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Archive for the ‘Stark Law and Self Referral’ Category

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 National Legal Practice ASC Compliance Issues

Monday, January 30th, 2017

Ambulatory Surgery Center Compliance Legal Practice

Ruder Ware has developed an active practice counseling ambulatory surgery center providers and has served as special counsel in several cases involving ambulatory surgery center exclusions.  The firm’s health care and compliance attorneys are knowledgeable on the numerous legal and regulatory requirements that are applicable to ASCs.  The regulations applicable to these entities are complex and nuanced.  The consequences of failing to comply or with taking improper steps to exclude providers can be very costly.

Some of the issues that our health care practice has recently addressed include the following:

  • Counseling ASC’s on the application of the Stark law, Anti-Kickback Statute, and ASC safe harbor issues.
  • Advising and representing providers on issues relating to conditions of participation and governmental surveys.
  • Representing organizations in preparing and submitting self-disclosure to the government.
  • Development of ASC investment entities.
  • Establishment of ASC compliance programs
  • Decisions regarding exclusion of “under-performing” providers.
  • Structuring exclusion provisions to minimize risk of violating regulations or enhancing the risk of litigation.
  • Sale and purchase of surgery centers.
  • ASC licensure and governmental approval.
  • Compliance with patient confidentiality and privacy laws.
  • Risk assessment, audits, compliance work plans, staff compliance training.
  • Contractual relationships with outside parties.

Ambulatory Surgery Center Lawyers – Ambulatory Surgery Center Lawyers

Ambulatory Surgery Center Attorney

John H. Fisher has practiced health care law for over 25 years.  One of John’s significant areas of expertise involves the regulatory and business aspects of ambulatory surgery centers.  Over the years, John has represented numerous clients on legal and compliance issues related to ambulatory surgery centers.  John consults as a subject matter expert and provider legal backup to other attorneys and law firms from around the country on issues relating to ambulatory surgery centers.  Some of John’s more recent ASC related projects include:

  •  Representation of an ASC in connection with the exclusion of non-complying owners.
  • Representation of excluded providers in litigation and settlement.
  • Creating operating documents that comply with ambulatory surgery center safe harbors and other applicable regulatory requirements.
  • Creation of policies and procedures required to gain certification as an ASC.
  • Consultation with local litigation attorneys regarding regulatory issues relevant to ASC litigation.
  • Consultation with ASCs on establishment of compliance programs and identification of related risk areas.
  • Assisting ASC providers in addressing detected deviations in operating and compliance requirements.

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

Health Care Compliance Attorney – Certified CHC Lawyer

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Health Care Compliance Attorney

Compliance Representation – Certified Health Care Compliance

The Ruder Ware Compliance Team provides a variety of compliance-related services across a number of industry sectors.  Our compliance practice in the health care industry is lead by Attorney John Fisher.  John is a practicing health care attorney who has substantial expertise in the compliance area.  He is certified in both Health Care Compliance and Corporate Compliance and Ethics.

Aggressive Governmental Fraud and Abuse Investigations

Government enforcement practices and ever changing regulatory requirements require health care providers of all types and specialties to function in a highly complex environment.  Government enforcement operates under a “return on investment” mentality which leads to extremely aggressive and sometimes unfairly overbroad enforcement actions.  This leaves even the most well intentioned health care provider feeling targeted and overburdened with regulatory requirements.

Ruder Ware Provides a Full Range of Compliance Services

The Ruder Ware compliance team has provided a broad range of compliance related legal services to a wide range of health care providers such as hospitals, mental health programs, skilled nursing facilities, ambulatory surgery centers, a variety of medical groups, diagnostic facilities, home health care providers, personal care agencies, clinically integrated provider groups, accountable care organizations and other providers.  Each provider that we represent has unique features and characteristics that require creative approaches to mitigate the impact of overzealous governmental enforcement and private whistleblowers.

We Help You Prepare for an Eventual External Examination of Your Compliance Process

Our compliance practice functions under the philosophy that all providers will eventually be called upon to defend their compliance programs.  This may come through a self-disclosure after an infraction that is discovered through self assessment or audit.  Less ideally, it could come from a money hungry whistleblower who will not let go of a case until there is a payday.  It could also come at the hands of a government criminal or civil prosecutor.  Regardless of the source of challenge, at some point in the future, a compliance program will be put to the test.  When this happens, it must be effective to detect and correct potential compliance problems.  This requires both a well designed plan.  It also requires a showing that the plan is actively operating to identify risk areas, audit for anomalies in areas where risk may be present, and comes full circle to take appropriate action to correct potential problems that are identified.  If this is happening when your time comes; when your compliance program is put to the test, you will have gone a long ways toward mitigation of potential negative consequences.

