Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facilities:

High Medicare Payments in Florida Raise Program Integrity Concerns

GAO-04-709: Published: Aug 12, 2004. Publicly Released: Sep 13, 2004.

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Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facilities (CORF) are highly concentrated in Florida. These facilities, which provide physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology services, and other related services, have been promoted as lucrative business opportunities for investors. Aware of such promotions, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, raised concerns about whether Medicare could be vulnerable to overbilling for CORF services. In this report, focusing our review on Florida, we (1) compared Medicare's outpatient therapy payments to CORFs in 2002 with its payments that year to other facility-based outpatient therapy providers and (2) assessed the program's effectiveness in ensuring that payments to CORFs complied with Medicare rules.

In Florida, CORFs were by far the most expensive type of outpatient therapy provider in the Medicare program in 2002. Per-patient payments to CORFs for therapy services were 2 to 3 times higher than payments to other types of facility-based therapy providers. Higher therapy payments were largely due to the higher volume of services--more visits or more intensive therapy per visit--delivered to CORF patients. This pattern of relatively high CORF payments was evident in each of the eight metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) of the state where nearly all Florida CORFs operated and the vast majority of CORF patients were treated. A consistent pattern of high payments and service levels was also evident for patients in each of the diagnosis categories most commonly treated by CORFs. Differences in patient characteristics--age, sex, disability, and prior inpatient hospitalization--did not explain the higher payments that Florida CORFs received compared to other types of outpatient therapy providers. Steps taken by Medicare's claims administration contractor for Florida have not been sufficient to mitigate the risk of improper billing by CORFs. After examining state and national trends in payments to CORFs in 1999, the contractor increased its scrutiny of CORF claims to ensure that Medicare payments made to CORFs were appropriate. It found widespread billing irregularities in Florida CORF claims, including high rates of medically unnecessary therapy services. Since late 2001, the contractor has intensified its review of claims from new CORF providers and required medical documentation to support certain CORF services considered at high risk for billing errors. It has also required that supporting medical records documentation be submitted with all CORF claims for about 650 beneficiaries who had previously been identified as receiving medically unnecessary services. The contractor's analysis of 2002 claims data for this limited group of beneficiaries suggests that, as a result of these oversight efforts, Florida CORFs billed Medicare for substantially fewer therapy services than in previous years. However, our analysis of all CORF therapy claims for that year indicates that the contractor's program safeguards were not completely effective in controlling per-patient payments to CORFs statewide. With oversight focused on a small fraction of CORF patients, CORF facilities continued to provide high levels of services to beneficiaries whose claims were not targeted by the contractor's intensified reviews.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To ensure that Medicare only pays for medically necessary care as outlined in program rules, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services should direct the Florida claims administration contractor to medically review a larger number of CORF claims.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: CMS officials reported in August 2005 that the agency has not taken any action to implement the recommendation. In July 2006, CMS officials agreed that disproportionately high payments to CORFs indicate a need for medical review of these providers, but asserted that the contractor is already taking appropriate steps to address the problem.

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