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American Academy of Emergency Medicine

OIG Clarifies Need for Open Books

AAEM members should note that the OIG has recently validated the Academy's concerns regarding contract arrangements in EM where there is no access to what is billed in the name of the physician. You are responsible for honest billings. Also note that the EP is supposed to be receiving payments directly when the billing company operates on a percentage basis.

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[Federal Register: June 12, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 113)]
[Notices]
[Page 36818-36835]
>From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:fr12jn00-34]

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DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
Office of Inspector General

Appendix A: Additional Risk Areas

III. Physician Billing Practices

A. Third-Party Billing Services

Physicians should remember that they remain responsible to the Medicare program for bills sent in the physician's name or containing the physician's signature, even if the physician had no actual knowledge of a billing impropriety. The attestation on the HCFA 1500 form, i.e., the physician's signature line, states that the physician's services were billed properly. In other words, it is no defense for the physician if the physician's billing service improperly bills Medicare.

One of the most common risk areas involving billing services deals with physician practices contracting with billing services on a percentage basis. Although percentage based billing arrangements are not illegal per se, the Office of Inspector General has a longstanding concern that such arrangements may increase the risk of intentional upcoding and similar abusive billing practices.\11\

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\11\This concern is noted in Advisory Opinion No. 98-4 and also the Office of Inspector General Compliance Program Guidance for Third-Party Medical Billing Companies. Both are available on the OIG website at http://www.hhs.gov/oig.

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A physician may contract with a billing service on a percentage basis. However, the billing service cannot directly receive Medicare payments made to the physician. Under 42 U.S.C. 1395u(b)(6), Medicare payments can only be made to either the beneficiary or a party (such as a physician) that furnished the services and accepted assignment of the beneficiary's claim. A billing service that contracts on a percentage basis does not qualify as a party that furnished services to a beneficiary, thus a billing service cannot directly receive Medicare payments. According to the Medicare Carriers Manual Sec. 3060(A), a payment is considered to be made directly to the billing service if the service can convert the payment to its own use and control without the payment first passing through the control of the physician. For example, the billing service cannot bill the claims under its own name or tax identification number. The billing service must bill claims under the physician's name and tax identification number. Nor can a billing service have the Medicare payments sent directly to its office or its bank account. The Medicare payments should instead be sent to the physician's office or bank account.

Physician practices should review the third-party medical billing guidance for additional information on third-party billing companies and the compliance risk areas associated with billing companies.