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 →
In 1986 President Ronald Reagan signed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) into law. Since then, the application of the law has been expanded and refined. It was one of the first laws giving the government the authority to dictate certain operations of a hospital. While other laws and regulations such as the Anti-Kickback Statute and the Stark Law have become more of a focus for health care providers, EMTALA remains an area of active enforcement. All providers with hospital privileges should therefore be aware of its application.
The policy behind the law is fairly straightforward. Hospitals with emergency departments should not be able to turn away patients needing care because of their inability to pay (no more “wallet biopsies” as part of triage). Likewise, hospitals should not be able to “dump” patients on other facilities for reasons other than for advanced care.
The requirements of the law are also very basic. If a patient comes to an emergency department and requests an examination or treatment for a medical condition, the hospital must provide an appropriate medical screening exam, within its capability, to determine whether or not the patient has an emergency medical condition. The screening provided goes beyond simple triage, and must be performed by a clinical provider such as a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant. Continue reading →
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 →
The HHS Office of Inspector General in a fraud alert released 6-9-15 is telling physicians to be cautious about entering into payment agreements that could violate the Anti-Kickback statute. In the alert, OIG tells physicians entering into such payment arrangements that their compensation must reflect the services’ market values. Further, OIG notes that such an arrangement could violate the Anti-kickback Statute if it seeks to increase the number of referrals the organization receives from those physicians.
March 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.
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 →
Medical Directors are used in an administrative capacity to oversee all medical services and care, specifically referring to substance abuse programs and services. Increasingly, commercial healthcare plans are targeting their role in addictions treatment facilities and denying payment of claims based on audit findings that Medical Directors in Florida may be responsible for far too many treatment facilities and too many patients.
Does Florida have any specific requirements or published guidance on the number of treatment facilities or number of patients for which responsibility falls to the Medical Directors in addictions treatment?
Florida’s Administrative Code directed to substance abuse programs and services does not have any directive which talks about a restriction on the number of facilities or patients recommended for oversight by a Medical Director. It specifies that addictions receiving facilities, detoxification, intensive inpatient treatment, residential treatment, day or night treatment with host homes and medication and methadone maintenance treatment must designate a Medical Director who oversees all medical services. This Medical Director must hold a current license in the state of Florida. Continue reading →
The 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.
For 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.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released it’s 2014 Fiscal Year Work Plan. If you’ve got the stomach for the long version, click here. Around each fiscal year, the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General publishes its annual Work Plan, which provides terrific insight into unique provider behavior and practices the OIG plans to target in 2014. Medicare providers should pay particular attention to the following targeted areas:
In December, 2012, the OIG reviewed and frowned upon two proposed scenarios, each of which had the effect of shifting to ASC-owner/surgeons a portion of the fees earned from anesthesia services. The OIG has done it again!
In an era of tremendous stress in the healthcare marketplace, it’s not surprising that some surgeons were willing to push the envelope to capture anesthesia fees they otherwise would not receive. Traditionally, physician-owned surgery and endoscopy centers contract with anesthesia providers on an exclusive basis and let the anesthesiologists separately bill for anesthesia services. Anesthesiologists kept whatever was collected for anesthesia services; and surgeons kept whatever was paid for their services. Plus, if the surgeon was also an owner of the center, the surgeon received a portion of the profits left over from the facility or technical fee. In the past several years, however, center-owning surgeons are often looking for ways to share anesthesia fees. The latest OIG Advisory Opinion (13-15) may cause some surgeons to back down or to reevaluate the long-term viability of the so-called “Company Model.” Continue reading →