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

When is Marketing An Illegal Kickback?

kickbackHealthcare 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 federal Anti Kickback Statute (“AKS”) is a criminal law that arises in the context of individuals and entities that pay or receive anything of value in exchange for referring a patient whose care is compensated in any way by a state or federal healthcare program.  Violations of the statute are punishable by a maximum fine of $25,000 and/or imprisonment up to five years.  Federal courts have applied the statute to any arrangement where even one purpose of the arrangement was to obtain money for the referral of services or an attempt to induce additional referrals. Its exceptions (“Safe Harbors”) include permissible arrangements for independent contractors and employees, both of which are elusive because of the common requirement that the arrangement not vary based on the value or volume of business between the parties.  The “value or volume” aspect of the regulations flies in the face of percentage based compensation arrangements (which seem to be the rule in marketing relationships). Continue reading

Husband and Wife Kickback Conviction Not Surprising

The convictions of a husband and wife were upheld on February 2nd by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  The couple was convicted of soliciting and receiving kickbacks, among other things.  They argued that, in fact, all they did was to recommend physicians refer patients to a certain imaging center.  Their argument was that the doctors used their own judgment in referring patients.  Audio and video records of their activities, however, supported the prosecution’s case that in fact the couple actually paid cash to referring physicians for referrals made by the doctors to the imaging center.  The couple will spend about two years in prison.  The court did not address the legal issue of whether or not commission based compensation arrangements for marketing services were permissible.