Medical laboratory leaders must take steps to protect their lab’s financial stability and know how to prepare and respond to investigations and regulatory threats
Clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups may soon face a new normal that includes more frequent and tougher audits by both private payers and the government, resulting in larger monetary demands. The financial strain medical laboratories will experience from more aggressive audits will be compounded by the roll out on January 1, 2018, of new Medicare Part B price cuts.
Attorney Richard S. Cooper, Co-chair, National Healthcare Practice Group, McDonald Hopkins, LLC, in Cleveland, says audit activity has been “ramping up” during the past 18 months, but has accelerated in recent months.
“We are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of audits and the dollar amount the payers are trying to recoup as a result of those audits,” Cooper said in an interview with Dark Daily, noting monetary demands can reach “seven to eight” figures.
“We’re seeing that with both government payers as well as commercial payers and we’re seeing much more aggressive audit tactics being utilized than we have in the past.”
Payers Put Clinical Laboratories Under Increased Scrutiny
While toxicology/pharmacogenomics and molecular/genetic testing laboratories frequently are the targets of the increased scrutiny, Cooper says no medical laboratory is immune from questioning. The “medical necessity” of providing and billing for diagnostic tests or services, and laboratory waivers of “patient responsibility” for copays and deductibles, are the two most common compliance issues being cited, states Cooper, who points to Cigna, UnitedHealthcare and Blue Cross Blue Shield as among the most active commercial payers his firm encounters.
“There are large dollars at stake and they are going after those dollars,” Cooper explains.
In this new environment, Cooper maintains medical directors and lab executives must:
- Protect the lab’s financial stability in 2018 by considering operational changes and taking other steps to prepare for revenue losses due to PAMA (Protecting Access to Medicare Act).
- Get educated about practices that can trigger audits by commercial payers, or state and federal regulators, and consider conducting self-audits using an independent third-party.
- Know how to respond if a lab is charged with proficiency test violations, which can result in significant penalties from Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS), such as loss of a lab’s CLIA license and revocation of the medical director’s license to operate a medical laboratory for two years.
- Expect scrutiny of “piggyback” arrangements with toxicology labs that could raise compliance concerns and violate commercial payer contracts. A “piggyback” arrangement is where a lab bills under the payer contract of another provider because it is unable to contract with the payer directly. This often involves “piggybacking” on lab or hospital (usually Critical Access Hospital) contracts. In many cases, the billing entity does not perform the lab services for which they are billing. The services are instead performed by the non-participating lab, and the billing provider pays most of the collections back to the non-billing laboratory, retaining a fee for using the contracts. There may not be disclosure to the payers about which entity actually performed the test.
Navigating Tougher Clinical Laboratory Laws and Regulations
To help medical laboratory and pathology group leaders prepare for the perils they face, and take proactive steps to navigate the tough lab regulations and legal issues that lay ahead, click here to register for Dark Daily’s upcoming webinar “Tougher Lab Regulations and New Legal Issues in 2018: More Frequent Payer Audits, Problems with Contract Sales Reps, Increased Liability for CLIA Lab Directors, Proficiency Testing Violations, and More,” (or place this link into your browser: https://ddaily.wpengine.com/product/tougher-lab-regulations-and-new-legal-issues-in-2018-more-frequent-payer-audits-problems-with-contract-sales-reps-increased-liability-for-clia-lab-directors-proficiency-testing-violations-and).
Attorney Richard S. Cooper, Co-chair, National Healthcare Practice Group, McDonald Hopkins LLC, in Cleveland will be a featured speaker and moderator during a new Dark Daily webinar on the Medicare Part B price cuts, and the critical legal and compliance issues clinical laboratories and pathology groups face starting in 2018. (Photo copyright: McDonald Hopkins LLC.)
This crucial learning event takes place on Wednesday, November 8, 2017, at 1 p.m. EST.
Cooper, who will moderate the webinar, will be joined by David W. Gee, JD, a Partner at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in Seattle, and Jeffrey J. Sherrin, JD, President and Partner, O’Connell and Aronowitz in Albany, New York.
