Archive for Management

Don’t Forget Your Risk Assessments!

Don’t Forget Your Risk Assessments!

Many medical practices are planning their Security Risk Assessments for the new year. Whether to better qualify for the 2019 Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) or to fulfill obligations to comply with the HIPAA Security Rule, a strong strategy now will reap benefits later. It’s a good time to remember what is required when conducting a Security Risk Assessment, as there tends to be confusion around what the Risk Assessment should include.

Here are some helpful reminders as we move through the first quarter of the year:

It’s Not Just a Checklist. A proper Security Risk Assessment is a thorough process where a covered entity under HIPAA should identify, prioritize and estimate the risks to practice operations resulting from the use of or implementation of a specific technology. Once the risks are identified, a plan of mitigation should be created that provides a roadmap for ongoing risk management.

Don’t Just Focus on EMR. While your EMR system, and the safeguards in place to protect EMR data, should absolutely be part of the Risk Assessment process, time should also be spent analyzing and assessing the risk to protected data that sits outside the EMR system. Identify the ePHI in the practice that resides outside the EMR application (e.g. files stored on users’ personal computers, data stored in ancillary systems, copiers and scanners, etc.) and assess the risk associated with this data as part of the assessment.

No Specific Methodology Required. While OCR has provided practices with guidance regarding the Security Risk Assessment Requirement, there is no mandatory process or method by which a practice must follow to comply with the requirement. However, most security professionals recommend following accepted industry frameworks, such as those provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Revisit Previous Risk Assessments to Show Progress. When conducting a new Security Risk Assessment, review past analysis and make an effort to document progress made with regards to risk mitigation. As the spirit of the Security Rule has always been to encourage covered entities to use the Risk Assessment as a starting point for ongoing Risk Management, documenting progress made will show the practice doesn’t simply consider the Assessment a rote exercise but a vital part of managing and mitigating risk on an ongoing basis.

You Don’t Have to Outsource Your Security Risk Assessment. OCR is very quick to point out there is no requirement, neither in the Security Rule nor under MIPS, for covered-entities to outsource their Security Risk Assessment. In fact, OCR has published a free, downloadable tool that practices can use to help with efforts to fulfill requirements (https://www.healthit.gov/topic/security-risk-assessment-tool). However, OCR does go out of its way to explain the time commitment and skillset required to adequately evaluate and utilize the tool, and encourages all covered-entities to seek professional assistance when considering using these resources to self-perform the Security Risk Assessment.

A thorough Security Risk Assessment must stand up to an auditor or investigator, especially in the event of a security incident. A lack of proper Risk Analysis is cited in many investigative findings that have also carried large financial penalties. Take the time to consider how your practice will approach the Security Risk Assessment in 2019, and consider it as an opportunity to genuinely look at where you might be vulnerable and how the Assessment can be used as a springboard for true Risk Management.

References:

https://www.healthit.gov/topic/privacy-security/security-risk-assessment-tool

https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Quality-Payment-Program/Resource-Library/2018-Cost-Performance-Category-Fact-Sheet.pdf

https://www.healthit.gov/topic/privacy-security/top-10-myths-security-risk-analysis

Nic Cofield is Director of Client Services with Jackson Thornton Technologies LLC (JTT). JTT is one of the Southeast’s leading providers of managed IT services, cybersecurity services/consulting and IT Risk Assessments to health care providers. JTT is wholly owned by Jackson Thornton CPAs & Consultants, which is a partner with the Medical Association.

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The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: How It Still Affects You

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: How It Still Affects You

Editor’s Note: This article is a follow-up to The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act – How Will It Affect YOU? published in the Winter 2018 issue.

On Aug. 8, the IRS issued proposed regulations for the newly created Section 199A 20 Percent Qualified Business Income (QBI) deduction. 199A has been one of the most talked about aspects of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act since its passage last December. This provision of the act was included in the tax reform bill in an attempt to give pass-through entities (such as partnerships, LLCs and S corporations) and sole proprietorships similar tax savings that were provided to C Corporations (C Corp tax rates were reduced from a high of 35 percent to a flat 21 percent). The new 20 percent QBI deduction is effective for the 2018 tax year through 2025.

Although the new tax deduction is generous, the structure of the deduction is complicated with many limits, phase-ins, and phase-outs. Whether or not you will be able to take the deduction depends upon many factors, the key being your personal taxable income. Other factors include wages paid by the practice, the value of business property, nature of income, etc.

Physicians are especially impacted by limits on the deduction since the income is earned from what the law labels as a “Specified Service Trade or Business” (SSTB).

