CMS / WCRC Development Letters…. Essential Information or Delay Tactic?

January 17, 2014

In the most recent version of the WCMSA Reference Guide, released on November 6, 2013 (COBR-M11-2013-v2.0), CMS announced a series of changes that submitters should expect to see in the WCMSA review process. Of the changes announced, none appeared to have significant impact on submitter workflow as most were clarifications rather than actual changes in process.

At first glance, I found the updated guide info to be both relevant and helpful. Having a detailed explanation of the rationale and resources used to evaluate the WCMSA should be invaluable in creating an accurate cost projection. And having a clear understanding of when and why development letters might be requested should lead to a more comprehensive submission. It only follows that setting clear expectations up front should lead to better outcomes in both CMS acceptance and WCMSA turnaround time….. Right?

Unintended Consequences…. or Not?
Unfortunately, the outcome of the changes announced on November 6, 2013 has been nothing short of disastrous for WCMSA submitters, and for the carriers, employers and TPA’s they represent. Over the past 75 days, statistics across multiple companies show that 98% of the WCMSA’s submitted to CMS for review have not received final acceptance, all as a result of development requests that fall into one of the following 3 categories:

1. Requests for treatment records for co-morbid conditions unrelated to the workers’ compensation injury from primary care and other physicians (information that can only be obtained via written HIPAA patient consent);
2. Requests for ‘current’ treatment records, whether paid by the carrier or not, when there is clear evidence that the claimant hasn’t treated in months or even years (i.e. the information doesn’t exist);
3. Requests for ‘current’ medical records, pharmacy history, and an updated carrier payout that becomes a circuitous cycle in cases where the patient continues to treat;
In every situation, the submitter is told that the case will be closed within the allotted time period (usually 10 days) if the information is not received.

Early Responses and Explanations
When development requests initially surfaced in early November, 2013, our response was to contact CMS immediately and explain the issue. In every situation, however, our explanations were discarded. Whether we were asked to pierce the HIPAA veil to obtain unrelated information, or to provide medical records that didn’t exist, ‘No’ was not an acceptable response. As a result, less than 2% of all WCMSA’s submitted to CMS since November 1, 2013 have completed the WCRC review process and achieved CMS acceptance.

As we’ve watched cases being closed and re-opened multiple times, we’ve seen the 45-60 day turnaround times from last summer disappear completely. For the WCRC, however, a closure due to missing information places the burden back on the submitter and the case is technically complete. The WCRC’s statistics look great, yet they’ve accomplished nothing.

How are Payers Responding to the ‘Stalemate’?
So what does this mean to our clients? The business result of this dramatic increase in development requests is that many claims aren’t being settled. If settlement is pursued, either new language is generated to make final closure contingent on CMS acceptance, or the settlement is finalized for indemnity only, leaving medical open. What’s even more interesting, however, is the trend we’ve seen recently where certain payers are making the decision to move forward with settlement without CMS acceptance.

CMS Submission – What is Required vs. Recommended?
While it is our legal responsibility to protect Medicare’s interest, CMS has made it clear that WCMSA submission is recommended, not required. It remains to be seen how this will play out in the coming months, but the business question that is being pondered today is whether payers can fulfill their legal obligation under the MSP statute and move forward with settlement without CMS acceptance. By doing what is reasonable and putting forth our best efforts to allocate for future medical expenses, can we lay a foundation that will mitigate future exposure once the WCMSA amount is exhausted?

The information and experiences relayed here are not those of a single company or submitter. They are being felt across the industry and are being reviewed within NAMSAP (National Association of MSA Professionals), both at committee and board of director levels. Hopefully, this will lead to both discussion and direction from CMS.

Stay tuned…..