These three attorneys are among the nation’s foremost experts in issues unique to clinical laboratories, pathology groups, hospital labs, toxicology/pharmacogenomics labs, and molecular/genetic testing labs. Following our speakers’ presentations, there will be a question and answer period, during which you can submit your own specific questions to our experts.
You can’t afford to miss this opportunity. Click here to get up to speed on the most serious regulatory, compliance, and managed care contracting issues confronting all labs today. This webinar will provide solutions to the perils facing labs now and in 2018 by helping you map a proactive and effective course of action for your clinical lab or pathology group.
—Andrea Downing Peck
Tougher Lab Regulations and New Legal Issues in 2018: More Frequent Payer Audits, Problems with Contract Sales Reps, Increased Liability for CLIA Lab Directors, Proficiency Testing Violations, and More
What Every Lab Needs to Know about the Medicare Part B Clinical Laboratory Price Cuts That Take Effect in Just 157 Days, on Jan. 1, 2018
Nation’s Most Vulnerable Clinical Laboratories Fear Financial Failure If Medicare Officials Cut Part B Lab Fees Using PAMA Market Price Data Final Rule
Critics claim the bill would remove genetic privacy and discrimination protections provided by the 2008 GINA Act and other federal laws and might cause medical laboratories performing these tests to become embroiled in employee-employer disputes
Pathology groups and clinical laboratories are closely watching how society reacts to information that comes from genetic testing. Thus, the groundswell of opposition against a House bill that would require employees participating in workplace wellness programs to undergo genetic testing, and to share the results with their employers or face higher healthcare premiums, will be of particular interest and could impact the pathology industry as a whole.
Could Clinical Laboratories Become Entangled in Employee-Employer Disputes?
The fast-forming public outcry against lifting privacy protections for genetic testing in the workplace provides the medical laboratory testing industry with more evidence that concerns over genetic discrimination remain at the forefront among healthcare consumers, scientists, and medical professionals, despite growing understanding about the medical applications of genetics tests.
“What this bill would do is completely take away the protections of existing laws,” said Jennifer Mathis, JD, Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, in an article published in STAT, a Boston-based life science news site. She says protections provided by the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), as well as those included in the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “would be pretty much eviscerated.”
Privacy versus Healthcare Control
The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act (HR 1313¬) is part of the effort by the Republican-led Congress to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which passed the bill on a straight party-line vote on March 8, 2017, said in a statement that HR 1313 would “bring uniformity to the regulation of wellness programs and clarify” that such programs are consistent with existing federal laws.
“All these proposals reflect the principle that individuals should have greater control over their healthcare and the freedom to do what’s best for their families,” Committee Chairperson Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said in a statement.
Jennifer Mathis, JD, Deputy Legal Director and Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, charges that privacy and other protections for genetic and health information provided by the 2008 Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (Gina) and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “would be pretty much eviscerated” by HR 1313. (Photo copyright: Center for Disabilities Studies, University of Delaware.)
Opponents of the legislation claim the bill undermines GINA—which when enacted in 2008 was celebrated as the “first major new civil rights bill of the new century”—by removing genetic privacy and nondiscrimination protections. GINA prohibits employers from using genetic information to hire, fire, or promote an employee. And it bars health plans and insurers from using results to deny coverage or charge higher premiums.
Sixty-nine consumer, health, and medical advocacy organizations¬ have banded together to oppose HR 1313 and ask that “the nondiscrimination protections afforded to all Americans by GINA and the ADA” be preserved. They include:
• The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP);
• The Association for Molecular Pathology (AMP); and
• The Genetics Society of America (GSA).
“We strongly oppose any legislation that would allow employers to inquire about employees’ private genetic information, or medical information unrelated to their ability to do their jobs, and to impose draconian penalties on employees who choose to keep that information private,” the organizations stated in their March 7 letter to the House Committee.
Prior to the committee approving the bill, The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) also went on record opposing HR 1313 for “fundamentally undermining the privacy provisions” of GINA and the ADA.
