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.

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Medicare’s Pre-Claim Review Demonstration Project


Imagine if every one of your Face-to-Face documents and plans of care were scrutinized prior to payment.  Would 90 percent of them be found compliant with existent rules?  If a non-clinical person determined that your documentation did not meet Medicare coverage guidelines, would you take their word over your nurses’?  How would you feel about submitting a perfectly valid claim for eligible services and being paid 25% less than your peers?

Agencies in Illinois do not have to use their imagination.  It is already happening through the Pre-Claim Review process.  This process involves submitting plans of care, face to face documents, physician and hospital notes and sometimes more to Palmetto prior to dropping a claim for ‘affirmation’.  Once affirmed, a secret code is given to the agency which is placed on the claim. Without the code, final claims are reduced by 25 percent.

And while Medicare is reporting a 90 percent ‘affirmation’ rate, it does not report that there were over 80,000 RAPs submitted compared to 23,000 final claims.  Agencies are apparently reluctant to submit their pre-claim review documentation.

Because a RaP will be taken back after 120 days if not answered by a final claim, I expect that many agencies are going to drop an enormous number of claims in the coming weeks which means the number of pre-claim reviews will far exceed that ever imagined by Palmetto, GBA.  Maybe Palmetto really can process an additional 60k reviews without any interruption in services to the rest of us.  Maybe; but I doubt it.

In April, Florida will come on board.  Texas, Michigan and Massachusetts will follow at undetermined dates.

Agencies in states other than Illinois might not be impressed with all this stuff and nothing.  They are busy with the changes to the OASIS data set, the impending Conditions of Participation and perhaps their own audits or surveys.  Hopefully they will take pause and consider the magnitude of this demonstration project to understand the egregious nature of this intrusive and burdensome little project taken on by Medicare.

The new conditions of participation expected in July of this year explain that the prior Conditions focused on identifying agencies with poor performance.  The updated Conditions of Participation take a much-needed step away from this punitive approach.  As written in the new regulations:

Ensuring quality through the enforcement of prescriptive health and safety standards, rather than improving the quality of care for all patients, has resulted in expending much of our resources on dealing with marginal providers, rather than on stimulating broad-based improvements in the quality of care delivered to all patients.  

There is nothing about the Pre-Claim Review process that stimulates broad-based improvements in healthcare.   How could the Pre-Claim Review Project be so far removed from the intent of the home health Conditions of Participation?

Consider that the demonstration project is resulting in difficulty meeting the educational demands in Illinois and that resources have already been relocated from Florida to Illinois.  Do agencies in other states have the same access to education as the agencies under pre-pay review?

According to the Medicare Pre-Claim Review Q & A:

The demonstration establishes a pre-claim review process for home health services to assist in developing improved procedures for the investigation and prosecution of Medicare fraud occurring among Home Health Agencies providing services to Medicare beneficiaries.

Nobody can deny that a small number of agencies operate without any regard to Medicare rules and only a passing acquaintance with ethics.  This inconvenient acknowledgment of fraud amongst the ranks does not justify excessive scrutiny on 100 percent of providers.  Somehow it does not seem fair to involve home care agencies in a demonstration project designed to enhance their prosecution.

And yet, agencies who fail to submit documentation for a Pre-Claim Review are put on a 100 percent review – a level of scrutiny previously reserved for agencies operating far outside of Medicare rules for an extended period.

The documentation required for a pre-claim review is reviewed for clerical errors and dare I say, elements that cannot be established with limited documentation by reviewers who are not nurses.  The reason for denial given most often per Palmetto GBA is lack of medical necessity.  We see care plans daily that are very poorly crafted supported by excellent nursing and therapy notes.  Conversely, we see plans of care worthy of a Pulitzer prize supported by 9 visit notes at weekly intervals documenting that a skilled nurse taught meds – presumably meds ordered for the patient but who knows?  Nobody asked us if it was possible to determine Medical Necessity without a complete review of the chart.

In the same vein, we see homebound status documented on visit notes that is contradictory to plans of care.  In one recent chart, we found that a patient was shopping weekly.  On another, a therapist documented the patient was driving.  Sufficient documentation on a plan of care that a patient meets the homebound criteria does not make it so.

But, the reviewers are also quick to note when a signature is not dated or the date of encounter is omitted from the Face-to-Face encounter document.  I agree that dates are an important step towards compliance but lack of a date is often nothing more than an oversight; not a tell-tale sign of fraud on behalf of the agency, especially since it is the physician who responsible for the dates.  If this keeps up, the federal prisons will be filled with healthcare providers who forgot to date a couple of documents.

