Pandemic Covid19


It’s tempting to dive into the politics here but nobody ever recovered from anything as a result of winning a political argument. Our immediate needs are to take care of and educate patients, ourselves, our coworkers and sometimes bosses especially if they are not clinical.

The Short List

1. You must protect yourself if you want to protect your patients and those you go home to after work. Nurses in hospitals report seeing people without proper equipment or using. PPE inappropriately headed towards patient rooms Visiting caregivers in home health and hospice have nobody watching them. Have employees demonstrate how to put on PPE so you can be confident they are well protected.

2. Covid19 may not be a one time deal like measles or chicken pox. Those (former) childhood diseases resulted in immunity due to the antibodies formed in response to being ill. Covid19 also spurs the formation is antibodies but they may not protect patients from future infection. This point is important to share with your patients who are recovering or know people promoting this idea. Deliberately catching Covid19 is about as dumb as a bunch of fence posts.

3. Our patients mostly stay at home but their family members may have to work. If this is the case with any of your patients, include the family in your teaching. The working person may choose to stay in their room and, when possible, stake a bathroom that is not shared with other family members. Emphasize to your patient that they are being protected and not ignored.

If your patient has medical appointments scheduled call their practitioner and ask if the appointment can be delayed or if there is something you can do to make it unnecessary for now. Lab and assessment results and medications administered in the a clinic are all within your skill set.

4. If a person is diagnosed with Covid19, there’s a very good chance they were contagious before the onset on symptoms. Likewise, there is a strong possibility that many people infected with Covid19 never have symptoms but have the capability to spread the virus. How fun is that? A stealth attack by a virus residing in an unknown host. Again, this supports the advice to stay at home. Teach patients that they could become infected by having visitors that look perfectly healthy. Set up FaceTime, Zoom, or similar software when smartphones or other technology is available.

Tell your patients on each and every visit to avoid the ER if possible. Give them specific criteria for an ER visit and make sure that the agency and physician numbers are in plain view. If your patient lives alone, make sure they have a panic alert button to summon Emergency Services. Be willing to head to a patient’s house with a syringe full of lasix or call a mobile X-ray company. Not only is the hospital a dangerous place but an ER visit will require use of hospital resources that are in short supply.

5. If you are a hospice nurse, be extremely cautious in. nursing homes. The true number of patients affected by Covid19 in nursing homes may be underreported. In Louisiana, the names of nursing homes that have clusters are no longer being reported.

To be brutally frank, death from Covid19 is worse than death from most other illnesses. The pain management for non-pulmonary patients may not be appropriate for Covid19 patients. It is not okay if a terminal patient contracts the virus. Do not be a vector!

6. There is no known cure or treatment for Covid19. However, we do not prescribe medication. If a patient is prescribed meds that have been re-purposed for Covid19, our job is to teach how to correct administration of meds and possible side effects. Answer questions as directly as possible without coloring them with opinions. If you share a negative opinion of Azithromycin and Plaquenil with patients, their trust in their physician may be damaged and that could cause more harm than the meds.

Covid19 will be an ongoing challenge at least until the end of the year and possibly longer. I expect we will all learn a lot by then.

Meanwhile, we would love to know what you are doing to prevent illness in your patients and staff. Are you able to get appropriate PPE? Are you providing masks for patients? What kind of questions are your patients asking? As an agency, has there been formal education?

We get our best stuff from you so bring it on! You can comment in the comments section or email us directly.

Welcome Back, Mr. SCIC


The SCIC is Back

Nurses who did not enter home health until this decade may be familiar with SCIC’s. Maybe they read about them or they were briefly reviewed in orientation. In the early years of PPS, a SCIC or other follow-up assessment changed the payment of an episode. Then it didn’t. Soon it will again. So the Significant Change in Condition; or other follow-up is a thing and it’s about to be a bigger thing.