Penalties Are Increasing and the Scope Activity Considered Abusive Continues to Expand

Some may wonder how the government plans to pay for changes in the health care system.  One of the primary sources of payment in the future will be through enforcement of actual or perceived fraud and abuse.  Currently, the Federal government received an 800% return on every dollar that it invests on pursuing health care fraud and abuse.  With increased penalties and more draconian enforcement systems in place, the government is poised to turn the enforcement business into an even more lucrative proposition.  The stage is set with laws that increase penalties to such an astronomical level that even a much less than certain case will be settled rather that risk being dragged through a proceeding that a provider is likely to lose in the end.

The Danger of Whistleblower Claimants

Whistleblowers also are incentivized to file cases as they seek to benefit personally from provider activity that may not fully conform to regulatory expectations. No provider is immune, no matter how effective its corporate responsibility program. For these reasons, all providers need experienced Compliance Counsel to assist them in trying to prevent regulatory violations, to determine the scope of and assist with correcting identified compliance issues and to defend them in the event they do become a target of government investigative activities.

Whistleblowers can come from a number of different places.  Disgruntled employees are a prime candidate to bring a whistleblower complaint.  How these complaints are handled is extremely important to minimizing their potential negative impact on you operations.  Once a Whistleblower attorney becomes financially committed to a case, they tend not to let go easily.  Settlement can be very difficult to attain on reasonable terms.  It is fair to say that in many cases the government gives more latitude to settle cases if the provider cooperates.

There are some reasonable government enforcement individuals who appropriately utilize their discretion when a provider cooperates and has not intentionally bilked the system.  Whistleblowers on the other hand, have their sites set on the full maximum amount of calculated False Claims Act damages.  They are looking for a pay day.  We can help you avoid this type of situation altogether by helping establish an effective compliance program that takes appropriate action to mitigate exposure if infractions are discovered.

General Compliance Counsel Services

We act as general compliance counsel to numerous health care providers and companies as well as business in other industries such as transportation, finance, manufacturing, securities, and other industry areas.  Ruder Ware represents businesses with worldwide operations who we routinely counsel regarding the impact of anti-bribery laws and other laws that impact international operations.  Our multidisciplinary approach enables us to apply our expertise in compliance process and investigations to various industry sectors that are represented by other attorneys in our firm who have extensive knowledge of the regulatory requirements that impact their business or industry sector.  For example, we have applied our compliance knowledge with our significant clientele in the transportation industry, paper manufacturing industry, financial sector, and heavy manufacturing for international distribution.

Roots in the Highly Regulated and Ever Changing Health Care Industry

Our compliance practice got its start primarily in the health care industry and has flourished into other areas building on our experience and success in health care.  The health care industry has historically been out in front of many other industries which enabled our firm to get into the compliance service industry early and gained significant experience that has served our team well. Our compliance team has gained substantial experience handling compliance that impact the Federal False Claims Act, Civil Monetary Penalties Law, Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute. We routinely counsel our clients on how to apply systems to proactively comply with a multitude of regulations that apply to their regulations.  We recommend processes that apply to all types of health care providers and across all industry sectors.

Proactive and Aggressive Risk Identification Process

Our recommended process creates a “living and breathing” process that is continually at work within an organization to identify potential risk areas.  Those identified areas where risk is likely to be present can then be further analyzed to ascertain the types of potential risks and a behaviors that create those risks.  A process can then be applied to mitigate risk through establishment of policies and procedures, checklists, and process flow that are intended to reduce risk.  Employees are trained on these processes and monitoring and auditing occurs to assure that processes are being regularly followed.  The entire process must be documented to the detail.  If incidents occur in spite of the risk reduction process, proof of the proactive activities that were taken to prevent these occurrences will be of great assistance in mitigating the negative consequences of the discovered infraction.  Generally, self disclosure, with confidence that you are backed up by a continually operating compliance system are your best defensing most cases to the negative consequences of the discovered non-compliance.

