Health Care Fraud – The Perfect Storm

Today, health care fraud is all over the news. There undoubtedly is fraud in health care. The same is true for every business or endeavor touched by human hands, e.g. banking, credit, insurance, politics, etc. There is no question that health care providers who abuse their position and our trust to steal are a problem. So are those from other professions who do the same.

Why does health care fraud appear to get the ‘lions-share’ of attention? Could it be that it is the perfect vehicle to drive agendas for divergent groups where taxpayers, health care consumers and health care providers are dupes in a health care fraud shell-game operated with ‘sleight-of-hand’ precision?

Take a closer look and one finds this is no game-of-chance. Taxpayers, consumers and providers always lose because the problem with health care fraud is not just the fraud, but it is that our government and insurers use the fraud problem to further agendas while at the same time fail to be accountable and take responsibility for a fraud problem they facilitate and allow to flourish.

1. Astronomical Cost Estimates

What better way to report on fraud then to tout fraud cost estimates, e.g.

- “Fraud perpetrated against both public and private health plans costs between $72 and $220 billion annually, increasing the cost of medical care and health insurance and undermining public trust in our health care system… It is no longer a secret that fraud represents one of the fastest growing and most costly forms of crime in America today… We pay these costs as taxpayers and through higher health insurance premiums… We must be proactive in combating health care fraud and abuse… We must also ensure that law enforcement has the tools that it needs to deter, detect, and punish health care fraud.” [Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE), 10/28/09 press release]

- The General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates that fraud in healthcare ranges from $60 billion to $600 billion per year – or anywhere between 3% and 10% of the $2 trillion health care budget. [Health Care Finance News reports, 10/2/09] The GAO is the investigative arm of Congress.

- The National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association (NHCAA) reports over $54 billion is stolen every year in scams designed to stick us and our insurance companies with fraudulent and illegal medical charges. [NHCAA, web-site] NHCAA was created and is funded by health insurance companies.

Unfortunately, the reliability of the purported estimates is dubious at best. Insurers, state and federal agencies, and others may gather fraud data related to their own missions, where the kind, quality and volume of data compiled varies widely. David Hyman, professor of Law, University of Maryland, tells us that the widely-disseminated estimates of the incidence of health care fraud and abuse (assumed to be 10% of total spending) lacks any empirical foundation at all, the little we do know about health care fraud and abuse is dwarfed by what we don’t know and what we know that is not so. [The Cato Journal, 3/22/02]

2. Health Care Standards

The laws & rules governing health care – vary from state to state and from payor to payor – are extensive and very confusing for providers and others to understand as they are written in legalese and not plain speak.

Providers use specific codes to report conditions treated (ICD-9) and services rendered (CPT-4 and HCPCS). These codes are used when seeking compensation from payors for services rendered to patients. Although created to universally apply to facilitate accurate reporting to reflect providers’ services, many insurers instruct providers to report codes based on what the insurer’s computer editing programs recognize – not on what the provider rendered. Further, practice building consultants instruct providers on what codes to report to get paid – in some cases codes that do not accurately reflect the provider’s service.

Consumers know what services they receive from their doctor or other provider but may not have a clue as to what those billing codes or service descriptors mean on explanation of benefits received from insurers. This lack of understanding may result in consumers moving on without gaining clarification of what the codes mean, or may result in some believing they were improperly billed. The multitude of insurance plans available today, with varying levels of coverage, ad a wild card to the equation when services are denied for non-coverage – especially if it is Medicare that denotes non-covered services as not medically necessary.

3. Proactively addressing the health care fraud problem

The government and insurers do very little to proactively address the problem with tangible activities that will result in detecting inappropriate claims before they are paid. Indeed, payors of health care claims proclaim to operate a payment system based on trust that providers bill accurately for services rendered, as they can not review every claim before payment is made because the reimbursement system would shut down.

They claim to use sophisticated computer programs to look for errors and patterns in claims, have increased pre- and post-payment audits of selected providers to detect fraud, and have created consortiums and task forces consisting of law enforcers and insurance investigators to study the problem and share fraud information. However, this activity, for the most part, is dealing with activity after the claim is paid and has little bearing on the proactive detection of fraud.

