On a rural West TN doctor’s fight with feds, backed by area politicians appealing to Alexander, Kustoff

The federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has shut off payments to Dr. Bryan Merrick after finding clerical errors in billings through McKenzie Medical Center for a handful of Medicare patients. The move threatens to shut down the center – which serves around 4,000 patients in a rural area with few medical providers — and has brought a bipartisan outpouring of pleas to help Merrick from West Tennessee political leaders to members of the Tennessee congressional delegation, so far without results.

The latest plea was a letter last week from McKenzie Mayor Jill Holland to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander as chairman of the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee, asking him to convene a hearing with the goal of “revocation or modification of a particularly egregious Obama-era regulation” that CMS used in stopping Medicare payments to Merrick that is now “jeopardizing health care to hundreds and eventually thousands of citizens” in Carroll, Weakley and Henry counties. As of this weekend, Alexander had not responded to the letter or a reporter’s email inquiry seeking comment.

Holland, whose family has relied on Merrick for heath care, also wrote an o-ed piece appearing in the Commercial Appeal that declared the situation “the worst abuse of an individual by Big Government I have ever seen.” And she was joined by Huntingdon Mayor Dale Kelley, McLemoresville Mayor Phil Williams, Carroll County Mayor Kenny McBride  and Bethel University President Walter Butler in a meeting with U.S. Rep. David Kustoff to seek the congressman’s help.

From a Tennessee Star report on the meeting with Kustoff:

Kustoff basically punted in response, offering to undertake nothing more than  a purely symbolic effort to “expedite” the lengthy administrative law judge offering. (Note: Merrick has appealed the ruling to an administrative law judge, a procedure that apparently takes a couple of years in most cases.)

Meanwhile, Dr. Merrick’s patients and employees, as well as Dr. Merrick and McKenzie Medical Center, will suffer devastating consequences, since Medicare payments, which comprise almost half of his practice, are now completely cut off.

Former state Sen. Roy Herron of Dresden, an attorney and past chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, is also trying to help Merrick. After a review of the questioned billings, Herron says  all – there are 30 among about 30,000 submitted over a 20-month period reviewed that involve less than $1,000 combined – are relatively inconsequential, some were CMS’ fault and those that were not amount to minor clerical errors at worst. For example, there was a mixup between two people with the same name. One was deceased; the other a living patient. Merrick was accused of fraudulently seeking payment for an office visit by the deceased person, when it was actually for the living patient.

“It’s just crazy,” says Herron.

There’s also a Facebook page – Save Doctor Merrick – set up to help the physician, HERE.

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