Clinical laboratory payments to physicians in excess of the fair market value of services provided or that correlate to the volume or value of referrals can constitute health care fraud and trigger very serious civil and criminal penalties. The Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently issued a Special Fraud Alert (the "Alert") addressing lab compensation to referring doctors and medical practices for blood specimen collection, processing and packaging, and for submitting patient data to a registry or database. Our Georgia health care law firm endeavors to follow updates in health care laws and regulations that impact providers, particularly Stark law and the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS). This OIG Alert warrants caution and careful evaluation of any applicable financial arrangements by affected physicians and medical practices to ensure compliance with federal law.
Labs and physicians: BEWARE of Stark Law and the Anti-Kickback Statute
At the heart of Stark Law and the AKS is the notion that (unlike most other industries) health care business referrals may, under some circumstances, be a bad thing. Kickbacks that corrupt medical judgment about the medical necessity of services, result in the overutilization of medical products and services, increase the cost of federal programs, or that cause unfair competition, are of great interest to the Federal Government and are the intended targets of Stark Law and the AKS.
The AKS, unlike Stark, is a criminal statute, a violation of which requires evidence of criminal intent. However, the OIG may find evidence of such intent even by mere characteristics of a particular financial arrangement, including legal structure, the absence of safeguards, and, of course, actual conduct of the parties regarding the arrangement.