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Archive for the ‘Anti-kickback Statute’ Category

Using Self-Disclosure Protocols – CMS and OIG Self Disclosure Process

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

Self-Disclosure Has Become a Normal Part of the Compliance Process

As the OIG and CMS make self-disclosure easier for providers, we have noticed an increase in the rate of cases that are being filed.  Assisting providers in making decisions whether to self-disclose, conducting internal investigations, and guiding the self-disclosure process when appropriate has become a large part of our compliance practice.  Here are just a few of the articles and other resources that we have released regarding self-disclosure issues:

Exercising Reasonable Care to Identify and Address Potential Overpayments

Criminal Exposure for Failing to Repay Known Overpayment

When to Use the OIG’s Self Disclosure Protocols

Excluded Party Cases Dominate OIG Published Self Disclosure Settlements

Self-Disclosure Process – Voluntary Self Disclosure Decisions are not Always Easy

When Does An Overpayment Become Fraud? How Simple Inattention Can Expose You to Penalties for Fraudulent Activities

Provider Self-Disclosure Decisions – Voluntary Disclosure Process

Provider Self Disclosure Process

For more information on the self-disclosure process and legal updates impacting the process, watch this space.

Differential Valuations and the Anti-kickback Statute

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

Ambulatory Surgery Case Demonstrates Differential Value Theory of Renumeration

ASC Fraud and Abuse RemunerationA relatively recent case involving buy-in terms in an ambulatory surgery center demonstrates how different valuations for referral sources and non-referral sources can be evidence of remuneration under the Medicare Anti-Kickback Statute (42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b(a)-(b)).  The case also demonstrates how the initial investment terms that favor referral sources can foreclose reliance on safe harbor regulations.

The case involved an ambulatory surgery center management company what purchased an interest in an ambulatory surgery center.  The company then offered shares of the company for investment to physicians who were in a position to refer surgical cases to the surgery center.  The physician investment was structured to meet the terms of the safe harbor regulations for ambulatory surgery center investments (“ASC Safe Harbors”).  The ASC Safe Harbors provide protection from remuneration that is received by a referring physician as a return on investment as long as the physician meets certain minimum practice revenue and surgical volume requirements. Physician investors must generally receive at least 1/3 of their practice income from the provision of surgical procedures and perform at least 1/3 of their surgical procedures in the center in which they hold an investment interest.

The problem with the way that the investment interest was structured was the different valuation that applied to the purchase that was made by the management company and the investment offer made to the referring physicians.  The management company purchased its investment at a much higher price than was offered to the physicians.  The differential valuation violated a threshold requirement of the safe harbor regulations that prohibits the initial investment interest to be based, in whole or in part, on the volume or value of referrals that the investor might make to the entity.  It was very difficult for the parties to justify the different value applied to physician investment.  The only apparent difference appeared to be that the physician investors were the referral sources for the surgery center.

This case specifically involved an ambulatory surgery center investment but the concept of differential valuation could apply in other situations involving the Anti-Kickback Statute.  Different values paid to or received from referral sources and non-referral sources can suggest that at least one of the reasons for the differential is the volume or value of potential referrals.  This points out a general area of risk assessment for all health care providers.  Areas where different pricing is applied to referral sources and non-referral sources could signify a potential violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute.

Self Disclosure Process – Voluntary Self Disclosure Decisions are not Always Easy

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Provider Self Disclosure Decisions – Voluntary Disclosure Process

The HHS Office of Inspector General offers providers and opportunity to self-disclose certain violations in exchange for avoiding some of the more draconian penalties that may otherwise apply under applicable regulations.  Even though the OIG’s self-disclosure offer can be very compelling, the decision on whether to utilize the OIG’s self-disclosure protocols is often very difficult.

Unfortunately, it is not always clear whether a violation of a regulatory requirement has occurred.  Those involved in health care law are familiar with the level of ambiguity that often exists with respect to specific billing rules and other regulatory standards.  On the other hand, the potential liability for making the wrong call about whether an infraction has actually occurred can be quite significant.  Clearly, if a provider is deciding whether they have violated a regulation, they have knowledge that the situation has occurred.  The failure to act once knowledge is obtained or imputed can lead to sanctions being multiplied.  For example, failing to repay a known overpayment within 60 days can triple the amount of penalties and add up to $22,000 per claim to the price tag.

