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OIG Identifies 5 Characteristics of Home Health Fraud


I am often asked if doing something, usually following the advice of a consultant, might result in a red flag at Medicare.  Most of the time the answer is no.  Medicare is not going to stop everything and go after an agency where nurses mistakenly answered an OASIS question incorrectly if they cancel claims and resubmit corrected versions.  Medicare mines data.  They look for patterns and trends and more importantly, the outliers.  In the past we have seen agencies fall under scrutiny for lengths of stay that far exceed their peers.  We have seen Medicare take a hard cold look at agencies where average payment per patient is high for their area and we know that Medicare will look hard at claims where more than 20 therapy visits are provided.  It’s all about the data.

Medicare has once again been playing in the data fields and has arrived at five new areas of concern.  You should pay attention to these.  Medicare is telling you in advance what they think might be considered fraud.   Read about here or in their own report and then look objectively at your own data.

No recent visit with the supervising physician:  Almost 500 agencies and 16,789 physicians had more than 60 percent of patients on service with no visit billed by the physician in six months.  The good news is that these agencies only constituted 4 percent of all agencies and only 5 percent of physicians met this criterion.  The OIG believes that physicians did not adequately evaluate patients prior to beginning services.  It’s hard to disagree with that conclusion.  If the OIG were to ask, they would be told by us to banish these agencies from the face of the earth and replace them with Ice Cream vendors.

No Hospital or Nursing Home Stay prior to admission.  Get this.  1,751 physicians referred at least 97 percent of their home health patients without a hospital or nursing home stay within the prior 30 days.  Oddly enough, that’s only one half of one percent of physicians and probably the lowest 0.5 percent in their class.  If you have one of these physicians as a referral source, you likely know it or someone higher on the food chain does.  This outlier does not happen without effort and cooperation between both parties.   Remember, home health agencies are not like health clubs.  Patients do not wake up and decide to join a home health agency because they are bored.  Always, no matter what the diagnosis, explain in admission paperwork what happened that precipitated a referral to home health.

Diabetes and Hypertension:  Nationally, the median percentage of patients admitted to a home health agency for diabetes or hypertension is 10 percent.  For about 500 agencies, that number is about 45 percent.   For 7937 physicians, 29 percent or more referrals fell into this category compared to a national median of five percent.  Some areas in the South have remarkably high rates of diabetes and when a small agency has gained the trust of an endocrinologist, the percentage of patients with Diabetes may be quite high. Admit the patients who are eligible and need care and document well.

Multiple Agencies:  770 agencies and 7500 physicians were associated with beneficiaries who had claims billed from multiple agencies over the course of two years.   For the home health agencies, about 26 percent of their patients fit this description compared to the national median of six percent.  For the physicians, the national median was 0 percent and the outliers came in at 14 percent.  This occurs when recruiters or owners of multiple agencies transfer beneficiaries to avoid scrutiny or to meet their own financial needs.

Multiple Admissions:   778 HHAs and 3,822 physicians had or referred patients with a disproportionate number of readmissions for patients.  For these outlier agencies and physicians, about 20 percent of their patients had multiple admissions in a short period of time compared to 6 percent of home health agencies and 4 percent of physicians.  According to their report:

Past OIG fraud investigations have uncovered incidents in which HHAs provided—and physicians supervised—unnecessary care over a long period of time and tried to conceal the duration of that care by periodically discharging and re-enrolling their beneficiaries.

Fraud Hotspots

Now that the OIG has disclosed what they will be looking for, it helps to know where they will be looking. Twenty-seven fraud hotspots in 12 states were identified in the OIG report based on the following criteria:

  • outliers on 2 or more measures,
  • areas with 10 or more HHAs that were outliers on 2 or more measures, or
  • areas with 50 or more physicians that were outliers on 2 or more measures.

Several of the identified hotspots met more than one criteria.  Miami, FL and Detroit, MI met all three criteria.  The combined spending for Medicare Home Health in the 27 hot spots represented 37 percent of home health expenditures nationally.  Note that the OIG has not promised to limit scrutiny to these 27 areas so don’t relax if you live in Montana or Maine.