What is a Specified Service Trade or Business (SSTB)?

Most unincorporated business owners, partners and S Corporation shareholders benefit from the 199A deduction. However, Congress precludes some higher-income business owners from taking the deduction if the income is earned from an SSTB.

An SSTB is a trade or business involving the performance of services in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, investing and investment management, trading, dealing in certain assets or any trade or business where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of one or more of its employees. Per IRS regulations:

The term “performance of services in the field of health” means the provision of medical services by physicians, pharmacists, nurses, dentists, veterinarians, physical therapists, psychologists and other similar health care professionals who provide medical services directly to a patient. The performance of services in the field of health does not include the provision of services not directly related to a medical field, even though the services may purportedly relate to the health of the service recipient. For example, the performance of services in the field of health does not include the operation of health clubs or health spas that provide physical exercise or conditioning to their customers, payment processing, or research, testing and manufacture and/or sales of pharmaceuticals or medical devices.

Based on this definition, physician practices are considered SSTBs, and therefore, limits apply on the available deduction.

How does the deduction work?

The QBI deduction is based off “pass-through income,” income reported on a Schedule K-1 earned from partnerships, LLCs and S Corporations or if a sole proprietor, what is reported on Schedule C of Form 1040 individual income tax return. Wages reported on a W2 or guaranteed payments paid to partners do not qualify as QBI. It excludes any investment-related items, such as interest, dividends or capital gains or losses from the sale of property. The maximum deduction available is 20 percent of QBI.

Although the deduction is calculated based on income earned from a trade or business (i.e. – the physician practice), the actual amount of the deduction is dependent on the taxable income of the individual. Most physicians with taxable income over $415,000 filing a joint return will be hard-pressed to qualify for the deduction. As such, it is possible for a large group practice to have some physicians qualify for a QBI deduction and some not qualify when there is a large variation in income among the owners.

The deduction itself is claimed on Form 1040 individual income tax return. Form 1040 will include a new line for the deduction in arriving at taxable income.

How do I know if I qualify to take the deduction?

The deduction is fairly simple and straightforward for individuals with married filing joint taxable income of $315,000 or less ($157,500 or less if filing single). Those taxpayers receive the full 20 percent QBI deduction. Above those taxable income amounts, the 20 percent QBI deduction becomes subject to a tangled web of limitations, phase-ins, and phase-outs. Individuals with income from SSTBs (i.e. physician practices) are subject to even more limitations that, depending on the individual’s taxable income, quickly eliminate the 20 percent deduction altogether.

Let’s first examine the limits applicable to both service and non-service businesses alike once taxable income exceeds the limits noted above. The 20 percent qualified business income deduction is limited by the greater of:

  • 50 percent of W2 wages paid by the qualifying business or
  • 25 percent of W2 wages paid plus 2.5 percent of unadjusted basis of all qualified property.

These limits are phased in for joint filers with taxable income greater than $315,000 but less than $415,000 ($157,500 / $207,500 for non-joint filers) and result in a reduced 1991A QBI deduction.

In addition to the above limits, the ability to take the 199A QBI deduction for individuals with pass-through income from a SSTB is completely lost once individual taxable income exceeds $207,500 if filing single or $415,000 if filing joint. Phase out begins at $157,500 filing single and $315,000 filing joint.

The chart at the bottom of this section summarizes the various limitations, phase-ins and phase-outs for both SSTBs and non-SSTBs.

To illustrate, assume Dr. A is a sole practitioner who files a joint return. Her practice is organized as a single-member LLC. The qualified business income as reported on Schedule C of Dr. A’s 1040 is $240,000 after wages paid to staff of $195,000. Dr. A and her husband’s taxable income for the year is $295,000.

In this example, Dr. A’s tentative 20 percent deduction is $48,000 ($240,000 QBI* 20 percent). Since Dr. A’s overall taxable income is less than $315,000, she is able to take the full deduction of $48,000 since neither the W2 phase-in limit nor the SSTB phase-out limit applies.

But what if Dr. A’s taxable income is over the $415,000 limit noted above? Since the medical practice is considered a SSTB and income is over the allowed threshold, Dr. A is not allowed to take any amount as a QBI deduction.

It is important to note 199A generally requires taxpayers to identify QBI on a business-by-business basis. Physicians who own interests in other non-SSTB pass-through entities may still qualify for a 199A deduction for that trade or business.

IRS Anti-Abuse Regulations

Various planning strategies have been considered by physicians and their advisors on how to avoid the SSTB limitation. Some of these strategies became known as “crack and pack,” which involved splitting a practice into separate legal entities to isolate non-medical activities to qualify for some amount of deduction. One of the entities would provide the medical services and the other entity would lease office space, provide billing services, or various other administrative functions.

