Big Changes to Federal DHS Supervision Rules

By: Jeff Cohen

Proposed changes to the “incident to services” rule in the 2016 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule are set to seriously impact how medical practices provide certain services, bill for them and share income from those services.

Incident to services are services or items that are furnished as an integral part of the professional services of a physicians or other practitioner in the course of diagnosis or treatment.  80 Fed. Reg. at 41785.  They are billed to CMS as though the physician actually provided the service.  One of the rule’s key requirements is that a physician directly supervise the performance of the services, which has meant that a physician who is part of the practice has to be physically present in the office when the services are provided.  If, for instance, a physician in the practice was present when physical therapy or diagnostic imaging was provided to a patient, the services could be billed to CMS as though the physician actually provided the services, even though the service was provided by, for instance, a licensed physical therapist or imaging technician.       Continue reading

What’s Hot on the OIG’s Workplan for 2013

 It’s that time again, when the OIG publishes its annual Work Plan for the coming year, providing insight and a proverbial “heads up” on the areas where potential concern and program integrity efforts are being focused.  Many of the focus areas are ongoing or have been the subject of previous Work Plans, and come as no surprise.  Nevertheless, it is important for practitioners to familiarize or reacquaint themselves with the 2013 Work Plan projects in order to recognize and prioritize compliance areas currently on the OIG’s radar.

Of particular interest for practitioners are the various OIG review projects involving ancillary services.  For example, the OIG is looking at outpatient therapy services by independent therapists, and will focus on high utilization of physical therapy to determine if claims were reasonable, medically necessary and properly documented.  Similarly, high-cost diagnostic radiological tests ordered by primary care and specialty physicians are being reviewed to determine whether utilization rates match industry practices.  The OIG also will review Part B payments for imaging services with an eye towards determining if utilization rates reflect industry practices and if practice expenses components within payment rates are commensurate with costs incurred.  Electrodiagnostic testing (needle electromyogram and never conduction) is a new area under review, particularly with respect to utilization rates by specialty, the concern being that such services are vulnerable to abuse and inappropriate financial gain.

Errors in billing and claims administration are also the subject of OIG review, with perennially recurring projects directed at incident-to services, place of service coding and E/M services.  A 2009 OIG review of prior claims found that non-physician practitioners often were not properly supervised or that unqualified non-physician practitioners performed services, in each case, resulting in payments that were not compensable.  Since Medicare payment for services in a non-facility setting, like a physician’s office, is often higher than in the rate that applies in other service locations, there is also concern over whether claims for Part B services performed in ASCs and Hospital outpatient departments were coded with the proper place of service.  Another, more recent area of focus involves the documentation supporting E/M services and questions whether Electronic Medical Record documentation processes may result in “cloned” entries (and potentially improper claims) rather than a deliberate process of selecting proper codes based on content of actual service.   Part B payment for chiropractic services are also being reviewed, with this area being the subject of ongoing OIG concern since chiropractic maintenance therapy being considered not medically necessary.

Apparently echoing a series of fairly recent OIG Advisory opinions, the 2013 Work Plan also identifies Polysomnography and Sleep Disorder Clinics as areas of potentially questionable billing patterns and possible overutilization.  High utilization rates have also raised questions regarding whether services are duplicative of diagnostic testing performed previously by attending physicians.  Another ongoing and increasing focus of OIG scrutiny is physician-owned distributors (POD) of high utilization orthopedic implant devices.  The Work Plan for 2013 specifically identifies PODs which provide hospitals with spinal fusion implant devices as being under OIG review to determine if such arrangements are associated with high utilization.

These are just some of the many areas of OIG review with which practitioners and facilities alike should become familiar in order to remain current with the health care regulatory compliance curve.

Medicare Patient PT Supervision is Confusing

 Physicians with Florida medical practices that provide physical therapy must feel at times they are playing “Whack a Mole,” given the many changes to the applicable rules and regulations, especially those that pertain to Medicare patients.  Is it ok for a physical therapy assistant (PTA) to provide the services?  Can the practice provide PT to people who are not patients of the practice?  Does a physician have to be on premises when PT is provided?  It’s just complex.

Let’s start with a couple fundamentals:  first, medical practices that comply with the so called “group practice” exceptions (under both state and federal law) are permitted to provide PT to their own patients.  They are more accurately known as the “In Office Ancillary Services Exception,” but most refer to them as described above.  These exceptions dictate, for instance, the form of the practice and how much time each physician has to spend practicing through the group.  For instance, if the practice does not have at least two of the following, it does not meet the group practice requirements:  physician owner; physician W-2 employee.  Second, PT falls under both the state and the federal definitions of “designated health service” (DHS).  DHS are services that are regulated by the Stark Law and also (at the state level) by the Florida Patient Self Referral Act of 1992 (FPSRA).  They are very similar laws, but with some key differences.  Where many physicians go wrong is to ensure compliance with federal laws but not state or vice versa.

