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—
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!
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.
Healthcare marketing arrangements that violate the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) can lead to serious financial and criminal consequences. Understanding the types of marketing arrangements that courts have found to be in violation of the statute and the potential implications are critical for marketers to know in order to operate in the healthcare industry.
Under the AKS, it is a criminal offense to knowingly and willfully offer, pay, solicit, or receive any remuneration to induce referrals of items or services reimbursable by the Federal health care programs. Where remuneration is paid purposefully to induce referrals of items or services paid for by a Federal health care program, the AKS is violated. By its terms, the AKS ascribes criminal liability to parties on both sides of an impermissible transaction. An example of a highly scrutinized arrangement involves percentage compensation. For regulators, percentage compensation arrangements provide financial incentives that may encourage overutilization and increase program costs.
One healthcare employer’s compensation arrangement with its employees just got much needed support from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The employer there, which provided AIDS patients certain healthcare related services, paid its employees a bonus of $100 per patient. The case was brought on the argument that the compensation arrangement constituted an illegal kickback under the federal Anti- Kickback Statute. The court, however, disagreed because the employees who received the bonuses were “bona fide employees.”
The court’s focus on the plain language of the safe harbor for bona fide employees was refreshingly clear, notably that “any amount paid by an employer to an employee (who has a bona fide employment relationship with such an employer) for employment in the furnishing or any item or service.” Essentially, any amount paid by an employer to a bona fide employee is not considered to be “remuneration” under the Anti-Kickback Statute.
Providers need to comply with all the Medicare ‘red tape’ but need not let fear of non-compliance inhibit their practice from offering Durable Medical Equipment Prosthetics & Orthotics Supplies (“DMEPOS”) to Medicare beneficiaries.
Here’s an overview of the steps providers need to take to enroll as a supplier of DMEPOS with Medicare to be eligible for Part B coverage and reimbursement:
I’d run out of fingers and toes if i had to recount the rash of remarkably bad legal guidance given to well meaning chiropractors looking to integrate various medical services to their practice. They hook up with an experienced business firm, a Management Company, that specializes in that area, but then get advice from a buddy or a lawyer who simply doesn’t have the depth of experience to correctly advise them. The Management Company is happy because they don’t know the lawyer is oversimplifying things, which has the effect of a stream of chiropractor clients rolling into the Management Company. Well done, except it’s often not!
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.”
Healthcare regulatory compliance is too damn complicated sounding and scary! What the heck does it even mean? Basically it means making sure you’re following about a dozen specific laws, some of which interrelate. It’s a little like making a cake. You have to make sure you have flour, eggs, sugar and so on. And then you have to make sure you put enough in the bowl and bake it at the right temperature. So what’s so unique re healthcare regulatory compliance? Healthcare professionals and businesses are inundated by these confusing laws written in legalese, to the point where they go numb. They lose the ability to focus on them and to take them seriously. And they hire someone that uses the word “consultant” or “compliance”; and they think they’ve got compliance covered. But they don’t. And that’s a big mistake in the healthcare world!
Concepts that drive sober home relationships like Anti-Kickback Statute, Patient Brokering Act and Safe Harbor have become ingrained in the minds of nearly every addiction treatment provider’s thought process, especially in Florida with the development of the Sober Home Task Force. Providers now seem to fully embrace ideas like–
There’s a federal law (the Anti-Kickback Statute, the “AKS”) that can bring criminal liability for marketing done incorrectly;
There’s a state law, the Florida Patient Brokering Act (“PBA”), that can do the same;
Complying with the federal safe harbors and the bona fide employee exception is important, even when there are no state or federal healthcare program dollars involved;
Paying anyone for marketing, not just on a commission based sales model, without fully appreciate the applicable laws is dangerous, costly and invites criminal inquiries and liability; and
Achieving compliance with applicable federal law should be part of any recovery business’ overall compliance plan.
Recovery providers must become familiar with not only the AKS and state restrictions like the PBA, but also the law’s permitted examples, so called “Safe Harbors,” which specify specifically permitted arrangements (42 CFR 1001.952). The “personal services arrangement and management contract” Safe Harbor, for instance, has particular application in the area of marketing, as does the AKS exception for “bona fide employment arrangements,” which apply to “bona fide” W-2 employees (entailing direction, supervision and control), but not independent contractor relationships.
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.