The Quarterly OASIS Q and A from Medicare state:

When diagnosis codes change between one 30-day claim and the next, there is no requirement for the HHA to complete an RFA 5- Other follow-up assessment to ensure that diagnosis coding on the claim matches to the OASIS assessment. The CoP 484.55(d) does require an RFA 05 when there has been a major improvement or decline in a patient’s condition that was not envisioned in the original Plan of Care. CMS expects agencies to have and follow agency policies that determine the criteria for when the Other Follow-up assessment is to be completed.

The OASIS User Manual defines ‘RFA-5 other follow-up’ as:

… comprehensive assessment is conducted due to a major decline or improvement in patient’s health status occurring at a time other than during the last five days of the episode. This assessment is done to re-evaluate the patient’s condition, allowing revision to the patient’s care plan as appropriate.

With 30-day claim periods and 60-day OASIS intervals, there may be changes in your patient’s condition causing your patient to need more care that are not reflected in payment. If this occurs during the first claim period, the SCIC assessment is a way to increase payment for the second 30-day claim period. The claim period will only be adjusted if the date of assessment occurs prior to the 30th day.

So, in crafting or revising your SCIC policy, a good place to start would be with the OASIS questions that will affect your outcomes and payment – particularly hospitalizations. Currently, you must collect information on hospitalization risk and it will affect payment. Why not include factors that might increase the patient’s risk for hospitalization?

  • One or more falls
  • Unintentional weight loss of a total of X pounds (contingent upon base weight of patient.)
  • Any hospitalization, ER visit or MD visit that results in a change in orders.
  • Persistent decline in mental, emotional, or behavioral status.
  • Reported or observed history of difficulty complying with any medical instructions (for example, medications, diet, exercise) that is not corrected within two weeks with patient and caregiver education.
  • New medications that require teaching
  • Exhaustion that was not present on admission and does not result from exertion such as family outing or holiday.

All of these criteria have the potential to change the case mix weight. And remember that the Conditions of Participation state that risks for hospitalization should be on the care plan along with interventions on how to mitigate those risks.

Crafting a policy around two mandates already in effect will result in a policy that doesn’t require a lot of extra work to teach or monitor.

Should you have any questions or comments, please email us or leave a comment. If you have a different idea, we are open to hearing it.

PDGM for Nurses


This brief overview is directed specifically to nurses and therapists who will be completing the OASIS assessments that will determine payment. This is not a complete guide to PDGM but it is important for the field clinicians.

You work hard. Get paid.

Happy New Year!


Welcome 2019! If you have performed or reviewed any OASIS assessments since the beginning of the year, you may have been taken aback by the number of changes in the dataset. While its true that more than twice as many questions have been removed than have been added, the questions added have multiple parts and are quite different from the traditional OASIS C questions.

After being immersed in OASIS-D for a couple of weeks, I decided to rest my weary mind today and look at a chart created for a patient who broke her hip. She was admitted to the hospital where she had an ORIF followed by a rehab and then SNF stay. Guess what I found? All the OASIS questions that are new to Home Health Care. This proves to illustrate the ultimate goal of standardization across post acute care providers described in the IMPACT Act. Very simple math will let payor sources know which providers are making patients better. And of course, they already know how much providers are paid. This could be a true advantage to home health. If we can achieve results that are equal to or better than other providers, Medicare will favor home health as providers because we cost less.

The good news is that therapists should be easy to train. In fact, CMS invites a multidisciplinary approach to the OASIS-D assessment and therapists might be the key to getting it right the first time.

The new questions are not difficult but they will require time and thought in order to arrive at the correct answer. There’s a new type of fall to be counted; the intercepted fall where a patient is caught by another before they hit the ground. Witnessed and unwitnessed falls will be documented so like most good agencies, falls will be assessed on each visit. Hopefully, reports will be engineered by software vendors so that you can run reports from your software. OASIS data will tell you how many falls were experienced, what kind of falls they were, and if there was an associated injury. QA will be easy although it is possible that an initial uptick in the number of falls will be the result of constantly assessing. Be sure to count each fall only once.

Mobility has subsections A through S. That’s almost an entire alphabet. The questions are interrelated but each one needs an answer. Only one goal is needed.

