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& Medical Provider Attorneys

DOJ Intends to Increase Healthcare Fraud Penalties By Almost 100%

healthcare fraudThe Department of Justice (“DOJ”) recently announced that it intends to increase healthcare fraud penalties under the False Claims Act (“FCA”) on claims assessed after August 1, 2016.

DOJ’s Justification For The Increase

FCA penalties can already be high since penalties are assessed per-claim. Each false claim presented to the government can be a separate violation. The DOJ’s Interim Final Rule would increase the minimum per-claim penalty from $5,500 to $10,781 and maximum per-claim penalty from $11,000 to $21,563.

This is a steep increase over 96%. While there was a 10% cap on the amount the penalties could increase, that law was amended by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015 (“2015 Act”). The 2015 Act also included a one-time “catch up provision” requiring the first increase be based changes in the consumer price index since the year the penalties were established.

What The Increase Means To Healthcare Providers

This increase could incentivize whistle-blowers to identify false claims because the whistle-blower may be able to keep a percentage of the money recovered. Healthcare providers billing the government need to ensure that all their practice’s policies and procedures adhere with federal and state regulations. Proactive and preventive measures are the best way to stay out of the government’s cross hairs for fraud.

How To Ensure Federal and State Compliance

We can help. Our attorneys have extensive experience in analyzing and bringing into compliance healthcare providers’ policies and procedures. We’ve helped hundred of providers – from small, independent providers to large national corporations ensure compliance with regulations such as the Anti-Kickback Statute and Stark. Contact DJ Jeyaram at DJ@JeyLaw.com or 678.325.3872 or Jonathan Anderson at Janderson@JeyLaw.com.

Free Introductory Home Health Visits Don’t Violate Anti-Kickback Law

Anti-Kickback StatuteInspector General: No Kickback violation for free home health introductory visits

The Office of the Inspector General issued an advisory opinion clearing the way for home health providers who provide “introductory” home visits to individuals who eventually become their clients. The OIG advised that home healthcare providers who contact  patients after being selected by that patient and provide information to those patients about their services, do not violate the federal Anti-Kickback statute.

The Federal Anti-Kickback law makes it a criminal offense to knowingly and willfully offer, pay, solicit or receive anything of value in exchange for inducing or rewarding referrals of items or services reimbursable by a Federal health program

The OIG’s office stated that the “primary purpose of the Introductory Visit is to facilitate the patient’s transition to home health services in an effort to increase compliance with the post-acute treatment plan.” In addition, the OIG”s noted that during the “Introductory” visit, the health care provider ‘”does not provide any type of  any federally reimbursable diagnostic or therapeutic services during the Introductory Visits,” which occur where a patient is receiving care whether it’s a physician’s office, hospital or personal home. Further, the home health provider is not involved in any way in the patient’s selection process and “Introductory Visits” do not provide any actual or economic benefit to the patients. .

It’s important to reiterate, that healthcare providers should not contact the patient prior to receiving notification from the  patient that they have been selected nor can the “Introductory Visits” be a covered service under Medicare or Medicaid, or reimbursed by third-party payors. These actions could violate the Anti-Kickback statute.

To read the full opinion, click here.

For more information, please contact Kimberly Sheridan at 678-708-4703.

Physicians Need To Be Prepared For Increased Medicare & Medicaid Fraud Scrutiny

doctor-in-handcuffs-caption-1HHS increases resources to root out and penalize fraud:  Review existing financial arrangements NOW

On June 30th the federal Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General announced that it has created a specialized unit comprised of attorneys focused on Medicare and Medicaid fraud. This announcement comes on the heels of the OIG Special Fraud Alert reminding physicians of anti-kickback liability for illegal compensation related to arrangements with healthcare institutions.

Physicians should be prepared for increased scrutiny and an uptick in enforcement actions for kickback violations. According to OIG official Lisa Re, the new unit will be targeting kickback cases and will be going after not only the individual or organization paying the kickbacks but also the recipient of the kickbacks, e.g., the physicians.

Physicians who have financial arrangements that violate the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute would not only be subject to fines in the form of Civil Money Penalties, but could also be excluded from the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Now is the time for physicians to review existing or proposed financial arrangements to ensure that they do not pose any risk of violating the Anti-Kickback Statute.

If you have any questions about a particular arrangement our attorneys can help. Please call Danielle Hildebrand or DJ Jeyaram at 678-325-3872 for legal counsel.

Physicians’ Compensation For Certain Referrals Could Violate Anti-Kickback Statue

Anti-KickbackOIG Reminds Physicians That They Will Be Held Liable For Illegal Payments Under The Anti-kickback Statute

On June 9, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a Special Fraud Alert warning against potential liability for physicians who enter into certain financial arrangements with healthcare institutions.

The Fraud Alert states that “if even one purpose of the arrangement is to compensate a physician for his or her past or future referrals” the compensation arrangement would violate the federal Anti-kickback statute.

