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

Houston Court Brings the Heat in Payer Provider Case

bcbs lawsuitBy: Jeff Cohen 

A recent Texas District Court case took the usually frustrating ERISA dynamics applicable in payer provider disputes and upended them in a way that helped the provider.  There (Cigna v. Humble Surgical Hospital, Civ. Action No. 4:13-CV-3291, U.S. Dist. Ct., S.D. Tex., Houston Division), the court was faced with an out of network hospital sued by CIGNA to recover payments made.  In particular, the case involved—

  • An out of network hospital (HSH);
  • HSH set its prices higher than neighboring in network hospitals;
  • HSH billed Cigna members for deductibles and coinsurance at in network rates, but billed Cigna on an out of network basis;
  • Cigna alleged that the billing practices of HSH caused Cigna to pay more than its required share under applicable plans, even though plan members paid little or nothing at all;
  • Cigna also alleged HSH paid owner physicians referral fees to induce patient referrals; and
  • Cigna sought to recover payments made to HSH.

The case is a departure from the usual scenario, which involves (a) providers suing payers for payment and relying on state laws to do so, and (b) provides side stepping those state laws by successfully arguing that the federal ERISA law applies (which usually offers provides less favorable remedies). Continue reading

Tough Trend for Payers = Fairness for Providers

payer fairness for providersBy: Jeff Cohen

The past year has shown a trend towards empowering providers (and even patients) in their claims against payers.  And these developments should serve to bolster the position of many patients and providers, especially behavioral health providers as they raise claims against payers.

Spinedex Case

This 2014 Arizona case addressed the issue of whether a provider had the legal ability (“standing”) to sue United to receive payment for services provided to insureds.  United’s role was to process claims for certain plans.  Spinedex was a physical therapy provider whose patients signed a patient responsibility form and also assigned to Spindex the right to receive payment.  There were different levels of benefits based on whether the patient was insured by United.  Spinedex treated patients, then submitted claims to United.  When claims for payment were denied, Spindex sued.

At the heart of the case was the long-standing issue of whether a provider has standing to sue for services provided to insureds of so called ERISA plans.  “We are aware,” the court wrote, “of no circuit court that has accepted defendant’s argument” [that because Spinedex didn’t seek payment from a patient, the patients don’t have an “injury,” which is required for the providers to sue the payer].    Nevertheless, the court said “yes,” which opened the door to potentially a slew of such lawsuits.

Continue reading

What Providers Need to Know Before They Balance Bill

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By: Karina Gonzalez

Balance billing occurs when a provider collects from a patient the difference between the amount billed for a covered service and the amount  paid for that service.  Balance billing does not apply when collecting deductibles, copayments or coinsurance.

Under Florida law, a provider may not balance bill a patient for any service, if an HMO is liable and responsible for payment.  Contrary to what many people believe, this is true whether you are in-network or out-of-network.  Even hospital based out-of-network physicians, such as anesthesiologists, pathologists, radiologists or emergency room physicians cannot balance bill HMO members where the hospital has a contract with the HMO or there was authorization given for an episode of care. Continue reading