However, the regulations issued by the IRS contain various anti-abuse provisions – one of which significantly limits the ability to segregate activities among various entities when there is common ownership among the entities solely to qualify for the 199A QBI deduction. The proposed regulations state if any trade or business provides 80 percent or more of its property or services to an SSTB, and if that other trade or business and the SSTB share 50 percent or more common ownership, then that other business is considered an SSTB too. For purposes of this anti-abuse rule, ownership is both direct and indirect ownership by related parties.

It is a common practice for various components of a physician practice to be held in separate entities, often for legal protection and tax planning. One such example is real-estate held in a separate entity and rented to the practice. This is still acceptable; the anti-abuse regulations just prohibit taking a 199A QBI deduction in such circumstances.

The regs contain various other anti-abuse provisions, such as treating non-SSTB’s as an SSTB if they share expenses/overhead with a 50 percent commonly owned SSTB. In addition, there will be increased scrutiny over changes in classification between employee versus independent contractor or partner/shareholder status due to the impact on qualifying for the 199A QBI deductions. Physicians should consult with their attorney/tax advisor prior to making any such changes in an attempt to take a 199A QBI deduction.

Planning Opportunities

Although not every physician will be able to take advantage of the new 20 percent QBI deduction, the Tax Reform and Jobs Act still provides numerous other tax breaks, such as an overall reduction in individual income tax rates, elimination of some itemized deduction limitations, increased depreciation deductions, etc. For those physicians under the SSTB thresholds noted above, now is the time to time to consult with your tax advisor to ensure optimization of the 199A QBI deduction.

  • Physicians under the SSTB threshold should review and evaluate the following items and discuss with their tax advisor and attorney:
  • Whether he or she is operating the practice in the most appropriate entity form to qualify/maximize the 20 percent QBI deduction.
  • Partners in a partnership currently receiving guaranteed payments should consider revising their partnership agreements and taking draws instead to increase QBI and the corresponding 20 percent deduction.
  • For S Corporations, review compensation agreements and ensure a reasonable compensation is paid for services provided (not QBI), and pay the remainder of income as a distribution (does qualify for QBI).

In Summary

This summary merely scratches the surface of the 199A 20 percent QBI deduction and was written in the context of physician practices. Although the regulations are still in proposed form and not expected to be finalized until later this year, the Department of the Treasury has provided sufficient insight and interpretation of the law to plan for its implementation.

Executive Summary

  • The new 20 percent QBI deduction is based on pass-through income earned from partnerships, S-Corps, LLC’s or sole proprietorships.
  • W2 wages/guaranteed payments do not qualify as QBI.
  • Deduction will be claimed on Form 1040 individual tax return.
  • Claiming the deduction will be difficult, if not impossible to claim for physicians with taxable income over $207,500 if filing single or $415,000 if married filing joint unless there are sources of income from other non-SSTB pass-through entities.
  • Newly issued IRS anti-abuse regulations limit the ability to split apart practice into various entities to isolate non-medical activities in order to take the deduction.
  • Physicians earning under the above thresholds should meet with their tax advisor and attorney now to maximize potential deductions for 2018.

Mark Baker is a Principal with Jackson Thornton CPA’s and Consultants in Montgomery, Ala. He may be reached by calling (334) 834-7660 or email Mark.Baker@JacksonThornton.com. Jackson Thornton is an official partner with the Medical Association.

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Protecting One of Your Most Valuable Assets – Your Employees

Protecting One of Your Most Valuable Assets – Your Employees

Several studies show that the total cost of losing an employee can range from tens of thousands of dollars to 150 percent of the employee’s annual salary. There are also the “soft costs” of losing an employee, including lost productivity and lower employee morale if the practice incurs high turnover rates. According to a survey by the Medical Group Management Association, 50 percent of respondents reported that clinical support staff positions, such as nurses and clinical assistants, had the most turnover. When these employees leave a medical practice, they may also take with them valuable, confidential information, including patient lists, fee schedules and vendor contracts.

From a legal (and practical) standpoint, it is very difficult to prevent an employee from leaving a medical practice, but you can implement several strategies to limit the adverse impact.