The 12 states are:fraud hot spots

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Nevada
  • New York
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Utah

If you live in one of these hotspots or if your agency meets any of the five areas considered by the OIG to be characteristic of fraud, it may be time to take a closer look at your Corporate Compliance Plan which should include a clinical record review.  Call if you don’t have one – we can help.  Or, if you believe you cannot afford us, google model compliance plan for home health (if the link doesn’t work).   There is nothing complicated or difficult about a compliance plan.  The only time it gets hard is when an agency has to make hard decisions based upon the information gathered from the plan’s activities.

Keep in mind we know many agencies that have cleaned up after a period where things got out of control usually because leadership became complacent and quit looking.  We also work with agencies who have signed Corporate Integrity Agreements with the OIG.  Compared to Integrity Agreements, compliance plans are a piece of cake.

Comments are always welcome.  You can also email me privately if you have any questions.

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Care for the (whole) Person with Diabetes


A couple of months ago, I contacted Palmetto GBA about the LCD requiring agencies to obtain Hemoglobin A1C’s on diabetic patients every 90 to 120 days.  Included were the ADA guidelines as well as a Medscape continuing education offering that spoke to the dangers of over-testing.  Palmetto agreed to reconsider the current Local Coverage Determination and today, a response was received from Dr. Harry Feliciano MD, MPH – Senior Medical Director of Palmetto GBA.

It seems that Dr. Feliciano read the information I sent and additional research concerning the prevalence of hospitalizations related to hypoglycemia.  He pointed out that the research I sent excluded diabetics who were on insulin and agreed that the current LCD should be updated.

As such, we can expect some changes in late April to be effective in early May regarding Palmetto’s policy regarding A1C’s.  Based on information from Dr. Feliciano, I would expect to see:

Testing reduced to twice yearly for stable diabetic patients who have met their treatment goals. 

Physicians may adjust treatment goals to lessen the risk of hypoglycemia.

Patients receiving insulin will continue to have quarterly A1C testing.

Patients who have their diabetic therapy changed or are not meeting treatment goals should have quarterly A1C’s monitored.

The purpose of requesting a reconsideration was to lessen the risk of denial for patients who are provided care by your agency.  I am not going to insult you by reminding you that you still have to give appropriate care to patients with diabetes.  You already do that, even when documentation is lacking.  But is it enough?  I ask because the incidence of diabetes keeps climbing and the costs are staggering – 245B per year.  If you do the math, 245B is roughly equal to a whole lot of misery for millions of people.  Maybe its time we up our game.

For very good reasons, the OASIS data set and Home Health compare put a premium on diabetic foot care but there is more to good diabetic care than looking at feet.  The following is from the ADA guidelines regarding diabetes and older adults.

Recommendations[1]

  1. Consider the assessment of medical, functional, mental, and social geriatric domains for diabetes management in older adults to provide a framework to determine targets and therapeutic approaches. E
  2. Screening for geriatric syndromes may be appropriate in older adults experiencing limitations in their basic and instrumental activities of daily living, as they may affect diabetes self-management. E
  3. Older adults (>65 years of age) with diabetes should be considered a high priority population for depression screening and treatment. B
  4. Hypoglycemia should be avoided in older adults with diabetes. It should be screened for and managed by adjusting glycemic targets and pharmacological interventions. B
  5. Older adults who are functional and cognitively intact and have significant life expectancy may receive diabetes care with goals similar to those developed for younger adults. E
  6. Glycemic goals for some older adults might reasonably be relaxed, using individual criteria, but hyperglycemia leading to symptoms or risk of acute hyperglycemic complications should be avoided in all patients. E
  7. Screening for diabetes complications should be individualized in older adults, but particular attention should be paid to complications that would lead to functional impairment. E
  8. Other cardiovascular risk factors should be treated in older adults with consideration of the time frame of benefit and the individual patient. Treatment of hypertension is indicated in virtually all older adults, and lipid-lowering and aspirin therapy may benefit those with life expectancy at least equal to the time frame of primary or secondary prevention trials. E
  9. When palliative care is needed in older adults with diabetes, strict blood pressure control may not be necessary, and withdrawal of therapy may be appropriate. Similarly, the intensity of lipid management can be relaxed, and withdrawal of lipid-lowering therapy may be appropriate. E
  10. Consider diabetes education for the staff of long-term care facilities to improve the management of older adults with diabetes. E
  11. Patients with diabetes residing in long-term care facilities need careful assessment to establish a glycemic goal and to make appropriate choices of glucose lowering agents based on their clinical and functional status. E
  12. Overall comfort, prevention of distressing symptoms, and preservation of quality of life and dignity are primary goals for diabetes management at the end of life. E

