McKenzie physician Dr. Bryan Merrick on Monday received word from federal officials that they are reversing an earlier decision to block him from serving Medicare patients.
Dr. Merrick’s attorney, former state senator Roy Herron, was called by two of the top officials that Dr. Merrick and Herron had met with last Thursday in Baltimore.
The officials acknowledged to Herron how easily billing for the wrong one of two identically named persons could happen. The officials asked questions about actions taken by the McKenzie Medical Center to try to minimize clerical errors. After Herron explained those multiple preventive actions, the officials and Herron exchanged multiple emails. Ultimately, the officials confirmed that the Medicare revocation definitely would be rescinded, effective this week.
“We are so, so grateful for the incredible support of our patients, staff and neighbors,” Dr. Merrick said.
“Your calls, emails, and letters to our federal elected officials and, especially, your prayers have made all the difference.”
Herron said that Dr. Merrick was especially grateful to local leaders McKenzie Mayor Jill Holland, McLemoresville Mayor Phil Williams, Huntingdon Mayor Dale Kelley, Carroll County Mayor Kenny McBride and Bethel President Walter Butler, all of whom advocated on Dr. Merrick’s behalf with Congressman Kustoff and Senators Alexander and Corker. Those federal legislators ultimately communicated with the federal officials who in turn met with Dr. Merrick and reversed their agency’s earlier decision.
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.
Dr. Merrick has strongly asserted that the 30 clerical errors among more than 30,000 billings were less than 1/10th of 1 percent 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.
With all of the ten patients, Dr. Merrick and his staff provided the services. In none of the cases was Dr. Merrick wrongly paid.
Herron has characterized the federal government imposing “a professional death penalty” as “the most egregious abuse of an individual I’ve ever seen in 30 years in and around government. But after the meeting, Herron also was hopeful:
“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 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 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 mild-mannered physician has been shaking his head and has repeatedly said, “It’s hard to believe this is happening to my patients and my family – in America!”
But Dr. Merrick also said he and all of the team at the McKenzie Medical Center are very grateful for the support from their patients and friends throughout the tri-county area and beyond.