Dr. Bryan Merrick and his attorney Roy Herron met in Baltimore on Thursday with top federal officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the part of the Department of Health and Human Services responsible for administering the Medicare program, to make the case for the reinstatement of his Medicare billing privileges.
As The Tennessee Star reported, the well respected West Tennessee family practice doctor’s Medicare billing privileges were revoked in March under an abusive Obama-era regulation over a reported $670 in billing errors.
Late last month, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) called on Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to hold hearings at the Senate Finance Committee he chairs to consider revoking the regulation.
Earlier in October, McKenzie, Tennessee Mayor Jill Holland wrote a letter to Senator Alexander asking him to hold hearings of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee he chairs to consider revoking the regulation, but Alexander noted that Hatch’s Senate Finance Committee has jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid issues.
Last week, former Congressional candidate Dr. George Flinn wrote President Trump a letter requesting that he instruct CMS to amend the regulation.
“We had a good meeting. We felt like the officials listened carefully and asked insightful questions,” Dr. Merrick said in a statement released by the Herron’s office describing the somewhat unprecedented high level meeting with officials at CMS.
“Now all we can do is pray they will do right by our region, our patients, and our family,” the McKenzie physician added.
“The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) gathered their top decision-makers on Medicare revocation issues. The eight officials in the room could not have been more courteous or more attentive. Dr. Merrick was extremely articulate and explained clearly how the one-tenth of one percent of the questioned bills involved patients with identical names or a government contractor failing to notify the McKenzie Medical Center when a patient had passed,” Herron said in the statement.
“For over seven months, Dr. Merrick has been denied compensation for seeing Medicare patients, though he has continued to serve them. A federal agency revoked his ‘Medicare billing privileges’ when it claimed there were errors in billings involving ten of Dr. Merrick’s more than 4,000 patients,” the statement continued, adding:
Dr. Merrick has strongly asserted that the 30 clerical errors among more than 30,000 billings were less than 1/10th of 1% of his Medicare billings, would have amounted to only a few hundred dollars, but he was not even paid that. His 31 years of service without even a single allegation of wrongdoing all make clear to his friends that there was no fraud but only minor clerical mistakes” the statement continued.
With all of the ten patients, Dr. Merrick and his staff provided the services. In none of the cases was Dr. Merrick wrongly paid.
In the statement, Herron also offered details of the meeting with the CMS officials in Baltimore, which he told The Tennessee Star lasted about 45 minutes, much longer than either he or Dr. Merrick had anticipated:
Dr. Merrick explained that about half (14 out of 30) of the billing questions involve just two patients, each of whom had the exact same name as two other former patients.
Dr. Merrick explained to the officials that with Medicare’s new Chronic Care Management program, most of the caregivers’ work is “not face-to-face” but rather updating patients’ charts and following up to make sure patients get the care that they need.
The total compensation from Medicare, if Dr. Merrick had been paid, would have been a few hundred dollars over three years. Herron asked federal officials whether “our area’s most beloved and respected physician” would try to commit fraud with 10 of his more than 4,000 patients for what at most would have amounted to less than a dollar ($1.00) a day.
The federal officials asked questions about what services would be needed and compensated in certain circumstances by the Chronic Care Management services.
Dr. Merrick explained how when patients do not show up for appointments or do not get their lab work done, he and his staff follow up with patients and try to reach them. If they do not know a patient has died, for example, in Memphis, they continue to try to reach the patient until they learn the sad news. Twenty-four of the thirty billing issues resulted from a government contractor not immediately notifying the McKenzie Medical Center when someone has passed.
The top officials at CMS who met with Dr. Merrick and Herron “did not say exactly when they would respond to Dr. Merrick’s request for reconsideration,” of the decision to revoke his Medicare billing privileges, Herron told The Star. He also said he “believes they probably will respond this month.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Merrick has a message for all his friends and supporters throughout Tennessee.
“We cannot say how much we appreciate everyone’s kindnesses and prayers. Please keep on praying!” Merrick said.