How many of you ensure that your patients have annual eye exams?  How well and how often do you screen for depression?  Do you run through the PH2 on the OASIS or do you stop and consider each answer carefully in both what is reported to you and what is revealed by other factors?  When was the last time diabetic training for staff was offered at your agency?  If you are visiting a hospice patient, have you adjusted the diabetic regime to provide for comfort as opposed to tight glucose control?

Clinical Record Review

Here are some of the things I see when reviewing records.

  • A patient is taught to drink juice and have a snack when experiencing hypoglycemia.  The same patient is dependent on a walker, has vision loss, moderate to severe pain and is occasionally confused.   Documentation is absent any provisions made for a patient who cannot stroll to the fridge and pour some juice.
  • A patient has a CBG barely over the reporting parameters and the nurse explains it by reporting the patient just ate and took insulin late.  No MD notification. If you think that’s okay, look at the upper parameter.  If it is 150, you might get a pass on patient care but it’s probably double that.  More importantly, surveyors take exception to nurses not following orders.
  • Teaching that complications of diabetes include heart disease, stroke and renal failure to a patient who is on dialysis and suffered a stroke in the post op period following bypass surgery.
  • Patients are scolded when they are discovered eating something that will likely raise their blood sugar such as a donut or jam.  Manners, please.  These patients are our elders and they deserve respect.  Nobody was ever embarrassed to the extent their A1C dropped to below 7.
  • Generic teaching of medications that have very specific and unique side effects.

So maybe the greatest benefit of a relaxed LCD for diabetes is that we can focus our resources on overall better care.  The lowered frequency of A1Cs only applies to stable diabetics with no changes to their treatment but these patients also need eye exams, assessment for depression and emergency teaching for hypoglycemia.  Even if they have been a diabetic for ten years and have been stable for almost as long, make sure they know which medications might cause lactic acidosis and to notify the agency when their activity changes to prevent hypoglycemia.  If you believe that the physician is overly optimistic about your patient’s diabetic goals based on your assessment of the patient in their home environment, respectfully bring it to their attention.

All of these interventions take very little time and can easily be included in care plans when the primary diagnosis is something else.   If we don’t take advantage of ensuring that diabetes is addressed completely when it is not a crisis, the costs – both human and economic – to treat complications will be significantly higher.

To help you get started, her are some resources that may help in developing skills required to assess and treat diabetes.  Please take the time to read one or two and if you find anything that helps your patient care, please share.

Resources for Diabetes

2016 Diabetes Guidelines

2016 Guidelines for Mobile

Lower Extremity Amputation Prevention (LEAP) program

Depression and Diabetes

Coping with Diabetes in Adults

Treatment of Diabetic Ulcers

Diabetic Retinopathy from National Eye Institute

Kidney Disease of Diabetes

Neuropathies in Diabetes

[1] American Diabetes Association. Older adults. Sec. 10. In Standards of Medical Care in Diabetesd2016. Diabetes Care 2016;39(Suppl. 1):S81–S85

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Improving HHCAHPS Scores


On January 28, Medicare announced that home health agencies will be given stars based on their Home Health CAHPs scores.  You can see yours on Home Health compare.  When you find your agency on home health compare, there will be three tabs at the top.  On the third tab that reads, Patient Survey Results, you will see the responses that your patients gave in response to the HHCAHPS survey.

