Followers & Friends – BIG Announcement coming out today! If you haven’t seen our new NATIONAL platform, check it out here at http://www.nationalhealthcarelawfirm.com and stay tuned for our #healthcare #legal news at 2pm EST !!!
The Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s health care law today in a splintered, complex opinion that gives Obama a major election-year victory.
Basically. the justices said that the individual mandate — the requirement that most Americans buy health insurance or pay a fine — is constitutional as a tax.
Chief Justice John Roberts — a conservative appointed by President George W. Bush — provided the key vote to preserve the landmark health care law, which figures to be a major issue in Obama’s re-election bid against Republican opponent Mitt Romney.
The government had argued that Congress had the authority to pass the individual mandate as part of its power to regulate interstate commerce; the court disagreed with that analysis, but preserved the mandate because the fine amounts to a tax that is within Congress’ constitutional taxing powers.
The announcement will have a major impact on the nation’s health care system, the actions of both federal and state governments, and the course of the November presidential and congressional elections.
A key question for the high court: The law’s individual mandate, the requirement that nearly all Americans buy health insurance, or pay a penalty.
Critics call the requirement an unconstitutional overreach by Congress and the Obama administration; supporters say it is necessary to finance the health care plan, and well within the government’s powers under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
While the individual mandate remained 18 months away from implementation, many other provisions already have gone into effect, such as free wellness exams for seniors and allowing children up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ health insurance policies. Some of those provisions are likely to be retained by some insurance companies.
Other impacts will sort themselves out, once the court rules:
— Health care millions of Americans will be affected – coverage for some, premiums for others. Doctors, hospitals, drug makers, insurers, and employers large and small all will feel the impact.
— States — some of which have moved ahead with the health care overhaul while others have held back — now have decisions to make. A deeply divided Congress could decide to re-enter the debate with legislation.
— The presidential race between Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney is sure to feel the repercussions. Obama’s health care law has proven to be slightly more unpopular than popular among Americans.
“We are very excited about it. The fact that we serve clients all over the country has been a small secret for a while but we realized there’s a huge demand and decided to just go for it,” said Jeffrey L. Cohen, Esq. Founder and President of Florida Healthcare Law Firm.
According to Cohen, “It’s just a strange area of the law. Nearly everything in healthcare business is regulated; leases, employment agreements, compensation. Things you wouldn’t think are regulated are strongly regulated. And there are large fines and criminal penalties for getting it wrong! Our clients understand that healthcare business of any kind has serious legal risks and that they need uniquely qualified help.”
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Acknowledged throughout the country for its service and excellence, Florida Healthcare Law Firm is one of the nation’s leading providers of healthcare legal services. Founded by Jeffrey L. Cohen, Esq and headquartered in South Florida, FHLF provides legal services to physicians and healthcare businesses with the right pricing responsiveness and ethics. From healthcare clinic regulation, home health agency representation and physician contracting to medical practice formation/representation and federal and state compliance matters, the Florida Healthcare Law Firm is committed to bringing knowledge and experience to a diverse group of clients.
A long awaited opinion from the OIG on relationships between surgery, endoscopy (and other) centers (“Centers”) will doom many arrangements with anesthesiologists. At the very least, they will have to significantly restructure.
Such “Company Model” arrangements basically involve a way for surgeon investors in Centers to share in the anesthesia services revenue. These arrangements have always been suspect, but the OIG has been clear that they run afoul of applicable federal law. In the June 1st OIG Opinion (12-06), two models were proposed, and both were essentially shot down. The first involved requiring the anesthesiologists who provide services at the Center to engage a management company owned by surgeon owners of the Center to provide management services on a per patient fee basis. The second, which is far more commonplace, involved establishing a company owned by the surgeons who also own the Center. The new company would provide the anesthesia services and contract with the anesthesiologists in a way the leaves some of the anesthesia services income to be distributed to the surgeon in the Center, who also happen to generate all the cases for the Center, and hence all of the anesthesia revenue.
Such arrangements are not only “inherently suspect,” as described by the OIG, they have never made much common sense. How is it not a kickback for the anesthesiologists to make 100% of the anesthesia related profit on Monday, but then have to “share” it with the surgeon owners on Tuesday, once a new management company or separate anesthesia services company (owned by the surgeons) is formed?
At the very least, surgeons looking for a share of anesthesia revenue will have to dig deep into the opinion and into prior opinions to see if there is any legitimate basis available.
Super groups are in vogue as physicians do their best to reduce costs and enhance revenues. A “super group” is essentially a collection of previously separate competitors who have joined a single legal entity in order to achieve certain advantages. Those advantages tend to be (1) reducing overhead expense associated with economies of scale. Buying insurance for a group of 100 doctors should be far less expensive per doctor than a group of three doctors; (2) gaining leverage in managed care contracting. 20 groups of five physicians each cannot contract with a payer with “one voice” due to the antitrust restrictions, but a single group of 100 doctors can; and (3) finding new revenue sources. Small groups and solo practices cannot afford revenue producing services like surgery centers, imaging services and such. When practices combine, they have a greater patient base, which makes the development of new revenue sources feasible.