The current regulatory scheme places a very high price tag on being “wrong” about whether a regulatory violation is present.  The potential high damages for an incorrect decision forces a provider to take an overly expansive view of when (or whether) a regulatory infraction has occurred.

Clearly not every situation where there has been a billing error amounts to fraud or wrongdoing requiring use of the self-disclosure protocol.  Many over-payments that are identified through audit can be dealt with at the intermediary level.  Where investigation raises questions about whether incorrect bills are “knowingly” submitted, the self-disclosure process may provide some mitigation of potential loss.  Situations where the provider perhaps “should have known” raise more difficult issues of analysis.

The Office of Inspector General’s self-disclosure process is available when there is a potential violation of Federal law that could result in the imposition of Civil Monetary Penalties. A simple determination that a billing error may have led to an overpayment is generally not covered by the protocol.  It is only when the error presents potential CMPs that the protocol can be used to self-disclose the violation to the Federal government.  For example, self-disclosure might be considered where an overpayment is not repaid within 60 days after discovery by the provider or where there is a violation of the anti-kickback statute discovered.

To complicate matters even further, once a provider obtains actual knowledge that a billing error occurs, it is always possible that the government will take the position that the infraction “should have” been known to the provider at an earlier date.  This impacts when the 60 day clock that triggers the application of the False Claims Act begins to run.  Once you discover an error, you would like to think that you have 60 days to self disclose and avoid the damage inflating False Claims Act.  Whether you should have discovered the infraction earlier through a properly functioning compliance program will always overshadow these cases.  The only thing that a provider can really do to reduce the stress of this type of impossible situation is to have a strong compliance program in place well in advance.

The situation is also complicated because a potential whistle-blower may view a situation much differently than a provider who finds what it believes to be an innocent mistake through the audit process.  A provider may sincerely believe that there was no “wrongdoing” and that a simple mistake has been identified.  Finding such a mistake may actually be evidence that the provider’s compliance efforts are working.  On the other hand, there is a whole legal profession out there now that is advertising for people to come forward as whistleblowers.  With potential recovery under the False Claims Act of 3 times the over-payment plus up to $22,000 per claim, whistleblower lawyers have strong incentive to attempt to turn what the provider believes to be an innocent mistake into a false claim. The damage calculation creates a big payday for whistleblower plaintiffs and their lawyer, who take these cases on a contingency fee basis.

Generally speaking, when errors are discovered, the providers best bet is to be forthright and deal with the matter “head on.”  A complete internal investigation should be conducted to determine the precise nature of the issues and to identify the extent of wrongdoing.  Based on the outcome of the investigation, the provider can determine whether a simple repayment can be used or whether there may be reason to go through the formal self-disclosure process.

Anyone who has worked with reimbursement rules will realize that payment policies, rules and regulations are not always clear.  It is often difficult to determine whether there is even a violation of applicable rules or whether an overpayment actually exists.  Legal ambiguities further complicate the self-disclosure decision.  The precise nature of any legal ambiguities involved in the specific case need to be completely documented.  If a decision is made that there has been no wrongdoing, the legal analysis should be laid out in writing and in detail and a reasonable judgment should be made regarding the interpretation of applicable legal standards.  If self-disclosure is made in situations involving legal ambiguities, those ambiguities should be explained in detail as part of the self-disclosure.

In the end, a provider facing potential self- disclosure must follow a reasonable process to make a reasoned decision in the face of significant risk and uncertainty.  Perhaps most importantly, it is never a good alternative to pretend that the situation will never be discovered or brought to light.  These cases can arise in strange and unexpected ways.  It is best to assume that a discovered compliance violation will eventually be brought to light.  In most cases it is advantageous for the provider to affirmatively bring the matter forward rather than waiting for the government or a whistleblower to bring a claim.  When that happens, it is much more difficult to resolve the issue.

John H. Fisher, CHC, CCEP is a health care attorney at the Ruder Ware law firm.  John is actively involved representing clients on legal and compliance issues.  He has represented clients in creating compliance programs and in a variety of operational issues.  He also assists providers in addressing risk areas and potential compliance issues including preparing self-disclosure and working with the government to resolve disclosed compliance issues and overpayment.  John consults as a subject matter expert and provider legal backup to other attorneys and law firms from around the country on specialized compliance, regulatory and health care issues.  John has followed legal issues impacting health care provider for over 25 years.  As such, he is knowledgeable on the current legal standards as well as the historic perspective that is often relevant to an appropriate analysis.  