The Coders has education available for your agency. Contact us and we will find a day we can spend with your staff educating them about the magical powers of OASIS-D.

To find out if you need additional training, take our OASIS-D Quiz.

And until you are confident that your agency is proficient in the OASIS-D updates, we are always available for OASIS review and/or coding.

Good luck. More later.

Ding!


A client just received their certification report and it was good but not deficiency free as they had been in the past.  The reason?  Although the risk factors for hospitalization were pulled from the OASIS assessment, they were not identified on the Plan of Care as risk factors for hospitalization.  The interventions were similarly not tied to the risk factors even though they did address them.  The DON reported that she talked to a friend at another agency and learned that the other agency had received the very same tag.  Coincidence or survey trend?  Time will tell.  For now, smart agencies will go with ‘survey trend’ as their final answer.

The Condition of Participation is §484.60(a)(2).  It reads:

(2) The individualized plan of care must include the following:

  1. All pertinent diagnoses;
  2. The patient’s mental, psychosocial, and cognitive status;
  3. The types of services, supplies, and equipment required;
  4. The frequency and duration of visits to be made;
  5. Prognosis;
  6. Rehabilitation potential;
  7. Functional limitations;
  8. Activities permitted;
  9. Nutritional requirements;
  10. All medications and treatments;
  11. Safety measures to protect against injury;
  12. A description of the patient’s risk for emergency department visits and hospital re-admission, and all necessary interventions to address the underlying risk factors.
  13. Patient and caregiver education and training to facilitate timely discharge;
  14. Patient-specific interventions and education; measurable outcomes and goals identified by the HHA and the patient;
  15. Information related to any advanced directives; and
  16. Any additional items the HHA or physician may choose to include.

This is a new requirement included in the 2018 Conditions of Participation.  It’s something that (hopefully) has been done by agencies in the past but risk factors haven’t always been labeled.  The requirement is consistent with the CMS goal of avoiding unnecessary admissions.

There are no instructions on how to do this.  Prior to the final regulations, the proposed regs suggested stratifying patients as high, medium or low risk.  That was omitted from the final rule.  From the 2018 CoPs:

While there may be benefits to establishing more inter-HHA consistency in the application of this requirement, we do not believe that those benefits would outweigh the cost of reducing HHA flexibility and innovation to determine the best possible way to achieve the overall goal of reducing unnecessary emergent care visits and hospital admissions.

The OASIS question that examines risk factors for hospitalization is M1033 reads:

(M1033) Risk for Hospitalization: Which of the following signs or symptoms characterize this patient as at risk for hospitalization? (Mark all that apply.)

  •  History of falls (2 or more falls – or any fall with an injury – in the past 12 months)
  •  Unintentional weight loss of a total of 10 pounds or more in the past 12 months
  •  Multiple hospitalizations (2 or more) in the past 6 months
  •  Multiple emergency department visits (2 or more) in the past 6 months
  •  Decline in mental, emotional, or behavioral status in the past 3 months
  • Reported or observed history of difficulty complying with any medical instructions (for example, medications, diet, exercise) in the past 3 months
  •  Currently taking 5 or more medications
  •  Currently reports exhaustion
  •  Other risk(s) not listed in 1–8
  •  None of the above

Additionally, M1036 looks at smoking, obesity, alcohol dependency and drug dependency.  There is a falls risk assessment which may score high in patients who have not fallen in the last 12 months such as those who had a recent hip replacement.  Depression is assessed and is known to impair recovery in most illnesses and conditions but is not included in the question specific for risk factors unless it has an onset within 3 months.

Some of the most dangerous risks to our patients are not captured by OASIS at all.

  • Elderly patients living alone in a rural area
  • Patients unable to afford or prepare food; may have frequent interruptions in utilities due to financial limitations.
  • Transportation or willing caregiver to pick up medications.
  • Functionally illiterate patients

It is possible that drawing in some information from OASIS might meet the condition, but it may not serve the patient.  On the other hand, it is highly unlikely that you would be hit with a survey deficiency if you included risk factors that were based on a full assessment even if they are not included in the OASIS assessment.

