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.
COVID-19 has affected all aspects of everyday life and healthcare rules and regulations are no exception. All areas of healthcare have been impacted, including the patient’s financial responsibility for healthcare services in the form of co-insurance, copays and deductibles. The waiver of a patient’s financial responsibility for healthcare services is regulated by federal and state law. The waiver of co-pays, co-insurance and deductibles has been deemed a violation of the federal Anti-Kickback statue. A provider who routinely waives the patient’s financial obligation may be violating the participating provider agreement with commercial carriers, state law and federal law with respect to Medicare beneficiaries. Waiving patient fees is seen as an inducement to the patient to prefer one provider over another for financial reasons. However, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and commercial carriers have been authorized by the federal government to waive patient financial responsibility during the pandemic in order to encourage the public to get treated for COVID-19 and non-COVID medical conditions without fear of a hefty bill.
As the country reopens in light of COVID-19 many patients are beginning to feel safe to return to practices for services. In an effort to generate additional business to make up for lost revenue many practices have turned to internet-based marketing programs, such as Groupon to help attract new patients. Such sites provide a platform for discounted services, in exchange for a fee to refer patients to those businesses. While every state and business is different, chiropractors need to be aware of the implications of working with such sites while accepting federal health care insurance reimbursements, and the marketing requirements that still must be adhered to that often go overlooked.
When a discount is offered, Groupon customers (in this case, chiropractic patients) pay fees directly to Groupon. The chiropractor is then paid a percentage of the fees collected. Such marketing might affect Federal laws, for patients covered by federal insurance programs. The federal anti-kickback statute (AKS) prohibits any person from knowingly and willfully offering or paying cash to any person to induce the person to refer a patient for services for which payment may be made under a federal healthcare program. While some safe harbors exist, none specifically fit in a case like this.
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.
Florida may become the “next Texas” on the issue of physician owned specialty hospitals. “Next Texas,” since there are a number of examples where the concept launched (and also flopped). Done right, such facilities could be a better fit for many patients, depending of course on patient co morbidity issues. In theory, they would be the perfect bridge between surgery centers and regular acute care hospitals. But the ability of such specialty focused care suggests a better staffing model and more targeted and efficient overhead, instead of the broad-based overhead of an acute care hospital at is spread out aver all cases, including those where overhead allocation is viewed as “just an expense.”
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.
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.
In 2018, theGlobal Wellness Institute (GWI) released its report “Build Well to Live Well” on the global and regional wellness lifestyle real estate and communities market. The report highlighted various emerging real estate wellness living concepts that will drive future development, and create a surge in the $134 Billion dollar industry, expected through 2022, to reach $180 billion.
The lines between home, work and leisure are less defined. Your neighbor can be your patient, your coach or your nutritionist. The millennial generation and others are focused on living where their needs for healthy and long life are considered. Many people are willing to pay out of pocket for services that contribute to their health and wellness. Medical industry groups and health services will have to catalyze in order to build these wellness communities. These communities will be created by combining medical industry companies and research organizations, high quality hospitals and health services for consumers, and holistically designed wellness focused homes and neighborhoods.
Monty Ray Grow was a defensive back on the Florida Gators’ football team from 1990 until 1993. He contracted to play for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1994 and then for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995 and 1996. On February 5, 2018, he was convicted by a federal jury in Miami for his chief role in a massive healthcare marketing scheme designed to defraud Tricare.
Tricare is a health benefit program that provides civilian benefits for U.S Armed Forces military personnel, retirees, their dependents, and some military reservists. Tricare is a Department of Defense Program.
In September 2014, Grow entered into an agreement with a compounding pharmacy in Pompano Beach, Florida, wherein the pharmacy would pay Grow’s marketing company a commission equal to fifty percent (50%) of what the pharmacy netted in Tricare reimbursement from Grow’s referral of Tricare beneficiaries to the pharmacy. (Later on, Grow became an employee of the pharmacy.) Grow then used his commission to offer and pay recruiters to convince Tricare beneficiaries to use this pharmacy. Additionally, Grow offered and paid Tricare beneficiaries themselves to use this pharmacy.
In 2015, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell spoke publicly about the importance for every healthcare provider to not only have a compliance program on its shelf, but also being sure that the compliance program is “tailored to the unique needs, risks and structure of each business or industry.” Assistant Attorney General Caldwell explained, “the adequacy of a compliance program is a factor when [the DOJ] decide[s] how and whether to prosecute a company. The lack or insufficiency of a compliance program can have real consequences for a company when a violation of law is discovered.”
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.