In order to have a response, at least 40 patients must be completed.  Data for agencies with 40 through 99 completed surveys is issued with a caution that reads:

Fewer than 100 patients completed the survey. Use the scores shown, if any, with caution as the number of surveys may be too low to accurately tell how an agency is doing.

In browsing the agencies in areas where I work, there is an alarming number of agencies that have no data submitted for the time period being reported.  The only exemptions from the HHCAHPS requirement are those agencies that have served less than 60 patients.  If your agency has a footnote stating no data was submitted for the reporting period, bring it to the administrator and Director’s attention immediately.  The Agency will be ineligible for future payment updates and may sustain a penalty.

Most agencies have information available.  Using a standardized questionnaire with neutral assistance from a paid vendor, patients are asked among other things, if:

  • They were told in advance of the services they would receive
  • Somebody from the agency asked to see all their medications’
  • Someone talked to them about all their medications
  • They were shown how to set up their home so they could move about
  • The agency seemed up to date about care and treatment
  • Their pain was assessed
  • The agency informed them about when they would be visiting

This is a partial list but should you want it all, you can find in multiple languages here.    Note that many questions are about how well the agency communicated with the patient.  Other questions from the survey assessed if the patients feel as though the agency respected them, addressed patient concerns, listened to the patient, communicated in way the patient could understand and if the agency treated them as gently as possible.

The survey concludes by asking the patient or representative if they would refer the agency to family or friends and how well, on a scale of 1 – 10 did the agency perform.

A few things to know.

Patients should not be prompted about the survey.  If the visiting staff does their job, there is no need to ‘prep’ the patient.  The agency should not use any of the questions in agency literature or marketing venues.  Example:  Choose Julianne’s Home Health where you will be treated with courtesy and respect and always know when your nurse will arrive.  Medicare thought it was important to tell you that you should not pay the patients to answer the survey.  Finally, should you choose to have a separate patient satisfaction survey, you should not use the same questions.  (Please don’t duplicate efforts!)

Luckily, once a contract with a Vendor has been signed, there is not a lot for the agency to do until reports are received.  Someone else does the survey, aggregates the results and puts them in a report for you.  Agencies are obligated to contract with a vendor and obviously, vendors must be paid.  You might as well use the data.  I am stunned by the number of nurses who are lost when talking about HHCAHPS.

My only Vendor experience is with Deyta and I never saw the need to investigate further. This is not to say that other vendors are not equally as qualified but I’m a consultant; not a personal shopper.  The fact that Deyta was so easy to work with and responsive to questions by email and phone gave me no reason to find other vendors.  They have recently been acquired by HealthcareFirst but it is not a requirement that HCF software is used to benefit from Deyta’s services.

In reviewing random and not so random star ratings, the responses across the board seem to be very high.  As such, any score under 92 percent should be taken seriously.  Include supervisory visits with RNs as well as LPNs to watch them communicate.  Do not assume that if a nurse comes across the wrong way to a patient that it is the nurse who needs to improve. The patient may have their own issues but when friction occurs, remove the nurse if you can.*  If you review your complaint log, you will likely find that poor communication is the root of most patient complaints.

Elderly people confined to the home may look forward to the nurse’s visit because they are alone more often than not.  Being late without calling upsets some patients more than bad lab results or a new diagnosis.  Really paying attention to the patient and hearing what they are saying is one way to show a patient how important they are.  Everyone deserves to be heard and if your visiting staff has one foot out the door to the next visit from the minute she arrives, the patient may feel as though they were not heard and become fearful that the nurse is missing something important they are trying to say.  Remember, the patient’s needs are not always documented on a plan of care.

Many of these results are improved by simple kindness, good southern manners and good care.  Shouldn’t those factors be the very minimum in your hiring requirements?  Even if you’re from up North?

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