OIG Opines that Charities Allowed to Help with Patients’ Insurance Obligations

financial hardshipBy: Jacqueline Bain

In the healthcare business, giving a patient a break on a health insurance copay is often viewed as suspicious. The reasoning for the suspicion is that the financial incentive may give one provider a competitive advantage over another, or persuade a patient to seek services that might not be medically necessary.  Moreover, any person who interferes with a patient’s obligations under his/her health insurance contract may be viewed as tortuously interfering with that contract. However, in an advisory opinion issued on December 28, 2016, the OIG opined that, in certain instances, a non-profit, tax-exempt, charitable organization could provide financial assistance with an individual’s co-payment, health insurance premiums and insurance deductibles when a patient exhibits a financial need.

The party requesting the advisory opinion was a non-profit, tax-exempt, charitable organization that did not provide any healthcare services and served one specified disease. The non-profit, tax-exempt, charitable organization is governed by an independent board of directors with no direct or indirect link to any donor. Donors to the non-profit, tax-exempt, charitable organization may be referral sources or persons in a position to financially gain from increased usage of their services, but may not earmark funds and or have any control over where their donation is directed. Continue reading

The OIG Addresses Free Patient Transportation Issues

vanBy: Jacqueline Bain

The issue of whether a medical provider can provide free patient transport is one that we are asked to look into a few times every year. Aside from the liability issues that it raises, it is one that we have never been able to justify from an Anti-Kickback and Patient Brokering perspective.  The fact is, even given the good intentions of most providers to allow their patients easier access to healthcare, transporting patients to and from your facility or practice is providing them with something of value in return for coming to see you.  However, under slightly different facts than we are usually asked to consider the question, last week, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) came to a different conclusion.

The OIG issued an advisory opinion upon the request of a hospital system who had asked whether it could provide free transportation to persons who had limited access to public transportation to access the hospital’s facilities. The hospital system offered that the town had inadequate and infrequent public transportation services which would act as a barrier to healthcare for local residents.  The hospital system offered the following facts for consideration: Continue reading

Governing Boards in Healthcare Organizations – Making Compliance Your Priority

compliance manualBy: Jackie Bain

Does your healthcare entity have a governing Board? How involved is that Board in overseeing your business? Would your Board members be able to respond to questions about your business’ compliance-related activities? Recently, the Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”), in conjunction with a host of non-profit healthcare associations, released guidance on achieving compliance for healthcare governing boards. The guidance is not based on abstract principals of compliance, instead it points to applicable federal law, OIG guidance, case law, and sentencing guidelines.

Each and every healthcare organization, whether or not it accepts reimbursement from government payors, must have in place regulatory compliance measures designed to protect the population it serves, and the persons paying for and providing those services. All levels of a healthcare organization must be cognizant of their roles in the organization’s continuing commitment to compliance. Even Board members, who often do not experience the inner-workings of the entities they represent, have an obligation and duty to the organization to act in a manner that stressed compliance. Applicable federal and state laws, how they apply to an organization, and how the organization reacts to its obligations imposed by those laws, must be of paramount importance to a governing Board.

The OIG compliance guidance for healthcare Boards tracks 4 areas over which boards should have specific oversight: Continue reading

New OIG Advisory Opinion Frowns on Proposed Lab/Physician Arrangement

OIG crestMarch 25, 2015 Advisory Opinion No. 15-04 addresses a proposed arrangement involving a clinical/anatomic lab’s desire to position itself as the single lab recommended by practices.

The proposal arises in the context of the OIG Advisory Opinion process, which allows the OIG to opine on its view of how the federal anti-kickback statute might view a proposed arrangement.  Though Advisory Opinions are not “law,” they do provide good insight into prosecutorial intent.

Facts Presented

The clinical/anatomic lab (“Lab”) wanted to have agreements with physician practices to provide all their lab services.  To deal with the fact that some commercial insurers have exclusive arrangements with labs,  the Lab proposed that if a practice patient’s insurer required the patient to use another lab, the Lab would waive all fees for the affected practice patients and would not bill the patient, the medical practice or the patient.  The Lab would provide its services to these “exclusive patients” for free, while billing all other patients (and/or their insurers, including governmental payers) its fee scheduled or contracted rates.  The proposed arrangement would allegedly simplify things for the practices and keep lab results uniform.  A practice patient would be required to use the Lab.  The Lab’s services would simply be offered by the practices to their patients.  The Lab stated that the provision of free services to certain practice patients would not provide any financial benefit to the practices, although the lab would provide the practice a limited-use interface.  Samples would not be drawn in physician offices. Continue reading

OIG Special Fraud Alert: Laboratory Payments to Referring Physicians

OIG crestThe Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services today issued a Special Fraud Alert pertaining to relationships between laboratories and referring physicians.  Payments from labs to physicians who refer were targeted in the Alert.  The Alert also reiterates their suspicion of so-called “carve out” compensation relationships where state and federal healthcare program dollars are removed from the payment formula (which was previously addressed last year in Advisory Opinion 13-03).  While the Alert does not add anything new to the government’s view of such relationships, it does underscore the very suspect view the OIG has of payment relationships between labs and the physicians who refer to them.  Careful compliance with the Personal Services and Management Contracts Safe Harbor continues to be a core concern.

When is Marketing An Illegal Kickback?

kickbackHealthcare professionals and businesses are routinely barraged with people who claim to be able to generate business for them.  The business of healthcare is like none other in its abhorrence of anything that even smells like payment for patient referrals, so professionals and businesses alike have to be extremely cautious and well advised in crafting marketing and related business-enhancing relationships.

The federal Anti Kickback Statute (“AKS”) is a criminal law that arises in the context of individuals and entities that pay or receive anything of value in exchange for referring a patient whose care is compensated in any way by a state or federal healthcare program.  Violations of the statute are punishable by a maximum fine of $25,000 and/or imprisonment up to five years.  Federal courts have applied the statute to any arrangement where even one purpose of the arrangement was to obtain money for the referral of services or an attempt to induce additional referrals. Its exceptions (“Safe Harbors”) include permissible arrangements for independent contractors and employees, both of which are elusive because of the common requirement that the arrangement not vary based on the value or volume of business between the parties.  The “value or volume” aspect of the regulations flies in the face of percentage based compensation arrangements (which seem to be the rule in marketing relationships). Continue reading

Justice Department Hits Physician Owned Distributorships (PODS)

money doctorFor the first time, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has fired a shot at a physician owned distributorship (POD).  In the case, the DOJ suit claims that the ownership interest of a neurosurgeon in a spinal surgery device distributorship has caused him to perform unnecessary surgeries.

PODs have been the source of considerable controversy for years.  A couple years ago, they caught the attention of Congress.  The Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services (“OIG”) has even issued a Fraud Alert making clear their dislike of PODs and sending a clear shot across the bow of those who are in that industry.  In 2006, the Office of the Inspector General of HHS and CMS expressed major concerns about PODs, and cited concerns about “improper inducements.”  At that time, the OIG stopped short of prohibiting them, but called for heightened scrutiny.  CMS itself has stated that PODs “serve little purpose other than providing physicians the opportunity to earn economic benefits in exchange for nothing more than ordering medical devices or other products that the physician-investors use on their own patients.”

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