President Barack Obama signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, often called the “fiscal cliff” agreement, on January 2, 2013. Buried in the 59 pages of the act is a seven-line amendment to Section 1870 of the Social Security Act. This section bars recovery of overpayments from providers who are “without fault” and automatically deems a provider to be without fault three years from the year in which the original payment was made (unless there is evidence of fault). The three-year “without fault” limitation provision was enacted in 1972. Without much notice, the fiscal cliff deal extended this to five years.
The push for extension of the limitation began when the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report recommending to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that it pursue legislation to extend the statute of limitations. (See OIG, Obstacles to Collection of Millions in Medicare Overpayments.) This report blamed the time limitations on reopening and recovery of payments (four years and three years, respectively) as the reason why approximately $330 million in overpayments could not be recovered by CMS. The OIG also concluded that CMS’ inadequate guidance and monitoring of contractors was to blame. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has issued a report estimating that $500 million would be added to the federal treasury by 2022 as a result of the statute of limitation change. (See CBO, Detail on Estimated Budgetary Effects of Title VI.)
The biggest question for providers is how to deal with this change going forward. The following illustration demonstrates how the three-year limitation period applied: Provider was notified on February 22, 2009, that it had been paid for services provided to beneficiary. On January 2, 2013, the contractor determined that provider was overpaid for these services. If there was no evidence that provider acted fraudulently, this overpayment could not be recovered because under the statute of limitations the right to do so expired on December 31, 2012. Had the contractor determined that the provider was overpaid on any date prior to December 31, 2012, it would have been recoverable. (See Medicare Financial Management Manual, Chapter 3, Section 80.1.) Accordingly, any payments made in 2009 or before were not recoverable as of January 1, 2013.