Ambulatory Surgery Center Exclusions – ASC Safe Harbor Compliance

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Excluding Non-performing Positions from a Physician Owned Surgery Center

Many surgery centers are eventually faced with decisions about how to treat investing physicians who do not perform as many procedure procedures in the surgery center as others.  Under-performing physicians can create political issues in ASCs because investors who perform more surgeries or higher value procedures at the center feel that the other investors are taking a ride on their efforts. Over time, higher producers may start to view those with lower surgery levels as “dead wood”. This dynamic is a perfect set up for violating the anti-kickback statute which specifically prohibits basing investment offering on the actual or expected volume or value of referrals.

​The anti-kickback statute standards that apply to surgery centers are somewhat counter-intuitive. The safe harbors that protect ASC investment interests actually require an investor to make certain levels of referral in order to receive the benefits of the safe harbor. This is different from other types of services which consider additional referrals to be suspect.

​The conditions included in the ambulatory surgery center safe harbors act as a proxy for determining when an investing referrer actually uses the ASC as a natural extension of his or her office practice. If the investor does not meet the Safe harbor threshold they may still use the ASC is a natural extension of their office. The Safe harbor merely provides absolute protection if the thresholds are met.

Where the specific requirements of the safe harbor is not met, the referring physician may still be using the facility as an extension of his or her medical practice. It might just be that the nature of the practice does not support as many referrals as other types of practices.  This does not necessarily mean that the lower volume provider presents any additional risk of violating the anti-kickback statute than a provider that comes closer to meeting the safe harbor standards.

Depending on the practice type, the lower level of referrals might very well still be indicative that the physician uses the facility as an extension of his or her practice.  This may not be what the higher referring physicians wish to hear.   In reality, they may feel that lower volume providers are taking a ride on their higher profitability that is created by there more lucrative practice.  In these cases, strict adherence to the one-third tests for multi specialty ambulatory surgery centers can support the positions of the high-volume surgeons to the detriment of the lower volume surgeons who still realistically create very little risk under the anti-kickback statute. However it becomes convenient that those who are responsible for more income being produced by the ASC can rely upon the number of procedures and percentage of income tests to exclude physicians who legitimately use the ASC is an extension of practice from participation but who have lower surgical volumes.

These types of cases run significant risk of being challenged under the anti-kickback statute by excluded investors or governmental enforcement agencies.  Great care must be taken in surgery centers that contain this dynamic to assure that frustrations of higher volume producers do not lead to actions that create regulatory risk for the surgery center.

Many operating agreements that govern the rules relating to ambulatory surgery center ownership actually create legal compliance risk.  It is critical that the procedures for excluding providers be established in advance, are uniformly followed, and do not raise any inference that additional referrals are being required in order to maintain an investment interest. Efforts to bring investors closer to compliance with safe harbor standards can easily be “turned inside out” and be re-characterized as requiring additional referrals.

Once investors own interests in an ambulatory surgery center, it is very difficult to force redemption without creating a lot of legal risk.  ASCs that use the failure to meet safe harbor standards as a reason to exclude investors run substantial risk.  The ASC Safe Harbor provisions exist to protect arrangements from further scrutiny where they contain elements that the federal government has indicated are reflective of there being a lower level of risk of abuse.  The safe harbors were never intended to be used as a tool to replace a complete risk analysis presented by investors who do not meet all of the terms of the safe harbor.  In this respect, the ASC Safe Harbors are different from other safe harbor provisions under the anti-kickback statute.  The primary difference involves that fact that the safe harbor actually requires certain levels of referrals to be made to the ASC.

With other safe harbors, structuring an arrangement to come close to a safe harbor can be a valid risk mitigation approach.  This is not the case with the ASC safe harbor because requiring investors in an ASC to come closer to the referral threshholds in the ASC Safe Harbor actually invoke the referral prohibition.  Forcing this doctor out of the ASC for simply not meeting the safe harbor creates a violation.

