The health care hue and cry grows louder everyday.

Medical and mainstream publications are filled with stories focusing on the barriers doctors and hospitals face in getting paid in today’s health care environment. Precertification, managed care and tight timely filing deadlines are just some of the hurdles medical professionals must finesse when seeking reimbursement. And if one hurdle is missed, the effort and attention expended in the examining room is all for naught in the business office.

Yet most medical providers ignore what is perhaps the most effective action they can take for securing immediate payment on a denied medical claim – filing an appeal.

“Ninety-five percent of the doctors’ offices I have worked with do not appeal their insurance denials. They do not know how and they do not have the time, ” said Linda Cagle. Cagle is a practice management consultant in Dallas, Texas and the administrator for Surgical Institute, an oncology specialty group.

“My motto is to appeal everything. The worst thing they can say is no.”

Appeals Worth the Effort
At any given time, Cagle has a stack of explanations of benefits on her desk with “Appeal” written boldly across the bottom. She recommends that physician offices spend an hour a week filing appeals. The appeals generated during this time can easily pay that staff member’s salary for the week, she states.

While many carriers do not routinely release the number of claims overturned on appeal, statistics indicate that a well written appeal may be effective in securing payment. According to an article printed by The Dallas Morning News, “Texans File Few Health Care Appeals,” the Texas Department of Insurance is receiving a fraction of the expected number of appeals under a law requiring carriers to pay for external reconsideration of claim denials. The story quotes several insurance industry officials who believe appeal numbers are low because most appeals are favorably resolved through the insurance carrier’s appeal process.

That story states Prudential HealthCare has a two-step internal appeals process and about 25 percent of treatment denials are overturned during the first phase. Of those cases appealed a second time, another 20 to 25 percent are overturned.

These statistics makes it easy for Cagle to commit a staff member to one hour per week of writing appeal letters. And, according to Cagle, she now uses a software solution which allows her to multiply the number of appeals she files each week.

Appeal Solutions’ software product, Power of Appeals, is designed to automate the appeal filing process. This product was the first software system designed to assist medical professionals become more active in the insurance appeals process. Appeal Solutions, based in Blanchard, OK, specializes in insurance claims resolution.

POA Automates the Process
The software consists of more than 1600 appeal letter templates which cover the most common denial reasons, including medical necessity, coverage exclusions and timely filing requirements. Each letter can be edited for any customization the provider desires. The software also has letters citing all 50 states’ timely payment requirements. These letters can be used on claims which are unnecessarily delayed in normal claim processing, a growing problem in health care reimbursement.

Almost all the appeal letters cite state statutes or case law to support the reconsideration request, which many insurance recovery professionals state is crucial for effective claim appealing.

“It is imperative that a physician’s office doesn’t just base their claim’s appeal on billing guidelines but also the regulatory environment that the payor must exist under. I am now encouraging my staff to know and understand state and federal insurance laws and regulations,” said Layton Lang, Chief Operating Officer for Southwest Vascular and Surgical Group in Dallas.

Like Cagle, Lang in one of a growing number of medical billing professionals who, in reaction to recent tightening of healthcare reimbursement requirements, now appeal as many claims as possible.

“More and more payors are hardening up their claim’s processing rules and definitions for ‘clean claims’ in order to increase profit margins in the competitive market. Other plans have been so focused on mergers and growth that their claims processing departments have suffered with claims adjudications lags,” Lang said.

“Our office has experienced a noticeable increase in improperly processed claims due to frivolous delays and denials that were not based on coding or improper filing errors.”

Cagle, too, cites a growing number of denials based on clearly unsubstantial evidence. She said her staff typically appeals an obviously incorrect claims determination by phone. However, phone appeals sometime take close to an hour simply due to the amount of time spent on hold. Cagle believes a written appeal may not only be more effective, but also more efficient and less frustrating to staff.

“From what I have seen in the (Power of Appeals) software, 75 to 80 percent of the over 90 day accounts with insurance, third-party-pay accounts, could be resolved using this tool,” she said.

Easy Implementation
As a practice management consultant, Cagle says she has seen plenty of software advances go unused in a medical setting due to the lack of staff training. Power of Appeals’ implementation, she said, requires little upfront training.

“This is very user friendly. In most offices the need for it to be user friendly is critical because they deal with really difficult receivable systems. In most offices they have a wonderful receivable system, but they use only one or two features,” she said.

Traditionally, medical professionals have expected the patient to pursue appeals on denied insurance claims. Although some still leave this effort solely to the patient, many public service groups are encouraging doctors to become more involved due to the more technical nature of health plans today.

The American Bar Association’s Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly recently released a report entitled Resolution of Consumer Disputes in Managed Care. In the report, the commission indicated that many managed care enrollees need help in navigating the appeal system.

“An enrollee’s treating physician is most familiar with his/her conditions and care needs. Physicians can be natural advocates for necessary and timely medical treatment. Moreover, physicians have a fiduciary responsibility to patient and advancing patient treatment or expedited review seems a logical extension of that role,” the report states.

However, without a utility to speed the process, many providers are hard-pressed to effectively appeal denials. Power of Appeals allows them to focus more on advocacy.

“All of the medical management systems I have reviewed have possessed limited ability and space to provide proper tracking and reporting on the disposition of appealed claims. Power of Appeals is the first system that provides the tools for accurate claims follow-up and dispute resolution,” Said Lang.

More information about Power of Appeals software is available at http://www.powerofappeals.com

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