Legal, regulatory, and payer experts outline steps that help medical laboratories better navigate federal and state regulatory guidelines, eliminate coding and billing missteps, and maximize reimbursements
Even as daily COVID-19 test numbers continue to decrease, many clinical laboratories have substantial numbers of COVID-19 test claims that remain unpaid. Despite federal and state law requiring that labs be paid for these tests, commercial health plans are using many strategies to avoid paying labs for COVID-19 test claims.
That means a large portion of the nation’s labs are owed tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars for unpaid SARS-CoV-2 test claims they submitted since the onset of the pandemic last year.
To help clinical laboratories recover some or all of these monies, Dark Daily recently assembled a panel of lab billing experts for a webinar, titled, “Getting Paid for COVID-19 Test Claims: Prepare for Audits, Maximize Reimbursement, and Navigate New Payer Trends.”
What Clinical Labs Can Do to Be Paid for Their COVID-19 Test Claims
These four subject-matter experts provided insider tips and insights on steps clinical laboratories can take to get paid for COVID-19 test claims. This advice can help labs, maximize collected dollars, reduce the chance of post-payment audits, and navigate emerging payer trends.
Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), as amended by the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), payers must reimburse clinical laboratories for “medically necessary” COVID-19 testing. That requirement was underscored when the Biden administration issued new guidance on February 26, 2021.
During the webinar, Caitlin Forsyth, an Associate Attorney at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in Seattle who specializes in healthcare regulatory compliance, said the new guidance “impressed upon commercial health plans the requirement to cover COVID testing in a lot of different circumstances.” The guidance included information on how providers can be reimbursed for providing COVID-19 care to uninsured people.
However, labs should be aware of what may come after they receive payment.
“We applaud you if you’ve had success thus far in securing reimbursement,” Forsyth continued. “However, clinical laboratories are not necessarily home free if Medicare, Medicaid, or a health plan has paid all or most of the lab claims for COVID-19 tests. This is because the payer may at some point down the line require the laboratory to submit to a post-payment audit. As part of the audit, the government payer or health plan is likely to require a laboratory to provide supporting documentation underscoring the medical necessity of each test performed on each patient at issue.”
What Constitutes ‘Medical Necessity’ for a SARS-CoV-2 Test?
There are many tripwires that can derail COVID-19 test claims. Medical necessity standards related to testing is one example that has been a major area of concern for clinical laboratories.
Kathryn Edgerton, Esq., Counsel at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in Los Angeles, notes that the guidance providers have received has been “somewhat inconsistent and has created confusion as to what test is covered.” This lack of clarity in Medicare’s guidance has caused many denials of payment.
The webinar panelists provided the following three tips for optimizing billing claims for COVID-19 tests (additional recommendations on decreasing the number of COVID-19 test claim denials, increasing payments, and avoiding post-payment audits are available in the webinar’s on-demand replay and its companion special report):
- When seeking reimbursement for COVID-19 testing from non-traditional sources, such as employers, schools, or local governments, ensure valid orders support each test claim. “Even if the employer, school, or local government has agreed to pay for the tests, a medical laboratory still must comply with state laws in regard to persons authorized to order the tests, as well as comply with CLIA requirements for a valid order,” Forsyth said.
- Serial testing is on the rise in workplaces to increase the chances of detecting asymptomatic infection. However, Forsyth says, laboratories should “push for direct reimbursement from the workplace” because coverage from Medicare, Medicaid, and health plans is uncertain. “We also expect health plans to start cracking down on tests performed as part of an employment or surveillance program, taking the position that even if there are physician orders supporting each test performed as part of the program, health plans are not required to cover tests,” she added.
- COVID-19-only testing providers and independent laboratories should expect health plans to begin narrowing their provider networks. To avoid being pushed out, Steve Stonecypher, Managing Partner at Shipwright Healthcare Group, says laboratories should “think about what you do, how you do it, and how you can be a benefit [to the health plan]. Make the payers think of you not as a nice-to-have in their network, but as a need-to-have in their network.”
COVID-19 Testing Labs Advised to ‘Have All Your Ducks in a Row’
Stonecypher urges clinical laboratories to be vigilant in record keeping, noting that the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) indicated earlier this year that it will conduct audits that focus on aberrant billing for COVID-19 testing during the pandemic.
“There are flags out there already that the OIG is potentially going to look to do claim audits,” he said. “You can pretty much guarantee that the payers are going to follow. So, have all your ducks in a row. We’re talking about all the individual patient assessments, all that necessary documentation … make sure all of that is in order because payers are going to look at this as an opportunity to come back and recoup money.”
Clinical laboratory leaders who want to learn more from this critical webinar can click here or place the URL https://www.darkdaily.com/webinar/webinar-getting-paid-for-covid-19-test-claims-prepare-for-audits-maximize-reimbursement-and-navigate-new-payer-trends/ in their web browser.
Billing and finance executives, clinical laboratory leadership, compliance officers, and billing and coding administrators are especially encouraged to listen to this webinar about increasing the number of COVID-19 test claims for which the lab is reimbursed. This webinar is available to stream on-demand.
This can be one of the best low-cost, high return investments your lab team can make, particularly if it helps the lab’s coding/billing/collections team interact with health insurance plans to settle SARS-CoV-2 test claims that then bring in tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars from outstanding claims that have yet to be paid.
—Andrea Downing Peck