Self Disclosure Settlements Help Identify Compliance Risk Areas

Friday, January 27th, 2017

Self Disclosure Settlements Indicate Areas of Compliance Risk

Compliance officers can identify areas of potential compliance risk in a number of ways.  One way is to examine self disclosure settlements under the Stark Law and OIG self disclosure process.  This helps indicate issues that other providers are disclosing to the government and can help identify potential risk areas within your organizations.

Here are a handful of self disclosure settlements that have been published:

A Massachusetts hospital settled several Stark law violations involving failure to satisfy the requirements of the personal services arrangements exception with department chiefs and medical staff for leadership services, and for arrangements with physician groups for on-site overnight coverage for patients at the Hospital. Settlement Amount – $579,000.00

An Ohio physician group practice settled two Stark law violations involving prescribing and supplying a certain type of DME that did not satisfy the requirements of the inoffice ancillary services exception. Settlement Amount – $60.00

A Mississippi critical access hospital settled several violations of the Stark law relating to its failure to satisfy the requirements of the personal services arrangements exception for arrangements with hospital and emergency room physicians. Settlement Amount – $130,000

A California hospital settled two Stark law violations that exceeded the annual nonmonetary compensation limit for physicians. Settlement Amount – $6,700

A hospital in Georgia settled violations involving two physicians and the annual nonmonetary compensation limit. Settlement Amount – $4,500

A physician group practice in Iowa settled Stark law violations after disclosing that its compensation for certain employed physicians failed to satisfy the requirements of the bona fide employment relationship exception. Settlement Amount – $74,000

An Arizona acute care hospital settled a Stark law violation after disclosing a single physician arrangement that did not meet the personal service arrangements exception. Settlement Amount – $22,000

A hospital located in North Carolina settled six Stark law violations for $6,800 after disclosing that it exceeded the calendar year nonmonetary compensation limit for two physicians during three consecutive years. Settlement Amount – $6,800

An Alabama hospital resolved a Stark violation involving a rental charge formula that did not satisfy the requirements of the rental of equipment exception. Settlement Amount – $42,000

A hospital in Maine settled potential Stark law violations relating to arrangements with a physician and physician group practice that failed to satisfy the requirements of the personal services exception. Settlement Amount – $59,000

A Massachusetts hospital settled violations concerning arrangements with two physician practices for call coverage that did not satisfy the personal service arrangements exceptions. Settlement Amount – $208,000

A hospital located in Florida resolved arrangements with three physicians that did not satisfy the personal service arrangements exception. Settlement Amount – $22,000

A Missouri hospital settled Stark law violations involving two physicians for the provision of dental services that did not meet the requirements of the personal service exception. Settlement Amount – $125,000

A North Carolina-based general acute care hospital and its hospice agreed to settle several Stark law violations involving arrangements and payments that failed to meet the physician recruitment, fair market value, and personal services arrangement exceptions. Settlement Amount – $584,700

A hospital in California settled a Stark law violation, which arose from its failure to meet the physician recruitment exception. Settlement Amount – $28,000

An acute care hospital in California settled a violation of the Stark law after disclosing that it failed to meet the personal service arrangements exception for an on-call arrangement with a physician. Settlement Amount – $1,600

A South Carolina general acute care hospital settled several violations of the Stark law involving arrangements with physicians and physician group practices that failed to satisfy the requirements of the FMV compensation exception, the personal services arrangements exception, and the rental office space exception. Settlement Amount – $256,000

A Massachusetts acute care hospital settled several Stark law violations involving arrangements with physicians that failed to satisfy the definition of “entity”, the rental office space exception, and the personal services arrangement exception. Settlement Amount – $199,400

A Louisiana acute care hospital used the SRDP to resolve violations related to professional service arrangements with physicians, a professional staffing organization, and a physician group practice. Settlement Amount – $317,620

A Minnesota hospital agreed to settle a Stark violation that stemmed from a recruitment arrangement that failed to satisfy the requirements of the physician recruitment exception. Settlement Amount – $760.00

A Texas rehabilitation hospital resolved several Stark violations through the SRDP involving arrangements for ownership interests held by certain physicians that failed to satisfy the whole hospital exception. Settlement Amount – $23,730

A general acute care hospital in New York agreed to settle a violation of the Stark law that involved an arrangement that failed to satisfy the requirements of the rental office space exception. Settlement Amount – $78,500