First, for certain “high-level” employees, the practice can require each employee to sign a non-compete agreement. A typical non-compete agreement would prevent the departing employee from working in a competing business for a certain period of time within a designated area. For a non-compete to be enforceable in Alabama it must be reasonable as to geographic scope (e.g., the service area of the medical practice) and as to duration (e.g., up to two years is presumed reasonable). Further, the non-compete must serve to protect the practice’s “protectable interests,” which includes the practice’s confidential information (e.g., pricing and patient lists and vendor information) and specialized training provided by the practice to its employees. A non-compete should only be used for employees that hold a position “uniquely essential” to the management, organization or service of the practice. Accordingly, a properly drafted non-compete for an administrator or other high-level employees should be enforceable, but a non-compete should not be used, for example, with a receptionist. Further, in Alabama non-compete agreements cannot be used with professionals, which have been defined by the courts to include physicians and physical therapists. Other clinicians that exercise independent, clinical judgment may also fall within this “professional exemption.”

Second, each employee (or at least the physicians and other “high-level” employees) of the practice can be asked to sign a non-solicitation agreement restricting the employee from “hiring away” other practice employees upon their departure. Non-solicitation agreements are common in physician employment agreements, but can also be used for other employees. A typical non-solicitation provision would read: “Employee agrees that, during the term of his/her employment with the Medical Practice and for a period of one year following termination of employment, regardless of the cause of such termination, Employee shall not, directly or indirectly, through any individual, person or entity, without the prior written consent of the Medical Practice: (a) solicit, induce or attempt to solicit or induce away, or aid, assist or abet any other party or person in soliciting, inducing or attempting to solicit or induce away any employee of the Medical Practice, or (b) employ, hire or contract for services with any employee of the Medical Practice, or any person who was an employee of the Medical Practice during the six (6) month period immediately prior to termination of the Employee’s employment with the Medical Practice.”

The final option to consider is a confidentiality agreement with employees. This type of agreement prevents a departing employee from retaining or using any of the practice’s confidential information after leaving the practice. Confidential information can be defined broadly to mean any sensitive or proprietary information of the practice, including all business or management studies, patient lists and records, financial information, trade secrets, fee schedules, and employee and operating manuals. A strong confidentiality agreement will become especially important if an employee leaves a medical practice to work for a competitor.

Howard Bogard is an attorney with Burr & Forman LLP and is the Chair of the firm’s Health Care Industry Group. Burr & Forman LLP is an official partner with the Medical Association. 

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When Is It Wise to Offer Patients a Reduced Fee Schedule?

When Is It Wise to Offer Patients a Reduced Fee Schedule?

Some of our practice management roundtable participants are offering certain patients an opportunity to pay fees of less than the standard fee schedule for their care. Below we will discuss how they are reaching that decision and if it could be appropriate for your practice.

Some patients have no insurance coverage but want to pay for their care. For this group, there is logic to support a price which is less than the standard fee schedule, if that fee schedule is already set above the amounts paid by all insurance companies and Medicare. The fee reduction is based on an acknowledgment that billed fees for health care are generally set at higher amounts than the providers expect anyway, so some discounting is within reason. A problem occurs when your group’s fees are set at precisely the amounts paid by your largest payers and any discount reduces your fee to levels below what insurance companies or government payers pay you. This can get you into big trouble because those payers are willing to pay only your UCR or Usual and Customary Rate, and if you are regularly making a lower rate available to others, the large payers could ask for repayments. However, if your fee schedule is sufficiently high, a discount to an individual might still leave you with enough fee to protect against violating any “most favored nation” clause in your contract with an insurance company.

After this logic is used to support fee reductions to uninsured patients, can it also be applied to patients who are underinsured? Most employers have received significant annual increases in medical insurance premiums for coverage of their employees. As a result, the employers are modifying the coverage to increase the deductibles dramatically. In one client practice, the annual deductibles per person were raised from $750 to $5,000 after premiums increased 18 percent, 18 percent and 15 percent over the most recent three years. As a result, patients are presenting at medical offices with personal liability so great that they are not able to pay for care. Some administrators even indicate that patients are postponing needed care because of their inability to pay for it.

If a practice has made a decision to reduce fees for patients without coverage, and since many patients are facing large deductibles, those physician offices are extending discounts to insured patients who wish to personally pay a lower fee in full at the time of service. Under HIPAA, patients do have the right to pay for care and request that you not file a claim with their insurance company, but there are forms the patient must sign to correctly document this handling.

The danger associated with any discounting is the possibility that all the discounted dollars serve to reduce physician bonuses at year end. The practice overhead will not be reduced by reason of discounting. If these discounts are thought of as the last dollars collected, then they would have been available for MD payment at bonus time. However, if by discounting you are collecting patient payment monies that would otherwise have become a bad debt not collected, then the amounts you receive are incremental money for distribution to doctors at year end. Which of these situations applies to you will depend on whether your group is writing off uncollected patient balances that could have been obtained, in part, at the time of service.