Law Would Allow Penalties on Employees for Not Cooperating
Privacy concerns are just one issue dogging the legislation. The bill also would allow employers to impose financial penalties of up to 30% of the total cost of an employee’s health insurance plan on workers who do not participate in genetic testing required by their workplace wellness program. Using the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2016 Employer Health Benefits Survey as a guide, in a press release the ASHG estimated employees could be charged an extra $5,443 in annual premiums if they chose not to share their genetic information.
“If enacted, this bill would force Americans to choose between access to affordable healthcare and keeping their personal genetic and health information private,” Derek Scholes, PhD, Director of Science Policy at ASHG, said in the press release. “Employers would be able to coerce employees into providing their genetic and health information and that of their families, even their children.”
A unnamed spokesperson for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce defended the legislation in an interview with CNBC, claiming opponents were intentionally misrepresenting the bill’s intent.
“Those who are opposed to the bill are spreading false information in a desperate attempt to deny employees the choice to participate in a voluntary program that can reduce health insurance costs and encourage healthy lifestyle choices,” she told CNBC. She pointed to the HR 1313 fact sheet, which states the legislation “reaffirms existing law to allow employee wellness programs to be tied to responsible financial incentives.”
The “existing law” the source is referring to is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), which the Obama administration made law in 2010 in support of employer wellness programs as part of its push to encourage American’s to take responsibility for their healthcare. As written, the ACA already empowers employers to require employees who wish to participate in their company’s wellness programs to undergo genetic testing, the spokesperson reiterated.
Why Medical Laboratories Should Track the Progress of This Proposed Law
Clinical laboratory managers will want to watch the progress of this proposed legislation. The possibility exists that, if a lab performed a genetic test for a patient, and that patient later got into a dispute with the employer wanting access to those genetic test results, the lab could find itself embroiled in that dispute if the employer took legal action to compel the laboratory to reveal those test results. That scenario is a long way from becoming reality, but it does illustrate why this law, if enacted, could prove troublesome for the nation’s medical laboratories.
At this year’s Executive War College (EWC), which takes place on May 2-3 in New Orleans, a special panel discussion with four attorneys experienced in lab and pathology law will discuss emerging legal and compliance issues that involve medical laboratory testing. This proposed bill and other new genetic testing issues will be among the topics addressed by the attorneys on this panel.
—Andrea Downing Peck
Executive War College Conference on Laboratory and Pathology Management Agenda
H.R.1313-Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act
Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act Fact Sheet
Group Opposition Letter
Committee Advances Reforms to Expand Affordable Health Care Coverage for Working Families
House Republicans Would Let Employers Demand Workers’ Genetic Test Results
ASHG Opposes HR 1313, the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act Bill would Undermine Genetic Privacy Protections
2016 Employer Health Benefits Survey
Employers Could Demand Genetic Testing Under Congressional Bill
Latest research provides new opportunities for clinical laboratories to demonstrate how testing can help curb hospital-acquired infections
Pathologists, microbiologists, and other healthcare providers have long been aware that hospital patients taking antibiotics are at higher risk of contracting the potentially deadly Clostridium difficile infection (C. diff). But new research adds an interesting twist to this issue.
Recent research indicates that being a “second user” of a bed may be another risk factor for acquiring the disease. This will give clinical laboratory professionals, microbiologists, and others on the front lines of hospital infection control programs another factor to consider when working to halt the spread of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs).
The recent study was published online in JAMA Internal Medicine. It shows that patients put in a hospital bed previously occupied by someone given antibiotics are 22% more likely to develop the C. difficile infection, even if they do not themselves receive antibiotics. (more…)
Breakthrough method could provide pathologists with a less expensive alternative to high-priced super-resolution microscopes or often-imprecise microscopy software
Intriguing new research has the potential to “turbocharge” the standard medical laboratory microscope in ways that create a “super-vision” capability. This would give pathologists and medical researchers an inexpensive alternative to high-priced super-resolution microscopes or often-imprecise microscopy software.
Seeking a new method for counting molecules in complexes, researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University paired their DNA-powered super-resolution microscopy platform—DNA-PAINT and Exchange-PAINT—with a new procedure called quantitative points accumulation in nanoscale topography—or qPAINT. This new analytic tool can “count different molecular species in biological samples with high accuracy and precision,” noted a Wyss Institute press release. (more…)