4. Exorcise health care fraud with the creation of new laws

The government’s reports on the fraud problem are published in earnest in conjunction with efforts to reform our health care system, and our experience shows us that it ultimately results in the government introducing and enacting new laws – presuming new laws will result in more fraud detected, investigated and prosecuted – without establishing how new laws will accomplish this more effectively than existing laws that were not used to their full potential.

With such efforts in 1996, we got the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). It was enacted by Congress to address insurance portability and accountability for patient privacy and health care fraud and abuse. HIPAA purportedly was to equip federal law enforcers and prosecutors with the tools to attack fraud, and resulted in the creation of a number of new health care fraud statutes, including: Health Care Fraud, Theft or Embezzlement in Health Care, Obstructing Criminal Investigation of Health Care, and False Statements Relating to Health Care Fraud Matters.

In 2009, the Health Care Fraud Enforcement Act appeared on the scene. This act has recently been introduced by Congress with promises that it will build on fraud prevention efforts and strengthen the governments’ capacity to investigate and prosecute waste, fraud and abuse in both government and private health insurance by sentencing increases; redefining health care fraud offense; improving whistleblower claims; creating common-sense mental state requirement for health care fraud offenses; and increasing funding in federal antifraud spending.

Undoubtedly, law enforcers and prosecutors MUST have the tools to effectively do their jobs. However, these actions alone, without inclusion of some tangible and significant before-the-claim-is-paid actions, will have little impact on reducing the occurrence of the problem.

What’s one person’s fraud (insurer alleging medically unnecessary services) is another person’s savior (provider administering tests to defend against potential lawsuits from legal sharks). Is tort reform a possibility from those pushing for health care reform? Unfortunately, it is not! Support for legislation placing new and onerous requirements on providers in the name of fighting fraud, however, does not appear to be a problem.

If Congress really wants to use its legislative powers to make a difference on the fraud problem they must think outside-the-box of what has already been done in some form or fashion. Focus on some front-end activity that deals with addressing the fraud before it happens. The following are illustrative of steps that could be taken in an effort to stem-the-tide on fraud and abuse:

- DEMAND all payors and providers, suppliers and others only use approved coding systems, where the codes are clearly defined for ALL to know and understand what the specific code means. Prohibit anyone from deviating from the defined meaning when reporting services rendered (providers, suppliers) and adjudicating claims for payment (payors and others). Make violations a strict liability issue.

- REQUIRE that all submitted claims to public and private insurers be signed or annotated in some fashion by the patient (or appropriate representative) affirming they received the reported and billed services. If such affirmation is not present claim isn’t paid. If the claim is later determined to be problematic investigators have the ability to talk with both the provider and the patient…

- REQUIRE that all claims-handlers (especially if they have authority to pay claims), consultants retained by insurers to assist on adjudicating claims, and fraud investigators be certified by a national accrediting company under the purview of the government to exhibit that they have the requisite understanding for recognizing health care fraud, and the knowledge to detect and investigate the fraud in health care claims. If such accreditation is not obtained, then neither the employee nor the consultant would be permitted to touch a health care claim or investigate suspected health care fraud.

- PROHIBIT public and private payors from asserting fraud on claims previously paid where it is established that the payor knew or should have known the claim was improper and should not have been paid. And, in those cases where fraud is established in paid claims any monies collected from providers and suppliers for overpayments be deposited into a national account to fund various fraud and abuse education programs for consumers, insurers, law enforcers, prosecutors, legislators and others; fund front-line investigators for state health care regulatory boards to investigate fraud in their respective jurisdictions; as well as funding other health care related activity.

- PROHIBIT insurers from raising premiums of policyholders based on estimates of the occurrence of fraud. Require insurers to establish a factual basis for purported losses attributed to fraud coupled with showing tangible proof of their efforts to detect and investigate fraud, as well as not paying fraudulent claims.

5. Insurers are victims of health care fraud

Insurers, as a regular course of business, offer reports on fraud to present themselves as victims of fraud by deviant providers and suppliers.

