"Qualified Medicare Beneficiaries" (QMB) - Protections against "Balance Billing"

THE PROBLEM:  Meet Joe, whose Doctor has Billed him for the Medicare Coinsurance

Joe Client is disabled and lives only on SSI and SSD.  His health care is covered by Medicare, and Medicaid’s Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) program picks up his Medicare cost-sharing obligations.  Under Medicare Part B, his co-insurance is 20% of the Medicare-approved charge for most outpatient services.   He went to the doctor recently and, as with any other Medicare beneficiary, the doctor handed him a bill for his co-pay.  Now Joe has a bill that he can’t pay.  Can you help him?  Does he have to pay?

SHORT ANSWER: 

QMB or Medicaid will pay the Medicare coinsurance only in limited situations. First, the provider must be a Medicaid provider.  Second, even if the provider accepts Medicaid, under recent legislation in New York enacted in 2015 and 2016, QMB or Medicaid may pay only part of the coinsurance, or none at all.  This depends in part on whether the beneficiary has Original Medicare or is in a Medicare Advantage plan, and in part on the type of service.  However, the bottom line is that the provider is barred from "balance billing" a QMB beneficiary for the Medicare coinsurance.  Unfortunately, this creates tension between an individual and her doctors, pharmacies dispensing Part B medications, and other providers.   Providers may not know they are not allowed to bill a QMB beneficiary for Medicare coinsurance, since they bill other Medicare beneficiaries.  Even those who know may pressure their patients to pay, or simply decline to serve them.   These rights and the ramifications of these QMB rules are explained in this article. 

CMS is doing more education about QMB Rights.  The 2017 Medicare Handbook, for the first time, gives information about QMB Protections.   Download the 2018 Medicare Handbook here. See p. 99.  

1.  To Which Providers will QMB or Medicaid Pay the Medicare Co-Insurance?  

According to a CMS Informational Bulletin issued January 6, 2012, titled "Billing for Services Provided to Qualified Medicare Beneficiaries (QMBs)," providers must enroll as Medicaid providers in order to bill Medicaid for the Medicare coinsurance. The bulletin states, "If the provider wants Medicaid to pay the coinsurance, then the provider must register as a Medicaid provider under the state rules."   If the provider chooses not to enroll as a Medicaid provider, it still may not "balance bill" the QMB recipient for the coinsurance.  

2.   How Does a Provider that DOES accept Medicaid Bill for a QMB Beneficiary?

If beneficiary has Original Medicare --

The provider bills Medicaid  - even if the QMB Beneficiary does not also have Medicaid.   Medicaid is required to pay the provider for all Medicare Part A and B cost-sharing charges, even if the service is normally not covered by Medicaid  (ie, chiropractic, podiatry and clinical social work care).  Whatever reimbursement Medicaid  pays the provider constitutes by law payment in full, and the provider cannot bill the beneficiary for any difference remaining. 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(n)(3)(A),  NYS DOH 2000-ADM-7

If the QMB beneficiary is in a Medicare Advantage plan -

The provider bills the Medicare Advantage plan, then bills Medicaid for the balance using a “16” code to get paid. The provider must include the amount it received from Medicare Advantage plan.  

3.  For a Provider who accepts Medicaid, How Much of the Medicare Coinsurance will be Paid for a QMB or Medicaid Beneficiary in NYS?

The answer to this question has changed by laws enacted in 2015 and 2016.  The answer is different depending on whether the individual has Original Medicare or is a Medicare Advantage plan,  The answer also differs based on the type of service. 

  1. If service is an ambulance or psychologist, QMB/Medicaid will pay full coinsurance, regardless of what the Medicaid rate is for the service.  SSL 367-a, subd. 1(d)(iii)-(iv), as amended 2015 and 2016. 

  2. If individual has Original Medicare, QMB/Medicaid will not pay any of the 20% Part B coinsurance, if the Medicaid rate is lower than the Medicare rate for the service. For Joe in the example at the beginning of this article, if the Medicare rate for the doctor is $100,  his coinsurance would be $20.  If the Medicaid rate for the same service is only $80 or less, Medicaid would pay nothing, as it would consider the doctor fully paid.