So what is the take away relative to this trend? First, have a practice which is so well known for excellence in care that you may pick the patients you want and avoid discounting fees to anyone. Next, make sure your standard fee schedule is set higher than the reimbursement you receive from your practice’s highest payer. Finally, reach an agreement among all of your physicians on the discounting process you want to consistently apply and implement that process by training all staff. Times are changing in health care and one major change is the shifting of cost risks to the patients from their insurance carriers. Be sure your practice is adapting to this area of change.

Article contributed by Sae Evans, Maddox Casey and Jim Stroud, Members, Warren Averett Healthcare Consulting Group. Warren Averett is an official Gold Partner with the Medical Association.

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Paying More Money Is Not the Best Way to Retain Great Staff

Paying More Money Is Not the Best Way to Retain Great Staff

Medical practices are painfully in need of keeping their top employees. The time, costs and dangers of recruiting replacement personnel are just part of the issue. Loss of key team members negatively impacts patient care, practice profitability, and staff morale. All administrators agree the retention of a trained, well-performing and mutually cooperative staff is a key to success in medicine. How do you increase your prospects of keeping your “keepers” so that you lose only the ones who needed to go anyway? There are three secrets to success in this area and none require pay raises or bonuses.

Most important is to show them that you respect them. Make them feel valued by your praise of their efforts and character. Try to “catch” them doing something good. Take an employee to the office of another physician in the group and praise some special thing they did recently. Prompt the physicians about special employee efforts and send them off to find and praise the staff member. Write key staff notes of thanks for their sacrificial efforts. Set aside time each week to praise one to three members of your team. Conduct “stay interviews” with select team members. Also, the physicians and practice leadership should be aware of the circumstances in their life. Do they have a child excelling at academics or athletics, are they planning a special vacation, are they approaching empty nest status, are they caregivers to parents or other family members, do they have a special hobby they enjoy discussing, are they saving for a major purchase like a vehicle, boat, or home?

Caring about the lives of your team affirms their value to you. Giving them a $500 bonus deposited into their joint checking account is a currency over which they may have limited control and when it is spent, it is forgotten. Giving them a handwritten note or sincere verbal praise is a “currency” they can keep for their very own and use again and again as they replay the message in their minds. The praise costs your practice a little of your time and a modicum of empathy.

After a culture of merited praise is established, it is easier to correct or discipline them when necessary. Ignoring mistakes or poor conduct is a sign of not caring about the person. Think of the influential family members, teachers and coaches in your life. Weren’t they candid with you about times when your efforts were not your best? If the staff rest in the certainty of your gratefulness for them, they can handle the truth about poor performance from you better. Always praise their character and criticize their actions. In other words, speak to the actions, but don’t attack their character. Avoid a “compliment sandwich” where you say something nice, slip in the problem, and then end with another positive. Be brief, be clear, be firm, but be nice.

New employees need some corrective discussion as early in their employment as possible. Not only is there usually an area for enhancement, but it establishes that you will exercise the right to address them when you deem necessary. For the millennials in your office, this discipline may come as a great shock. They were raised in an era when every child received a participation trophy just for showing up, and as children, they were assured they could be anything they wanted to be. If there were problems at school, their parents went to the school and took care of it for them. Now you are telling them they are special but not in a good way, and their only trophy may be dismissal if the behavior continues. This might be a difficult message to absorb, but you owe it to the great staff to communicate it in a timely manner.

At a recent practice management roundtable, we discussed the fact that some medical staff members underperform until the leadership assigns part of their duties to the better performing staff, so that things get done. Permitting this transfer of work, is unfair to all staff and must be remedied.

With a balance of praise and discipline in place, have some fun at work! Every holiday is a good time to have fun. At Christmas, let them have a contest to decorate a door. For Thanksgiving let them write something about each member of their work area for which they are thankful. Compile the results and share with the staff in a lunch meeting. Halloween, the start of football season, Groundhog Day and anything else is a reason to celebrate. Have each bring a baby photo of themselves, and let the team guess which baby is the staff member, let them send in photos of what they did this summer and have a collage review in the fall of the pictures with narrative by each staff to share the joy, take them bowling, have a new baby “pool” where all can guess the delivery details of an expectant mother on the team, and select secret pals among the staff with a low limit on any expenditures. The point is to permit them to have fun at work. You do not have to entertain them, just give them permission to entertain themselves.