It is disingenuous for insurers to proclaim victim-status when they have the ability to review claims before they are paid, but choose not to because it would impact the flow of the reimbursement system that is under-staffed. Further, for years, insurers have operated within a culture where fraudulent claims were just a part of the cost of doing business. Then, because they were victims of the putative fraud, they pass these losses on to policyholders in the form of higher premiums (despite the duty and ability to review claims before they are paid). Do your premiums continue to rise?

Insurers make a ton of money, and under the cloak of fraud-fighting, are now keeping more of it by alleging fraud in claims to avoid paying legitimate claims, as well as going after monies paid on claims for services performed many years prior from providers too petrified to fight-back. Additionally, many insurers, believing a lack of responsiveness by law enforcers, file civil suits against providers and entities alleging fraud.

6. Increased investigations and prosecutions of health care fraud

Purportedly, the government (and insurers) have assigned more people to investigate fraud, are conducting more investigations, and are prosecuting more fraud offenders.

With the increase in the numbers of investigators, it is not uncommon for law enforcers assigned to work fraud cases to lack the knowledge and understanding for working these types of cases. It is also not uncommon that law enforcers from multiple agencies expend their investigative efforts and numerous man-hours by working on the same fraud case.

Law enforcers, especially at the federal level, may not actively investigate fraud cases unless they have the tacit approval of a prosecutor. Some law enforcers who do not want to work a case, no matter how good it may be, seek out a prosecutor for a declination on cases presented in the most negative light.

Health Care Regulatory Boards are often not seen as a viable member of the investigative team. Boards regularly investigate complaints of inappropriate conduct by licensees under their purview. The major consistency of these boards are licensed providers, typically in active practice, that have the pulse of what is going on in their state.

Insurers, at the insistence of state insurance regulators, created special investigative units to address suspicious claims to facilitate the payment of legitimate claims. Many insurers have recruited ex-law enforcers who have little or no experience on health care matters and/or nurses with no investigative experience to comprise these units.

Reliance is critical for establishing fraud, and often a major hindrance for law enforcers and prosecutors on moving fraud cases forward. Reliance refers to payors relying on information received from providers to be an accurate representation of what was provided in their determination to pay claims. Fraud issues arise when providers misrepresent material facts in submitted claims, e.g. services not rendered, misrepresenting the service provider, etc.

Group Insurance Health Care and the HIPAA Privacy Rule

HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. When I hear people talking about HIPAA, they are usually not talking about the original Act. They are talking about the Privacy Rule that was issued as a result of the HIPAA in the form of a Notice of Health Information Practices.

The United States Department of Health & Human Services official Summary of the HIPAA Privacy Rule is 25 pages long, and that is just a summary of the key elements. So as you can imagine, it covers a lot of ground. What I would like to offer you here is a summary of the basics of the Privacy Rule.

When it was enacted in 1996, the Privacy Rule established guidelines for the protection of individuals’s health information. The guidelines are written such that they make sure that an individual’s health records are protected while at the same time allowing needed information to be released in the course of providing health care and protecting the public’s health and well being. In other words, not just anyone can see a person’s health records. But, if you want someone such as a health provider to see your records, you can sign a release giving them access to your records.

So just what is your health information and where does it come from? Your health information is held or transmitted by health plans, health care clearinghouses, and health care providers. These are called covered entities in the wording of the rule.

These guidelines also apply to what are called business associates of any health plans, health care clearinghouses, and health care providers. Business associates are those entities that offer legal, actuarial, accounting, consulting, data aggregation, management, administrative, accreditation, or financial services.

So, what does a typical Privacy Notice include?

The type of information collected by your health plan.
A description of what your health record/information includes.
A summary of your health information rights.
The responsibilities of the group health plan.

Let’s look at these one at a time:

Information Collected by Your Health Plan:

The group healthcare plan collects the following types of information in order to provide benefits:

Information that you provide to the plan to enroll in the plan, including personal information such as your address, telephone number, date of birth, and Social Security number.

Plan contributions and account balance information.

The fact that you are or have been enrolled in the plans.

Health-related information received from any of your physicians or other healthcare providers.

Information regarding your health status, including diagnosis and claims payment information.