A Florida acute care hospital settled several Stark violations relating to arrangements with multiple physicians for emergency cardiology call-coverage that did not satisfy the requirements of any applicable exception. Settlement Amount – $109,000

A general acute care hospital in Florida settled several Stark violations involving arrangement with a group practice to provide residency program services, a physician to provide electronic health records subject matter expert services, a physician to provide Medical Director services, and a physician to provide leadership services for a hospital committee, none of which satisfied applicable exceptions. Settlement Amount – $76,000

An Alabama acute care hospital resolved a violation of the Stark law involving an arrangement with a physician group practice for the rental of office space that did not satisfy the exception. Settlement Amount – $187,340

A Wisconsin critical access hospital used the SRDP to resolve a violation of the Stark law relating to an arrangement with one physician for the provision of emergency room call coverage services at adjacent walk-in clinics that failed to satisfy any applicable exception. Settlement Amount – $12,724

A Tennessee acute care hospital settled a Stark violation involving an arrangement with one physician for the supervision of cardiac stress tests that failed to satisfy the requirements of any applicable exception. Settlement Amount – $72,270

An acute care hospital in Pennsylvania resolved several Stark violations related to arrangements for Medical Director services with certain physicians and a physician practice that did not satisfy the personal services exception. Settlement Amount $24,740

A general acute care hospital in Ohio used the SRDP to settle violations of the Stark law that involved arrangements with certain physicians for EKG interpretation, medical director services, Vice-Chief of Staff services, and hospital services that did not satisfy the requirements of any applicable exception. Additional violations stemmed from arrangements with certain physicians and a physician group practice for the donation of EHR items and services that failed to satisfy the applicable exception. Settlement Amount $235,565

A Texas acute care hospital settled a Stark violation involving an arrangement for case management physician advisor services with a physician that did not satisfy the requirements of any applicable exception. Settlement Amount – $54,108

A physician group practice in Louisiana resolved a Stark violation relating to arrangements with two physicians that failed to satisfy the requirements of the in-office ancillary services exception. Settlement Amount – $13,572

A non-profit community hospital in Minnesota settled a violation of the Stark law that involved an arrangement with a physician group practice for the rental of office space and provision of support services that failed to satisfy the requirements of any applicable exception. Settlement Amount – $9,570

A California acute-psychiatric hospital resolved two Stark violations relating to arrangements with two physicians for the provision of psychiatric services that did not satisfy the requirements of any applicable exception. Settlement Amount – $67,750

A North Carolina acute care hospital used the SRDP to settle several violations of the Stark law relating to arrangements with a physician to provide Medical Director Services, a physician group practice to provide medical coding and consulting services, and a physician and a physician group practice for the lease of office space, that failed to satisfy the requirements of any applicable exception. Settlement Amount – $87,110.00 19.

A general acute care hospital in Texas resolved a Stark violation involving an arrangement with a physician to provide utilization review services that did not satisfy any applicable exception. Settlement Amount – $82,055 20.

A California acute care hospital resolved several violations of the Stark law involving arrangements with three physicians for the provision of on-call services to the Hospital’s emergency department that did not satisfy the requirements of any applicable exception. Settlement Amount – $42,630 21.

An acute care hospital in Oklahoma used the SRDP to settle several Stark violations relating to arrangements with four physicians for the provision of electrocardiogram interpretation services that failed to satisfy the requirements of the personal services exception. Settlement Amount – $124,008

How Should Compliance Process Integrate the Yates Memorandum?

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Compliance Process and the Yates Memorandum?

Yates Memorandum Compliance Investigation ProcessThe controversial Yates memorandum is one of the most significant policy changes to ever come out of the Department of Justice.  Companies in virtually every industry should be examining their practices in view of the significant shift in emphasis of Federal prosecutors.

Here are a few points that suggest actions that should be taken by compliance officers and other corporate officers in reaction with the new Federal policy.

1.     The Yates memorandum is a “board-worthy” issue.  Board members and upper management must all be advised of the new DOJ position and the impact on their responsibilities and the compliance process.  The stakes involved in corporate wrongdoing have clearly been raised by Federal prosecutors.  This is serious business.

2.     Significant committees should be advised and integrate these principles into their activities.

3.     Internal investigation process must be amended in a number of ways, some specific to new steps that are required to be taken and to stress the importance of investigating individual wrongdoing.

