Health law is the federal, state, and local law, rules, regulations and other jurisprudence among providers, payers and vendors to the healthcare industry and its patient and delivery of health care services; all with an emphasis on operations, regulatory and transactional legal issues.
With the current healthcare environment many providers looked to alternative methods of treating patients and achieving outcomes this past year due to the pandemic. To meet the needs of their patients, and their financial obligations many providers implemented services that were not customary to their practice, or their billing departments. As is the case for any office that begins to provide something new there is always the potential for error in any aspect of the practice involved with the patient or claim. Therefore, I believe it is a great time to refresh providers on the procedures for reporting and returning Medicare overpayments as they are discovered moving forward.
As many of you are aware in 2016 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published a final rue pursuant to Section 1128J(d) of the Social Security Act (the Act), as amended by the Affordable Care Act, that requires Medicare Parts A and B health care providers to report and return overpayments 60 days after the date an overpayment is identified, or the due date of any corresponding cost report, if applicable, whichever is later. If credible information indicates that an overpayment exists, the rule requires that a reasonably diligent inquiry must be performed.
A recent Department of Justice $500,000 settlement with a cardiology practice underscores the need for ensuring tighter compliance by medical practices. There, the practice billed Medicare for cardiology procedures for which interpretive reports were also required. Medicare paid for the procedures, but upon audit, CMS could not find the requisite interpretive reports. The False Claims Act case settled for $500,000, but it’s likely that (1) the reimbursement by Medicare was far less, and (b) the legal fees behind the settlement weren’t too far behind the settlement amount! Had the practice self-audited each year, would they have found the discrepancy?
Medical practices have felt the weight of price compression and regulatory load more than probably any segment in the healthcare sector. They are doing far more for far less. And regulations expand faster than viruses! Hence, many have a strategy of regulatory compliance that can best be characterized as a combination of facial compliance (“We bought the manual and put it on the shelf”) and hope (“They’re not really serious about this, are they?”). Unless you’re part of a practice of more than 20 doctors, it’s likely that you can do more to ensure regulatory compliance.
On March 31, 2020 the Florida Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) clarified that physicians are permitted to dispense medications to injured workers, and that an injured worker shall have full and free choice to utilize their physician for medication dispensing, as well as any other pharmacy or pharmacist.
It was declared by the DWC that it is not appropriate for employers/carriers to deny authorization or reimbursement for prescription medication solely because the medication is dispensed by the treating physician who is a licensed Florida dispensing practitioner instead of a pharmacist.
What Led to the DWC Bulletin?
A Florida dispensing practitioner was denied reimbursement for drugs dispensed out of their office to an injured worker in a recent reimbursement dispute claim. The physician asserted the claims administrator denied reimbursement for the dispensed medications because the physician was not authorized to dispense prescription medications. The Florida Department of Financial Services (DFS) ruled in favor of the physician – DFS Case No.: 20180824-007-WC – and subsequently issued DWC Bulletin DWC-01-2020 on March 31, 2020.
Out of network physician owned specialty hospitals are unique in that there are less stringent legal requirements on the facility, but patient care obligations remain the same. This means that patient care must be prioritized over profits and all actions taken by the hospital and any physician investor must showcase that order of priority.
Given the amount of scrutiny placed in physician owned specialty hospitals in the past two decades, these facilities are well served to identify and implement a process to remedy compliance concerns. Even when a facility does not submit claims to any Federal health insurance provider and is out of network with all commercial insurance companies, it is still required to follow the laws of the state where it is located.
The best plan for surviving scrutiny in such situations is to have a plan. Proactively seek out applicable laws and regulations, and determine how your hospital will abide by them. Compliance can be tailored to fit your facility.
Overutilization and Self-Referrals
A physician who shares ownership in a hospital may have a financial incentive to refer patients for services if he or she receives a percentage of the revenue generated. Laws including the Federal Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute were promulgated to combat unnecessary referrals. A 2003 study by the Department of Health and Human Services concluded that physician-investor referrals to hospitals in which they have an investment interest are similar to those physicians without investment interests. Nevertheless, the fear of overutilization and unnecessary self referral remains at the forefront of the regulators’ minds at both the State and Federal level. read more
The newest relief for small business and health care providers was passed by the Senate on April 21st, by the House on April 23rd, and became law on April 24, 2020. This new Act, provides for $484 billion in additional relief to small businesses and healthcare providers. $100 billion of the relief has been allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services and of that amount $75 billion is earmarked “to reimburse health care providers for health related expenses or lost revenues that are attributable to the coronavirus outbreak.” The remaining $25 billion will be used for expenses to research, develop, validate, manufacture, purchase, administer, and expand capacity for COVID-19 test to effectively monitor and suppress COVID-19.
The $75 billion provided under the Act will remain available until expended and will be used to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus to reimburse necessary expense or lost revenues incurred as a result of COVID-19. However, if a health care provider has already had expenses or lost revenues incurred due to COVID-19 reimbursed from other sources or that other sources are obligated to reimburse (like the CARES Act), any funds received from the $75 billion cannot be used as a “double dip” by that health care provider.