It is essential medical practices provide a fair salary and benefit structure to their staff. Underpaying your people is not compensated by the provision of a good work environment. However, remember people accept a job for the initial pay and benefits, but they remain in a position because they feel appreciated, know their best efforts are expected, and they are encouraged to have fun at their work. Make your practice a place where these three things are true, and you will have a stable, patient-caring and happy staff. It will make everything else you have to do so much more enjoyable.

Article contributed by Sae Evans, Maddox Casey and Jim Stroud, Members, Warren Averett Healthcare Consulting Group. Warren Averett is an official Gold Partner with the Medical Association.

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Don’t Get Caught in a Copay Conundrum

Don’t Get Caught in a Copay Conundrum

In the current environment of increasing patient deductibles and copays, the billing and collection of the patient portion of the services you provide is top of mind. In the Department of Health and Human Service’s report dated May 23, 2017, Alabama’s average monthly health insurance premium amounts increased 223 percent from 2013 to 2017, versus the national average increase of 105 percent. In real dollars, average monthly premiums jumped from $178 to $575.

With deductibles and copay amounts increasing as well, it’s becoming more difficult to collect the patient’s portion of the bill. As a provider, you are more than aware of these financial hardships your patients are facing, especially your sicker patients who absolutely need care. You might routinely waive the patient portion of your services because you sense a financial issue. Maybe you treat other physicians or colleagues and write off their portion of the bill as a professional courtesy. You might even provide care to your team of employees at a reduced rate as a perk of their job. But did you know all three of these scenarios can land you in hot water?

These practices, while intended to be a gesture of goodwill, professional courtesy, or “it’s just the way we’ve always done things,” could put you and your practice at risk of violating federal anti-kickback statutes and violating contracts with insurance carriers – not to mention impacting your practice’s financial bottom line.

According to the Office of Inspector General, the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) is “a criminal law that prohibits the knowing and willful payment of ‘remuneration’ to induce or reward patient referrals or the generation of business involving any item or service payable by the federal health care programs.” Violating the federal Anti-Kickback Statute can lead to criminal penalties and administrative sanctions. The penalties for physicians who pay or accept kickbacks can be up to $50,000 per kickback plus three times the amount of the remuneration in question as well as imprisonment and exclusion from future participation in federal health care programs. The HHS’s A Roadmap for New Physicians: Avoiding Medicare and Medicaid Fraud & Abuse states the following:

“…Where the Medicare and Medicaid programs require patients to pay copays for services, you are generally required to collect that money from your patients. Routinely waiving these copays could implicate the AKS, and you may not advertise that you will forgive copayments.” In this case, the HHS would determine a practice is violating the AKS if their standard practice is to waive copays. Patients would become the referral source and would be receiving the benefit of a waived copay.

From a commercial insurance carrier’s point of view, if you routinely write off patient’s copays and deductibles, you are in essence decreasing the total charge for the service you are providing. A $100 visit with a $20 copay that is routinely waived has now become an $80 visit.

Commercial insurance carriers can view this as a breach of contract, and they have recently been cracking down on enforcement of collections. Commercial carriers can stipulate that copay portion is required to be paid in order to reimburse the practice its portion. If they find out you have been waiving the patient portion for services, they can come back and seek repayment of funds they’ve already paid for those patients.

Profit margins for services are getting smaller and smaller, and as a medical practice in today’s post-ACA world, your bottom line can’t afford the consistent waiver, or poor collection of these copays and deductibles.

To navigate this issue, we recommend you review/update or implement policies and procedures guided by these best practices:

  1. Immediately stop any current practices of routinely waiving or reducing copays and deductibles.
  2. Where financial need is an issue, develop a policy with outlined procedures to document a patient’s financial hardship. Having a patient merely sign a document stating they have a financial hardship is not enough to substantiate the patient’s inability to pay. Have a designated staff person/financial counselor document the patient’s financial need. You need to perform due diligence with the patient to prove they are unable to pay. The HHS’s Roadmap for New Physicians states, “… you are free to waive a copayment if you make an individual determination that the patient cannot afford to pay or if your reasonable collection efforts fail.” Train front desk and billing staff on these policies and procedures to ensure consistent enforcement.
  3. Bill copays and deductibles and make adequate attempts to collect from the patient. We recommend at least three statements and a phone call as a best practice. Document all communication and collection efforts in the patient’s file to provide an adequate audit trail, should you need such information in the case of an audit.
  4. If these three practices bear no fruit, you can write off the patient’s copay or deductible.

