In yet another take-down of an illicit scheme to defraud the Medicare Program and ChampVA, as well as other insurers, Patsy Truglia has been sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. He has also had assets forfeited since these assets were acquired with money from his ill-gotten fraud scheme. In total, Mr. Truglia and his co-conspirators collected approximately $18.5 million from Medicare, ChampVA, and insurance using a scheme of telemarketing, telemedicine, and multiple DME providers or “store fronts.”
The scheme used telemarketers to collect beneficiaries personal and medical information to create orders for DME products such as knee, back, and wrist braces. These orders were then provided to telemedicine practitioners for signature – often without a valid telehealth communication. In essence, there was no attempt at having a practitioner exercise independent judgment as to the medical necessity of these DME products. Instead, these practitioners were paid for their signatures on the pre-filled order forms as part of the “scheme of greed.” From January 2018 to 2019, this scheme of greed resulted in approximately $12 million in payment to Truglia and his co-conspirators.
Genetic tests are valuable because they can provide important information to patients and their medical providers regarding diagnoses, treatment, and disease prevention. However, the rapid growth in the number of tests ordered, especially in light of the telemedicine expansion during the pandemic, has invited well-earned scrutiny to the industry.
Make no mistake: genetic testing is heavily regulated (and enforced). The Federal Anti-Kickback Statute, Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act, and Commercial Insurance Fraud Law have all been used to prosecute unscrupulous marketers, call centers, and telemedicine providers in the last few months. Kickbacks in exchange for genetic specimens are just as illegal as kickbacks for patients. Three months ago, a Florida man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiracy to commit health care fraud. His actions resulted in the submission of approximately $3.3 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare for genetic testing.
While not a ‘classic’ kickback – such as the scenario of a practitioner receiving remuneration in exchange for a prescription or referral of healthcare business – the routine waiver of patient financial responsibly by a healthcare provider ALSO constitutes healthcare fraud, even for commercially insured patients!
Unfortunately, such a serious violation does not readily come to mind for many of those operating in the healthcare space, but its relatively straightforward once you think about it. In essence, a financial incentive is being provided to the patient to utilize the services of a certain healthcare provider by virtue of that individual not being subjected to out-of-pocket expense they normally would be subjected to if they were to utilize another similarly situated provider.
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.
FMVs are at the heart of healthcare regulatory compliance when money or anything of value changes hands in a healthcare business setting. Why? Two reasons:
Healthcare laws (Stark, the Anti Kickback Statute and the Patient Brokering Act) all target money changing hands in the healthcare business space; and
There are clear exemptions and exceptions that have as an essential ingredient that the compensation (or pricing) is consistent with “fair market value.”
How it Goes—A Six Part Process
Locking down an externally performed FMV (part of the “gold standard” in regulatory compliance) is a process. Here’s what it should look like:
Step 1. The healthcare business person or his/her advisors (often accountants) find someone who specializes in performing FMVs for the specific matter (e.g. compensation, price of a business to be acquired);
Step 2. The LAWYER for the healthcare business is immediately involved in the process BEFORE the FMV firm is engaged;
Step 3. The LAWYER engages the FMV firm on behalf of the healthcare business client;
Step 4. The parties (including the lawyer) get on the phone or in a meeting with the “FMV guy” and has a very extensive conversation re the project;
Step 5. Once the FMV process done, a DRAFT FMV study is prepared and discussed interactively with the healthcare business and the lawyer;
Step 6. Once finalized, an execution copy is prepared and provided to the lawyer.
Those in the practice of dentistry today have many options when it comes to building a practice. Should you work for an employer? Build your own? What about buy a practice? More and more, we see young dentists wishing to avoid private equity and buying out a retiring dentist’s practice. The amount of regulation imposed upon those entering into the dental practice arena can be staggering. Further, buying a dental practice requires many considerations that are unique to other areas of business. Understanding the purchase process will help protect your investment and could keep you from experiencing any unnecessary liability.
First, organize a team of specialized dental experts, such as a dental CPA, Professional Practice Lender, dental law attorney, and a practice consultant. Having a team of professionals guide you through all aspects of the deal will keep you on track, avoid potential issues, accomplish specific task items, and properly comply with any legal considerations.
The core aspect of EKRA has to do with how to properly compensate marketing personnel who market the services of labs, addiction treatment facilities and recovery homes. For those of you already familiar with existing federal law pertaining to compensation arrangements (e.g. the bona fide employee exception (the “BFE”) and the personal services arrangement and management contract safe harbor (the “PSA”)), the EKRA provisions will look familiar! Key aspects of this law (which has to be read together with similar existing laws) include—
Regulatory compliance is a mandatory investment for any healthcare business owner looking to stay out of serious and personal legal peril, let alone one hoping to keep their company viable.
Yet there is seemingly an onslaught of providers that blatantly run afoul of many of these regulations, knowingly or not, or those that believe they may have found a loophole.
Concerning the latter, there is an important mantra that such DME and pharmacy providers should remember and live by: “[W]hat a provider cannot do directly, it cannot do indirectly through an intermediary.”
Marketing for DME – What exactly am I talking about?
DME providers enrolled with CMS (should) know they cannot solicit or ‘cold call’ Medicare Part B beneficiaries, per the Federal Anti-Solicitation Statute, and that they cannot offer anything of value to a potential patient that could induce them to utilize them as a provider, in accordance with the Beneficiary Inducement Statute.
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced the launch of a new tool on its website titled the “Fraud Risk Indicator”. The OIG has stated that the purpose for the tool is to provide guidance on how it has evaluated risk in settling False Claims Act (FCA) cases and to publicize information about where FCA defendants fall on the OIG’s risk spectrum. This tool can benefit patients, healthcare industry professionals and other individuals who may find this information relevant. This tool will also benefit the public with information about providers charged under the FCA that are at high risk for committing healthcare fraud. The Indicator shows the Risk Spectrum from Highest Risk to Lower Risk.
In giving consideration to whether healthcare regulations apply to a proposed course of conduct it’s absolutely vital for a pharmacy to know its payor! This is especially so in the context of patient marketing and the various regulatory prohibitions on paying for healthcare referrals. Unfortunately, some pharmacy owners remain a bit mixed up about who the ultimate payor is for the medications they dispense, and, depending on that pharmacy’s billing operations, such mistakes can have devastating consequences.
A large part of this confusion might be attributed to the fact that in most instances, a pharmacy is not billing the ultimate payor directly (unlike a DMEPOS provider that may be directly submitting claims to Medicare Part B), but rather, the pharmacy is billing an intermediary entity called a Pharmacy Benefit Manager (“PBM”), which is usually a commercially run entity (non-government owned) that manages and adjudicates claims on behalf of health insurance plans that cover pharmacy benefits.
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.