A guide for new and first-time physicians participating in federal healthcare programs

By Shantanu Agrawal, MD

With a new class of medical residents beginning their training, and residents and Fellows graduating from their programs every July, it’s important that our critical partners in the delivery of healthcare have the tools they need to understand federal program requirements.  At the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) we have a comprehensive strategy to reduce fraud, waste and abuse that is designed to target risk – that means as we make it harder for bad actors to enroll or bill in our systems, we are always evaluating how to make it easier for legitimate physicians and other providers to participate in Medicare and care for beneficiaries.

CMS demonstrates this commitment with several initiatives:

  • Providers enrolling in Medicare for the first time now have a much easier experience enrolling than in years past. Since 2012, paper is no longer required to complete an application.  Everything can be submitted online, using web-based “PECOS” (the Provider Enrollment, Chain and Ownership System – the official record of every provider in Medicare). That includes required signatures and attachments, such as medical licensure. If an application fee is required – typically owed by organizations – it can also be paid online. The conveniences of the web-based PECOS system allow for faster application processing times over paper-based applications.
  • We recently launched two free mobile applications for Apple iOS and Android devices to help various stakeholders comply with the new requirements of the Open Payments program (commonly known as the Physician Payments Sunshine Act). This program tracks financial relationships between covered physicians and the health care industry – such as pharmaceutical and medical device companies – and will make the data available to the public annually on a website currently being designed. Physicians are not required to report any data, but the mobile applications will help them to track financial relationships and assess reported data for accuracy.
  • CMS is also modernizing how we communicate with physicians. We are now using Facebook / Facebook4 and Twitter / Twitter10 to keep tech-savvy providers up-to-date on the latest CMS news and progress being made.  Use these resources to engage and share your comments on our program efforts via Email and Google.
  • At CMS we also know the risks and challenges that many new physicians face in today’s healthcare landscape. We are dedicated to helping new physicians stay on track with important updates in our Medicare and Medicaid operations. That’s why the Center for Program Integrity is making it easier for physicians to resolve issues of identity theft. We’re providing information on how to protect your medical identity, numerous educational toolkits and Continuing Medical Education (CME) on CMS program integrity activities.

New and practicing physicians should note that as CMS shifts its fraud-fighting strategy to become more proactive, people committing fraud are doing the same. In our long-running patient education programs, we have provided ways patients and their families can spot and prevent scams. And we are developing more fraud-focused materials for health care providers and suppliers.

New physicians are emerging as a new vulnerability because of their inexperience with federal programs, financial obligations resulting from medical school, and aggressive scammers skillfully crafting schemes that appear to be legitimate.

New doctors should be aware of job offers that appear “too good to be true.” As with any other professional offer received or found — in print, on the internet, or other reputable or often-used resources – please be wary of offers that pay large sums of money in exchange for reviewing medical records written by others. Most often these include night and weekend work offers for your professional services to assist home health and durable medical equipment operations, usually off-site.

For Medicare fraud scams, they will require that you enroll or be enrolled in Medicare or PECOS. Never accept money or gifts for work you did not perform. Scammers that are offering cash for your participation in fraud are quick to disappear and have no issue with leaving you out to dry. Convictions for certain health care fraud violations will result in exclusion from federal healthcare programs – and potentially preventing your participation in certain State Medicaid programs and private health plans. Remember, the penalties are much larger than any short-term benefit.

To help new physicians develop defenses against these scams, CMS urges you to:

And most importantly, all doctors and their patients should report fraud as soon as it is suspected to the HHS Office of Inspector General. Tips can be reported either online or by phone at 1-800-HHS-TIPS. It’s never too late to report information, and by doing so you will be joining the fight to protect federal healthcare programs for future generations.

Shantanu Agrawal, M.D., is the Medical Director for the Center for Program Integrity at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

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