5 minutes with& Maryann Palmeter

BC Advantage (BC): Tell us about your background and how you got started in the industry.
Maryann Palmeter (MP):
I started in the industry back in 1982 with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida.  My first job was as a Medicare Part B claims examiner.  I worked my way up and when I left I was the supervisor of the In-Line Quality Analysis Department.  That department was responsible for auditing the accuracy of claims processed. While I worked for "the Blues," I learned a lot about Medicare's internal edits and audits, how suspended claims are worked, medical review, and the "Medicare Carrier's Manual."  I did some provider education and also trained new employees on claims processing.  In 1992 I started working for the University of Florida Jacksonville Physicians, Inc. as a Medicare follow-up and collections coordinator.  Tip to my colleagues in the industry:  Sometimes one must take a pay cut to learn the other side of the business.  I was promoted to supervisor of Medicare and Medicaid follow-up and collections then became a provider education specialist.  While in that role I was responsible for supervising a group of coders who extracted physician charges from inpatient medical records.  I also learned a lot about the E&M guidelines and the teaching physician rules.  In 1998 a position became available with the University of Florida Jacksonville Healthcare, Inc. in the Compliance department. Now I am the associate director for physician billing compliance and I have a wonderful staff of 11 professionals.  Seven of those staff members are compliance analysts who are certified professional coders.

BC: Describe a typical day for yourself as the Associate Director of the Office of Physician Billing Compliance.
I spend a lot of time reading to stay abreast of changes in Medicare and Medicaid regulations, which are constant.  I handle any Hotline calls, respond to payer audits and requests for documentation, develop and revise policies, answer questions from providers and billing staff about coding and billing regulations, perform special investigations/audits, assist my staff with their audits, and basically run the day-to-day operations of the department. 
BC: What do you most enjoy about your role?
It is always interesting and never stagnant.  I work in an academic practice environment and the physicians, whose specialties range from anesthesia to vascular surgery, are always on the cutting edge of new technologies so there is an enormous wealth of information to learn and apply.
BC: Anything that you don't like?
Don't get me wrong.  I really enjoy my job and I work with and for some terrific people.  If I did not truly feel that I was making a positive contribution then I would no longer be doing what I do.  That being said, I will add that I think my staff is under appreciated at times; similar to IRS auditors I would imagine.  No love lost there, right?  By that I mean that they, and I, are often viewed as a necessary evil.  I would like to change that perception so that our customers see us as just necessary.
We have an enormous responsibility and must take our roles seriously and perform our jobs diligently.
BC: You have several staff that report to you, how would you describe your management style?
I used to be a control freak and had to have my hands in everything.  I must confess that I probably still would be if I had the time.  However, there comes a time when the other responsibilities become too great to afford one that luxury.  I would say that I have learned to allow staff to be responsible for their job performance and to take responsibility for their actions.  They will make mistakes from time to time as we all do because we are human beings.  I feel that I am here to coach them, to provide them with the tools needed to do their jobs well, and to assist them in their professional growth. 

BC: Do you still "keep your hands dirty" even though you are in a management role?
Absolutely!  I handle some of the investigations and audits myself, I have to be educated enough to respond to questions posed to the department and those of my staff, and I have to ensure my staff's work is accurate so I have to stay up to speed. 

BC: We all have stressful times (however some have them more than others) what do you do to cope when you're having "one of those days"?
I take a break and play a game of Sudoku.  Yes, I am a Sudoku addict!  This gives me an opportunity to clear my head and regain my focus. 
BC: All organizations (whether large or small) have politics on some level  what do you do to cope with this issue for yourself/staff/department?
My staff and I have to recognize, praise, and thank one another.  Let's face it; my department is not a revenue-generating department so we are not always afforded the same significance as other departments.  I just have to remind my staff of what our mission is and that we perform worthwhile work. 

BC: Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
Funny, my goal used to be to become a consultant and travel around the country doing lectures on billing and compliance.  That was before kids.  Now I can't imagine being away from them for more than a couple days at a time and certainly not on a regular basis.  I don't think I would be very successful with that attitude.  So now I envision myself with that elusive Bachelor's Degree, or maybe even a Master's Degree, and if I had my choice, working from home.  I would probably stay in this arena, but it would have to be doing something that allowed me to balance work and family.     
BC: If you could be doing anything else - what would that be?
Is this the "If I won the lottery..." question?  If so, then I would become a full-time student of History or Humanities.  I would travel to Europe to see all of the beautiful medieval churches and search for the Holy Grail.  I have always been a big fan of roller coasters so I would like to travel to theme parks throughout the U.S. and Europe to ride the biggest, the fastest, and the scariest roller coasters out there. My dream job would be to own a floral/greeting card/book/gift store so that I could exercise my creativity, continue to learn, and buy stuff without feeling guilty.

BC: Anything you would like to add?
The late Kenneth Patton, a Unitarian-Universalist minister and author, once said, "By labor we can find food and water, but all of our labor will not find for us another hour."  My message to folks in the industry is that lost time cannot be recaptured.  If you are in a job that does not make you happy, find something that does.