You won’t find many interventions to address isolation, depression and lower socioeconomic status in care pathways for other conditions, but they are equally as important for some patients as falls precautions which are ordered for pretty much everyone.  It may cost a little more but in the long run, lower hospitalization rates will correspond with higher margins.

The CoP’s mandate that care plans include patient risks for hospitalizations and Emergency Room visits and corresponding interventions to mitigate the risks.  Since you must do it, make it meaningful.

Contact us if you need help setting up a system for this or if you would have us review your careplans for you.

Home Health Denials


During January to March of this year, the top reasons for denial for Home Health Palmetto GBA claims were published on their website as listed below. They can be confusing in their meaning and so we have attempted to clarify as we understand them.  Without further ado:

56900—Medical Records not received
This has been the number one reason for denials for years. This occurs most often when an ADR is not seen in the system.  Alternatively, it is noticed too late to get records together and sent. To avoid this denial:

CGS encourages providers to use the Fiscal Intermediary Standard System (FISS) to check for MR ADRs at least once per week. To check for MR ADRs,
in the FISS system:

  1. Use Option 12
  2. Enter your NPI number and status/location of ‘S B60001’
  3. ADRs will appear as reason code 39700
  4. The ADR date is in the upper left corner.  45 days from the date of the ADR
    date the claim will auto cancel.

In addition to the above, we suggest:

  1. Uploading the documents when you are able.
  2. Mail the documents with proof of delivery requested.
  3. Track delivery.
  4. Retain copies of everything including the completed ADR.  If you sent by overnight mail five days before the due date and the records are not there two days later, you will have the opportunity to resend.
  5. Use the address and mail code on the ADR.  This is on the last page of the printed document and may differ from the return address on the first page.
  6. Print the ADR from the computer and include a copy with Your submitted documentation.

5FF2F Face to Face Requirements not Met

This should be easy by now but it’s still confusing. Our favorite cheat sheet is the PDF on CGS’s website. Additionally, we see denials that can be prevented by being mindful of the following:

  1. Regardless of the episode within the sequence of multiple episodes, the Face-to-Face document must be included even if it occurred six or more months ago.
  2.  The physician clinic visit or hospital documentation will be used to establish eligibility.
  3. If the information sent by the doctor does not clearly indicate that the patient is confined to the home or the need for skilled services, the agency can supplement the information.  Here’s how.  Send you Admission OASIS to the physician with a request to sign and date it, make a copy, file one in his records and return the copy to you.
  4. Teach everyone in the agency how to evaluate Face-to-Face documents.  You should never come into contact with one without reviewing it.

5F023 No Plan of Care

It is a rare event that an agency omits the plan of care from an ADR.  When an ADR is denied for not having the plan of care, agencies often assume that the mistake is on the part of the reviewer. Look again.  Often this means:

  1. The plan of care was not signed.
  2. The plan of care was signed by a Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant
  3. A different physician than the one listed on the plan of care signed it.
  4. The signature was not dated although there is a seperate code for this.
  5. The date of the signature was after the date of billing.

5CHG3 Partial Denial of Therapy

A reviewer will often deny visits based upon an arbitrary number of feet that a patient can walk or problems with individual notes. Because therapy adds significantly to the dollar amount of a claim, these services are an opportunity for Medicare contractors to save a few Medicare dollars at your expense. To avoid these denials:

  1. Document not only how far the patient ambulated but how they tolerated the ambulation.
  2. Take pre and post vital signs.  Document balance and gait disturbances.
  3. Always document pain and discomfort in quantitative measures.
  4. Document any complaints or new orders not related to therapy and report them to the case manager.  Follow up in writing.
  5. Most importantly, request a case conference and schedule discharge when the patient no longer needs therapy.

5FNOA – Appropriate OASIS not submitted

This code means that the OASIS was not found in the repository when the claim was billed.  Palmetto GBA explains this denial code as follows:

Under the HHPPS, an OASIS is a regulatory requirement. If the home health agency does not submit the OASIS, the medical reviewer cannot determine the medical necessity of the level of care billed and no Medicare payment can be made for those services.

