’s fueling this growth is that health insurers are finally starting to pay for virtual medical visits. For example, Medicare and nearly every state Medicaid plan also cover at least some telemedicine services. Meanwhile, 29 states require that private payers cover telehealth the same as in-person services.

Hospitals and health systems are also getting on board the telemedicine train. For example, Stanford Healthcare recently rolled out a mobile health app, connected to Apple HealthKit and its Epic EMR, which allows patients to participate in virtual medical appointments through its ClickWell Care clinic. Given how popular virtual doctor visits have become, I’m betting that most next-gen apps created by large providers will offer this option.

EMR vendors, for their part, are adding telemedicine support to their platforms, but they’re not doing much to publicize it. Take Epic, whose EpicCare Ambulatory EMR can be hooked up to a telemedicine module. The EpicCare page on its site mentions that telemedicine functionality is available, but certainly does little to convince buyers to select it. In fact, Epic has offered such options for years, but I never knew that, and lately I spend more time tracking telemedicine than I do any other HIT trend.

As I noted in my latest broadcast on Periscope (follow @ziegerhealth), EMR vendors are arguably the best-positioned tech vendors to offer telemedicine services. After all, EMRs are already integrated into a hospital or clinic’s infrastructure and workflow. And this would make storage and clinical classification of the consults easier, making the content of the videos more valuable. (Admittedly, developing a classification scheme — much less standards — probably isn’t trivial, but that’s a subject for another article.)

What’s more, rather than relying on the rudimentary information supplied by patient self-reports, clinicians could rely on full-bodied medical data stored in that EMR. I could even see next-gen video visit technology which exposes medical data to patients and allows patients to discuss it live with doctors.

But that’s not how things are evolving. Instead, it seems that providers are largely outsourcing telemedicine services, a respectable but far less robust way to get things done. I don’t know if this will end up being the default way they deliver virtual visits, but unless EMR vendors step up, they’ll certainly have to work harder to get a toehold in this market.

I don’t know why so few EMR companies are rolling out their own virtual visit options. To me, it seems like a no-brainer, particularly for smaller ambulatory vendors which still need to differentiate themselves. But if I were an investor in a lagging EMR venture, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d want to know the answer.

Erlanger Health System Takes A Chance On $100M Epic Plunge

Posted on May 11, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or

The seemingly eternal struggle between EMR giants Cerner and Epic Systems has ended in another win for Epic, which was the final choice of Chattanooga, TN-based Erlanger Health System. The health system’s CEO, Kevin Spiegel, who said that Cerner had been its other finalist, announced last week that Erlanger would spend about $100 million over 10 years for the Epic installation.

Erlanger, a four-facility public hospital system with about 800 total beds, is an academic medical system and serves as a campus of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. The system also partners with UT to operate the UT Erlanger Physicians Group, a 170-member multispecialty practice.

The health system, which fell in financial trouble in 2012, only recently saved itself and positioned itself for the massive Epic investment. It closed out FY 2014 with $618M in total operating revenue and $18M in operating income.

Erlanger’s turnaround is all well and good. But that being said, these numbers suggest that Erlanger is making something of a gamble by agreeing to an approximately $10M a year health IT investment. After all, the health system itself concedes that its return to financial health came in large part due to $20 million in new Medicare and Medicaid funding from CMS, along with new funding from the state’s Public Hospital Supplemental Payment Pool. And politically-obtained funds can disappear with the stroke of a pen.

The risky nature of Erlanger’s investment seems even more apparent when you consider that the system has an aggressive building plan in place, including a new orthopedic center, a $68M expansion of one of its hospitals, a 100,00 square foot children’s & women’s ambulatory center and a new health sciences center. Particularly given that Erlanger just completed its turnaround last year, does it make sense to squeeze in Epic payments alongside of such a large capital investment in infrastructure?

What’s more, the health system has a bond rating to rehabilitate. Faced with financial hardships in 2013, its bond rating was downgraded by Moody’s to a Baa2 and the system’s outlook was rated “negative.” By 2014, Erlanger’s had managed to boost the Moody’s outlook to “stable,” in part due to the influx of state and federal funds obtained by Erlanger execs, but the Baa2 rating on its $148.4 million in bond debt stayed in place.

While I imagine the hospital will realize a return on its Epic spending at some point, it’s hard to see it happening quickly.  In fact, I’d guess that it’ll be years before Erlanger’s Epic install will be mature enough to be evaluated for ROI, given the level of effort it takes to build a mature install.

In the meantime, Erlanger leaders may be left wondering, from time to time at least, whether they really can afford their expensive new EMR.

Reasons Hospitals Acquire Medical Practices

Posted on January 28, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The Charlotte Observer did a great report on the shift to hospital owned medical practices. For those not familiar with the shift, here’s the numbers the article offers:

Last year, 47 percent of U.S. physicians were employed by hospitals – roughly twice the percentage in 2002, according to surveys by the Medical Group Management Association.

One health care recruiting company predicts that hospitals could employ as many as 75 percent of U.S. doctors within two years.

I still think that some of this shift is cyclical, and independent thinking doctors will eventually leave their hospital overlords and be back on their own again. However, considering the financial side of the equation, many doctors might not be able to go back to their own practice even if they want to do so.