Exceptions - Medicaid/QMB wil pay the full coinsurance for the following services, regardless of the Medicaid rate: 

SSL 367-a, subd. 1(d)(iii), as amended 2015

  1. If individual is in a Medicare Advantage plan,   85% of the copayment will be paid to the provider (must be a Medicaid provide), regardless of the Medicaid rate. This limit was enacted in the 2016 State Budget, and is better than what the Governor proposed - which was that NONE of the copayment or coinsurance would be paid  if the Medicaid rate was lower than the Medicare rate for the service, which is usually the case. This would have deterred doctors and other providers from being willing to treat them.   SSL 367-a, subd. 1(d)(iv), added  2016.

EXCEPTIONS:  The Medicare Advantage plan must pay the full coinsurance for the following services, regardless of the Medicaid rate: 

Example to illustrate the proposal and the final budget provision.   he Medicare rate for Mary's specialist visit is $200, of which her Medicare Advantage plan pays $150 and Mary is charged a copayment of $50. The Medicaid rate for the same service is $150. 

4.   May the Provider 'Balance Bill" a QMB Benficiary for the Coinsurance if Provider Does Not Accept Medicaid, or if Neither the Patient or Medicaid/QMB pays any coinsurance?

No.  Balance billing is banned by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.   42 U.S.C. § 1396a(n)(3)(A).   In an Informational Bulletin issued January 6, 2012, titled "Billing for Services Provided to Qualified Medicare Beneficiaries (QMBs)," the federal Medicare agency - CMS - clarified that providers MAY NOT BILL QMB recipients for the Medicare coinsurance.  This is true whether or not the provider is registered as a Medicaid provider.  If the provider wants Medicaid to pay the coinsurance, then the provider must register as a Medicaid provider under the state rules.  This is a change in policy in implementing Section 1902(n)(3)(B) of the Social Security Act (the Act), as modified by section 4714 of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which prohibits Medicare providers from balance-billing QMBs for Medicare cost-sharing.  The CMS letter states,

"All Medicare physicians, providers, and suppliers who offer services and supplies to QMBs are prohibited from billing QMBs for Medicare cost-sharing, including deductible, coinsurance, and copayments. This section of the Act is available at: CMCS Informational Bulletin http://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/ssact/title19/1902.htm. QMBs have no legal obligation to make further payment to a provider or Medicare managed care plan for Part A or Part B cost sharing.  Providers who inappropriately bill QMBs for Medicare cost-sharing are subject to sanctions.  Please note that the statute referenced above supersedes CMS State Medicaid Manual, Chapter 3, Eligibility, 3490.14 (b),  which is no longer in effect, but may be causing confusion about QMB billing."

The same information was sent to providers in this Medicare Learning Network bulletin, last revised in December 2017.

CMS reminded Medicare Advantage plans of the rule against Balance Billing in the 2017 Call Letter for plan renewals.  See this excerpt of the call letter by Justice in Aging - Prohibition on Billing Medicare-Medicaid Enrollees for Medicare Cost Sharing 

5.  How do QMB Beneficiaries Show a Provider that they have QMB and cannot be Billed for the Coinsurance?

It can be difficult to show a provider that one is a QMB.  It is especially difficult for providers who are not Medicaid providers to identify QMB's, since they do not have access to online Medicaid eligibility systems.

6.  Pervasive Problems with Access to Care for QMBs and Toolkit to Help Protect QMB Rights

 7.  If you are Billed  -​  Strategies 

September 4, 2009, updated Dec. 15,, 2017 by Valerie Bogart, NYLAG

Author: Cathy Roberts ;

Author: Geoffrey Hale 


This article was authored by the Empire Justice Center.

Empire Justice Center



Article ID: 94
Last updated: 15 Jan, 2018
Revision: 15
Medicare Savings Program -> "Qualified Medicare Beneficiaries" (QMB) - Protections against "Balance Billing"
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