Changes in plan enrollment (e.g., adding a participant or dropping a participant, adding or dropping a benefit.)

Payment of plan benefits.

Claims adjudication.

Case or medical management.

Other information about you that is necessary for us to provide you with health benefits.

Understanding Your Health Record/Information:

Each time you visit a hospital, physician, or other healthcare provider, a record of your visit is made. Typically, this record contains your symptoms, examination and test results, diagnoses, treatment, and a plan for future care or treatment.

This information, often referred to as your health or medical record, serves as a:

Basis for planning your care and treatment.

Means of communication among the many health professionals who contribute to your care.

Legal document describing the care you received.

Means by which you or a third-party payer can verify that services billed were actually provided.

Tool in educating health professionals.

Source of data for medical research.

Source of information for public health officials charged with improving the health of the nation.

Source of data for facility planning and marketing.

Tool with which the plan sponsor can assess and continually work to improve the benefits offered by the group healthcare plan. Understanding what is in your record and how your health information is used helps you to:

Ensure its accuracy.

Better understand who, what, when, where, and why others may access your health information.

Make more informed decisions when authorizing disclosure to others.

Your Health Information Rights:

Although your health record is the physical property of the plan, the healthcare practitioner, or the facility that compiled it, the information belongs to you. You have the right to:

Request a restriction on otherwise permitted uses and disclosures of your information for treatment, payment, and healthcare operations purposes and disclosures to family members for care purposes.

Obtain a paper copy of this notice of information practices upon request, even if you agreed to receive the notice electronically.

Inspect and obtain a copy of your health records by making a written request to the plan privacy officer.

Amend your health record by making a written request to the plan privacy officer that includes a reason to support the request.

Obtain an accounting of disclosures of your health information made during the previous six years by making a written request to the plan privacy officer.

Request communications of your health information by alternative means or at alternative locations.

Revoke your authorization to use or disclose health information except to the extent that action has already been taken.

Group Health Plan Responsibilities:

The group healthcare plan is required to:

Maintain the privacy of your health information.

Provide you with this notice as to the planâEUR(TM)s legal duties and privacy practices with respect to information that is collected and maintained about you.

Abide by the terms of this notice.

Notify you if the plan is unable to agree to a requested restriction.

Accommodate reasonable requests you may have to communicate health information by alternative means or at alternative locations. The plan will restrict access to personal information about you only to those individuals who need to know that information to manage the plan and its benefits. The plan will maintain physical, electronic, and procedural safeguards that comply with federal regulations to guard your personal information. Under the privacy standards, individuals with access to plan information are required to:

Safeguard and secure the confidential personal financial information and health information as required by law. The plan will only use or disclose your confidential health information without your authorization for purposes of treatment, payment, or healthcare operations. The plan will only disclose your confidential health information to the plan sponsor for plan administration purposes.

Limit the collection, disclosure, and use of participant’s healthcare information to the minimum necessary to administer the plan.

Permit only trained, authorized individuals to have access to confidential information.

Other items that may be addressed include:

Communication with family. Under the plan provisions, the company may disclose to an employee’s family member, guardian, or any other person you identify, health information relevant to that person’s involvement in your obtaining healthcare benefits or payment related to your healthcare benefits.

Notification. The plan may use or disclose information to notify or assist in notifying a family member, personal representative, or another person responsible for your care, your location, general condition, plan benefits, or plan enrollment.

Business associates. There are some services provided to the plan through business associates. Examples include accountants, attorneys, actuaries, medical consultants, and financial consultants, as well as those who provide managed care, quality assurance, claims processing, claims auditing, claims monitoring, rehabilitation, and copy services. When these services are contracted, it may be necessary to disclose your health information to our business associates in order for them to perform the job we have asked them to do. To protect employee’s health information, however, the company will require the business associate to appropriately safeguard this information.

Benefit coordination. The plan may disclose health information to the extent authorized by and to the extent necessary to comply with plan benefit coordination.

Workers compensation. The plan may disclose health information to the extent authorized by and to the extent necessary to comply with laws relating to workers compensation or other similar programs established by law.

