CMS Woes: Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPICs) Criticized for Oversight in Fraud Investigations

Thursday, October 5, 2017
By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPIC) are private companies or business entities, that have contracted with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Their purpose is to carry out certain functions related to auditing for possible fraud, that Medicare regional carriers (now called Medicare Administrative Contractors or "MACs") performed in the past.  They are specifically charged by CMS to data mine, identify, and investigate potentially fraudulent behavior in Medicare providers.

Because of this, health care providers that receive a letter from the ZPIC often see it as a potential death sentence, and certainly an eye-opening event, because it involves investigating for fraudulent activity. However, in recent years CMS has been criticized about its oversight (actually, lack of oversight) of these fraud-detection contractors.


Taking a Closer Look at the ZPIC.

ZPIC audit letters are required to comply with regulations and guidelines established by CMS when it comes to making additional documentation requests (ADRs) for pre-payment and post-payment reviews, initiation of Medicare suspension of payments and other areas for which they have authority to investigate under the direction of CMS.

Studies have found many failures of their obligations to comply with guidelines and regulations adopted by CMS and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). There has been so much concern over their borderline "unethical behavior" and violations of Medicare regulations that the United States Senate Committee on Finance, as well as the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of HHS, have both issued scathing reports on them. These reports often warn against what they see as destructive and harmful behavior toward physician practices and smaller medical businesses.

In 2012 a report was issued at the request of the Senate Finance Committee and included the following quote:  "CMS and its contractors often cultivate an environment of mistrust and suspicion that all providers of certain services are inherently fraudulent. The sentiment is widely shared by anyone that has worked with CMS contractors in the area of program integrity and a similar environment is probable within the CMS Program Integrity Group. This type of environment leads investigators, contractors, and CMS to pursue providers in an aggressive manner, sometimes unfairly, based on little evidence or collaboration of any wrongdoing."

According to the OIG:  “Often the ZPIC contractors have had no experience in the areas of fraud and abuse for which they should be accountable. The result is a loss to CMS of fraud and abuse funds and providers, many of which are small - medium sized businesses, are forced to spend thousands of dollars to address unfounded audits and investigations.”

To read the OIG report to Congress in full, click here.
For additional articles and documents on ZPIC, click here.


What To Do If You Are Notified of a ZPIC Audit.


When a physician, medical group or other health care provider receives a notice of an audit and site visit from a ZPIC, things happen fast with little opportunity to prepare. A ZPIC will routinely fax a letter to the practice shortly before the end of a business day the day before a site visit/audit to that practice. Auditors will request to inspect the premises, will photograph all rooms, equipment, furniture, and diplomas on walls. They will usually request copies of several patient records to review later. They will request copies of practice policies and procedures, treatment protocols, all staff licenses and certifications, drug formularies, medications prescribed, and medications used in the office. ZPIC auditors will inspect any medication/narcotic lockers or storage cabinets and will request drug/medication invoices and inventories. You will usually be contacted for follow-up information and documentation after the audit and will eventually be provided a report and, possibly, a demand for repayment of any detected overpayments.

For a checklist on what to do after you receive initial notification of a ZPIC audit, read our two-part blog. Click here for part one and click here for part two.


Don't Wait Until It's Too Late; Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Medicare and Medicaid Issues Now.

 
The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S. They also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.

For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.


Additional Sources:


Waesch, Amanda; Cohen, Frank and Weiss, Sean. “The Truth about ZPICs - Why Oversight is Needed.” Brennan Manna & Diamond Law firm. (August 29, 2017). Web.

Carlson, Joe. “Review notes ZPIC oversight woes.” Modern Healthcare. (November 14, 2011). Web.


About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.


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“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

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10/5/2017

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