Compliance Program Development and Assessment

Our compliance attorneys have experience creating and implementing compliance programs to fit the specific needs of our business and health care clients.  Compliance programs are not “one size fits all.”  A program must be tailored to address the specific risks that are presented by the type and scope of business.   We are adept at creating solutions that leverage compliance resources to achieve the most efficient and effective compliance operation.  We have developed compliance programs for national and multinational business in a variety of industries.  We have also helped small businesses develop compliance programs that are scaled to the size of their businesses and the resources that are necessary to mitigate compliance risk.  Contrary to some professional, legal forms sites, and novice compliance professionals, there is no single set of forms that can be used to craft a proper compliance program.  Some elements are common in most plans, but the failure to customize a compliance program to the specific business is perhaps the most common mistake that can be made and results in a major threat to the effectiveness of the program and the ability to use the program to mitigate potential legal exposure.

In additions to creating compliance program structures, Ruder Ware’s compliance team has developed a series of comprehensive compliance program assessment and effectiveness tools that we use to identify gaps in compliance program operations.  We use a systematic approach to evaluating compliance programs to assure that they are operated effectively to identify and mitigate compliance risk.  A compliance program is of little value if it cannot be demonstrated to be effective.  We can provide an independent, detailed and systematic evaluation of any compliance program.  The results of this assessment can be integrated into the compliance cycle to enhance effectiveness and improve efficiencies.  We also use variations on this process to assist clients in creating compliance work plans that identify and prioritize compliance operations, audit and monitoring areas, and achievement of specific compliance goals.

Our compliance attorneys are active in national compliance organizations.  We are also committed to maintaining active certifications in compliance and ethics as a means to assure that we are up to date on legal and regulatory requirements as well as the standards that must be met to achieve effective compliance operations.

Internal Compliance Audits Under the Attorney-Client Privilege/Work Product Doctrine

We regularly work through the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine, as necessary, to internally investigate compliance issues with the provider. We are familiar with the intricacies of various state and federal laws that relate to privilege.  We are also attuned to enforcement policies relating to waiver of privilege and the relationship of privilege to the ability to secure cooperation credit from investigative agencies.

Privilege issues are intricately involved with internal investigations and we take great pains to assure that the process that we use to conduct investigation maintain privilege to the greatest extent possible.  In order to maintain privilege, it is generally necessary to retain outside counsel to direct and control the investigation including securing necessary consultants, experts, and support personnel.  We have relationships with external support consultants and experts in several industries and technical areas.

Educating Clients and Their Employees On Compliance Related Issues

Education of staff is a critical element of an effective compliance program.  Without training individuals within the organization, a compliance plan is little more than a set of policies gathering dust on a shelf.

Our compliance team can assist clients in creating training systems, preparing training material, and performing training programs.  Out compliance attorneys will often provide training sessions on compliance oversight responsibilities to the Board of Directors of a company or to key committee members, officers, and upper management staff.  It is critical for the success of a compliance program that there be acceptance from the top of the organization.  This is where the environment of compliance is created.

We have assisted clients conducting in person compliance training and have conducted web based compliance training modules in basic and special compliance subject areas.  We have also been called in to provide training as part of a corrective action program after compliance risks are detected.  We are also involved in specialized training on issues such as Stark Law compliance, physician compensation, and other issues that are unique to the provider but present unusually complex regulatory requirements.

Extension to Provider Certification and Deficient Surveys

In addition to providing proactive compliance advice, our team provides legal representation in connection with deficiency reports and survey findings.  We can assist providers through the informal dispute resolution process in connection with state and federal surveys.  In cases of serious deficiencies we can represent providers in the appeal process and related proceedings.  Where Civil Monetary Penalties are assessed, we can often negotiate as part of the appeal process for a reduction in penalties, severity or scope of findings.   In extreme cases, deficiencies can also involve overpayments and self-disclosure.  We have can assist providers in the assessment of whether a self-disclosure may be necessary and in appropriate cases, we can conduct the necessary investigations and prepare self disclosure submissions.

Other  Areas Handled By Compliance Team

Although our compliance practice grew originally out of our health care practice, it now extends beyond the health care industry into manufacturing, global transportation, relocation services, financial institutions, and other industry segments.  Our systematic approach to compliance can be applied to virtually any industry together with regulatory experts in that area.

