Auditing Physician Billings
The CMA has developed a set of guiding principles to assist in the formation and modification of provincial/territorial billing audit processes. These principles will ensure that billing audit systems are fair, transparent, effective and timely, and that they uphold their original objectives of ensuring the accountability of public expenditures and educating physicians on appropriate billing practices.
As payments to physicians are made through public monies, the integrity of the payment system is validated through physician billing audits and reviews. Audits and reviews are usually prompted by: billings that appear to be outside of the “norm,” patient complaints, physician complaints or a “focus” on a particular service/area of practice/group of physicians. Each province/territory is responsible for and has in place particular processes and procedures to review physician billings.
Billing audits can be stressful events that, regardless of the audit outcome, have had adverse effects on a physician’s health and practice. Although changes over the years in billing audit practices have occurred, they have not addressed all of the physicians’ concerns. Inadequacies in the existing procedures, such as the lack of a clear decision-making process, established review timelines and options for recourse still remain.
In response to this situation, many provinces/territories are reviewing and modifying their existing billing audit process. The CMA and Canada’s physicians believe in an open, accountable and transparent health care financing system. It is for this reason that the CMA has developed this set of principles related to the key components of the audit process to ensure it is fair, efficient, effective and serves the purpose it was originally intended – to ensure the accountability of public funds and to educate physicians on proper billing practices.
Education on proper billing practices:
The audit and review process must be undertaken as an educational exercise. In a fee based system, billing code use and interpretation are complex and can often lead to unintentional errors. If or when inconsistencies occur, the physician must be alerted and provided with the opportunity to explain his/her billing behaviour.
To assist in moving the audit and review process from under a cloud of perceived punishment to that of educational enlightenment, the repayment of any funds shall not commence until the audit and review process is complete and all appeal options have been exercised.
As part of this overall educational framework, it is recommended that all newly licensed physicians be offered an educational program on proper billing interpretations, procedures and practices, and of the audit process itself.
Fair, Transparent and Timely Process:
In order for the audit and review process to be perceived as fair, it must operate at arms length from governments and the Colleges. As a profession, physicians have been granted the privilege of self-regulation by society. Given that medicine is a highly complex art and science, physicians are the only group truly qualified to set and maintain standards and to uphold accountability in matters of professional behaviour.
The billing audit and review process must observe the principles of “Natural Justice” in that the:
audit findings must be both impartial and be seen to be impartial and
physicians affected by the findings must be offered a fair hearing by being given notice in writing of the findings; the opportunity to respond to the findings; all of the information to prepare a response; sufficient time to prepare a response; and an oral hearing if there is a dispute on factual matters or if requested by the physician.
Physicians should be informed that legal counsel and assistance can be retained at any stage of the audit and review process. Physicians should consult with their respective provincial/territorial division or the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) to see whether such assistance is available, or with lawyers who specialize in this field.
Specific time limits should be adhered to in the auditing and reviewing of a physician’s billings practice, particularly related to when the review period should commence and to the duration of the review period. For example, billings should not be reviewable more than 24 months after the service is rendered and the review period should not be greater than 12 months. These limitation periods recognize that physicians will not be able to recall, with certainty, the vast amount of information contained in a patient’s medical record over the past 10 years – the average length of time in which medical records must be held. It also ensures that audits and reviews are conducted in a timely fashion minimizing undue stress and hardship on the physician and, in light of the health human resources shortage, enabling them to re-focus their attention and energy on taking care of their patients.
Audits and reviews to determine whether there has been any incorrect or inaccurate billing should be undertaken solely by a physician’s peers, and where possible, consisting of physicians from the same specialty and subspecialty and with similar practice type, geography and demography. This peer review group shall consider age-gender distribution and the morbidity of the patients as well as other pertinent matters in arriving at its findings and conclusions.
Any conclusions and/or findings from an audit and review must be prepared in a written report and forwarded, in a timely manner, to the physician and the paying agency. If either party is not satisfied with the findings, they have the option of launching an appeal.
The preferred route would be to pursue and use Alternative Dispute Resolution processes since they tend to encourage a more co-operative climate resulting in fair and appropriate settlements, while avoiding the excessive financial, psychological and procedural costs that can be associated with formal court proceedings.
These guiding principles are the product of an international, provincial and territorial scan of billing audit practices. They have undergone extensive consultation with the provincial/territorial medical associations and national medical organizations.
They should be used to form the foundation of and to guide any reviews or modifications to existing provincial/territorial audit and review processes.
CMA Policy, Medical Professionalism, 2002.
