The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services have found a way to save money. They simply installed a firewall which blocked claims submission from providers who have complied with the 5010 conversion by January 1, 2012, which was their initial deadline. And the best part, most providers did not realize the problem until the end of January. In what has been one of the worst weeks in my life at the office, we received a phone call on Tuesday, from another office who used the same EHR and the same interface processing claims asking if we had been paid this month from either Medicare or Medicaid. The answer was, yes. Well initially it was yes. Followed by “Well only by Medicaid.” Followed by, “Well outside of our medical home payment about $18.22.”
Throughout this month, I have been watching the income come in. And until about the middle of the month, it was about the same as last year, maybe even a little more. And while I was not thrilled with that considering there was more patients 45 days before than there had been a year ago, money was still coming in. And we had already found that there was a problem with a glitch in our billing and were attempting to locate it. So I was already not taking a paycheck this month. So at least my salary was not affecting the outgoing.
However, as the month went on, that number seemed to not change the way that it was supposed to. Well, we are looking for it on the one hand, but last Thursday, we underwent an audit from Medicaid, so much of our effort went to preparing for that. Making sure that all of our i’s were dotted and our t’s were crossed. Knowing that no matter what they would find something wrong. Realizing too late, that after our last COLA inspection, our CLIA certificate seemed to not be put back in the same place, and was currently MIA. Which is not great news, especially since a computer glitch at CLIA has not allowed them to send new certificates out, and we are still waiting today for the request submitted two weeks ago.
So anyway, while the numbers were concerning, they were not in the front of our mind, until Tuesday. When a call partner called, and we looked. And then discovered. We had not heard anything from our clearing house all month regarding claims. So we examined further, and that $18.22 was from Medicaid secondary payment which was submitted to Medicare prior to January 1.
So we called our interface to find out what happened. “You are currently 1,746 in line. Approximate wait time is 7 hours 32 minutes. Did you know that you can check wait times online visit www….”
Well that sounds, uh promising. After utilizing a phone line for the entire day, we found out, that there was the problem, they were contacting our EHR, and no they don’t know when it will be fixed. That was tuesday.
Wednesday, we found out that it was not just our EHR having problems. It was multiple EHRs. And we started looking for a new way. We had recently hired a new billing company, who was in the process of creating tunnels and whatever else is required for them to extract our data over the internet and bill for us, would they be able to take our Medicaid claims and submit them an alternative way? The answer was maybe, if we can figure out how to extract them from the mess, we currently were in. (Then tragedy struck our office Wednesday afternoon, and to be honest, we just tried to finish our day)
Thursday morning, numb and still in shock, we checked by on the Gateway. Still no payment, but there was something that had not been there in a month. A screen of rejections. We don’t know if that is a good sign or not, but it was something new. Still no payment. But a new screen. And the interface was still working on the problem. (However, this did not prevent them from drafting my account for payment earlier in the month)
Finally, Friday morning came some answers. Calls to Medicaid to make sure that we would not get hit with a penalty for attempting to file claims multiple ways, which received a probably not, also had some news. Apparently the day before, they received 18 electronic batches through interfaces. While they did not know if they were ours, they said it was promising only because they had not received anything the entire month of January. Nice. And you could not have said anything to your providers?
And Friday morning, also provided word from our clearing house. Apparently the 5010 conversion had caused this. Despite providers, software vendors and electronic interfaces having had successful tests from the previous year, January 1, conversion did not go as planned. A firewall at CMS enacted for this event, did not recognized claims that were in compliance or not. It did not recognize NPI numbers, ICD-9 codes, or CLIA numbers. In an essence, those who complied with the rules by the initial deadline were penalized and just not paid. This included all federal government programs Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare. Well actually Tricare was worse, their firewall had been blocking claims since November. And our situation could have been worse, there were Medicare providers who had not been paid since November. And this is for those that comply with their rules.
Unfortunately for me, 45% of my income is from Medicaid, 20% from Medicare, and Tricare <1%. So you can imagine what this is doing to us. The only thing good with regards to Medicare is that we collected their deductibles up front, so we did get some of that. Though there were also glitches with Blue Cross Blue Shield which is our 3rd biggest payor, which has a percentage close to that of Medicare. So I guess that I am lucky that I am sitting at half of the number that I should be. Next month figures to be worse, when you consider a 45 day wait time for Medicare on average. If we can get claims through under Medicaid, I should get paid in as quick as a week after submission.
So the month of January, I have worked for free. February, I will also not be taking home a paycheck, and I imagine it will be close to May, since March and April will require me to catch up on bills not paid this month due to the CMS firewall. Which means more shifts in the ER for the hubby, so that we can survive at home, since my bills won’t stop.
So those of you who think physicians are just greedy, and should be willing to take a 27% cut in pay from Medicare (which would result in similar cuts from other insurances) consider this. My overhead does not decrease, it increases. I still have to pay my staff, rent, electric, water, etc. And following this incident for being in compliance… it is no wonder that physicians don’t trust CMS. I have not committed fraud, and have played by the rules. But situations like this sometimes makes you wonder why you bother.
So before any of you call your physician greedy or just in it for the money, think about this. Those that are self employed didn’t get paid this last month at all, and will probably not get paid this month (take home pay). The fact that they don’t trust CMS results from issues such as this. And that is not even looking at the cluster that is ObamaCare. So I worked last month seeing patients for free, will next month as well. Sometimes you have to wonder if that time wouldn’t have been spent better elsewhere.
So I guess CMS has come up with an ingenious plan to save money. Just block physician claims from going through at all. That way, their money is able to stay in their account and draw interest, and well unless providers close their doors overnight, their patients are still being seen at least temporarily. So if you look at the numbers for January for CMS, I am sure they look the best in a decade. Thanks CMS.