Law enforcement. The plan may disclose health information for law enforcement purposes as required by law or in response to a valid subpoena.

Sale of business. If the plan sponsor’s business is being sold, then medical information may be disclosed. The plan reserves the right to change its practices and to make the new provisions effective for all protected health information it maintains. Should the company’s information practices change, it will mail a revised notice to the address supplied by each employee.

The plan will not use or disclose employee’s health information without their authorization, except as described in this notice.

In Summary:

As an employee, you should be aware of your rights and feel confident that your employer is abiding by the guidelines of the Privacy Rule.

As an employer offering group insurance health care benefits, you should make your employees aware of their rights and should give them an avenue to obtain more information or to report a problem.

International Health Insurance Coverage for Travelers

International health insurance coverage is a project design to protect your health, your belongings and your financial investments when making a trip. It also provides peace of mind to you and your family while on vacation. Taking out international health insurance, be it for business or pleasure, while traveling abroad is a good idea, though not compulsory, most travel operators do insist on some kind of insurance as part of their holiday product. This Insurance product is specially designed to protect you when traveling abroad. Many people only think of small things that don’t really matters a lot like, loss of money or having their luggage stolen, forgetting the fact that other factors such as illness and accident are the factor which can also be covered by travel insurance. Travel insurance is specially designed to protect and cover you from any possible risk you may encounter when traveling abroad. it is for great importance for any one traveling abroad, especially if the need arises for you to pay for any medical expenses that may arise.

How is travel insurance related to international health insurance?

International health insurance coverage offer travelers the opportunity to get cover against any emergency and difficulties they make encounter while traveling outside the country and also having an international health insurance coverage give you a peace of mind because you know that you are cover incase of emergency that may occur while traveling and also there are thing that may go wrong for instance a travel insurance policy can be helpful your flight has been cancelled or you luggage got lost and you need it back very sooner you passport and wallet are stolen on your first trip outside the country these are some of the terrible difficulties that you make encounter and also the health insurance cover all these situation. When choosing a travel insurance coverage you need to carefully consider the level of coverage that you want and the cost of the policy, you need to make sure that the travel insurance coverage covers personal belongings and money, medical expenses, legal expenses, personal liability and also personal accident and also you need to different form of travel insurance policy around and also check out their options so as to save a great deal of money for your self.

What is cover that is offered for international health insurance?

International health insurance provide medical insurance for sudden and unexpected injury or illness while traveling international health insurance coverage for travelers care for the unavoidable expenses that could incurred on account of an injury or sickness while traveling. International health insurance plan covers medical expenses, trip cost trip international, travel delay, protection for missed connection trip cost cancellation, Air ticket cover for ticked change costs that are charged by the airlines, it also cover for transportation. International health insurance coverage offers major international health insurance policy that is both renewable annually and for the long-term and also this kind of coverage is available for families, groups and individuals. What father show that travel insurance relates to international health insurance is that both policies provide basic health insurance or medical insurance for individual families against medical emergency at any where you might be either inside or outside the country. Some of the reasons why people are now opting for international travel health insurance is that it provide or covers trip for cancellations that most health insurance like the preferred provider organization and the health maintenance organization do not provide and also most tour operators and cruise firms do not provide refund and they also charge a big penalty for changing tickets.

The international health insurance plan makes provision for all of these situations. There is also the international student health insurance that crucial for obtaining medical services and assistance when they travel abroad while traveling the international student health insurance policy provide smart solution to confront a possible medical emergency and expenses for you to have a proper and comprehensive international student health medical insurance cover, you need to make sure that you have a coverage that provide 24 hour medical emergency assistance, Emergency medical Evacuation, the acts of terrorism, a Repatriation of remains and also the benefits for pre-existing conditions before buying a international student health insurance policy you need to carefully consider if the insurance farm is reliable, and is you are in another country or state will the plan provide for insurance cover and also will the plan along you to choose you own doctor. Taking the international health insurance plan, while you travel around your country or travel abroad, the International health insurance coverage is provide to face unforeseen circumstances. So before traveling it will be sensible to buy an affordable and comprehensive travel insurance policy to overcome any financial constraints arising from a medical emergency.