4.     The process and flow of addressing internal investigations must be reviewed and in many cases revised to meet the new requirements.  A new triage step must be added to the analysis of the investigation process to determine whether there is any potential individual wrongdoing that should be investigated and disclosed.

5.     The dynamics between lower level wrongdoers and the company may be changed because of the increased probability of individual prosecution and the need for the company to disclose all information relating to individual liability.   This will require companies to investigate employees much more frequently.

6.     The need to assure that UpJohn warnings are provided to employees who may have individual liability is increased.  This should be reflected with specific provisions in the investigation process.   It is critical that evidence obtained through internal investigation not be “contaminated” by not giving proper notifications to subjects.  Contamination of evidence could have a negative impact on eligibility for cooperation credit from Federal prosecutors.

7.     Investigation process and procedures need to be reviewed and made air tight.  Detailed investigation steps should be laid out in the investigation policy and supporting documents.  The UpJohn process should be memorialized in investigation policies and procedures to reflect the need for companies to take more intense actions to investigate employees.  No specific changes are required in the UpJohn process, but the process must be well defined and systematized.  Many companies do not specifically address the need to give UpJohn warnings in their investigation policies.

8.     Investigation reports must cover each and every potential subject of the investigation and all relevant information should be disclosed in the report.   The investigation of each potential subject must be taken to a conclusion regarding potential individual wrongdoing.

9.    Yates requires a complicated privilege analysis which should also be considered for inclusion in policies and procedures.  Clarification provided by Federal prosecutors following issuance of the initial Yates Memorandum provides a degree of guidance about what information can be privileged and what cannot.

10.     Broad knowledge of the new Federal focus on individual accountability should be provided within the organization.  Employees and contractors should be advised of the new investigation policies and processes that will apply if an investigation is necessary.  All should understand what will occur if they become the subject of a Federal or internal investigation.

11.    Corporate liability will be influenced by the compliance process, tone from the top, effectiveness of the compliance process and other indications of an effective compliance program.  Individual liability will be largely based on the elements of the potential infraction.  Investigation process must include an analysis of the elements of the potential infraction with respect to each potential subject of an investigation.  Investigation reports and forms should be adjusted to assure that these standards are consistently maintained.  Evidence should be organized and attributed to each applicable subject in support of investigative conclusions.

12.    Compliance officers must educate individuals within the organization regarding the seriousness of these developments.  The best outcome is that individuals will take their role in preventing wrongdoing more seriously and will proactively operate in a manner that makes it unlikely that wrongdoing will ever occur.

For more information regarding the Yates Memorandum and other compliance and health law issues, stay tuned to our blog.

What Is The Different Between Fraud, Abuse, and Criminal Conduct

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

Fraud, Abuse, Over-payment – When Does a Mistake Become Fraud?

Fraud Abuse OverpaymentIf you are involved in any way in the health care system, it should be obvious by now that the government has committed ever increasing resources to the prosecution of fraud and abuse cases. Simply put, from a governmental standpoint, prosecuting fraud and abuse is good business. Every dollar that the government puts into pursuing health care fraud and abuse brings a return of around 7 or 8 dollars. If you are in business what do you do if you know that you can invest $1 and obtain a consistent $7 return on that investment; you spend the $1 as many times as you can. That is exactly what the government is doing when it comes to health care fraud and abuse. It is worthy of note that we are not just talking about pursuing criminals when we talk about health care fraud and abuse.

Certainly there are a lot of criminals out there who are intentionally trying to steal from the system through fraudulent schemes. Fraud and abuse encompasses a much broader type of activity. There are numerous situations where unintentional activity (i.e. a billing or coding error) can result in being overpaid by the federal government under a governmental health care program. I don’t want to say that this happens to everyone in the health care system; but it certainly happens to a lot of people, usually as a result of some sort of neglect or misinterpretation of some very complex regulations. Take for example the supervision rules that are discussed in another article in this newsletter. They are extremely convoluted and it is hard to imagine who every doctor could have it clear in his or her mind which rules apply and exactly what is required in each specific instance. Nevertheless, a billing occurs and if the proper supervision is later found to not be present, an over-payment results. This is an example of what the government considers to be “abuse.” No criminals are involved here, but an over-payment and technical abuse of the system has occurred.