As you can see, justifiable circumstances of financial hardship or need are situations where you can discount or waive patient copays. Use these best practices to implement consistent and reasonable policies and procedures. Steer clear of routine waivers and discounts of copays, and you shouldn’t find yourself in a copay conundrum.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Deductibles and Copays

What you should do…

  • Always bill the full amount.
  • Make a reasonable effort to collect from the patient.
  • When a patient states an inability to pay, establish policies and procedures to determine financial need and keep adequate documentation.
  • Work out a payment plan with a patient, or agreement for paying a certain amount each visit.
  • Collect up front rather than later. Each statement sent costs you time and money.

What you should not do…

  • Routinely or systematically write off copays or deductibles.
  • Advertise that you will forgive copays.
  • Accept the “in-network” copays if you are an “out-of-network” provider.
  • Devalue your services by waiving or reducing the copay and deductibles due.

The information in this article is not intended as tax or legal advice. Please contact your lawyer or CPA for specific information regarding your individual situation.

Article contributed by Jenna Roton, CPA, with Jackson Thornton CPAs and Consultants, an official partner with the Medical Association.

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Front Office Transformation – First Impressions

Front Office Transformation – First Impressions

I recently visited a specialty practice at a major health system. As I approached the registration desk, a posted sign directed me to a standing kiosk to sign in. The family member I accompanied to the appointment was unable to stand at the kiosk, so I provided the needed information and signed her in. Although it was a quick and seamless process, I was concerned because if I needed assistance, there were no employees to ask.

Many practices have implemented kiosk sign-ins and have someone to assist a patient with the process if needed. Practice administrators have made the decision to implement a kiosk to assure verification of the current insurance policy and to prompt the patient to pay any out-of-pocket expense before they see the doctor. Many of the kiosk solutions allow a pre-registration via email permitting the patient to populate data and upload information from their own device at their convenience.

Benefits of Kiosk Sign-in include:

  • reduction in the staffing at the front desk
  • decrease in patient wait time
  • and most impressively, the increase of time of service collections.

You may not be ready for a kiosk at your registration desk, but you should review key areas for process improvements to assure you are preparing your practice for success at the front line. The MGMA Connection magazine reported an increase in the patient out-of-pocket expense by 30 percent in the last two years. Previous reports had already noted significant increases in patient deductibles and co-pays outside of the office co-pay. Failure to educate your front office staff, evaluate workflows, review software for accurate verification of benefits, and the lack of consistent financial policies could cost you at the end of the revenue cycle, and hurt your practice in the long-run.

All this to say, first impressions are vital to a practice. A second experience I had is when I walked into a practice, the first thing I saw was each of the front desk staff members was on the phone and did not acknowledge the patients walking in until they hung up. They were scheduling tests, getting pre-certifications and poorly collecting information and money. The staff had so many tasks that they were unable to perform any of them well and with intention.

Focus your front office staff on key functions: greet the patient, collect data, verify data, and collect money. Setting goals and seeing improvement will engage your staff in the big picture and train your patients to expect quality and consistent service and furthermore, be willing to pay for it.

The changes in health care have caused us to focus on efficiency and high-quality services at a reduced cost. As administrators, physicians, and/or staff members, you rarely enter the office from the front door so you may fail to see your operations from the patient’s perspective. Understanding how patients view your practice can put your practice at the next level.

Paper registration is a hassle to update and likely skipped if the phones are ringing off the hook. Patient satisfaction is vital in any medical practice and patients are learning technology can enhance their experience. The primary goal of the front desk should always be to provide great customer service because it is easier to collect from a happy patient.

Once you assure education, define processes, and establish best practices for the front office, it is time to set goals. Track performance (such as co-pay collection rate), reward success, monitor compliance, and watch your practice grow!

 

Article contributed by Tammie Lunceford, Healthcare and Dental Consultant, Warren Averett Healthcare Consulting Group. Warren Averett is an official Gold Partner with the Medical Association.

 

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Do You Qualify for Tax Amnesty?

Do You Qualify for Tax Amnesty?

The Alabama Legislature has enacted the Alabama Tax Delinquency Amnesty Act of 2018 to allow qualifying taxpayers to receive a waiver of penalties and interest on eligible tax types. The application period is now open through Sept. 30, 2018.

The Alabama Department of Revenue (ADOR) launched alabamataxamnesty.com, a website dedicated to the Alabama Tax Delinquency Amnesty Program of 2018, created by Act 2018-153.

The amnesty application period runs July 1 – Sept. 30, 2018, and applies to eligible taxes due before, or for tax periods that began before, Jan. 1, 2017. All applications must be submitted electronically through the Alabama tax amnesty website, where taxpayers can sign up to receive notifications about the program. The website also provides all the information taxpayers may need on the program and answers to frequently asked questions.

