Summary of Final Rule: Conditional Payment Appeals Process for Applicable Plans

On February 27, 2015, CMS published in the Federal Register the SMART Act Appeal Final Rule which can be located at 80 Fed. Reg. 10611. The rule can be found here and will go into effect on April 28, 2015. CMS had previously issued the Proposed Rule on this very topic on December 27, 2013. Materially, the Final Rule is effectively the same as the Proposed Rule without substantive change. While some greater strides toward more operational efficiencies could have been made in finalizing the Final Rule, Helios applauds CMS finalizing this proponent of the SMART Act within two years of the law’s enactment.

What the Final Rule does: The Final Rule puts into place a conditional payment appeals process for “applicable plans.” An applicable plan means liability insurance (including self-insurance), no-fault insurance, or a workers’ compensation law or plan. Prior to implementation of this Final Rule, applicable plans had no appeal rights with regard to conditional payment demands from Medicare. With this final rule in place, applicable plans can now appeal final conditional payment demands issued by Medicare if the applicable plan disputes the amount or liability owed.

How the Appeals Process will work: Applicable plans’ appeal rights are the same process that beneficiaries, providers and others must use to dispute a conditional payment demand. It is a four-level appeals process which requires that the applicable plan exhaust its rights in the following order: (1) reconsideration of a claim by the CMS contractor; (2) evaluation of the claim by a Qualified Independent Contractor (QIC); (3) adjudication of the dispute by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ); (4) and lastly a review of the ALJ decision by the Department Appeals Board’s Medicare Appeals Council. It has been noted that this current four-level appeals process can take up to four years to pursue. It was requested that CMS simplify this appeals process and skip the first two levels; however, CMS declined this suggestion.

What is Not Subject to Appeal: Through the rulemaking process, industry stakeholders requested that CMS allow applicable plans to appeal issues other than the conditional payment amount. In particular, it was requested that CMS allow the applicable plan to dispute who or which entity that CMS would pursue an MSP recovery from. CMS declined this request, citing its authority within the MSP to recover from the beneficiary, the primary payer or any other entity receiving proceeds from the payment by the primary plan. Stakeholders also requested that an applicable plan be able to appeal an initial conditional payment demand, even if the final amount of the repayment was not yet available in a Final Demand letter. CMS also declined this request; Applicable Plans may only appeal from Final Demands.

Who May Appeal: It was requested that either the applicable plan or the beneficiary be able to appeal where the identified debtor is either the applicable plan or the beneficiary. CMS declined this request and has stated that the Final Rule makes appeal rights available to the identified debtor, not potential identified debtors. Therefore, applicable plans may only appeal under this process if they are the identified debtor in the Final Demand letter. Additionally, beneficiaries may only appeal under previously existing conditional payment processes if the beneficiary is the identified debtor in the Final Demand Letter.

Commenters also had requested that applicable plans be able to appoint third parties/agents as representatives in the appeals process. CMS contends that applicable plans already have this right, and further specified that the party appointing a representative must include the beneficiary’s Medicare health insurance claim number (HICN) on the appointment of representation.

Notice of Appeal: It was also requested that either the applicable plan should be copied on a recovery demand with the beneficiary as the identified debtor; or all potential debtors should be copied on all actions (that is, recovery demands, appeal requests, all notices or decisions). CMS declined this request citing that additional notice would not be necessary since only the identified debtor can appeal the Final Demand. Additionally, it would cause “an increase in administrative costs and would cause confusion in many instances, particularly where beneficiaries would receive copies of demands issued to applicable plans.”

Medicare Advantage Plan Conditional Payment Appeals: Commenters requested that the proposed rule be revised to include appeal rights for applicable plans when a Medicare Part C organization or Part D plan pursues an MSP based recovery from the applicable plan. CMS stated that the request was outside the scope of the rule and that the SMART Act provision for applicable plan appeals amended only the MSP provisions for Medicare Part A and Part B.

MSA Appeals: It was requested that the proposed rule should address appeals related to the determination of WCMSA amounts for future medicals. CMS stated that this issue is outside of the scope of the rule and that this particular issue would be addressed separately. As an aside, if CMS does create an appeals process for MSAs, it would likely be created outside of the legislative process which could allow for the appeals process to be implemented more quickly.

In summary, the Final Rule provides a much needed conditional payment appeals process for Applicable Plans. While the four-level appeals process may be rumored to be slow, Applicable Plans now have the same rights of appeal that previously only existed for others in the Medicare program. The SMART Act is continuing to steadily create a more efficient process and reform the MSP system.

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