Our health care compliance attorney has also received certification in Corporate Compliance and Ethics which includes global compliance issues.  We are routinely called upon to apply our industry and compliance knowledge to develop compliance operations across a variety of industries.

Beyond the false claim and fraud and abuse inquiries, our compliance team also routinely handles a number of other regulatory compliance matters such as provider certification, provider specific requirements, Sarbanes-Oxley and international compliance areas such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the UK Anti-Bribery Act, and a variety of other laws that require  effective compliance efforts application to identify and systematically address mitigation of risk.

Government Investigations and Defense

Federal and state governmental regulatory agencies have become very aggressive in investigating and prosecuting compliance failures.  Our compliance investigation team can conduct internal investigations and can often work with governmental agencies to coordinate investigative functions.   We can assist providers who are under scrutiny of the governmental in formulating a proper response to governmental audits, formal and informal investigations, subpoenas and other information requests. We can work with provider clients to shape appropriate response depending on the issues involved and the positions and approach being taken by governmental authorities.  We are also able to coordinate internal investigations to assure that privilege is retained where necessary and to preserve the ability to obtain cooperation credit from the government.

Compliance With Voluntary Self Disclosure Protocols and Process

We have experience with the self disclosure protocol and processes established by the Office of Inspector General and Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  We have assisted clients in the assessment of potential compliance risks to determine whether self-disclosure is necessary or appropriate.   We have also conducted investigations of various issues to assess the nature and extent of potential risk.  When it is determined that self disclosure is prudent, we assist clients in preparing necessary disclosure documents and support.  We also interact with governmental agencies to resolve issues through self-disclosure.

Compliance Team Subject Areas

  • Compliance Plan Structure and Operation
  • Compliance Auditing and Monitoring Programs
  • Compliance Work Plan and Task Prioritization
  • Risk Area identification, Scoring and Prioritization
  • Compliance Process Trainings
  • Compliance Risk Area Specific Training
  • Regulatory Interpretation and Guidance
  • Structuring Policies and Procedures
  • Governmental Investigations
  • Internal Investigations
  • Cooperation and Coordination With Governmental Investigators
  • Joint Defense Agreements and Cooperation With Joint Defendants
  • Civil Monetary Defense and Appeal
  • Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
  • International Anti-Bribery Law Compliance
  • Compliance Coordination with Subcontractors and Downstream Entities
  • Health Care Compliance Issues
  • Transportation and Global Relocation Compliance
  • Privacy Act and Health Information Compliance
  • False Claims Act Investigations and Enforcement Actions
  • Survey, Certification and Deficiency Citations
  • Breach Disclosure Assessment and Notification

 

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. 

New Federal Prosecution Standards Require Revisions to Investigation Policies

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Impact of the Yates Memorandum on Civil Enforcement Liability

Yate Investigation Policy RevisionThe infamous Yates Memorandum revised Federal prosecutorial policy to place more of a focus on individual wrongdoing. Federal prosecutors now have clear directions from the top of the DOJ to consider individual liability prior to resolving any investigation or reaching settlement with respect to corporate wrongdoing. The Yates memorandum extends beyond federal agents who are considering criminal charges against companys or individuals. The Memorandum specifically states that the concept of consideration of individual liability should extend to governmental subdivisions that are responsible for assessing potential civil liability, monetary penalties, program exclusion and other remedies short of criminal prosecution. Government actors are compelled to consider individual monetary responsibility regardless of whether or not the individual has the ability to satisfy the potential award.

Clearly the stakes have gone up for individuals who are involved in companies that commit wrongdoing. In order to receive benefits of having cooperated with governmental investigators, a company must provide all information relevant to individual liability. This requires the company to conduct a robust internal investigation of all potential subjects and to bring the investigation to resolution with respect to each such individual. As a practical matter, when allegations of wrondoing are made, a company investigation will need to broadly consider potential wrongdoing of any employee for which there is any reasonable basis to believe may have been involved in wrongdoing. The incentive of the company will be to be overly broad in its consideration of potential investigatory subjects. This means that corporate employees are exposed to a much higher risk of coming onto the radar of a possible internal investigation. If the individual raises to the level of being a possible “subject,” the investigation will go even further.