Here’s an example from the article that explains one of the reasons that hospitals are acquiring medical practices.

Gary Ziomek can vouch for that. The Waxhaw resident began getting physical therapy in 2011, after undergoing an unsuccessful spinal fusion surgery. He went to a therapist at Carolinas Rehabilitation on the campus of Carolinas Medical Center-Pineville hospital.

Early this year, his bill was $148 for 30 minutes of massage. But starting in May, the charge for a 30-minute massage rose sharply, to $249.30 – even though he got the same therapy from the same therapist in the same building.

Ziomek said an employee told him the higher charge came about because the office, which is owned by Carolinas HealthCare, began billing as a hospital-based setting. He said he was told that patients could go to the Ballantyne office and pay the lower amount.

Ziomek’s Aetna insurance reimburses differently based on where a service is rendered. For an office visit, Ziomek was responsible for a $20 co-pay, no matter if he had met his $250 deductible. For a hospital visit, he pays 10 percent of the bill after paying the $250 deductible.

In this case, Ziomek’s out-of-pocket expense dropped, because he had already met his deductible for the year. But he’s concerned that the overall cost went up, with no change in service or quality.

“Somewhere along the line, they realized, ‘We can charge more to the insurance company even though the patient is getting exactly the same service,’ ” said Ziomek, 70, a retired investment banker. “They could have kept the lower rate, but they chose not to. Why? Because of greed.”

I think the last line about greed is a little bit of sensationalism. In our market, healthcare is driven by revenue and profits. Many hospitals say they’re non-profit, but they certainly act like for profit entities.

What’s surprising to me is that insurance companies are putting up with this shift. I expect the loophole will be reversed again, but that often takes time. Some policy will be put in place to stop hospital owned medical practices from charging at the hospital rate. However, until that happens you can be sure that hospitals will continue their acquisition of medical practices.

HHS OIG Begins Digging Into EMR Overbilling Allegations

Posted on November 5, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or

Well, it had to happen: The furor over the possible EMR-related Medicare overbilling has moved to its next stage.  After enduring harangues by members of Congress and a widely-read New York Times article alleging that EMRs were upcoding machines, HHS has begun to look into the matter directly.

Fraud investigators within the HHS’s Office of the Inspector General have sent a 54-question survey to hospitals who got Meaningful Use incentive payments between January 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012. The survey looks into assertions that hospitals and physicians using EMRs have been inflating Medicare claims.

The logical next step for the OIG’s office is to issue a report to Congress spelling out whether it has reason to believe EMRs are linked to Medicare overbilling. The OIG will doubtless do some chart pulling and analysis to see whether it finds suspicious-looking patterns.

As I’ve said before — and will continue to say, doubtless — this whole effort concerns me. I’m not suggesting that HHS should ignore any evidence it has that hospitals or doctors are using EMRs to engineer a billing joyride. On the other hand, “overbilling” can be in the eye of the beholder, and conducting an inquisition into EMR user behavior seems premature to me.

I find myself wondering whether the feds have seriously considered hospitals’ response to these charges — that EMRs aren’t generating overbilling schemes, but instead are merely capturing and documenting services which weren’t always captured in the days of paper records.  It’s a credible argument and deserves a closer look.

So, let’s  hope HHS takes a breath and looks at the benign possibilities providers have outlined before it accuses hospitals and practices of wrongdoing. Otherwise, we’ll have a agency simultaneously pushing for EMR adoption and hanging the sword of Damocles over the heads of doctors and hospitals.

EMR Overbilling Investigations Sling Mud At Meaningful Use Program

Posted on October 31, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or

In the wake of an expose in The New York Times claiming that upcoding and overbilling was increasing with the use of EMRs, and members of Congress riding the claim, I guess ONC had no choice but to take the allegations seriously.  So fearless leader Farzad Mostashari, M.D. has asked the advisory HIT Policy Committee to study whether providers are using EMRs to upcode Medicare bills.

I suppose you can tell from how I put that that I’m far from convinced EMRs are generating massive amounts of illegitimate bills, but the idea is “out there” now and dangerous to the future of HITECH objectives. So I suppose it’s a good thing that ONC is investigating.

Dr. Mostashari wants to find out whether EMRs tend to foster the use of higher billing codes by encouraging doctors to cut and paste information from one patient encounter to another, according to an interview with the Center for Public Integrity. He’s also asking the policy committee to determine whether some EMR functions prompt physicians to overbill.

All of this leaves me sort of uneasy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that EMRs aren’t generating any upcoding issues at all. We all know that many physicians feel pressured to cut and paste text in an effort to get through their heavy workloads, particularly if they’re not otherwise comfortable with their system.

Also, I can’t deny that there are bad apples in every profession, including medicine, who could conceivably be taking advantage of the newness of the technology to reap a profit.

No, my concerns are more that countless providers will have one more thing to worry about as they use the new technology, and that policymakers will view EMRs with a level of suspicion they hadn’t before.  We’re at a tricky point in the overall EMR adoption curve, and bad vibes and publicity are the last thing we need. Meaningful Use compliance is tough enough as it is.