Category Archives: Fraud and Abuse

CMS Proposed Stark Law Revisions

On July 15, 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) published proposed revisions to the regulations implementing the physician self-referral law, or Stark Law.

The Stark Law is a key regulatory scheme in the healthcare industry that governs relationships between physicians and the providers to whom they refer certain designated health services. In order to receive Medicare reimbursement for these services, all financial relationships between providers and the referring physician must satisfy a statutory or regulatory exception to the Stark Law. These exceptions are complex and very technical, and providers who fail to fully comply with the Stark Law’s many requirements can be subjected to significant penalties and other sanctions.

Many of CMS’ proposed revisions appear designed to reduce the burden of some of these technical requirements. In addition, CMS is proposing several new exceptions. If enacted, these will be some of the most significant changes to the Stark Law in years.

Highlights of the proposed revisions include the following:

  • Contractual requirements. Many of the Stark Law exceptions require the relationship between the parties to be “set out in writing” or be pursuant to a “written agreement.” CMS is proposing to revise all exceptions to contain the same language, using the phrase “arrangement.” CMS has further clarified that the “arrangement” does not have to be a formal, written contract, and the exceptions can potentially be satisfied by multiple documents evidencing the course of conduct between the parties.
  • Recruitment of Nonphysician Practitioners (NPPs).   CMS is proposing a new exception that would allow hospitals and other providers to provide recruitment support for nurse practitioners and other NPPs. Previously, this support had only been allowed for physicians.
  • Timeshare Arrangements. CMS is proposing a new exception that would allow providers to enter into timeshare arrangements with physicians for the use of office space, equipment, personnel, supply and other services.
  • Standardized language. CMS is proposing to standardize the use of certain phrases throughout the regulations. As described above, various references to “contracts” or “writings” will now be uniformly replaced with the term “arrangement.” In addition, all references to the volume or value of referrals between parties will use the phrase “takes into account.”
  • Holdovers. Under the proposed regulations, parties may continue to provide services under leases and personal service agreements that have technically expired for an indefinite period without violating the Stark Law. Previously, providers could only do so for six months.
  • Signature Requirements. Under the proposed regulations, contracts could be signed up to 90 days after services started and be considered compliant with the Stark Law. Previously, the period was only 30 days in most circumstances.
  • Term Requirements. Many of the exceptions to the Stark Law require the parties to have an agreement for at least one year. CMS is clarifying that the contract or agreement between the parties does not have to have an explicit one-year term, so long as the relationship does in fact last one year.  CMS is continuing the requirement that if an agreement is terminated prior to the one year term, the parties cannot enter into a similar agreement until that one-year period is up.

Providers who may be impacted by these proposed changes are encouraged to submit comments to CMS. Comments may be submitted electronically here and should be received by September 8, 2015.

Benesch is preparing an in-depth client alert analyzing the potential impact of these regulations. If you have questions regarding the scope and impact of these proposed regulations in the mean time, please contact any member of the Benesch Health Law team.

Guidance Released for Health Care Governing Boards

On April 20, 2015, the Office of Inspector General (the “OIG”) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Association of Healthcare Internal Auditors, the American Health Lawyers Association, and the Health Care Compliance Association published a first-of-its-kind guide entitled “Practical Guidance for Health Care Governing Boards on Compliance Oversight.”

The guide is intended to assist governing boards of health care organizations (“Boards”) to create and carry out compliance programs. The guide addresses issues relating to a Board’s oversight and review of compliance program functions, including: (1) the roles of, and relationships between, the organization’s audit, compliance, and legal functions; (2) the mechanism and process for issue-reporting within an organization; (3) the approach to identifying regulatory risks; and (4) methods of encouraging organization-wide accountability for achievement of compliance goals and objectives.

The guide encourages Boards to create benchmarks using publicly available resources, such as the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the OIG’s voluntary compliance program guidance, and OIG Corporate Integrity Agreements.  Although there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” compliance program, these resources can be helpful in creating a program tailored to each organization’s needs.

While recognizing that not all organizations will possess the resources to support the structure in its entirety, the guide recommends creating corporate charters that address the following functions: (1) compliance; (2) legal; (3) internal audit; (4) human resources; and (5) quality improvement. Boards should continuously evaluate the effectiveness of these charters.

The guide also encourages Boards to ensure proper reporting mechanisms are in place within the organization. If managers or other individuals within the organization are not held responsible for reporting compliance concerns to the Board, the Board will not have a complete picture of the adequacy and effectiveness of the organization’s compliance atmosphere. Therefore, Boards should consider scheduling regular sessions to hear from the organization’s management about the organization’s utilization of compliance, legal, internal audit, and quality functions.

Identifying risk areas is an integral part of any organization’s compliance program. Boards can identify high risk areas from internal and external sources. The guide recommends tracking industry trends to identify risk areas, as new payment models can lead to new incentives and new compliance concerns.

Finally, the guide recommends encouraging accountability within an organization along with compliance. Many organizations have tied an employee’s performance assessment and other incentives to adherence to the organization’s compliance program to emphasize and encourage individual accountability.