Since this list was generated from 2018 claims, it is unlikely that agencies would receive this denial code in response to an ADR because they are auto-rejected upon dropping the claim.  Yet, this reason for denial is ranked fifth.  If you have received a denial for reason code 5FNOA in response to records submitted in response to an ADR, please let us know.

5T072 – No physician Orders for Services

This denial refers to services provided in excess of what the MD ordered, or services provided before an order was obtained.  This is frequently seen when a physician orders PT to evaluate the patient but there are no subsequent orders. It may also be related to the date next to the nurse’s signature on the plan of care.  Nurses new to reviewing and signing plans of care will often date their signature with the date that the document was signed instead of the verbal SOC date.

To prevent this denial:

  1. If possible (and it should be possible), include therapy frequency on the plan of care.
  2. Consider amending your standard therapy contract to state that the agency will not pay for unauthorized visits.
  3. If the therapist includes the frequency and goals on the evaluation and that is signed by the MD, make a second copy to include with orders when an ADR is received.
  4. Educate and spot check the POCs of new case managers.  If a plan of care is not complete by the first day of the episode and the nurse contemporaneously dates his signature, all days prior to the date indicated are not billable as there are no signed orders.
  5. The same signature and dating rules apply to MD signatures on interim orders.
  6. The correct way to write an order that was received earlier is:
    1. Date the document on the day it was written
    2. Begin the order with, ‘Effective on (the date you received the order)
    3. Date your signature when you signed the document.

5F041-Information does not support medical necessity

This denial is listed twice with the same code.  It is also the easiest one to avoid when clinicians understand and appreciate the importance of their documentation. To avoid this denial:

  1. Read and distribute chapter 7 of the Medicare Beneficiary Coverage Manual.  Review specific topics at case conference.
  2. As much as possible document in the home.  Some patients complain that the nurse spends too much time focusing on the computer.  To prevent that, as you are finishing up, ask the patient if you can sit and document before you leave.  That way, you are not taking your attention away from the patient and if you forgot anything, you are still in the home.
  3. Display some clinical notes that are truly impressive as examples.
  4. Turn off the ability to cut and paste if duplicate notes by a nurse are found.
  5. Read The Z-Factor on the Haydel Consulting Services blog.
  6. If your job is to review notes, focus on what is important. Medicare does not pay for spelling and grammar and there is little virtue in embarrassing your nurses.  Focus on the contents of chapter 7.

Remember that the best reason to document is to communicate the condition of the patient to other clinicians.  You don’t have the luxury of shift change report.

5T070 – Visits/Supplies/DME Billed Not Documented/Not Documented As Used

Although this code includes visits, supplies and DME, Palmetto GBA’s explanation of this denial appears to be limited to visits.

The services(s) billed (was/were) not documented in the medical records submitted in response to the Additional Development Request (ADR). As a result, medical necessity for these services could not be determined.

It looks very similar to a denial for medical necessity.  Palmetto GBA advises:

To avoid unnecessary denials for this reason, the provider should ensure that adequate documentation is submitted to substantiate the medical necessity for all the services billed when responding to an ADR. The provider may submit discipline visit notes and/or a summary of the services rendered for the billing period. If a summary is submitted, it should include the following: (1) the information for the dates of service billed, (2) documentation of the services that “were rendered” by each discipline billed, (3) documentation of the patient’s condition, and (4) documentation of the patient’s progress/response to the treatments/services rendered.

This information appears to be outdated as visit notes are specified in the list of documentation required for ADRs. Our advice is to:

  1. Ensure that the recert and therapy evaluation are included if they were performed prior to the starting date of the episode.
  2. Include lab and other diagnostic tests that substantiate a diagnosis even if is not included in the episode.

5A301 Info Provided Does Not Support the M/N for Therapy Services

The same information that applied to the partial denial for therapy services also applies here so we won’t be redundant and repeat it here.

