Revenue Cycle

CMS clarifies RAC exception authority

Recovery Auditor Report, October 1, 2009

By Debbie Mackaman, RHIA, CHCO, regulatory specialist for HCPro, Inc.
On September 11, CMS published Transmittal 302 that updated the Program Integrity Manual on Local Coverage Determination (LCD) exceptions. When specific authorized contractors conduct a complex medical review, they have the authority (in rare and unusual circumstances) to apply an exception to the “reasonable and necessary” requirements described in an LCD to approve or deny a claim. However, they cannot make exceptions to National Coverage Determinations (NCD). In addition, and unless otherwise directed by CMS, RACs can only use the exceptions process to not deny a claim. This is a good time to review the difference between a national and a local coverage determination policy.
NCDs are coverage policies created by CMS for an item or service to be applied on a national basis for all Medicare beneficiaries. NCDs help ensure that access to advances in technologies that may improve healthcare are available to Medicare beneficiaries when those items and services are “reasonable and necessary for the diagnosis or treatment of illness or injury or to improve the functioning of a malformed body member”. However, NCDs may also be used to bar payment for specific items or services that are not “reasonable and necessary”.
LCDs are determinations made by a fiscal intermediary, carrier, or Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) in regards to whether or not a particular item or service is covered on an intermediary-, carrier-, or MAC-wide basis. LCDs specify the circumstances under which a service is generally considered to be “reasonable and necessary” to assist providers in submitting correct claims for payment. Medicare contractors develop LCDs when there is no NCD or when there is a need to further define an NCD. The contractors must make sure that all LCDs are consistent with all statutes, rulings, regulations, and national coverage, payment, and coding policies. In addition, codes describing what is covered and what is not covered can be part of the LCD; however, coding guidelines are not elements of LCDs.
It will be important for providers to understand where to locate and how to use an NCD and/or LCD during the RAC review and appeal processes. Important information on draft, current and retired NCDs can be found on the CMS Web site (or via the MedicareFind database). CMS requires all draft, final (active), and retired LCD information to be posted to each contractor’s Web site.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the September 22 issue of Medicare Weekly Update. For more information or to subscribe, click here.

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