Why is it important to know that this discussion is confined to Florida “group practices” providing PT to Medicare patients?  First, because the laws that apply to group practices are different that those that apply to reference PT businesses.  Businesses that only provide PT are not nearly as regulated as medical practices (especially those in Florida) that provide both medical services and PT to their own patients.  For instance, the issue of “outside referrals” does not arise with respect to reference PT businesses.  Second, because when Medicare patients are involved, both state and federal law come into play.  While state law applies to all services provided in Florida, federal law only comes into play when federal or state healthcare program dollars are involved.

Medical practices in Florida that provide DHS (like PT) to their Medicare patients have to comply with both state and federal law.  And those laws are different.  For instance, while federal law allows up to 25% of the time of doctors in a group practice to be spent providing services outside the group, state law is not so clear.  For instance, federal law allows a practice to provide DHS to a certain amount of patients who are not patients of that group practice (“outside patients), but Florida law allows that sort of flexibility only for “diagnostic imaging services” (up to 15%).  If, for instance, a Medicare patient from Dr. Smith down the street comes to your office only to get the PT your practice provides to its patients (i.e. they are not a patient of your practice), that patient will be turned away.  Isn’t it ok for a Florida medical practice to provide just PT to someone else’s Medicare patient?  No, because state law does not allow it.

Similarly, under federal law, a physician complies with certain supervision requirements if he or she is in the building where the medical practice is located while a Medicare patient receives DHS.  In Florida, the physician in a group practice is required to be in the office (not just the building) when a Medicare (and every other) patient receives DHS in order to comply with the stricter “direct supervision” requirement applicable to patients in Florida that receive DHS (all DHS, not just PT) from a group practice.

Once a physician clears those regulatory hurdles, how can a doctor bill for PT?  Essentially, there are two ways:  under the provider number of the physical therapist or under the provider number of the supervising physician.  The situation gets even more complex when a physical therapy assistant (PTA) gets involved.

Can a Florida medical practice bill under the provider number of a supervising MD for PT provided by a PTA to a Medicare patient?  No.  While applicable law requires an MD or DO to be on premises when a Medicare patient receives PT from the group practice, services provided by a PTA are considered by CMS to be included as part of the covered service under Section 220 and 230 of the Medicare Benefit Policy, Chapter 15.  A Florida doctor may not lawfully supervise the services of a PTA, since PTAs (under federal law) that provide services in a medical practice must be directly supervised by an RPT.

There are also state laws that need to be followed, they differ based on physician specialty.  For instance, a PTA employed by a physician other than a board certified orthopedist, physiatrist or chiropractor certified in physiotherapy must be under the onsite supervision of an RPT.  Though inapplicable to Medicare, there is no provision in Florida law that allows a chiropractor to supervise a PTA.

What about if the PT services are provided by a registered physical therapist (RPT)?   Though CMS does not recognize the term RPT, it does allow the services of a “qualified professional,” which includes a licensed physical therapist, to be billed either under the physical therapist’s provider number or “incident to” the services of the supervising MD or DO.   “Incident to” services are services that are so integral to the services provided personally by the physician that they can be billed to Medicare as though the physician provided the service, even when the physician didn’t provide them.  To comply with the rule (and for the doctor to be able to bill for it as though he or she did provide the service), the services must be:

1.         An integral though incidental part of the physician’s service in diagnosing or treating an illness or injury,

2.         Commonly furnished without charge or included in the physician’s bill;

3.         Commonly furnished in a physician’s office or clinic;

4.         Furnished under the physician’s direct supervision (e.g. physical presence in the office);

5.         Furnished by the physician, practitioner with an incident to benefit or auxiliary personnel.

Though the incident to services rule is materially different from the Florida “direct supervision” requirement under the FPSRA, its effect is very similar:  an MD or DO must be physically present on the premises of the office when a patient receives DHS and it is billed under the provider number of the supervising physician.  One might argue that the PT’s services could be billed under the PT when the MD or DO is not on premises, but this conflicts with the direct supervision requirement of the FPSRA.

What’s the Analysis?

To comply with the State and Federal supervision requirements, group practices in Florida that provide PT to their Medicare patients must ask themselves at least the following questions:

1.         Does my practice comply with the state and federal “group practice” requirements? and

2.         Is an MD or DO in the office when the patient receives PT?  If not, the PT may not be provided at all, since all PT in Florida group practices require direct supervision by a physician.

What are the Penalties?

At the very least, doctors who fail to comply with the supervision requirements for DHS risk (1) AHCA licensure actions; (2) having to repay the money received when they did not comply; (3) having to pay stiff fines, and in some instances (4) criminal prosecution.  There have been many reported cases of physicians being investigated and fined for failing to meet the supervision requirements.  And there have been numerous instances of physicians being prosecuted for failing to meet the “incident to services” rule.