Student Behaviour Guide_Natural.Justice.htm, Dec. 2002
Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease (Update 2004) (Applicable to Canadians aged 20-60 years)
Obesity is a chronic condition that is multi-factorial in origin, complex to treat, and is a major contributor to heart disease, type II diabetes, hypertension, stroke and some cancers. Due to the magnitude of the impact that obesity has on heart disease and stroke, and to the clustering of risk factors for cardiovascular disease that are often found in the obese patient, obesity is recognized as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
The impact of obesity points to the importance of prevention through healthy behaviours including increased physical activity and a healthy nutritional diet beginning early in life, and continuing through all stages of life. Solutions require comprehensive approaches that are both education and environment based, and that target and assist individuals, the family, and communities to engage in healthy lifestyle patterns and behaviours. Solutions also require ongoing research to develop and evaluate comprehensive approaches to obesity prevention, management and treatment, and surveillance data that measures and tracks obesity and its impact in Canada.
The World Health Organization defines obesity as a condition of excessive body fat accumulation to an extent that health may be compromised.
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a widely accepted parameter used to distinguish between obese and non-obese adults aged 20 to 60 years and thus provides information about the subsequent risk of cardiovascular disease.
BMI is calculated by dividing the weight (in kilograms) by the square of the height (in metres).
BMI = weight (in kilograms)
height (in metres) * height (in metres)
A BMI equal to or greater than 30 kg/m2 is classified as obese, while a BMI in the range of 25 to 29.9 kg/m2 is classified as overweight.
Waist circumference (WC) provides an independent prediction of health risks over and above BMI. Increased waist (abdominal) circumference is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, dyslipidemia, type II diabetes and hypertension. As waist circumference increases above 102 cm for men and 88 cm for women, the risks of health-related illnesses increase.
Populations at Increased Risk
Obese individuals with diabetes, hypertension, or dyslipidemias or who are physically inactive are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to individuals without these conditions.
A BMI between 25 and 29.9 kg/m2 (overweight) is associated with elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and dyslipidemia.
Weight gain during young adult life may be one of the most important determinants of future development of cardiovascular risk factors and cardiovascular disease. Adults who gain weight have increased risk of coronary heart disease compared to those with stable weight. Weight gain during adult life may contribute to future development of ischemic heart disease regardless of initial body weight (obese or non-obese).
Canadians of Aboriginal, Chinese, and South Asian (from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka) descent have higher rates of obesity-related chronic diseases (for example diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease).
Individuals with lower socio-economic status have higher rates of obesity than those with higher socio-economic status.
Promotion of Healthy Weights
In April 2002, the Public Health Approaches to the Prevention of Obesity (PHAPO) Working Group of the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) identified that a comprehensive approach to obesity prevention should:
Address both dietary habits and physical activity patterns of the population
Address both societal and individual level factors
Address both immediate and distant causes
Have multiple focal points and levels of intervention (i.e. at national, regional, community and individual levels);
Include both policies and programs; and
Build links between sectors that may otherwise be viewed as independent.
Research is needed to:
Develop a standard definition and a standard measurement technique for determining obesity in children.
Develop obesity measures for older, ethnic and gender specific populations.
Identify and develop effective primary prevention methods for individuals, families and communities to reduce the prevalence of obesity in all stages of life.
Improve awareness and knowledge about the health effects of obesity and healthy living.
Develop effective primary prevention measures and strategies that are therapeutic, secondary and tertiary in nature.
Identify and track rates of obesity and overweight in Canada.
Assess the effectiveness of obesity prevention and treatment initiatives.
Identify and implement the most effective primary prevention strategies for ethnic populations.
Develop and implement effective healthy public policy for the prevention, treatment, and management of obesity.
Further, the surveillance of obese and overweight Canadians is necessary in order to assess the effectiveness of prevention and treatment initiatives. It is only through the combined action and resources of governments, non-governmental organizations, non-profit and private sectors to develop and implement a comprehensive approach to curb the growing trend of obesity in Canada.
I am writing in response to your letter inviting comment on the discussion paper Strengthening the Pan-Canadian Public Health System distributed in February 2004. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes the opportunity to participate in this consultation process on a national public health system. Our country’s experience combating SARS brought home to all of us the critical need for a strong and effective public health system to ensure that we are never again found unprepared to deal with the consequences of an emerging infectious disease. The commitments to establish a strong and effective public health system, a Canada Public Health Agency and a Chief Public Health Officer detailed in the February 2, 2004 Speech from the Throne have raised expectations across the land, and particularly within the public health community.
In June 2003 CMA detailed a Public Health Action Plan in its submission to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (Naylor Committee). The CMA’s Plan was further elaborated in our October 2003 submission to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (Kirby Committee) hearing on public health governance and infrastructure. The CMA is also a founding member and active supporter of the Canadian Coalition for Public Health in the 21st Century. Both of the CMA submissions and the Coalition stress the need for strong leadership, capacity building and appropriate funding to ensure that Canada’s public health system is able to deal with the challenges ahead.
