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

OIG Fraud Alert – Physician Compensation Arrangements May Result in Significant Liability

OIG crestThe 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.

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.

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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What’s Hot on the #OIG Work Plan for 2014?

OIG crestThe 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:

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