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

Compounding Pharmacies and Alleged Tricare Abuses Back in the Spotlight

compounding pharmacyBy: Jacqueline Bain

On Thursday, February 11, 2016, the United States Attorneys’ Office from the Middle District of Florida announced a $10 million settlement with 4 physicians and 2 pharmacies regarding alleged abuses of Tricare program.  The case against these physicians and pharmacies was prosecuted as part of the United States government’s large-scale effort to combat questionable compounding practices.  Investigations revealed that patients were often prescribed compounded drugs that they never used, and that Tricare paid a mark-up cost of nearly 90% for compounded drugs over and above the pharmacy’s actual costs of making the drug.  Roughly 40% of the claims submitted by the pharmacies in question were written by 4 physicians with an ownership or financial interest in the pharmacies.

Tricare is a federal health care program designed to insure active duty military service members, reservists, members of the National Guard, retirees, survivors and their families.  Tricare outpatient costs have almost doubled in the last 5 years, and compound drugs have accounted for a large portion of that increase.  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

Big Changes to Federal DHS Supervision Rules

By: Jeff Cohen

Proposed changes to the “incident to services” rule in the 2016 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule are set to seriously impact how medical practices provide certain services, bill for them and share income from those services.

Incident to services are services or items that are furnished as an integral part of the professional services of a physicians or other practitioner in the course of diagnosis or treatment.  80 Fed. Reg. at 41785.  They are billed to CMS as though the physician actually provided the service.  One of the rule’s key requirements is that a physician directly supervise the performance of the services, which has meant that a physician who is part of the practice has to be physically present in the office when the services are provided.  If, for instance, a physician in the practice was present when physical therapy or diagnostic imaging was provided to a patient, the services could be billed to CMS as though the physician actually provided the services, even though the service was provided by, for instance, a licensed physical therapist or imaging technician.       Continue reading

Medicare Physician Fee Schedule Full of Surprises

Bill Tracking SpyglassBy: Jeff Cohen

When new healthcare regs come out, we all get excited.  “What sort of nuggets will I find that could be useful?”  Sometimes the regs have useful things and sometimes, they’re just disappointing and frustrating.  The proposed changes to the 2016 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule are a mixed bag.  Allow me to illustrate:

The incident to rules may be changed to require only the ordering physician to supervise the performance of the service.  Currently, any physician in a group practice could supervise the performance of an incident to service (which allows the practice to bill for the service as though it had been performed by the ordering physician);

Qualified telemedicine services that are furnished via an interactive telecom system can be furnished by a physician or authorized practitioner for an additional list of services, including CRNAs.  This is a big change that expands the list of authorized providers;

The feds propose to characterize certain Stark Law violations as “technical,” which means they pose no financial risk to the Medicare program.  Examples include unsigned or expired agreements; Continue reading