In this submission I will first focus on the responsibility and actions the federal government can take now to create a strong and effective public health system and then comment on issues raised in the Strengthening the Pan-Canadian Public Health System discussion paper.
The CMA believes that the country today has a rare opportunity to build a public health system for Canada that can take the best elements from the past while embracing new
innovative approaches to the future. But to achieve the Speech from the Throne commitment to “establish a strong and responsive public health system” strong leadership is needed now. The federal government has a critical role to play. In both the United Kingdom and the United States, national leadership has been instrumental in clearly defining health goals for the population and stating the role of the public health system, its key infrastructure elements and the development of strategies to attain them.
The CMA is pleased with your commitment and that of your government to the establishment of a Canada Public Health Agency (CPHA) but we can not stress strongly enough the need for you and your cabinet colleagues to take the bold steps needed to ensure that a national public health agency is truly independent. A CPHA that is not adequately funded and independent of the government bureaucracy will only result in a shuffling of the deck chairs.
A credible Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO) must be appointed to lead the Agency, be the federal government’s chief medical officer of health (CMOH) and the country's chief spokesperson for all public health issues.
The CPHA and the Chief Public Health Officer should have a central role in providing public health services to those areas falling under federal jurisdiction where local and provincial Chief Medical Officers of Health do not have access or authority. Airports, railways, military bases, aboriginal peoples living on reserve, federal meat packing plants and national parks are examples of areas under federal jurisdiction. The delivery of public health in these jurisdictions has been especially compromised by the lack of comprehensive coordination between provincial and federal systems. The federal CMOH should have all the powers and responsibilities of a provincial /territorial CMOH with respect to public health in federal jurisdictions.
While there is an urgent need for the federal government to address problems with the delivery of public health services within its own backyard, it also must enhance co-ordination within the various federal departments and agencies that address public health concerns.
In its submission to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health the CMA also called for federal leadership in times of national health emergencies. The enactment of a Canada Emergency Health Measures Act would enhance the federal government’s “command and control” powers in a measured way during times of national health emergencies. The Act would give the federal government specific authority to act for a pre-determined, temporary period of time, during a declared extraordinary health emergency. It would also provide the authority for development of a graduated health alert system with corresponding public health interventions to enable a rapid co-ordinated response as a public health threat emerges.1 A systematic approach to health emergencies outlining roles, responsibilities and authority of jurisdictions would go a long way to avoiding the chaos and confusion that surrounded the country’s emergency response to SARS.
The public health infrastructure is the foundation that supports the planning, delivery and evaluation of public health activities. In 2001, a working group of the Federal, Provincial and Territorial (F/P/T) Advisory Committee on Population Health assessed the capacity of the public health system through a series of key informant interviews and literature reviews. The consistent finding was that public health had experienced a loss of resources and there was concern for the resiliency of the system infrastructure to respond consistently and proactively to the demands placed on it.
It is essential that the federal government work with the provinces/ territories and municipalities to stop the hemorrhaging in public health across the country. We must stabilize and shore up the core public health capacity at the municipal, and provincial/territorial levels. At the federal level, in the short term, we must sustain our current capacity to tackle critical public health issues. The recent focus on infectious disease must not lead us to take monies from chronic disease prevention and health promotion to bolster efforts to manage outbreaks of infectious disease. Robbing Peter to pay Paul will only compound and exacerbate the challenges facing the public health system. All of the essential functions of public health must be recognized and resourced within a coherent public health strategy.
This will require an investment of at least $1.5 billion over the next five years, beginning with an immediate commitment of $200 million in the upcoming budget. There is also a critical need for additional resources to reach the frontline public health workers in the many local agencies across Canada. In this regard, on March 12, 2004 the CMA, the Canadian Nurses Association, Canadian Pharmacists Association and the Canadian Healthcare Association wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to consider adding the recent one-time $2 billion transfer into the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) funding base and ear-mark 10% of this amount for public health action.
The infusion of $1.5 billion over the next five years would go a long way to provide federal, provincial/territorial and municipal governments with the tools needed to rebuild capacity in the public health system. An area needing immediate attention is human resource capacity. For the essential functions of the public health system to be realized, we need a public health workforce with appropriate and constantly updated skills. Unfortunately that workforce is extremely thin today. We need to invest in additional training capacity in all of the public health disciplines. CMA has proposed an investment of $50 million in 2004/05 to begin to strategically rebuild human resource capacity.