The entire guide is available on the OIG’s website. For more information on health care compliance programs, please contact any member of Benesch’s health care practice group.

OIG Announces Proposed AKS and CMP Regulations

On October 3, 2014, the Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) issued a proposed rule codifying into regulation several statutory changes to the Antikickback Statute (“AKS”) and the Civil Monetary Penalty (“CMP”) Law. Nearly all of these changes broaden permissible arrangements for certain health care and health service providers. The OIG is seeking public comment regarding how to best balance the promotion of beneficial arrangements that enhance the efficient and effective delivery of health care and promote the best interests of patients, while simultaneously avoiding payment arrangements that risk abuse of Federal health care programs or program beneficiaries. Comments about these proposed regulations are due to the OIG no later than December 2, 2014 at 5:00 p.m. EST. The proposed regulations in their entirety are available here. Selected proposed changes are described below.

Antikickback Regulations

1.   Cost-Sharing Waiver Safe Harbors. The OIG proposes to codify as regulations AKS safe harbors for certain cost-sharing waivers determined to be low risk to Federal health care programs.

a.   Safe Harbor for Part D Cost-Sharing Waivers by Pharmacies. A pharmacy waiving Part D cost-sharing for a beneficiary would qualify for the safe harbor when:
(i) the waiver is not advertised or part of a solicitation;
(ii) the pharmacy does not routinely waive the cost sharing; and
(iii) before waiving cost-sharing, the pharmacy either determines in good faith that the beneficiary has a financial need or the pharmacy fails to collect the cost-sharing amount after making a reasonable effort to do so.
Conditions (ii) and (iii) do not apply to a subsidy-eligible individual.

b.   Safe Harbor for Cost-Sharing Waivers for Emergency Ambulance Services. Emergency ambulance providers and suppliers that are paid by Medicare fee-for-service and are owned and operated by a State, a political subdivision, or a Federally recognized Indian tribe would receive AKS safe harbor protection for arrangements when:
(i) the ambulance provider or supplier is the Medicare Part B provider or supplier of the services;                                                                                                        (ii) the waiver is offered uniformly, without regard to patient-specific factors;
(iii) the waiver is not the furnishing of free services paid for by a government entity; and
(iv) the provider or supplier bears the cost of the waiver.

2.   AKS Remuneration Exceptions. The OIG proposes to codify as regulations two recent statutory exceptions to the definition of remuneration.

a.   Medicare Coverage Gap Discount Program Exception. Applicable drugs provided at a discount to applicable beneficiaries under the Medicare Coverage Gap Discount Program would be excepted from the AKS definition of remuneration if the drug manufacturer is a compliant participant in the Medicare Coverage Gap Discount Program.

b.   Local Transportation Services Exception. Excepted from the AKS definition of remuneration would be free or discounted local (no more than 25 miles away) transportation made available by an individual or entity to established patients who are Federal health care program beneficiaries for the purpose of obtaining medically necessary items or services when:
(i) the individual or entity providing the transportation services does not primarily supply health care items and bears the cost of the transportation services;
(ii) the availability of transportation services is not determined in a manner related to the volume or value of Federal health care program business;
(iii) the transportation services are not air, luxury, or ambulance-level services; and
(iv) the transportation services are not marketed or advertised and drivers or others arranging the transportation are not paid per beneficiary transported.

Civil Monetary Penalty Regulations

1.   CMP Remuneration Exceptions. The OIG proposes to codify as regulations recent statutory exceptions to the CMP rule definition of remuneration. The proposed regulations additionally provide proposed definitions of terms intended to help interpret these exceptions. Proposed exceptions to the CMP rule definition of remuneration include:

(a)   Reductions by a hospital of the copayment amount for covered outpatient department services to no less than 20% of the Medicare outpatient department fee schedule.

(b)   Remuneration promoting access to care and posing a low risk of harm to patients and Federal health care programs.

(c)   Retailer rewards programs consisting of coupons, rebates, or other rewards from a retailer offering items or services on equal terms to all members of the public and which are not tied to the provision of other items or services reimbursed in any part by Medicare or an applicable State health care program.

(d)   The offer of certain items or services for free or at less than fair market value after making a good faith determination that the recipient is in financial need and when the items or services are not advertised.

(e)   Certain copayment waivers for the first fill of a covered Part D generic drug for beneficiaries enrolled in the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan or the Medicare Advantage Part D Plan.

2.   Gainsharing Prohibition. The OIG proposes codify the statutory gainsharing prohibition that forbids hospitals from knowingly making a payment to a physician as an inducement to reduce or limit services provided to Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries under the care of that physician. In doing so, the OIG acknowledges that it seeks to strike a balance that interprets the prohibition broadly enough to protect Federal health care program beneficiaries, and narrowly enough to allow low risk programs that further the goal of delivering high quality health care at a lower cost. Furthermore, in the proposed regulations the OIG acknowledges that it has previously allowed certain gainsharing arrangements through its advisory opinion process and that it seeks comment regarding an interpretation of the statute that permits the implementation of low risk, beneficial gainsharing arrangements.

If you have questions about these proposed regulations, or about fraud and abuse compliance for Federal health care program participants generally, contact Heather E. Baird, or any member of the Benesch Health Care Department.