We hope you don’t need help with appealing denials but we are here for you if you do and to answer any questions about denials you might have received.  We would also appreciate any input if you have anything to add, especially about the denial for OASIS and the denial for Visits/Supplies/DME Billed Not Documented/Not Documented As Used.  Email us at TheCoders@hhcoding.com.

Don’t Archive Your Agency


When the list of documentation required by AdvanceMed  for UPIC audits included a complete Medicare census, we were confused; or rather, we thought they were confused. Surely they can get their own lists based on any number of databases.
A report by the Office of the Inspector General reveals they are not confused. The OIG has noted that 9 of 28 agencies reviewed had discrepancies between Medicare data derived from claims and Casper and the list provided to surveyors at the time of state survey. It is this list that surveyors use to choose patient’s and they were not inclusive of all patients Medicare has on their lists.
Occasionally a difference of one or two patients can be explained. Many times a ‘missing’ patient is a typo -sloppy but not fraud. Changing out computer systems can be messy. Yet, when an agency presents a list to surveyors that is 150 patients light, equal to 90 percent of their patients, a very bad outcome is lurking on the horizon. Active patient lists that are incomplete ensure that absent patients are not visited by surveyors. In some cases, patients were omitted from the unduplicated census resulting in surveyors being unaware that the patient existed.
The OIG has arrived at the conclusion that while there are many possible reasons for these omissions, some agencies might be deliberately trying to avoid scrutiny for the omitted patients. Honestly, do you feel just a sorry for the OIG because they are only just now arriving at this conclusion?
The OIG also noted that patients were discharged from one agency on the day that the roster was requested by surveyors eliminating them from the ‘active patient’ list. These same patients were readmitted later in the year with no intervening events or claims from other providers such as hospitals, rehab facilities or other home health agencies. There are references a prior report that found frequent discharges and readmissions were often characteristic of fraudulent agencies.
The OIG suggests a couple of possible solutions to ensure that the list given surveyors has not been manipulated by the agency.
  • Instead of using an agency provided list, arm surveyors with a claims list provided by CMS
  • Spot check by asking an aide or a nurse about their patients and determine if all of those patients are on the agency provided lists.
  • Monitor the person in the agency who is running the list from the computer. Doesn’t this sound like fun for both the surveyor and the agency?
  • Conduct a retrospective review post survey using Medicare claims or Casper data.
Obviously you are not going to manipulate patient lists but it will instill confidence in surveyors if you are able to provide accurate information in a short period of time. Because surveys are unscheduled, multiple people should be trained to:
  • Run an active patient list
  • Run an unduplicated census (list of all patients regardless of the number of times they have been admitted. Each patient will be listed only once).
  • Run a duplicated census (the name of every admission regardless of whether the patient has been admitted more than once. This list is longer than the unduplicated census list.)
  • Speak intelligently about any potential flaws in your data and offer a work around. (Your biller should be able to provide a list of RAPs dropped or a referral log from the computer)
I know that agencies have rushed to ‘archive’ records of patients that who don’t have anything good to say about the agency and records that might be train wrecks due to documentation errors or poor care. Surveyors are very much aware that these patients exist. All agencies have at least one or two.
Unless care is egregious, state surveyors will allow the agency to provide a corrective action plan. If the deficiency is a repeat or widespread throughout the agency, you may be subject to financial sanctions and a hold on admissions until corrections are implemented and verified by the state agency.  It’s embarrassing to be certain but rarely fatal.
If you provide false information to the surveyors, you have crossed a line into a whole new level of non-compliance. Your Provider Agreement has been violated and you are at risk for losing your agency’s license or worse. And yes, there are consequences worse than being shut down because you have no license to operate.
Most agencies want to do the right thing. Knowing that the agency down the street with patients who do not need care or are not homebound and yet has a perfect survey while your agency has five or six deficiencies has been known to boil the blood of nurses but at least they know where to focus attention.
The agency that hides patients from surveyors now has a very real chance of being caught.  Depending on how patient lists are compared, it may take a while, too, contributing to insomnia.  If you have archived patients to avoid scrutiny, consider keeping a current passport handy. This could be fun.