The manner in which this situation is dealt with becomes critically important in determining whether there is a simple correction of the situation or whether it is escalated to higher levels of culpability; whether the simple inadvertent abuse becomes fraud. Let’s skip forward to a time when the doctor discovers that a mistake has been made in the level of supervision that was provided in the past. What happens now it very important. First, lets imagine that the doctor comes forward and admits the error. There is some money owed back to the governmental health program. This part of it will never go away. But lets say that the doctor lets it slide for half of a year and does nothing. Under current law, the doctor’s potential exposure has just escalated into a completely different zone of risk and potential culpability. Federal law says that the Federal False Claims Act applies if an over-payment is not corrected within 60 days after discovery. There are a lot to technical rules about when an over-payment is deemed to have been discovered. I am not going to get into that right now.  the doctor is potentially exposed to three times the original over-payment. But that is not the extent of it. The doctor is also exposed to additional damages in the amount of $11,000 per claim; for every individual service claim that resulted from the initial mistake in complying with the supervision regulations. This case has now escalated from abuse into fraud. From here it is just a matter of establishing intent to make this a criminal case.

The Truth About Physician Liability Under the Stark Law

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

When Is A Physician Liable for Stark Law Violations?

Physician Liability Stark LawI frequently hear attorneys claim that the Stark law applies equally to hospitals and physicians. This position is sometimes taken in the process of negotiating a transaction between a hospital and a physician or physician group. In this context it is limited to simple posturing to attempt to get a better financial deal in the negotiated arrangement. This position takes on a different and much more serious repercussions when this position is taken in the context of a potential compliance violation that is being addressed.

Let me make it clear that the Stark law applies to physicians. It applies when physicians are the provider of designated health services. It also potentially applies to physicians when they make referrals to hospitals or other providers of designated health services. However, in referrals to other providers of designated health services, such as hospitals, the potential liability to the physician under the Stark Law is much different and more remote than the liability of the hospital.

The Stark Law applies in a much different way for the referring physician than it does for the provider of designated health services such as the hospital. The bottom line is that the physicians are subject to much less risk and are much less likely to be subject to penalties or sanctions for violating the Stark law.

Statements that physicians and hospitals are both potentially “on the hook” under the Stark law are incomplete and often disingenuous. Statements that physicians and hospitals are “in the same boat” or are “equally at risk” under the Stark are simply untrue in most common cases that are not intentional attempts to circumvent the Stark Law in some way.

To illustrate,  it is important to look at what the Stark law prohibits and what sanctions are provided for the violation. The primary sanctions for violating the Stark law is denial of payment of any designated health services that flow from referrals that are made in violation. The Stark law is primarily a payment ban that is effective regardless of intent. If there is a financial relationship with the physician and no exception exists to permit the referral, there is a violation and the provider of the designated health service is denied the right to seek payment for the prohibited services.

The Affordable Care Act attaches additional penalties under the Federal False Claims Act if repayment is not made within 60 days after the designated health service provider discovers that an over-payment occurred as a result of the Stark law infraction. Penalties for failing to make timely repayment include triple the amount of the improper payment plus an additional $11,000 per claim. In many cases the potential exposure to the designated health service provider can be astronomical and can be large enough to threaten the potential viability of their business. However, it is significant to note that none of this exposure falls on the referring physician if the referring physician does not bill for the designated health service. In the typical case involving a hospital/physician relationship, the liability exposure only falls on the hospital for the payment denial and false claims act liabilities.

This is the source of a common misconception among physicians and even some hospital attorneys. The physician is not subject to the primary sanction for violating the Stark law which is repayment of amounts received for tainted services.  This has been confirmed multiple times by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  In comments to the Stark law regulations, CMS stated that the Stark statutory scheme already protects physicians from any liability in the absence of actual knowledge, reckless disregard, or deliberate ignorance (in connection with circumvention schemes). The basic statutory sanction is this loss of claims or bills which affects the DHS entity, not the referring physician.  69 fed. Reg. 16062

Physicians are not totally off the hook from any implications of the Stark Law though. The Stark law provides that physicians can be subject to substantial civil monetary penalties and exclusion from the Medicare program if the physician participates in a circumvention scheme that the physician knows or should know has a principal purpose of assuring referrals by the physician to a particular entity to which the physician could not refer to directly without complying with the Stark Law.  In other-words, physicians are only directly liable if they participate in schemes to work around the Stark Law.