In effect, Federal policy regarding prosecution and civil remedies has placed the company’s compliance program in the position of having to broadly consider potential wrongdoing of its employees whenever issues are identified. This is not only to avoid potential criminal exposure, but also to mitigate potential claims for civil liability under the False Claims Act, monetary penalty regulations and other possible civil exposure. This change in Federal policy has a number of impacts on the compliance and ethics program of the company. Of primary importance is the process that is used by the company to investigate employees and contractors who are potential individual wrongdoers. In the past, corporate employees could normally rely on not being the target of criminal or civil liability because the focus was largely on corporate liability. Investigation policies were naturally geared toward gathering information from employees who were more or less alligned with the interests of the company. This dynamic has now changed. A company will much more frequently be in a position of having to hunt for individual wrongdoing and disclosing that wrongdoing to governmental investigators as a condition of receiving cooperation benefits.

This makes it significantly more important for the compliance program to include detailed and standardized processes for conducting internal investigations and reporting the results. Frankly, most compliance investigation policies are not adequately robust to mitigate risk under the new Federal enforcement regimen. Company compliance officers should be reviewing their investigation policies now to bring them up to the standards that are required under the new Federal policy. The standardized investigation process should be defined in detail. There should be detailed requirements for providing corporate “Upjohn” warnings to employees who are questioned. Guidelines for maintaining privilege should also be considered among other items.

Perhaps most importantly, companies should not be lulled into thinking that nothing has changed. The change in federal enforcement policy is an issue that must be brought to corporate management, compliance committees, and the board of directors. In short, this is a “board-worthy” issue that requires action to be taken to at least review, and in most cases make significant revisions, to investigation policies and perhaps other aspects of the corporation’s compliance program.

John Fisher, CHC, CCEP

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is your EHR Donation Agreement in Compliance?

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

The EHR donation regulations allow certain qualified entities to provide nonmonetary remuneration to physicians and other health care providers to obtain electronic health information systems without violating the Anti-Kickback Statute or the physician self referral laws.  Hospitals and other organizations have structured EHR donation programs around the existing exception.  The regulations that permitted hospitals to make payments on behalf of physicians for EHR technology was set to expire on December 31, 2013.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services released final regulations on December 27, 2013, which extended the protections of the EHR donation regulations through December 31, 2021.  However, it is important that providers examine their EHR donation agreements to determine whether continued payments under the agreement comply with federal law.  Many EHR donation contracts contain automatic expiration clauses that terminated the agreement on December 31, 2013.  If those agreements have not been properly extended, payments that may have occurred under those agreements following expiration may raise compliance issues.

Providers should not assume the continued payments are protected under the extended EHR donation expiration date.  In many instances, entering a new agreement or amendment of existing agreements will be required in order to continue to qualify donation amounts under the application exceptions.

Physician Owned Hospital Expansion – CMS Approval Process

Friday, May 16th, 2014

Obtaining Approval for Expansion of Physician Owned Hospitals 

physician owned hospitalsCurrently, federal law effectively prohibits the establishment of new physician-owned hospitals.  Expansion of existing physician-owned hospitals is also effectively prohibited.  An existing hospital may request an exception from the prohibition from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  An exemption may be granted by CMS, but not without the hospital going through the formal request and review process.

Under the federal Stark Law, physicians are prohibited from owning interests or having financial relationships with entities that provide “designated health services,” including hospital services, unless an exception exists.  Previous versions of the Stark Law contained an exception for investments in the hospital itself as opposed to a subdivision of the hospital (known as the “whole hospital” exception.  The Affordable Care Act virtually eliminated the “whole hospital” exception from the Stark Law for future hospital projects and for expansion of existing projects.

Beginning in March of 2010, a physician-owned hospital is prohibited from expanding existing capacity unless it applies for and is granted an exception as either an “applicable hospital” or a “high Medicaid facility.”  Federal regulations set forth the procedures that must be complied with when submitting requests for an exception.

Physician-owned hospitals that wish to expand existing capacity must follow the regulatory process for obtaining approval.  Part of this process involves CMS obtaining input from other providers in the community.  Even if expansion is approved, expansion cannot exceed 200% of the baseline number of operating norms, procedure rooms, and beds.  Expansion must be limited to the hospital’s primary campus.

Employment Exceptions From Anti-kickback Statute

Friday, May 9th, 2014

Employee Exception to the Anti-Kickback Statute

Are There Limitations on the Protection?

employment exception safe harbor regulationsBoth the Anti-Kickback Statute and the Stark Law contain exceptions that apply to employer/employee relationships.  The Stark Law exception contains several additional requirements and limitations that vary based on whether the physician is an employee of the group practice, or of a hospital or other provider of designated health services.

