The Stark Law has caused angst for many a physician and many a health care lawyer over the years. The Stark Law has also troubled hospital and health system CEOs looking for ways to align incentives with physicians. Some stakeholders say Congress should do away with the myriad statutes and regulations that comprise the strict liability federal law banning physician self-referral. Those stakeholders suggest either repealing it altogether and letting other fraud and abuse laws do the work, or – as its namesake former-Representative Pete Stark has suggested – replace it with a much simpler prohibition on soliciting referrals for kickbacks or other special treatment.

My colleague, Tom Crane, suggests another approach – revamp the Stark Law’s advisory opinion process so the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) can protect arrangements from sanctions, similar to the Office of the Attorney General’s (“OIG’s)  Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”) advisory opinion process. Continue Reading Changes Needed to Stark Law Advisory Opinion Process

Last week, the FBI issued guidance specifically applicable to medical and dental facilities regarding the cybersecurity risk of File Transfer Protocol (“FTP”) servers operating in “anonymous” mode.  FTPs are routinely used to transfer information between network hosts.  As further described in the guidance, when an FTP server can be configured to permit anonymous users (through the use of a common user name like “anonymous” and without the use of a password) to gain access to the information stored on the server, which might include sensitive information about patients.  In addition to potentially directly compromising the security of the stored information, a hacker could use the FTP server in anonymous mode to launch a cyber attack on the entity. Continue Reading FBI Warns of Cybersecurity Risk from FTPs

The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and the State of Illinois successfully concluded their challenge to the proposed merger of Advocate Health Care and NorthShore University Health System earlier this month, when the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction enjoining the health systems from consummating their proposed merger.  The parties subsequently abandoned the transaction without appealing the district court’s decision.

The district court had previously denied the motion for a preliminary injunction.  It believed that the geographic market proposed by the plaintiffs was too narrow and found the evidence “equivocal” regarding the importance of patients having access to hospitals close to their homes.  As such, it held that the plaintiffs had not met their burden of proving a relevant geographic market and thus, did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits.  However, in October 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings on the issue of geographic market definition, holding that the lower court erred in its factual findings regarding critical aspects of the geographic market, as well as the remaining preliminary injunction elements that the district court did reach in its first decision.

This alert examines the court’s decision, which not only supports the FTC’s hospital merger enforcement program but continues to up the ante for merging parties attempting to persuade a court that the proposed efficiencies are sufficient to offset alleged anticompetitive effects.

A series of recoupment letters from the New York State Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) to healthcare providers who have management or billing company arrangements based on a percentage of collections has prompted the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY) to warn its members that such arrangements are fraudulent under Medicaid law.  The warning, posted on its blog on February 10, 2017, also urged members to review their billing arrangements to make sure the compensation is based either on time or a fixed, flat fee.

In a redacted MFCU recoupment letter linked to the post, MFCU states that as a result of an audit and investigation, it has determined that the percentage based contract violates state and federal Medicaid regulations, including Section 360.7.5(c), which permits Medicaid providers to contract with billing agents if the compensation paid to the agent is “reasonably related to the cost of the services” and “unrelated, directly or indirectly, to the dollar amounts billed and collected.”  The audit period was five years, and MFCU sought to collect the overpayment amount plus an additional nine percent (9%) interest. Continue Reading New York Medical Society Warns Providers to Avoid Percentage-Based Fees

As the healthcare industry moves towards value-based purchasing, pay-for-performance, and other payment reform models, industry leaders have identified federal fraud and abuse laws as a barrier to full implementation of such models.  Last month, the Health Care Leadership Council released a White Paper entitled “Health System Transformation: Revisiting the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute and Physician Self-Referral (“Stark”) Law to Foster Integrated Care Delivery and Payment Models” (“HCL White Paper”), identifying current fraud and abuse laws as impeding transformation of the healthcare system.  Pharmaceutical and device manufacturers have also taken advantage of the OIG’s Solicitation of New Safe Harbors and Special Fraud Alerts (“OIG Solicitation”) to advocate for more flexible fraud and abuse laws with respect to value-based arrangements. Continue Reading Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Healthcare Leaders cite Fraud and Abuse Laws as Obstacle to Value-Based Arrangements

Last week, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (the “Commission”) debated a package of policy reforms that would change the way Medicare reimburses physicians for Medicare Part B drugs. In the midst of calls to lower drug prices, the Commission has been developing its Part B reform package over the last two years and now, finally, appears poised to move forward with a vote at next month’s meeting.