The Fraud Alert discussed a recent settlement regarding an arrangement between several physicians and a healthcare institution. It emphasized that the following factors resulted in an OIG determination that there was improper remuneration:

  • Payments to physicians took into account the physician’s volume or value of referrals and did not reflect fair market value for the services performed
  • Physicians did not actually provide the services called for under the arrangement
  • The arrangement relieved the physician of a financial burden that such physician would have otherwise incurred, e.g., a healthcare institution paid for the physician’s office staff at his or her practice

Although the Fraud Alert does not change any existing laws, it is a reminder that physicians (not just the hospitals) will be held liable for illegal payments. Physicians should heed OIG’s warning and ensure that arrangements with healthcare institutions do not violate any laws. All arrangements must not only comply with the federal Anti-kickback statute, but also other fraud and abuse laws such as the Stark Law, the Civil Money Penalties Law (CMP Law), and the state law Stark and Anti-kickback counterparts.

The Special Fraud Alert can be found here.

If you are a physician with questions about a current or proposed arrangement with a healthcare institution, please call Danielle Hildebrand or DJ Jeyaram at 678-325-3872 for legal counsel.

Healthcare Providers Need To Examine Billing Practices To Ensure Compliance

healthcare fraudLast month, the Department of Health and Human Services released its annual report for the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program. According to the report, in 2014 more than 900 new criminal health care fraud investigations were opened by the Department of Justice. There was a slight increase in the number of criminal cases and convictions from last year, with 496 cases and 735 defendants convicted of criminal health care fraud. Civil cases alone resulted in $2.3 Billion in settlements and judgments.

The government’s press release reiterated that detecting and eliminating fraud and abuse continues to be a top priority. The government attributes its high recoveries to a change in strategy which uses real-time data analysis to detect fraud more quickly. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid currently uses advanced analytics on Medicare fee-for-service claims. The goal of this is to detect aberrant and suspicious billing patterns which would then trigger an investigation or enforcement action by the government.

Now is the time to for Medicare and Medicaid providers to review their billing practices and financial relationships to ensure that they are compliant with federal laws. Charges against providers were made under the False Claims Act, as well as Anti-Kickback Statute, the Stark Law (Physician Self-Referral Law), and other federal laws.

The full annual report is available at www.oig.hhs.gov/publications/hcfac.asp.

If you have any questions about the legality of your billing practices or financial relationships, please contact DJ Jeyaram at DJ@jeylaw.com or Danielle Hildebrand at dhildebrand@jeylaw.com.

 

Is it O.K. to Waive Medicare and Medicaid Beneficiary Co-Pays?

AntiKickback Medicaid MedicareThe answer is sometimes.  However, providers must be very careful to consider the implications of waiving beneficiary co-pays.  Primarily, waiving co-pays may trigger The Anti-Kickback Statute.

The Anti-Kickback Statute provides in relevant part:

Whoever knowingly and willfully offers or pays any remuneration (including any kickback, bribe, or rebate) directly or indirectly…, in cash or in kind, to any person to induce such person to refer an individual [for] any item or service for which payment may be made … under a Federal health care program, … shall be guilty of a felony.42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b(b).

Basically, the statute prohibits giving anything of value in order to induce referrals for business covered by Medicaid and other federally funded health care programs, and may apply to any transaction between providers and program beneficiaries.

However, the statue does not apply if a health care provider acts without any intent to induce improper referrals. In addition, the provider must know about the law, and act “with the specific intent to violate the law.” Hanlester Network v. Shalala, 51 F.3d 1390 (9th Cir. 1995).

Thus, actions taken in good faith for the benefit of patients or program beneficiaries without any improper intent to generate referrals or violate the law do not implicate Anti-Kickback.

The Department may examine any transaction that could generate improper referrals, especially those in which a provider offers free or discounted items or services to program beneficiaries, or those that would otherwise promote over-utilization or create a risk of fraudulent claims. See OIG Special Advisory Bulletin, Offering Gifts and Other Inducements to Beneficiaries (8/02).

Copays and deductibles help discourage unnecessary services and lower the cost of government programs. A provider’s routine waiver of copays and deductibles may create an incentive to over-utilize program resources and violate the Anti-Kickback Statute. See OIG Special Fraud Alert (12/94).

The OIG has set out some safe harbor guidelines.  Waiving Medicaid and Medicare copays or deductibles does not violate the Anti-Kickback Statute if:

  • the waiver is not offered as part of any advertisement or solicitation;
  • the provider does not routinely waive coinsurance or deductibles; and
  • the provider waives the coinsurance and deductibles after determining in good faith that the individual is in financial need or reasonable collection efforts have failed.

The beneficiary’s “financial need” will depend on the individual’s circumstances.  Providers should have a written policy and guidelines in place showing consideration of factors such as the local cost of living, the patient’s income, assets and expenses, and the scope and extent of the patient’s medical bills. The documentation of financial need should be placed in that patient’s file to prove that the analysis was undertaken and the policy was followed.  In addition, collection should always be attempted.

By taking these factors into consideration, a Provider may greatly reduce the risk of being flagged for fraudulent waiver of copays.

For more information, contact DJ Jeyaram at DJ@Jeylaw.com or  678.325.3872.