So the next time you hear someone say that the Stark Law applies just as much to physicians as it does to hospitals, you will know whether or not the statement is correct.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medigap PHO Discount Program Receives OIG Approval

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

OIG Releases Yet Another Advisory Opinion 15-08

Medigap Arrangment Involving PHO Discounts

Medigap PHO Discount ProgramSomeone must be busy at the Office of Inspector General’s Office. Last week they released two new advisory opinions and a Special Fraud Alert. This week they released another Advisory Opinion, this time addressing sharing savings from a preferred hospital network between a Medigap insurer and its policy beneficiaries. The program at issue provided a premium credit of $100 toward the policyholder’s next renewal premium for participating in a discount program involving price reductions from a physician-hospital organization.

The second part of the program involved negotiated service rates with a physician-hospital organization (PHO). The PHO agreed to discounts of up to 100% of the Medicare Part A inpatient deductibles which would normally be paid by the Medigap plan. The PHO received an administrative fee from the Medigap plan for each discount that was provided by the PHO.

The OIG analysed the program under the civil monetary penalty (CMP) provisions and the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and concluded that the arrangement would not constitute grounds for civil monetary penalties or administrative sanctions.

The OIG found that discounting of the inpatient deductible created a low risk of fraud or abuse because the Medicare Part A payments are fixed and the discount would not impact reimbursement amounts. Additionally, the OIG observed that patients would not generally haveknowledge of the discount and would not be encouraged to seek additional care. The program did not offerfinancial rewards to the physicians involved in the patient’s care and the program was open to all providers who agreed to the discount program through participation in the PHO.
The OIG also found that the premium credits that were provided to beneficiaries created minimal risk of program abuse.

The OIG also noted that the proposed arrangement has the potential of lowering costs for policyholder under the Medigap plan and that the savings would be reported to the state regulatory agency.

OIG Fraud Alert – Medical Director Compensation Arrangements

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

medical director compsnation

Medical Director – Fraud Alert – Physician Compensation

The Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services release a new Fraud Alert on June 9, 2015.  The Fraud Alert relates to physician compensation for medical directorships and other services and warns that the compensation arrangements under these arrangements must be at fair market value and must require legitimate services to be performed in return for that compensation.  This is nothing new for those involved in physician compliance issues. However, the fact that the OIG chose this issue for a special Fraud Alert is significant in itself.

Medical director compensation has gained the attention of governmental enforcers over the years with some high profile cases that have focused on fraudulent medical director arrangements.  The compliance industry has tightened its belt on these issues; requiring strict adherence to policies and guidelines for medical director compensation. Clearly there is a legitimate need for health care providers to retain physicians to provide medical direction of various service lines.  In fact, regulations require medical director oversight in many areas.  Even where there is a legitimate need, it is necessary to carefully structure the medical director arrangement to be legally compliant.

You may find your compliance officer of health lawyer advising even more restrictive structuring of medical director arrangements as a result of this Fraud Alert.  The OIG uses Fraud Alerts to place emphasis on areas of concern.  These issuance must be taken seriously and should cause providers to review their policies, procedures and contracts to assure that they are legally compliant and could withstand scrutiny by external government investigators.

A few things to consider include:

  • Specifically defining the precise services that are required of the medical director.
  • Assuring that contracts are current, validly executed, and have not expired.
  • Require regular logs to be provided by the medical director which detail the services that are actually performed.
  • Require the service logs to correspond to specific duties that are described in the director agreement.
  • Support compensation with external fair market value opinions.
  • Cap compensation to assure that fair market value is never exceeded.

These are just a handful of issues providers need to consider when entering these arrangements with physicians.  For further details, contact your health care attorney or compliance officer.  By all means, pull your medical director agreements off the shelf and make certain that they are legally compliant.  You cannot assume that those arrangements will not be scrutinized by government enforces.

See – Fraud Alert: Physician Compensation Arrangements May Result in Significant Liability June 9, 2015.

John H. Fisher

Health Care Counsel
Ruder Ware, L.L.S.C.
500 First Street, Suite 8000
P.O. Box 8050
Wausau, WI 54402-8050

Tel 715.845.4336
Fax 715.845.2718

Ruder Ware is a member of Meritas Law Firms Worldwide

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