Physicians join super groups with terrific promise and hope. They are clearly a good idea, especially if they have solid operations. That said, physicians who rush to form them rarely consider the risks associated with a physician departing the group. They need to!
When a doctor joins a super group, she stops billing through her old practice (the “P.A.”) and starts billing through a new group (the “LLC”). The LLC has a tax ID number and a Medicare group number. And the LLC enters into lots of managed care payer agreements. Simply put, the doctor puts all of her eggs in the LLC basket. So what’s the risk?
When physicians depart super groups, they have to confront difficult facts, like:
- It will take months to get a new Medicare provider number. If they haven’t billed through their “old entity” for a while, that number is gone. And getting a new number for the departing physician takes time, during which revenues associated with Medicare patients are lost (until the number is obtained);
- It takes even longer to get on insurance plans. If the LLC is contracted (they usually are), how long will it take to get the P.A. fired back up? It can take as long as six months (and sometimes even more)? That means the departed doctor is out of network with all the plans! This exposes her patients to higher costs and may affect referral patterns. This alone can be crippling to a physician who has left the super group.
- Leaving can also mean ending access to patient scheduling and electronic medical records. Many super groups do not ensure access to patient scheduling or billing to enable a departing physician to get back on their feet; and this can be devastating.
- Noncompetes can play a big role in how a departing physician gets back on her feet. Ideally she will know that being solo is not as good as being part of a larger practice. But what if the super group imposes a restriction on the departing physician that prevents her from being part of another group? This is common and often very harmful, since some physicians who depart super groups have no effective options but to join other groups.
Super groups exist to benefit physicians. It makes no sense that they would be used to harm them, which is precisely what can happen (and sometimes does happen) if physicians do not pay good attention to the “back end” as well as they do to the “front.” That means things like—
- Making sure that, wherever possible, the departing physician is afforded enough time to get back on her feet professionally. She will need time to get a new practice formed, to get a new Medicare provider number and to get back on insurance plans;
- Ensuring the departing physician has adequate access to medical and scheduling records;
- Carefully considering whether or not noncompetes make any sense. Some may say that it is important to protect the new practice (like the old one), but these are different sorts of practices. They are not built from the ground up. They are built because successful competitors who have been in business for years decided essentially to “loan” their practices to the super group in order to obtain certain unique advantages.
Super group arrangements continue to grow. Some of them even develop into fully integrated and sophisticated businesses. Physicians who join them have to consider all “angles,” not just how good it will be or can be when they join.
The economy has heated up the marketing activity of many healthcare businesses, including physicians. Marketing devices like Groupon have become commonplace, but raise some significant legal issues. So.one such business requested guidance from the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services and got a nice response.
The requestor operates a website that includes coupons for healthcare items and services and also advertising on behalf of individuals and businesses in the healthcare industry. The healthcare professionals and business people would post coupons on the website, which would give discounts, including discounts on items and services that are covered by Medicare and other state or federal healthcare programs. The website business would have different levels of membership and would charge flat fees for each level of membership. Additionally, the requestor would sell advertising on the website.
The arrangement had certain limitations, including:
1. The providers would not advertise free services, only discounted services; and
2. The providers would be required to give the same discount to any third party payer or insurance carrier, not just to the patient.
The OIG approved the proposal and noted the following key things:
1. The requestor is not a healthcare provider;
2. Payments from providers and advertisers are a set fee, are consistent with fair market value and don’t depend on customers (patients) using coupons or buying services;
3. Advertising would only be received by customers that elected to receive it; and
4. The business structure is not likely to increase utilization.
In short, the OIG thought the requestor was serving only as a conduit of advertising and was not paying anyone to influence any patient’s choice of a provider or supplier.
This is a great article published by CNN this morning.
View it in it’s entirety Here
(CNN) — On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court takes on a political, social, economic and medical hot potato: the health care reform law that was signed into law two years ago.
For six hours during each of the next three days, attorneys will argue and justices will consider legal questions about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and issues surrounding federal versus state powers.
Many of the law’s major aspects have been the topic of much discussion. But are you aware that deep within the sweeping law’s 2,700 pages are many lesser known changes that could affect your life in unexpected ways?
1. How many goodies your doctors get
Is your doctor prescribing you certain drugs because those are the best for your condition or because of a pharmaceutical company’s influence? Here’s one way you can find out.
The Physician Payment Sunshine Act under health care reform requires drug, device or medical supply companies to report annually certain payments or things of value that they’ve given physicians and teaching hospitals. This could be speaking fees, consulting fees, meals and travel. So, you can find out which and how much companies pay doctors or health care workers. The companies are obligated to report annually about physician ownership and their financial investments.