            If you provide PT to your patients, you must be clear about (1) the “group practice” exception provisions that allow you to provide DHS to your patients, and (2) the State and federal supervision requirements.  There is simply too much at stake not to.  Additionally, physicians ought to develop clear and easy to use written guidelines for compliance.

Download a Quick Guide to PT Supervision HERE

The 2012 OIG Work Plan – The Government is Still at Work During the Holidays

On November 10, 2011, the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Humans Services (the “OIG”) issued their 2012 Work Plan. The annual Work Plan is designed to give Medicare providers and supplier notice and information on areas of potential abuse that the OIG to address with particular attention. As we approach a new year, here are some areas that our clients and friends may wish to examine to avoid scrutiny by the OIG

Medical Equipment Companies

Enrollment Abuses

The OIG has discovered a pattern of improper enrollment among supplier of durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics and supplies (DMEPOS). The OIG is looking to Medicare contractors (carriers and intermediaries) to be more scrutinizing in the enrollment of DMEPOS suppliers. The contractors will be assessed on their use of enrollment screening mechanisms and post enrollment monitoring activities to find companies that may pose fraud risks. It is, therefore, important for DMEPOS suppliers to make sure all applications for enrollment and even those for change of ownership are completed accurately and thoroughly.

Payments for High Priced Equipment

Additionally, the OIG will be undertaking a heightened review of the appropriateness of payments to DMEPOS suppliers for “high ticket” items such power mobility devices, oxygen and hospital beds. The medical equipment industry has always been the target of potential abuse. The OIG confirms this stating that there continues to be wide spread abuse of DME not ordered by physicians, not delivered or not needed. The OIG will focus on geographic areas with high volumes of “high ticket” reimbursements and review for compete records demonstrating that the services are “reasonable and necessary for the diagnosis and treatment of the illness or injury.” For frequently replaced supplies such as CPAP and respiratory supplies, the OIG will review compliance with the requirements that a Certificate of Medical Necessity must specify the type of supplies needed and the frequency with which they must be replaced used or consumed.

Diabetic Testing Supplies

The OIG will also review Medicare claims for diabetic testing strips and lancets (diabetic testing supplies) to identify questionable billing. Medicare has utilization guidelines for the amount of diabetic testing supplies (DTS) that beneficiaries may receive. To receive reimbursement from Medicare, suppliers must maintain documentation demonstrating that their DTS claims meet all Medicare coverage, coding, and medical necessity requirements. DTS claims with certain characteristics (e.g., DTS provided to a beneficiary at irregular intervals) may indicate improper supplier billing.


Some highlights of physician’s services that are going to be under review include the following:

Place-of-Service Errors

The OIG will be reviewing physicians’ coding practices on Medicare Part B claims for services performed in ambulatory surgical centers and hospital outpatient departments to determine whether they properly coded the places of service. The OIG will particularly pay attention to this as there is evidence of physicians coding for services at the higher non-facility rate when the services were actually performed in an ASC or outpatient setting. Medicare pays a physician higher amounts for serviced performed in a non-facility setting such as the physician’s office.

Incident-To Services

“Incident-to” services will also be reviewed. This is a new initiative on the part of the OIG and therefore, should garner lots of attention. The OIG will try to determine whether payment for such services had a higher error rate than that for non-incident-to services. We will also assess CMS’s ability to monitor services billed as “incident-to.” One of the main focuses of this review is to cut down the amount of billings for incident to services performed by non-physicians without the required direct physician supervision. The OIG has found that unqualified non-physicians performed 21 percent of the services that physicians did not perform personally. Incident-to services represent a potential abuse for the Medicare program in that they do not appear in claims data and can be identified only by reviewing the medical record.

Evaluation and Management Services (“E/M Services”)

In 2009, Medicare paid $32 billion for E/M services. This represented nearly 20% of all Medicare Part B payments. With those dollars at stake, the OIG will be reviewing E/M claims to assure there is appropriate documentation to justify payment for the more intensive E/M codes. It is important to thoroughly document records to demonstrate the type, setting, and complexity of services provided and the patient status, such as new or established. Also under review will cases of multiple E/M services for the same providers and beneficiaries to identify electronic health records (EHR) documentation practices associated with potentially improper payments. Medicare contractors have noted an increased frequency of medical records with identical documentation across services.

Payments for Services Ordered or Referred by Excluded Providers

Medicare does not allow payment to a physician or supplier for services and items provided that were prescribed or ordered by individuals or entities excluded from the Medicare program. To combat that practice, the OIG will undertake a review of the nature and extent of Medicare payments for services ordered or referred by excluded providers (those who have been barred from billing Federal health care programs) and examine CMS’s oversight mechanisms to identify and prevent payments for such services.

There are numerous other areas of concern that will be reviewed by the OIG during 2012. To assure compliance with the items describes as well as other health care laws, the Florida Healthcare Law Firm offers a comprehensive compliance audit of your organization. For more information please contact us  at 561-455-7700