The Patient Brokering Act and Addiction Treatment

anti kickbackBy: Jeff CohenFlorida Board Certified Healthcare Lawyer 

Followers of the addiction treatment industry should be on high alert after the arrest of Christopher Hutson of Whole Life Recovery.  The arrest marks the first arrest of any industry provider utilizing the state Patient Brokering Act (PBA).  Relying solely on the allegations, the arrest is based on a business relationship between the provider and sober homes.  Discussion in the “case management agreement” referred to in the arrest affidavit circles around some key allegations that include or imply (1) payment for patient referral, and (2) services by sober homes paid for by Whole Life which were not actually performed.

Serious industry providers absolutely MUST be well educated by lawyers who have years’ experience dealing daily with issues that include the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (and safe harbors), the bona fide employee exception to the AKS, the PBA and how insurers and regulators (inside Florida and outside Florida) interpret and apply such laws.  Any contract (like the sort of agreement referred to in the arrest warrant affidavit) that isn’t preceded by careful client education about the laws, the options and risks of each option is just reckless.  Clients who are well educated will understand things like— 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

Fee Splitting: Clearing Up the Confusion

anti kickbackHealthcare professionals and businesses are aware of the term “fee splitting,” but rarely understand what that means, and for good reason.  Is there some federal law against that?  No.  Is there a state law?  Yes, but definitions are elusive and confusing.

Florida law prohibits licensed healthcare professionals engaging in any split-fee, rebate, commission or bonus in exchange for referral of any patient.  In particular, Section 456.054 states it is a violation of a state criminal statute for a “healthcare provider” to “offer, pay, solicit, or receive a kickback, directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly, in cash or in kind, for referring or soliciting patients.”

Is there a court in Florida that has interpreted that law or opined on the concept?  Not exactly.  The closest thing we have is the Crow decision, where the 5th District Court of Appeals affirmed a Board of Medicine handling an issue involving the concept. Continue reading

A Legal Look at The Healthcare Landscape in 2016

By: Jeff Cohen

MACRA 

The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act was enacted to replace the flawed sustainable growth rate (SGR).  MACRA contains performance measures for new payment models that will go in place in 2017.  MACRA also established the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS).

Physicians have to begin to learn about MACRA to improve performance and to avoid payment penalties.

We also have the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), which penalizes providers for failing to report quality measures data on Part B services.  To avoid a 2018 PQRS payment adjustment, for instance, providers have to report for a 12 month period.

There is also the Value Based Payment Modifier (VM) program that rewards groups for providing high quality, low cost care.  It’s interesting to note that CMS proposes to publically report those providers who receive an upward adjustment.  It’s being waived for Pioneer ACOs.  It’s interesting to note that the measures used for the VM program are different than those used for ACOs; and this is causing a lot of confusion.

Bottom line:  an increased use of benchmark establishment for quality and cost and financial incentive programs to achieve or surpass those benchmarks.

STARK LAW CHANGES

A new compensation arrangement exception is established for timeshare arrangements for the use of office space, equipment, personnel, items, supplies and other services.  This sort of “overhead sharing” arrangement is done, but there hasn’t been a specific Stark provision for it till this year.  It’s expected to be particularly useful in physician/hospital arrangements.

This exception amplifies the existing requirements that such arrangements must (1) be located where the physician or practice sees its patients, and (2) be used for designated health services that are incidental to what the doctor does, meaning E&M services and DHS that are provided at the time of such E&M services. Continue reading

Recent Governmental Enforcement and Regulatory Developments

Headshot - DDBy: Dave Davidson

The last few weeks have seen some significant examples of the federal government’s vigilance in policing the healthcare market.  These events serve as a reminder of the highly regulated and scrutinized industry in which we work.  They are also a reminder to physicians and other providers to make sure their practices and contractual arrangements can pass this scrutiny.

The most significant recent event is the $115 million settlement between the government and the Adventist Health System.  This settlement resolved two whistleblower cases brought against the system by three employees.  The lawsuits alleged that the Adventist Health System violated the Stark law, which generally prohibits payments to physicians for making referrals unless an exception to the law is met.  The specific allegations against the Adventist Health System were that the compensation paid by the health system to some of its employed physicians exceeded fair market value; that the structure of the practice of the employed physicians did not meet the “group practice” exception; that physician compensation improperly included payment work not performed by the physicians; and that the physicians were paid for making referrals to the system.  Continue reading