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

How to Protect Your Practice’s Trade Secrets

dreamstimemaximum_51887081-flipBy: Shobha Lizaso

“Prevention is better than cure” is a maxim that has reigned in the healthcare industry for thousands of years; however, this phrase echoes through the halls of the legal profession as well.

Healthcare practices often neglect to appreciate the value of their confidential information as assets and the need to protect these assets. Although HIPAA and HITECH compliance aids in maintaining the confidentiality of patient records, it does not protect a provider’s trade secrets.

Trade secrets of a healthcare practice may include any of the following: patient lists, financial information, contract rates, contract terms client lists, collection rates, marketing tactics, pricing/discount information, and methods of doing business. If leaked, this information may be used by competitors to secure advantages over a healthcare practice. For example, patient lists could be used to solicit a practice’s patients or contract rates and terms can be used by a competitor to undercut the rates of a practice. Continue reading

The EMTALA Primer

EMTALABy: Dave Davidson

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

Medical Necessity: It’s a Necessity

medical necessityBy: Jacqueline Bain

Recently, a Florida-based physician practice specializing in pain management was ordered to pay the Federal Government $7.4 after it was determined that the group’s physicians were ordering medically unnecessary drug screens and billing Medicare for those tests. Federal prosecutors contended that the group’s physicians had appropriately ordered initial drug screens on many patients, but had inappropriately ordered more extensive (and more expensive) follow up tests nearly 100% of the time. Moreover, patient medical records did not reflect the need for more extensive testing. Continue reading

Marketing in Healthcare: It Ain’t What It Used to Be

By: Jeff Cohen

Healthcare 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 key here is to realize that, while the laws haven’t changed, what regulators are doing with them has!  The environment of healthcare marketing has never been more treacherous than it is today.  So what’s changed?  How about:

  1. Commission based marketing and sales involving federal or state payers, even those that arguably comply with the personal services arrangement and management contract safe harbor, are detested by federal regulators;
  2. The regulators will look to pierce any enterprise, including those consisting of multiple tax ID entities, in hopes of making the case that commercial based marketing payments were in exchange for even one drop of federal/state payer money;
  3. Both health insurers and large providers (e.g. labs, pharmacies) work hand in hand with federal regulators to pursue suspicious activity, the result of which is to support the large provider; and
  4. Targets of enforcement activity who have obtained good legal advice often pay just to put an end to the enforcement because there’s a risk of losing and “winning” can feel like losing when one considers the enormous defense costs.

Continue reading

Physician Compensation Targeted by the Department of Justice

healthcare business change in ownershipBy: Jeff Cohen

The DOJ reported on August 5th a settlement with a South Carolina hospital concerning physician compensation.  Though certainly not the first or the biggest case of its kind (e.g. note the Halifax Hospital and North Broward Hospital District cases, which generated settlements of over $100M and $60M respectively), it’s attention grabbing nonetheless.

The SC case was brought by a whistleblower, a neurologist formerly employed by the hospital.  The doctor alleged that the seven year employment agreements violated Stark and the Anti Kickback Statute because the compensation was more than what was legally permissible and was also based in part on ancillary services ordered by the employed doctors.  Seasoned readers will understand that the concept of “fair market value” (FMV) is at the heart of regulatory compliance and also that compensation surveys of organizations like the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) are important guides in term of what is/is not FMV.  In the SC hospital case, compensation met or exceeded the top 10% of similarly qualified physicians in the area, which is very interestingly noted by the DOJ (because some of the comp levels were still within the MGMA surveys).  In other words, the trend here is for the Feds to push back against comp levels on the high end of the FMV spectrum. Continue reading

The Move to Self-Reporting Continues: Self-Referral Disclosure Protocol

health law complianceBy: James Saling

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued proposed Self-Referral Disclosure Protocol (SRDP) forms and revisions to the regulations on May 6, 2016. This was an additional step in the move for providers to self-report violations of the Stark Law.  Part of the revisions to the regulations came as a result of the final overpayment rule issued earlier this year on February 11, 2016 (60 Day Rule). CMS expects that the SRDP forms will facilitate faster review of a self-disclosure and make it easier for providers to report violations.

The SRDP was established as a result of the Affordable Care Act and is a tool for resolving Stark Law compliance issues. One of the problems with the SRDP is the time that self-disclosures worked their way through the system.  Some self-disclosures have yet to be resolved and were initially made years ago. Continue reading