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Family Medicine Centers of South Carolina Paid $2 Million to Settle Alleged Stark Law Violations Based on Internal Physician Compensation Approach

On September 11, 2017, the U.S. Attorneys’ Office for the District of South Carolina announced a settlement with the Family Medicine Centers of South Carolina based in part on allegations that the practice’s internal physician compensation approach violated the Stark Law, and resulted in the submission of false claims to the Medicare and Tricare programs. Family Medicine Centers are a physician-owned chain of family medicine clinics located in and around Columbia, South Carolina.

The allegations in this settlement arose from a lawsuit filed by a physician formerly employed by the Family Medicine Centers of South Carolina under the whistleblower provisions of the Federal False Claims Act. The allegations included the Stark Law was violated by the Family Medicine Center’s (FMC) incentive compensation plan that paid its physicians a percentage of the value of laboratory and other diagnostic tests that they personally ordered through FMC, and then FMC billed the Medicare program. According to the government’s press release, FMC’s physician ceo allegedly reminded FMC’s physicians that they needed to order tests and other services through FMC in order to increase FMC’s profits and to ensure that their take-home pay remained in the upper level nationwide for family practice doctors. Continue reading

OIG Report Shows Many Incidents of Potential Abuse or Neglect Unreported in SNFs

The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently published an Early Alert report regarding the preliminary results of an ongoing study of potential abuse or neglect in Medicare-certified Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs). In the report dated August 24, 2017, the OIG determined that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has inadequate procedures to ensure that incidents of potential abuse or neglect of Medicare beneficiaries residing in SNFs are properly identified and reported. The OIG audit is continuing, but the preliminary results were issued because of the importance of detecting and combating elder abuse. Continue reading

Exposed PHI and Snapchat – The scary intersection of HIPAA safeguards and social media

§ 530 (c) of the HIPAA regulations provides, with regard to safeguards, that “a covered entity must have in place appropriate administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to protect the privacy of protected health information.”  We typically think of “safeguards” as a security issue, and therefore related mainly to electronic PHI.  However, twice in the last three weeks, we’ve had to deal with patients photographing and posting pictures of PHI that was unprotected – once a screenshot and another a paper form.  One was meant to embarrass the provider as revenge for making the patient wait.  Another was simply meant to illustrate the provider’s laxness.  Both incidents were troublesome to resolve.

The lesson from these events is that HIPAA’s requirement to secure PHI is not simply an IT responsibility.  Providers should also continually monitor and evaluate their precautions regarding paper records, exposed computer screens, etc.

Written by: Gregory D. Frost

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Emerging Compliance Issue: Recent False Claims Act Settlements Based on Improper Billing for Evaluation and Management Services by Physicians

An emerging health care compliance issue for hospitals and health systems is a potential liability under the Federal False Claims Act (FCA) based on billing for evaluation and management (“E & M”) services provided by employed physicians. Although potential liability for billing for E&M services (i.e., office visits) is not new, several recent FCA settlements should remind hospitals and health systems that the government may consider the submission of claims for E&M services under improper codes to result in a false claim. Continue reading

IRS Revokes Hospital’s Nonprofit Status for Failure to Meet the Community Needs Assessment Requirements Under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(r)

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has, for the first time, revoked a hospital’s nonprofit tax status for failure to meet the community needs assessment requirements under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 501(r). The hospital, which has not been identified, received a tax status letter from the IRS dated February 14, 2017 that was publicly released earlier this month. The IRS informed the hospital organization that it had failed to comply with the requirements of section 501(r) requirements to conduct a community health needs assessment, adopt an implementation strategy and make it widely available to the public. Continue reading

OIG Announces August 2017 Work Plan Updates

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently announced on June 15, 2017 that it will be updating the OIG Work Plan on a monthly basis rather than as it previously did once or twice a year. The OIG’s Work Plan includes several projects that the OIG’s Office of Audit Services (OAS) and Office of Evaluation and Inspections (OEI) are currently undertaking or planning to undertake in the future. The topics and focus of these projects are often indicators of potential compliance risk areas for health care providers and other participants in the health care industry. Continue reading

Compliance Risk for Physician Practices in Waiving Patient Copays and Deductibles

The waiver of coinsurance and deductibles owed by patients treated by physicians and other health care providers has come under increased scrutiny recently. Although there are no clear legal prohibitions, commercial health insurers have aggressively pursued out-of-network provides who fail to collect or waive amounts owed by their insureds under different statutory regulations.
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Psychiatric Medical Emergency Policies and the Largest EMTALA Penalty Ever

Most hospitals are intimately familiar with the application of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) in medical cases. It becomes more complex and challenging when an individual presents to a hospital’s emergency department (ED) with symptoms of a psychiatric disturbance. We are seeing increased focus on these types of cases by healthcare regulators. Multiple recent enforcement actions include two settlements – $360,000 and $1.3 million – that are far afield from the “usual” $50,000 penalty (or $25,000 for smaller hospitals). From these settlements, we see how problematic practices can significantly compound penalties, particularly in psychiatric emergency cases. Continue reading

Additional Challenges for Off-Campus Provider-Based Hospital Departments

Proposed Reduction of Payment Rates for Non-excepted Off-campus Provider-Based Hospital Departments Paid Under the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule

Medical facilities owned by hospitals but located off-campus are facing new challenges on both the state and federal levels. CMS recently proposed a rule updating certain payment policies and rates for the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (Proposed Rule). Among other provisions, the Proposed Rule slashes payment rates for non-excepted off-campus provider-based hospital departments that are now paid according to the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule. The Proposed Rule will be published in the Federal Register on July 21, 2017; the comment period will close on Sept. 11, 2017. Continue reading

Conducting Required Reviews Can Save Your Facility from Embarrassment – and Worse!

Even though we know the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” background checks on on personnel can sometimes fall through the cracks. Here are a few examples of times that make us wish we would have double-checked to be sure they were getting done:

  • A state surveyor is on-site investigating and advises that the allegation of neglect or abuse is against a tech who was convicted for beating up his father a year before he was hired.
  • In employing a favorite PRN nurse who has been around for a couple of years, you learn that she never obtained a license when she moved here from Texas. You realize there may now be returnable overpayments, because she is not appropriately licensed to perform the services in our state.
  • You want to impress your new venture partner, and cringe when they discover in due diligence that your team has not checked the excluded provider or debarred contractor lists in a few years.

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