The Anti-Kickback Statute contains a fairly broadly worded exception which is generally been interpreted to exempt any remuneration made from an employer to a bona fide employee from consideration under the Anti-Kickback Statute’s criminal and civil prohibitions.  However, close examination of the wording of the exception, together with recent case law, may begin to demonstrate some limitations on the protection that is provided by the Anti-Kickback Statute’s employment exception.

The statutory exception under the Anti-Kickback Statue has been in place for over 35 years.  It is not a safe harbor under the safe harbor regulations but is directly included within the statute itself.  This has significant implications for the government’s burden of proof once a bona fide employee arrangement is established.  The Anti-Kickback Statute employment exception states that remuneration “shall not apply…to any amount paid by an employer to an employee for employment in the provision of covered items and services.”  The exception applies only to “bona fide employment relationships.”

Some of the limitations of the statutory exception may be included in the wording of the statutory provision itself.  The employment exception states that “remuneration” does not include amounts paid for “employment in the provision of covered items and services.”  On the other hand, a comparable safe harbor addressing employment arrangements that is included in the safe harbor regulation protects amounts paid to employee for “employment in the furnishing of” covered items and services.

Historically, most attorneys reviewing the employment exception have assumed that it provides complete insulation for employment arrangements.  This is contrary to statements from the Office of Inspector General which indicates that the scope of the exception may be more limited to payment for the provision of covered services rather than all payments.  Strictly interpreted, the statutory protection may not apply to payment that is made to an employee for administrative or other types of services that are not covered services under the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  This statutory language leaves open whether payment for services that are not covered services are included within the Anti-Kickback Statute’s exception.  There is no answer to this question as there has been no further interpretation or case law.  It is worthy to note however, that there could be limitations to the employee exception which should be considered when structuring arrangements; particularly when those arrangements could be abusive except for the fact that payment is being made to an employee.

Temporary Non-Compliance With The Stark Law

Friday, May 9th, 2014

Stark Law Temporary Non Compliance – Is There Any Wiggle Room?

Stark Law Temporary Non ComplianceOne issue that has raised concerns of providers when complying with the Stark anti-referral laws is what to do when a financial arrangement temporarily fails to comply even though it was originally structured to comply with Stark.  The Stark Regulations provide for a little wiggle room for arrangements that temporarily fall out of compliance. The relevant exception applies to referral arrangements that fall out of compliance temporarily for reasons that are beyond the control of the provider.

The temporary non-compliance exception only applies to arrangements that have historically complied with an  exception from Stark fora period of at least 180 days before the arrangement falls out of compliance. The exception then gives a provider a window period of 90 days to either correct the temporarily non-complying financial arrangement to bring it back into compliance or to terminate the non-complying referral relationship.

This exception brings to light the importance of continuing to monitor financial arrangements that could implicate the Stark Law to assure continued compliance. It is not enough to originally structure arelationship to comply with Stark and then forget about the ongoing arrangement. Changing circumstances could lead to future non-compliance.  Adverse consequences can be avoided if proper monitoring is in place and proactive steps are taken to correct any non-compliance issues.

If a review indicates that an arrangement has fallen out of compliance with the Stark Law, the provider should fully document the nature of the non-compliance and the reasons that the temporary non-compliance occurred. The documentation should include whatever evidence exists that the reason for the non-compliance was beyond the provider’s control.

In addition to documenting the reasons for the non-compliance, the provider should also immediately take steps to remedy the situation. The temporary non-compliance exception creates a narrow 90 day remedial time period. However, this 90 day window can actually be quite short. The exception provides that the 90 day remedial period begins to run on the date that the arrangement falls out of compliance; not the date that the provider discovers the non-compliance. Depending on the diligence of the provider in discovering the non-compliance, the time period to take remedial action may be substantially less than 90 days.

The temporary non-compliance exception can only be used once every 3 years with respect to the same referring provider. The exception is not available if the non-compliance places the arrangement in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute.

It should also be noted that the exception does not apply to violations of the non-monetary limit on incidental medical staff benefits. Violaters of the non-monetary cap must bring the arrangment into compliance for subsequent years but cannot remedy past violations.

The biggest lesson to take from this exception is the need for providers to establish a systematic program for continual monitoring of financial relationships with referring providers.

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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