Continue Reading Here
Billing Medicare for services requires the correct POS code on the claim form. Improper use of the POS code has been a problem, especially when services are provided in out-patient hospitals and surgery centers. The OIG has found many circumstances where such services were provided in those facilities were billed as though services were provided in the physician office. The POS code is intended to identify where the physician is physically present and has a face to face encounter with a Medicare patient when covered services are provided.
CMS has issues revised and clarified POS coding instructions. They give multiple examples, including one where a Medicare patient receives MRI services at a hospital. The hospital bills the technical component . The physician is to submit a claim showing the professional component POS as his/her office (code 22), since that is where the physician performed the covered service, not the MRI center at the hospital. The Instructions describe the proper use of POS modifiers and are invaluable in avoiding liability to Medicare.
Wrapping up legislative business before the Christmas recess, the Senate on Saturday approved legislation that freezes Medicare payments to physicians until Feb. 29.
In a vote of 89-10, the Senate passed an amended version of the House payroll tax bill that the lower chamber approved earlier this week. The legislation from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) (PDF)—which extends a payroll tax holiday for two months—provides no payment update in Medicare reimbursement levels for the nation’s doctors in January and February 2012, which prevents a 27.4% cut that was scheduled to tax effect on Jan. 1.
Meanwhile, the bill also extends for two months a host of Medicare and health-related provisions that would otherwise have expired by year’s end. These measures include reimbursement raises for ambulance services, mental health reimbursements, the Qualifying Individual (QI) program, the outpatient “hold harmless” provision, and transitional medical assistance, which provides Medicaid benefits for low-income families who are transitioning from welfare to work.
In a statement, American Medical Association President Dr. Peter Carmel said waiting until the final week of the legislative session to address an issue Congress knew about all year is no way to conduct business for the country.
PODs distribute various things, most commonly surgical implants and devices, that are reimbursed by insurers. A patient needs a spinal rod, a surgical implant/device company makes it and a distributor rep distributed it. Device/implant companies usually contract with distributorships to sell their products. Distributorships contract with reps who are paid commissions for sales. Surgeons who actually order the devices sometimes think “Since I’m the one doing the surgery and ordering all this stuff, why don’t I make something from the selling it?” PODs are one way for physicians to financially benefit from the sales of devices and items their patients need, but they have never been more controversial than now.
Conceptually speaking, PODs are controversial because government regulators think physicians who have an economic stake in health care items or services will tend to over utilize them. Moreover, there is a specific concern that allowing physicians to profit from the devices their patients need violates federal anti kickback laws or the Stark prohibition on compensation arrangements.
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.”
Implantable medical devices are unusual in the way they come into use. Unlike DMEPOS, for instance, medical devices are not sold to distributors. They’re sold from the manufacture to the medical facility where the surgery will take place. So, the argument goes, physicians are not actually in a position to drive the sales volume of the implants. The counter: physicians invested in a POD can leverage their hospital admissions to influence the device choice of hospitals and surgery centers.
The biggest legal hurdle for PODs is the federal Anti Kickback Statute, which carries both criminal and civil penalties. Simply put, if even one purpose of an arrangement is to pay for patient referrals, the law is violated. So, the law is arguably violated if one purpose of the POD is to induce physicians to order implants for their patients. Looked at another way, the law is violated if one purpose of a hospital doing business with a POD is to ensure patient referrals by the physician POD investors.
A 1989 OIG Special Fraud Alert on fraudulent physician joint ventures is especially interesting on the fraud and abuse issues in pointing out that the following would indicate unlawful intent to induce patient referrals—
Investor choice. If the only investors chosen are surgeons with an opportunity to refer and if they lack any business or management expertise, the arrangement appears to be a cloaked way to incentivize unlawful referrals (i.e. ordering implants). The key question is whether the business, in selecting investors, is looking to raise capital or to lock in referral sources.
Risk. If the POD investment involves little or no financial risk, the OIG would likely take issue with it.
The bottom line seems to be that if there isn’t a real business, with real financial risk and qualified investors, a POD will likely be viewed as a suspicious arrangement based on locking in patient referrals or physician admitting pressure by physician investors.
In its June, 2011 Inquiry “Physician Owned Distributors (PODs): Overview of Key Issues and Potential Areas for Congressional Oversight,” the U.S. Senate Finance Committee Minority Staff, the Committee reports “A number of legal and ethical concerns have been identified as a result of this initial inquiry into the POD Models.” The Committee reviewed over 1,000 pages of documents and spoke with over 50 people in preparing its report. The Committee cited long-held concerns regarding PODs, and leaned heavily on the 2006 Hogan Lovells (previously Hogan & Hartson) law firm’s anti-POD analysis.
With the Committee’s call for greater OIG and CMS involvement, one thing seems clear: the future of PODs is uncertain. In this era of cost-cutting, it seems clear that PODs are gonna get a haircut and may even lose their head.