OIG: “Extremely High” Prescription Drug Retail Pharmacy Billings Warrant Tighter Medicare Part D Oversight & Controls


The Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) is recommending a “strong response” to improve Medicare Part D oversight of retail pharmacy prescriptions by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) based on findings of a recent study.  See hereOIG says that  “extremely high” prescription drug billings by many retail pharmacies merit scrutiny under medical necessity or other grounds.    In anticipation of tighter controls, retail pharmacies, as well as the physician and other providers prescribing medications for Medicare Part D participants should review and tighten prescribing and billing practices to position their actions to withstand anticipated challenge in response to the OIG recommendations.

Under the Medicare Part D program, CMS contracts with private insurance companies, known as sponsors, to provide prescription drug coverage to beneficiaries who choose to enroll.  According to OIG, OIG has issued several reports that OIG has found that Part D had limited safeguards in place in the 6 years since Part D began.

In response to these concerns, OIG recently conducted a study based on an analysis of prescription drug event records.  Sponsors submit these records to CMS for each drug dispensed to beneficiaries enrolled in their plans.  Each record contains information about the pharmacy, prescriber, beneficiary, and drug.  OIG analyzed all of the records for drugs billed by retail pharmacies in 2009 and developed eight measures to describe Part D billing and to identify pharmacies with questionable billing.

Based on this study, OIG reports that retail pharmacies each billed Part D an average of nearly $1 million for prescriptions in 2009. According to OIG, the study revealed “questionable billing” by more than 2,600 of these pharmacies.  OIG reports that these pharmacies had ‘extremely high billing” for at least one of the eight measures developed and applied by OIG   For example, many pharmacies billed what OIG characterized as “extremely high” dollar amounts or numbers of prescriptions per beneficiary or per prescriber.  The Miami, Los Angeles, and Detroit areas were the most likely to have pharmacies with questionable billing.

Although OIG concedes that some of this billing may be legitimate, OIG believes that pharmacies that bill for extremely high amounts warrant further scrutiny The OIG report expresses concern that these high dollar prescription drug billings could mean that a pharmacy is billing for drugs that are not medically necessary or were never provided to the beneficiary.

Accordingly, OIG is recommending that CMS:  (1) strengthen the Medicare Drug Integrity Contractor’s monitoring of pharmacies and ability to find pharmacies for further review, (2) provide additional guidance to sponsors on monitoring pharmacy billing, (3) require sponsors to refer potential fraud and abuse incidents that may warrant further investigation, (4) develop risk scores for pharmacies, (5) further strengthen its compliance plan audits, and (6) follow up on the pharmacies identified as having questionable billing.  CMS concurred with four of the recommendations and partially concurred with the other two.

Private health plans and other payers are likely to check the study to decide whether it provides justification for closer scrutiny of prescription drug claims made to private payers. 

Whether or not private health plans follow suit, retail pharmacies and other providers should expect that CMS will increase scrutiny and challenges of prescription drug charges submitted to Medicare Part D.  Accordingly, retail pharmacies and the physician and other providers prescribing medications likely to be billed should tighten documentation and other procedures to defend against possible medical necessity and other challenges. 

For Help or More Information

If you need help these or other concerns, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials concerning regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns. 

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern Health Care and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For important information concerning this communication click here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TOU.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  All rights reserved.


[*] See 26 CFR 54.9815-2715, 29 CFR 2590.715-2715, and 45 CFR 147.200, published February 14, 2012 at 77 FR 8668.

[†] See FAQS About Affordable Care Act

Implementation (Part VIII) at http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/pdf/faq-aca8.pdf.

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