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.
The term “payment for referral” strikes fear in the hearts of health care providers throughout the country because of the significant prohibitions under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS). And, Florida’s Patient Brokering Act (PBA) casts an even bigger shadow over arrangements involving payment in exchange for referrals. There are other statutory restrictions as well, which may apply depending upon the services for which a referral is being made. Those include but are not limited to statutes prohibiting physician fee-splitting and the federal Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act (EKRA) (applicable to referrals to recovery homes, clinical treatment facilities, or laboratories in an effort to stave off growing opioid-related fraud), and the potential collateral damage of a false claim under the federal False Claims Act (FCA) if any of the above statutes are violated.
So, is there any scenario where a payment may be made by a health care provider in exchange for referrals? The answer is yes- there is a safe harbor under the AKS (42 U.S. C. §1320a-7b(b)) specifically for such arrangements. This safe harbor is not commonly used and likely means revision to existing arrangements to come into compliance with its specific requirements. But it may be worth considering if the referral (and payment for that referral) is not otherwise prohibited as noted above. read more
COVID is front and center in all aspects of everyday life and has shined light in the strangest of places that were usually in the dark. In healthcare the laboratory space has always taken a backseat to other sectors in terms of recognition and value. The current climate in the lab space has shifted and it is not an illusion, labs are front and center.
COVID has taken its toll on areas of the economy and investors are certainly one of the first to become aware of this situation. Clinical laboratories are currently an attractive acquisition target and the reasons are numerous, sectors like retail, entertainment and travel are performing poorly and investors are shifting their investment dollars into healthcare and technology. Investors are looking for growth and profitability and are finding it in healthcare. Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) is nothing new in the lab industry, but now careful consideration is required when it comes to deciding the appropriate time to sell your lab.
Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic many healthcare businesses are exploring various ways to increase their referrals, and although exchanging fees and gifts in return for referrals may sound like an easy way to obtain additional business, there are state and federal laws that strictly prohibit such activities that are discussed in greater detail below.
Two of the most important laws that all physical therapists should be aware of are the Anti-Kickback Statute and the Stark Law which are used to ensure that medical decisions are not made based on financial incentives. However, each of the laws do have distinctions that you need to be aware of. read more
On October 6, 2020, the Unites States Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Louisiana announced that George M “Trey” Fluitt III of Monroe, Louisiana was indicted. The federal grand jury indicted the lab owner for paying bribes and kickbacks in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute, resulting in improper Medicare billing of approximately $117 million. Fluitt was the owner and operator of Specialty Drug Testing, LLC and is alleged to have solicited paid kickbacks and bribes in return for patient DNA specimens and physicians’ orders for cancer genetic and pharmacogenetic testing. Medicare allegedly paid Specialty Drug Testing, LLC $28,726,299 as a result of the fraudulent claims. If convicted, the defendant faces up to five years in prison for each count of conspiracy to defraud a healthcare program. Fluitt also faces 10 years in prison for illegal kickbacks, a $250,00 fine, forfeiture and restitution.
The debate over the pro’s and con’s of physician-owned hospitals has been raging for decades. Physician-owners say their hospitals are more patient-focused, provide higher quality care, obtain better outcomes and therefore receive higher patient satisfaction scores. They also point out their convenience and efficiency.
Opponents argue that physician-ownership leads to overutilization and cherry-picking of only the best patients. The less-desirable patients (both clinically and financially) are then left to be taken care of by the community hospitals. For those reasons, both the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals remain strongly opposed to physician-owned hospitals.
Federally, the Stark Law includes an exception which allows a physician to refer patients to a hospital in which the physician has an ownership interest, so long as the ownership interest is in the entire hospital, and not just a subdivision of the hospital. However, in 2010, the federal government weighed in again on the issue, and passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which includes provisions which (i) restrict physician referrals to hospitals in which they hold an ownership interest; (ii) restrict any increases in physician-ownership of a hospital; and (iii) restrict expansion of physician-owned hospital facilities. CMS has granted exceptions to these restrictions, but those have been limited to rural hospitals and high Medicaid hospitals, and attempts to amend the law have failed. read more
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.
Has your attorney ever told you to do your best to comply with certain safe harbors to the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute, and you’ll be likely to survive scrutiny under the Florida Patient Brokering Act (the PBA)? If you’ve heard that, it’s time to re-examine that relationship. In the last month, the Patient Brokering Act has been amended, and then interpreted by a court of law in a way that affects all healthcare providers.
The Patient Brokering Act has been used in recent years to prosecute abuses in the addiction treatment industry. Other healthcare providers subject to the act have largely been uninvolved in these prosecutions. However, the PBA has been remolded 4 times in the past 5 years as a means to tailor it to allow for prosecutions of bad actors in healthcare, including addiction treatment. One item should be made clear: the PBA applies to any facility at all that is licensed by the Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) or practitioner licensed by the Department of Health (DOH), including physicians, surgery centers, home health agencies, skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, DME providers, diagnostic imaging facilities, clinical laboratories, pharmacies and many other. During the legislative process, barely any healthcare industry representatives (from any provider group) showed up to any legislative workshops or produced counterbalancing input or language proposals that reflected a broader perspective. read more
There are two criminal cases pending in Palm Beach County that threaten to put a bullet in the heart of healthcare professionals and businesses and also the law practices that advise them. Both State v. Simeone and State v. Kigar have a motion from the State pending before them to block any testimony that the defendants received legal advice concerning a contract entered into by an addiction treatment facility and a sober home. The State alleges that the contract violates the state Patient Brokering Act (PBA) because it was essentially a ruse whereby the addiction treatment facility was just paying for the sober home to refer patients. Now the State wants to make sure that the entire issue of the defendants being advised by counsel never sees the light of day.
How is this possible? How can it be that a client can seek legal counsel, get advise (and presumably follow it), and then be blocked from presenting that evidence? The State argues that the PBA has no wording that requires them to prove intent. And if intent isn’t an element to be proven, the argument goes, then evidence of the client intending not to violate the law by getting advice beforehand is inadmissible! read more
Federal law enforcement has traditionally prosecuted individuals utilizing healthcare fraud and abuse laws such as the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute, the False Claims Act, the Physician Self-Referral Law also known as the Stark Law as well as other administrative tools including exclusions and civil monetary penalties. In addition to these laws, federal law enforcement also has at their disposal other fraudulent act statutes such as mail and wire fraud. The facts of a case, however, may not provide for federal standing. For example, when individuals take out federal government payors out of the picture or from an arrangement as a way of avoiding federal jurisdiction. The new solution to this issue…a law enacted in 1961, the Travel Act. read more
Over the past several months, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has taken a number of steps that show an awareness of the regulatory burden placed upon participants in the government’s health care programs, and even some willingness to consider reducing those burdens. While it remains to be seen whether the recent proposals will have measurable results, the following actions can still be viewed with guarded optimism.
Proposed Changes to Medicare
In July, 2018, CMS proposed significant changes to Medicare, to be included in rules that take effect in 2019. These changes cover physician fee schedules, streamlining Evaluation & Management (E&M) billing, advancing “virtual care,” decreasing drug costs, revising the MIPS program and establishing the MAQI demonstration project. The agency also asked for comments on price transparency issues. read more