Medicare Part B drugs are a multi-billion dollar benefit and typically include higher cost specialty drugs that are administered in a physician’s office on an outpatient basis. Drugs covered under Medicare Part B are reimbursed through a so-called “buy and bill” approach. That is, the physician buys the drugs and bills Medicare for their use. Medicare pays the provider the average sales price (“ASP”) of the drug plus a markup of 6% of the ASP.  The 6% markup is generally considered compensation to physicians for the storage, handling, and other administrative costs associated with these specialty drugs. Continue Reading Medicare Advisors Debate Part B Drug Payment Reforms

On Wednesday, March 8, James B. Comey, Director of the FBI, was at Boston College to deliver the keynote address for the inaugural Boston Conference on Cyber Security (BCCS 2017).  Director Comey addressed various industry, cyber security, FBI, law enforcement and military experts in attendance regarding current cyber threats to both industry and government assets and the FBI’s approach to confronting them.   During his remarks, Director Comey was asked to opine on the biggest cyber threat to healthcare providers, to which Comey quickly responded, “ransomware.” Continue Reading Advice to Healthcare Providers on Ransomware from the Head of the FBI

money_388130419Currently, state Medicaid programs have flexibility in developing payment policies, including utilizing supplemental payments and non-federal supplemental payment mechanisms. Supplemental payments pay providers above what they receive for an individual service through Medicaid provider rates.  Supplemental payments include disproportionate share hospital (DSH) and upper payment limit (UPL) payments and are a critical funding source for many safety net providers. States can fund the non-federal share of these payments through intergovernmental transfers, provider taxes, and certified public expenditures.

However, there is limited transparency and data available on supplemental payments. As a result, states can use these funding structures to increase their total federal Medicaid match. The total percentage of federal funding for each state’s Medicaid program is often referred to as the effective Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP). However, due to data limitations on supplemental payments, we do not know what any state’s effective FMAP actually is.

The American Health Care Act is the House Republican bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Its details became available March 6th. This bill changes the structure of Medicaid supplemental payments, with the exception of DSH payments. States’ reaction to the bill will tell us more about Medicaid supplemental payments than we’ve ever known, and whether the financing system in the proposed bill will provide equivalent federal funding. Continue Reading Medicaid Supplemental Payments under The American Health Care Act

Last month, the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah joined the AseraCare court and others in finding that a relator cannot successfully allege violations of the False Claims Act (“FCA”) based on a purported lack of medical necessity unless there is an objective standard articulated by Medicare.  In fact, District Judge Jill Parrish cited the AseraCare case and many federal appellate decisions when granting dismissal – with prejudice – in United States ex rel. Polukoff v. St. Mark’s et al., No. 16-cv-00304 (D. Utah 2017)Continue Reading Another Court Agrees That A Difference Of Opinion On Medical Necessity Is Insufficient to Show Falsity Under the False Claims Act

Last week, our antitrust colleagues Bruce Sokler, Robert Kidwell, and Farrah Short, published a Health Care Antitrust Alert on the recent settlement with the Federal Trade Commission by a Puerto Rican ophthalmologist cooperative on charges that the cooperative orchestrated an illegal boycott of a health plan.

As noted in the alert, the case represents the risks of concerted action among competitors, even when that concerted action is facilitated by an otherwise lawful trade association or membership organization.

The full alert can be found here and additional details about the settlement are available on the FTC’s website.