The burden to the agency is extensive.  On a recent CMS conference call, many agencies reported that the PCR process was costing them $25,000.00 per month.  Another agency stated it was taking them about an hour per claim.  Even if these estimates are overstated, they are still far above Medicare’s estimation that it would take minimal time and expense to get the pre-claim reviews submitted.

If Tom Price is confirmed as the new secretary of HHS, there may be some relief but the Georgia representative will oversee 13 different agencies including CMS, the CDC, the FDA, National Institutes of Health and more.  While he has been outspoken against the Pre-Claim Review Process as a senator it is hard to imagine that the Pre-Claim Review process will find its way to the top of his priority list upon confirmation.

So, who benefits from this circus?  Is Palmetto being honest when they say the project is going well?  Are our patients happier and healthier because of frantic efforts to assemble and transmit paperwork?  Could the resources being consumed by The Pre-Claim Review project be put to better use?  What can you do?

I can only provide an answer for the last question.  The first thing you should do is to contact your elected officials in Washington.  After that, get your care plans and Face-to-Face documents in order because there is now an abundance of reviewers at Palmetto who are fluent at reviewing (and finding cause to deny) them.  If you are in Illinois and have claims that you believe are non-affirmed due to incompetent reviewers at Palmetto, contact NAHC.  Under no circumstances do we recommend ignoring the Pre-Claim Review Process because your state is not in the demonstration project.

Many Thanks to Tim Rowan, founder of the Home Care Technology Report. who has extensively and  investigated the Pre-Claim Review process and its effect on providers.  His articles are linked within the content of this post and you can find additional information on his website.

And of course we want your comments and questions.  You can leave a comment here or email us with questions.  We particularly want to hear from Illinois agencies (after you contact your elected officials).

Targeted for ADRs


Every so often, Palmetto posts a list of the claims that will be of interest to them on their website. This is the list that was published on August 4.

Note the last letter of the HIPPS code. The letter ‘L’ indicates 16 – 17 therapy visits and the dreaded ‘K’ means that 20 or more therapy visits are scheduled. Only one of the edits is for therapy below 14 visits. In that edit, Palmetto GBA is looking for the lowest clinical and functional scores together with therapy.

Palmetto is asking why a patient who appears to be clinically stable and can walk, talk, bathe, transfer and dress themselves needs any therapy. It’s a good question. There could be a perfectly legitimate explanation but if it is not documented well, you are looking at a denial.

Pretty much all episodes with 20 or more therapy visits are being scrutinized. These are the expensive claims and people who are ‘gaming’ the system will often use high utilization as a method to do so. This does NOT mean that a patient should not receive 20 therapy visits if needed. For most agencies, these episodes will be few and far between.

16 and 17 visits are very profitable as well even if the dollar amount is not the same. The profit starts to drop off at 18 and 19 visits until 20 visits are made.

All clinical documentation should support the services billed but in an agency where staff is limited or compromised at time of billing, claims with these HIPPS codes might be prioritized for review prior to dropping claims.

1BGP* 0 – 13 Visits, Lowest Scores in the Clinical and Functional Domains and Maximum Score in the Service Domain
2BGL* 16-17 Therapy Visits, Moderate Score on the Clinical Domain and Moderate Score on the Functional Domain
2CGL* 16-17 Therapy Visits, High Score on the Clinical Domain and Moderate Score on the Functional Domain
2CHL* 16-17 Therapy Visits, High Score on Clinical Domain, High Score on Functional Domain
5AFK* 20 or More Therapy Visits, Low Score on the Clinical Domain and Low Score on the Functional Domain
5AGK* 20 or More Therapy Visits, Low Score on the Clinical Domain and Moderate Score on the Functional Domain
5AHK* 20 or More Therapy Visits, Low Score on the Clinical Domain and High Score on the Functional Domain
5BFK* 20 or More Therapy Visits, Moderate Score on the Clinical Domain and Low Score on the Functional Domain
5BGK* 20 or More Therapy Visits, Moderate Score on the Clinical Domain and Moderate Score on the Functional Domain
5CGK* 20 or More Therapy Visits, High Score on the Clinical Domain and Moderate Score on the Functional Domain
5CHK* 20 or More Therapy Visits, High Score on the Clinical Domain and High Score on the Functional Domain
All Aggregate Length of Stay and Disbursement/Beneficiary
All Home Health Services