The Future of Medicare Program Integrity

on Tuesday, 12 November 2019. All News Items | Case Management | Documentation | Coding

Pay it Right

In an October 21, 2019 CMS Blog, Seema Verma, Administrator for the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services, outlined CMS’s vision to modernize “program integrity methods to better protect taxpayers from fraud, waste and abuse in Medicare.” In the blog, program integrity is defined as “pay it right.”

Government watchdog, “the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has designated Medicare as a High Risk program since 1990 because of its size, complexity and susceptibility to improper payments.” One recommendation by the GAO has been for Congress to expand prior authorization in Fee-For-Service (FFS).

Outpatient Department Prior Authorization Requirement

A step in this direction can be found in the CY 2020 OPPS Final Rule in which CMS states that, “as part of our responsibility to protect the Medicare Trust Funds, we routinely analyze data associated with all facets of the Medicare program.” Analysis of 1.1 billion outpatient claims over an 11-year period of data from 2007 through 2011 identified a significant increase in the utilization volume of some covered Outpatient Department services. Most of these services fell within the following five categories:

  • Blepharoplasty,
  • Botulinum toxin injections,
  • Panniculectomy,
  • Rhinoplasty, and
  • Vein ablation.

Procedures in these categories are often considered cosmetic and would not be covered by Medicare. CMS indicates “we are unaware of other factors that might contribute to clinically valid increased in volume. Therefore, these above-average increases in volume suggest an increase in unnecessary utilization.”  In the Final Rule CMS implemented prior authorization requirements for these five services when performed in an outpatient department. This new requirement has an implementation date of July 1, 2020.  You can learn more about this new requirement in a related article in next week’s Wednesday@One.

CMS Modernizing Their Approach to Program Integrity

Although Medicare’s improper payment rates have declined, Administrator Verma notes they remain too high. In response, CMS “is developing a five-pillar program integrity strategy to modernize out approach and protect Medicare for future generations.”

Pillar 1: Stopping Bad Actors

CMS partners with the Office of Inspector General (OIG), Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Unified Program Integrity Contractors (UPICs) to “deliberate on potential healthcare fraud cases, quickly direct them to law enforcement, and take appropriate administrative action such as payment suspensions and revocations.”

Pillar 2: Preventing Fraud

CMS is focused on moving away from the “pay and chase” model by “improving infrastructure that prevents fraud, waste and abuse on the front end.” Once a bad actor and his or her scheme is identified system changes are made to avoid future activities. One example cited by Administrator Verma was the September 2019 takedown of defendants in an orthotic braces scam.

Pillar 3: Mitigating Emerging Programmatic Risks

Administrator Verma likens mitigating risk to “playing the world’s largest game of whack-a-mole.” In keeping with this theme, the prior authorization requirement for a list of high-risk durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics and supplies (DMEPOS) items, is “whacking” one mole in the game.

Pillar 4: Reducing Provider Burden

Provider education is a large part of the Targeted Probe and Educate (TPE) program. “Since its inception in 2009, the program has played a major role in reducing improper payments, recouping more than $10 billion for the Medicare program.”

The TPE program has also highlighted provider burden and confusing policies. In response CMS is working on developing a prototype Medicare FFS Documentation Requirement Lookup Service. You can read more about this effort on the CMS Documentation Requirement Lookup Service Initiative webpage

Administrator Verma described additional ways that CMS is focusing on reducing provider burden and noted “cumulatively, these efforts are defining a new approach to program integrity that reduces burden and increased education to achieve a better shared understanding of how the programs operate.”

Pillar 5: Leveraging New Technology

CMS looks to adopt cutting edge technology – “such as AI and machine learning tools,” to save taxpayers more money and enable them to review more claims.  

The Future of Medicare Program Integrity

Administrator Verma aptly summarizes the vision for the future of program integrity in one sentence. “CMS must elevate program integrity, unleash the power of modern private sector innovation, prevent rather than chase fraud waste and abuse through smart, proactive measures, and unburden our provider partners so they can do what they do best – put patients first.”


Article by Beth Cobb

Beth Cobb, RN, BSN, ACM, CCDS, is the Manager of Clinical Analytics at Medical Management Plus, Inc.  Beth has over twenty-five years of experience in healthcare including eleven years in Case Management at a large multi-facility health system. 

In her current position, Beth is a principle writer for MMP’s Wednesday@One weekly e-newsletter, an active member of our HIPAA Compliance Committee, MMP’s Education Department Program Director and co-developer of MMP’s proprietary Compliance Risk Assessment (CRA) Tool. You may contact Beth at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This material was compiled to share information.  MMP, Inc. is not offering legal advice.  Every reasonable effort has been taken to ensure the information is accurate and useful.



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