A big difference for health care providers with this Act, is that unlike the CARES Act that provided a direct deposit to health care providers based on Medicare fee for services reimbursement, no application necessary, this Act requires the health care provider to apply for relief funds. Eligible health care providers include public entities, Medicare or Medicaid enrolled suppliers and providers, profit and not-for-profit entities that provide diagnoses, testing, or care for individuals with possible or actual cases of COVID-19 (so as to accommodate the “lost revenues” provision, this could mean any patient treated since January 31, 2020, and is not necessarily limited to patients treated for COVID-19 symptoms without testing confirmation). Health care providers should act quickly and apply for funds as soon as possible as the HHS Secretary will review applications and make payments on a rolling basis. Payment may be a pre-payment, prospective payment, or a retrospective payment as determined by the HHS Secretary. Health care providers must submit an application that includes statements justifying the need of the provider for the payment. The provider must have a valid tax id number (could be an individually enrolled physician). As with the CARES Act, HHS will have the ability to audit how relief funds are expended and must start reporting obligations of funds to the House and Senates Committees on Appropriations within 60 days from the date of enactment of this Act. Reporting will continue every 60 days thereafter. read more
The Secretary of Health and Human Services issued blanket waiver of the Stark Law on March 30th in order to facilitate COVID related medical services. The waivers apply only to financial relationships and referrals related to COVID. The circumstances and conditions under which the waivers apply are strictly and narrowly described. Moreover, the waivers have no impact in the presence of fraud or abuse. With respect to physicians wanting to provide designated health services (e.g. clinical lab services) related to COVID detection and treatment, for instance–
the federal requirement that the DHS be provided in the same building as the physician office is waived; and
the financial relationship limitations between the physician (or family member) and the DHS provider is waived.
The waiver also contains specific examples of waived interactions between providers and hospitals, including— read more
COVID is proving to be so burdensome on employers that we are seeing lay-offs and furloughs all over the country. As the virus curve bends back in a positive direction and physician and patient concerns for safety wane, patients will stream back to office. But what happens to the laid off (or furloughed) employees and contractors with non-competes? Will they come back or will they have moved on, possibly in a way that violates their noncompetes? And will a court think a noncompete has been violated when an employee or contractor was let go and there is no specific provision in their written contract that allows the employer to immediately let someone go without notice due to this type of situation? How will the COVID based lay-offs and furlough affect noncompetes? The short answer is we don’t yet know, but widespread lay-offs and furloughs may result in a flood of cases being filed because (1) many have been let go, (2) there likely isn’t a provision in their contract with the employer that specifically authorizes that sort of termination, and (3) a contract’s “breach” (e.g. no contract based allowance for the prompt termination) is traditionally a defense to an action to enforce a noncompete.
The COVID Issue
Though there is an exception for unusual specialties or where there is essentially a community need, noncompetition covenants are generally enforceable in Florida with respect to doctors and other healthcare professionals. Many people think doctors in particular can’t be restricted from practicing medicine under any circumstances. That is just not true.
Getting to the bone of the issue, noncompetes are enforceable in Florida if: read more
The Florida Healthcare Law Firm is hosting a free webinar for physicians on appropriate third party relationships. With shrinking reimbursement rates, physicians are increasingly turning to alternative methods and innovative physician relationships to increase revenue. However, not every opportunity is compliant with Federal and State kickback laws, which are designed to prevent overutilization of services.
This course aims to help attendees recognize and advise physicians about relationships designed to compensate for more than just patient care, including, but not limited to:
It will use recent trends in the market to reinforce its objectives. This free webinar is for physicians and healthcare providers full of valuable information.All you have to do is register here, put it on your calendar and then click on the link emailed to you on March 25th!
Physician relationships of any kind should be approached carefully by a highly qualified healthcare attorney. Nearly every aspect of healthcare is governed by a complex array of regulations and remaining compliant when drafting a contractual relationship of any kind is no easy task.
HHS found that a home health agency incorrectly billed Medicare and did not comply with Medicare Billing requirements for beneficiaries that were not homebound and for others that did not require skilled services at all.
In August and September 2018, physicians and the owner of a home health agency were each sentenced on multiple counts of conspiracy and healthcare fraud and ordered to pay $6.5 million in restitution. One physician was sentenced to 132 months in prison following trial. A physician who pled guilty was sentenced to 27 months in prison following a guilty plea. The home health agency owner was sentenced to 42 months in prison. The defendants paid and received kickbacks in exchange for patients and billed Medicare more than $8.9 million for services that were medically unnecessary, never provided, and/or not otherwise reimbursable. Additionally, certain defendants provided prescriptions for opioid medications to induce patient participation in the scheme.
In September 2018, the co-owner and administrator of a home health agency was sentenced to 24 months in prison, ordered to pay over $2.2 million in restitution, and ordered to forfeit over $1.1 million. The co-owners participated in a home healthcare fraud conspiracy that resulted in Medicare paying at least $2.2 million on false and fraudulent claims. The owners and their co-conspirators paid kickbacks to doctors and patient recruiters in exchange for patient referrals, billed Medicare for services that were medically unnecessary, and caused patient files to be falsified to justify the fraudulent billing.
Back in February 2018, the owner of more than twenty home health agencies was sentenced to 240 months in prison and ordered to pay $66.4 million in restitution, jointly and severally with his co-defendants, after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud. A patient recruiter for the home health agencies, who also owned a medical clinic and two home health agencies of her own, was sentenced to 180 months in prison. Another patient recruiter, who also was the owner of two home health agencies, was sentenced to 115 months in prison. These conspirators paid illegal bribes and kickbacks to patient recruiters in return for the referral of Medicare beneficiaries many of whom did not need or qualify for home health services. Medicare paid approximately $66 million on those claims.
Illegal kickbacks in exchange for referrals of Medicare beneficiaries, lack of medical necessity for home health services, failing to meet the guidelines, fraudulent billing, billing for services beneficiaries did not receive and fraudulent documentation continues to plague the home healthcare industry.