The amnesty program will be available to eligible taxpayers who have not been contacted by the department within the last two years and are not a party to a criminal investigation or litigation in any court of the United States or Alabama pending as of March 6, 2018, for nonpayment, delinquency, or fraud in relation to any Alabama taxes administered by the Department.

Most taxes administered by ADOR, with the exception of motor fuel, motor vehicle, and property taxes, are eligible for the 2018 Amnesty Program. This includes, but is not limited to, corporate and individual income, business privilege, financial institution excise, consumers use, sellers use, withholding, and sales taxes.

All penalties and interest will be waived for approved amnesty applications.

Taxpayers who believe they may have delinquent tax liabilities in Alabama should consult with their tax advisers regarding their eligibility for the tax amnesty program.

For more information on taxpayer eligibility, eligible tax types, leniency terms, the application process, and more, visit alabamataxamnesty.com or email amnesty@revenue.alabama.gov.

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Tips for Preserving Tax Deductions in 2018

Tips for Preserving Tax Deductions in 2018

Starting this year, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act limits an individual’s or a couple’s federal tax deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) to $10,000. SALT deductions include deductions on state and local income, sales and property taxes. High-income earners, such as physicians, frequently have a SALT deduction far exceeding the new $10,000 cap and will, therefore, be negatively impacted by this change.

To illustrate, if you paid $9,000 in property tax and $22,000 in State of Alabama income taxes in 2017, you would have received a $31,000 deduction on your Federal return. In 2018, that deduction would be capped at $10,000. Consequently, the taxpayer will lose $21,000 of deductions. Fortunately for Alabamians, there is a way to help mitigate this adverse tax change in 2018.

The Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) provides an opportunity to preserve your state tax deduction through donations to a Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO). This Act, passed by the Alabama Legislature in 2015, enables Alabama residents to use up to half of their state income tax burden (limited to $50,000) to support approved schools in our state which serve an economically disadvantaged student population. The AAA donation provides state income tax credits (a dollar for dollar reduction in Alabama tax liability) to donors who contribute to a state-approved SGO operating within Alabama. This payment is treated as if you paid Alabama taxes, but for federal purposes, your donation will be reported as a charitable contribution. Otherwise, as described above, the state tax payment would be reported on your federal return as a SALT deduction subject to the $10,000 cap and provide no tax benefit to you.

Let’s update the illustration above to demonstrate the AAA donation benefit. You pay one half of the $22,000 state of Alabama income tax directly to the state as usual. You pay the remaining half of the $22,000 state of Alabama tax liability with an AAA donation ($11,000). The $11,000 AAA donation counts as a state tax payment on the Alabama tax return. However, on the federal tax return, the $11,000 AAA donation is deducted as a charitable contribution and escapes the $10,000 SALT deduction cap. The AAA donation preserves an $11,000 tax deduction which, at top federal tax brackets, is roughly $4,000 in federal income tax dollars.

It is important to emphasize the state allocates $30,000,000 annually for the AAA tax credit program. We expect the 2018 allotment to be reserved quickly, given the significant tax benefit the AAA provides. Therefore, we encourage you to act quickly, if interested, before the opportunity is gone. Based on the current AAA usage rate, we anticipate the $30,000,000 allotment for 2018 could be exhausted by the end of April or earlier.

If you wish to take advantage of this program, there is a two-step process:

1) Reserve your credit on the Alabama Department of Revenue web portal, My Alabama Taxes (MAT); and

2) Write your check for that amount and send it to the Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) as noted below.

  • Have your 2016 Alabama 1040 with you since you will need your state adjusted gross income to set up your account with the Alabama Department of Revenue.
  • Follow the steps on this website https://myalabamataxes.alabama.gov to create your MAT account, if you do not already have an account.
  • Once that is completed, follow the steps online to reserve your tax credit with the state by clicking on “Report a donation to an SGO” on the right side of the web page.
  • Fill in your personal information and make a selection of an “SGO.”
  • Once you have filled in your personal information, you will then write a check for the amount you reserved to the SGO you selected.

This SGO contribution benefits deserving schools, counts as a payment of your Alabama personal income tax and enables you to gain federal tax deduction for a cost that will be otherwise non-deductible. We encourage immediate action on this mutually beneficial step. If you need help, contact one of our Warren Averett Healthcare Consulting team members.

Article contributed by Sae Evans, Maddox Casey and Jim Stroud, Members, Warren Averett Healthcare Consulting Group. Warren Averett is an official Gold Partner with the Medical Association.

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