One Of The Country’s Largest Hospital Organizations to Pay $98.15 Million Settlement on False Claims Act Allegations

On Monday, August 4, 2014, The Department of Justice announced that Community Health Systems (“CHS”), the nation’s largest operator of acute care hospitals, agreed to pay $98.15 million to settle nine whistleblower lawsuits alleging that the company violated the False Claims Act between January 2005 and December 2010. The whistleblowers alleged that CHS knowingly billed Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE for medically unnecessary inpatient admissions rather than the lower outpatient or observation rates at 119 hospitals. Additionally, allegations were made that services were rendered to patients at one of CHS’s hospitals in Laredo, Texas by a physician who was offered a medical directorship in violation of the physician self-referral law, known as the Stark Law.

Under the settlement, CHS entered into a five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement requiring it to retain independent review organizations to review the accuracy of the claims for inpatient services under federal health care programs, and to engage in significant compliance efforts over the next five years.

The allegations against CHS are particularly notable in light of new regulations such as the two-midnight rule, which took effect October 1, 2013. The two-midnight rule requires that physicians deem a patient’s condition as serious enough to require at least two overnight stays in order to qualify for Medicare reimbursement under inpatient rates. Patients who aren’t formally admitted may remain under outpatient or observation status. Emergency and internal medicine physicians often struggle to get the right designation and status for the patient. The federal government has delayed enforcement of the rule until March 31, 2015 at which time hospitals may face financial penalties if auditors determine the hospital could have met the patient’s needs in an outpatient setting.

For more information on the CHS settlement, the two-midnight rule, the Stark Law, the Anti-Kickback Statute, or related fraud and abuse issues, please feel free to contact Daniel Meier or any member of our health care practice group for a further discussion.

You can find a more extensive discussion about the CHS settlement, the impact of observation status on patients and the two-midnight rule in the following Client Bulletin.

OIG Publishes Special Fraud Alert Regarding Laboratory Payments To Referring Physicians – Some Arrangements May Violate the Anti-Kickback Statute

The laboratory market has become quite competitive in recent years, raising compliance concerns and investigations into lab relationships with referring physicians. Accordingly, on June 25, 2014, the OIG released a Special Fraud Alert (the “Fraud Alert”) which provides guidance about two different types of suspect arrangements: (1) Blood-Specimen Collection; and (2) Registry Payments. The concerns raised here by the OIG involve referring physicians receiving payments from laboratories who may not even be aware that these arrangements are violating the Anti-Kickback Statute due to their complicated nature.

The OIG explained that it is concerned about arrangements in which a lab pays a physician more than fair market value (“FMV”) for the physician’s services or for services the lab does not actually need or for which the physician is compensated. The four major concerns typically associated with kickbacks involving labs include: (1) corruption of medical judgment; (2) overutilization; (3) increased costs to the Federal health care programs and beneficiaries; and (4) unfair competition. These concerns arise because arrangements with labs could induce physicians to order tests from a lab that provides them with payment, rather than utilizing laboratories that provide the best, most clinically appropriate service. Indeed, the choice of which laboratory to use and whether to even order lab tests are decided by or at least strongly influenced by the physician. Continue reading

The Halifax $85 Million Lesson: Compensation Arrangements Between Hospitals and Physicians Must Be Reviewed

The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced another multi-million dollar settlement of alleged False Claims Act violations on March 11, 2014. Specifically, Halifax Hospital Medical Center and Halifax Staffing, Inc. agreed to settle various issues with the DOJ for $85 million in order to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act (“FCA”) by submitting claims to Medicare that violated the federal prohibition on physician self-referrals, 42 USC §1395nn (the “Stark Law”). United States ex rel. Baklid-Kunz v. Halifax Hospital Medical Center, et al., No. 09-cv-1002 (M.D. Fla.).

The Stark Law and the Bona Fide Employment Exception

The Stark Law prohibits a physician from referring a patient for certain designated health services (“DHS”) to an entity in which the physician, or an immediate family member, has a financial interest, such as an ownership or investment interest in the entity or a compensation arrangement with the entity. Certain exceptions for arrangements are permitted under Stark. However, because the Stark Law is a strict liability statute, the arrangement must fit completely within the criteria of the exception in order not to violate the statute. At issue in Halifax, as explained below, is the bona fide employment exception, Continue reading

Supplemental Special Advisory Bulletin Clarifies OIG Positions on Independent Charity Patient Assistance Programs

Introduction

The OIG has released a Supplemental Special Advisory Bulletin that “reiterates and amplifies” previous OIG Special Advisory Bulletin guidance from 2005. Pharmaceutical manufacturers and Patient Assistance Programs that provide independent, charitable support for patients’ drug expenses (PAPs) should be aware of this supplemental guidance, as the OIG notes that it may modify some previously-issued favorable advisory opinions. Specifically, in this bulletin the OIG expands on its previous guidance regarding disease funds, eligible recipients, and the conduct of donors.

Background

PAPs provide cost-sharing assistance for patients who cannot afford their prescription medications. Continue reading