To provide additional surge capacity CMA has further proposed the establishment of a Canadian public health emergency response service or Canadian Health Corps. The service would be made up of a core group of highly trained and mobile public health professionals, employed by the federal government, to be directed by the Chief Public Health Officer. A complementary ‘reserve pool’ or volunteer relief network would be made up of acute health care and public health professionals willing to be deployed anywhere in Canada on short notice to provide services during health emergencies. A predetermined and pre-licensed pool of professionals that can respond to a call to action in times of crisis is a critical resource that must be established before we are faced with another emergency situation.
Canadians expect the federal government to assume its responsibility to provide national leadership in public health. Visionary leadership, investment and capacity building are essential components of a reinvigorated public health system. It is within this context that CMA has reviewed the Strengthening the pan-Canadian public health system discussion paper.
Strengthening the pan-Canadian public health system
The discussion paper Strengthening the Pan-Canadian Public Health System unfortunately positions the planning assumptions for a national public health strategy within the traditional F/P/T process. While we are encouraged with the commitment of the F/P/T Ministers of Health to work collaboratively on the creation of a Pan-Canadian Public Health Network, it is not what Canadians or CMA envisioned in terms of providing leadership on the development of a national public health strategy and a consistent and co-ordinated approach to health emergencies.
The discussion paper is proposing that a CPHA be the centralized responsibility centre or ‘co-ordinating node’ of a Pan-Canadian Public Health Network that would develop national public health strategies and co-ordinate responses to public health emergencies. While the Network is necessary to facilitate intergovernmental co-operation, CMA believes that it is now time to move beyond traditional processes that, in the past, have often hindered the country’s ability to respond rapidly to address pan-Canadian problems.
Therefore in its briefs to both the Naylor and Kirby Committees, the CMA proposed the creation of an independent CPHA to provide leadership and comprehensive public health expertise in the development of a strategic pan Canadian approach to public health planning and services. These CMA briefs speak to many of the issues pertaining to the CPHA and CPHO that are raised in the federal discussion paper. CMA proposals for a CPHA as outlined below address the questions of mission and mandate, accountability and transparency posed by the paper.
The CPHA, as described by CMA, would become the lead national agency on public health matters with a broad mandate to co-ordinate all aspects of planning for national public health emergencies, provide ongoing national health surveillance and work closely with provinces/territories to reinforce other essential public health functions. To effectively carry out its mandate the CPHA structure must respect five guiding principles. It must be:
* Independent – At arm’s length from government, insulated from day-to-day vagaries of political pressures while remaining accountable to Canadians.
* Science-based – Adherence to the highest standards of risk assessment and decision-making with a view to safeguarding the health of Canadians.
* Transparent – Open to public scrutiny and encouraging public participation in its activities.
* Responsive – Characterized by a nimble decision-making process and a capability of deploying resources and expertise quickly and efficiently to any part of the country.
* Collaborative – Partnership-oriented, fostering collaboration with other federal, provincial and non-governmental partners.
CMA has recommended that the CPHA be established as an arms length, adequately resourced agency within the purview of the federal government. Under this approach, the CPHA would be structured on a corporate model in which decision-making powers are vested in an expert advisory board. The board, in turn, would be accountable to Parliament and the public for the exercise of these powers. The CPHA would be created through new federal legislation but would remain under the health portfolio, with accountability to Parliament through the health minister. The chief public health officer would head the CPHA, oversee the day-to-day operation of the office, be the federal government’s chief medical officer of health, and act as the lead scientific voice for public health in Canada.
This structure would mark a departure from the status quo in that the level of professional autonomy would increase and the level of ministerial involvement in professional issues would be reduced. This would contribute to making the CPHA more credible as a science-based organization. The board governance structure would encourage participation from the broader public health community and could therefore be more effective in creating partnerships with other key players.
The CMA commends you and the federal and provincial/territorial governments for the evident commitment to address the public health challenges facing this nation. It is unfortunate that it took a public health tragedy to bring this commitment to the forefront but never the less the public health community in Canada stands ready to work with governments to achieve a strong and responsive public health system.
As part of that community the medical profession is ready and willing to support initiatives that will improve public health programs and services that ultimately make
Canada a safer and healthier place to live. We do not support a continuation of the status quo. We must seize this opportunity to create a public health system that that can take the best elements from the past while embracing new innovative approaches to the future.
Sunil V. Patel, MB, ChB
1 Answering the Wake-Up Call: Canada’s Public Health Action Plan, June 2003. Available: http://www.cma.ca/cma/menu/displayMenu.do?tab=422&skin=432&pMenuId=1&pSubMenuId=2&pageId=/staticContent/HTML/N0/l2/where_we_stand/political/index.htm