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CLIENT ALERT: Proposed New Rules to both the Stark Law and the Anti-Kickback Statute

On October 9, 2019, as part of the “Regulatory Sprint to Coordinate Care,” the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”), along with the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (“OIG”), proposed new rules to both the physician self-referral law (“Stark Law”) and the Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”). Rule changes are aimed at fostering innovative arrangements for coordinating care consistent with a shift to a value-based system. Both proposed rules are expected to be published to the Federal Register on October 17, 2019. Public comments are due 75 days after publication. 

Stark Law Proposed Rule

Stark law, absent an exception, prohibits a physician from referring a federal healthcare program beneficiary, for the provision of designated health services (“DHS”), to any entity in which the physician (or an immediate family member) has a financial relationship. “Financial relationship” is broadly defined to include any direct or indirect ownership or investment interest.

The proposed rule from CMS would modify the regulatory framework of Stark by creating new exceptions and new defined terms. The first proposal is a new exception for value-based care arrangements. The following terms will be added to accompany this value-based exception: value-based activity, value-based arraignment, value-based enterprise, value-based purpose, VBE participation, and target patient population. The next proposed exception centers around limited remuneration to a physician, where compensation agreements not exceeding an aggregate of $3,500 per calendar year, if other certain conditions are met, will not be seen as a Stark violation. Finally, CMS is proposing a new exception to protect arrangements involving the donation of certain cybersecurity technology.

CMS is also redefining certain key concepts of Stark Law.

First, CMS is proposing two alternative definitions for the term “commercially reasonable:” (1) the particular arrangement furthers a legitimate business purpose of the parties and is on; or (2) the arrangement makes commercial sense and is entered into by a reasonable entity of similar type and size and a reasonable physician of similar scope and specialty.

Second, CMS is looking to clarify the value/volume standard by proposing objective tests for determining whether compensation takes into account the volume or value of referrals or the volume or value of other business generated by the physician.

Third, CMS is proposing to modify the definition of “fair market value” to include a general definition, a definition applicable to the rental of equipment, and a definition applicable to the rental of office space. The general definition of fair market value would mean the value in an arm's-length transaction with like parties and under like circumstances, of assets or services, consistent with the general market value of the subject transaction. With respect to the rental of equipment, fair market value would mean the value, in an arm's-length transaction with like parties and under like circumstances, of rental property for general commercial purposes (not taking into account its intended use), consistent with the general market value of the subject transaction. With respect to the rental of office space, fair market value would mean the value in an arm’s length transaction, with like parties and under like circumstances, of rental property for general commercial purposes (not taking into account its intended use), without adjustment to reflect the additional value the prospective lessee or lessor would attribute to the proximity or convenience to the lessor where the lessor is a potential source of patient referrals to the lessee, and consistent with the general market value of the subject transaction.

Finally, CMS is proposing a variety of other changes to Stark, including the following:

  1. Modifying the definition of DHS to clarity that an inpatient hospital service is only DHS if the furnishing of the service affects the amount of Medicare’s payment to the hospital under the Inpatient Prospective Payment System;
  2. Clarifying the definition of a “group practice” to make clear that a group practice may not use DHS-specific pods for purposes of distributing DHS profits;
  3. Loosening restrictions on various exceptions; and
  4. Expanding the 90-day grace period for certain writing requirements. A full version of the proposed rule is available here.

Anti-Kickback Statue Proposed Rule

The Anti-Kickback Statue, absent an applicable exception, is a broad prohibition on the exchange of remuneration (anything of value) for referrals for services that are payable by a federal health care program. This statute applies to both the payers of any kickback, as well as the recipient of the kickback.

The proposed rule creates new AKS safe harbors, modifies existing safe harbors, and creates new Civil Monetary Penalties Law (“CMPL”) exceptions. Similar to the proposed Stark exceptions above, OIG first proposes three new safe harbors that would protect certain value-based arrangements. Second, OIG is proposing to protect the furnishing of certain tools and support provided to patients that would improve the quality, health outcomes, and efficiency of services. Finally, the OIG is proposing exceptions that would protect remuneration provided in connection with certain models sponsored by CMS and is proposing to create a protection for the donation of cybersecurity technology.

Along with the newly created exceptions, the OIG is proposing to add flexibility to the part-time and outcomes-based arrangements and expand and modify the mileage limits applicable to rural areas and for transportation related to patients discharged from inpatient facilities. Finally, the OIG is proposing to codify the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 statutory exception for ACO Beneficiary Incentive programs for the Medicare Shared Savings Program and is proposing to interpret and incorporate the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 statutory exception for furnishing telehealth technologies to certain in-home dialysis patients. A full version of the proposed rule is available here.

Conclusion

Both CMS and the OIG are looking to make substantial changes to Stark Law and AKS in an attempt to center the regulatory framework around a value-based healthcare system. The two proposed rules add new exceptions related to the value of care and will provide opportunities for new types of arrangements. While Stark and AKS are quite distinct from one another, they often operate in tandem. It is important for any provider to understand and appreciate both sets of regulations.

If you have any questions about these proposed rules, Stark Law and AKS in general, or any other health care related question, please contact a member of the BMD Health Law Department.  

“I’m Out Of Here!” Now What?

We all know that the healthcare industry is experiencing a wave of integration. This trend has been evident for many years. Fewer physicians are willing to assume the legal, financial and other business risks associated with owning their own practices. More and more physicians, including anesthesiologists, are becoming employed by large physician groups, health systems and national providers. This shift necessarily involves not only entry into new employment arrangements but also the termination of existing relationships. And those terminations are often governed by written employment agreements, state and federal healthcare laws and employer benefit plans and other policies and procedures. Before pursuing their next opportunity, physicians should pause for a moment and first attend to the arrangement that they are leaving. Departing physicians need to understand their legal rights and obligations when leaving their current employment relationships in order to avoid unintended consequences and detrimental missteps along the way. Here are a few words of practical advice for physicians contemplating an exit from their current employment arrangements.

Investment Training for the Second and Third Generations

Consider this scenario. Mom and Dad started the business from the ground up. Over the decades it has expanded into a money-making machine. They are able to sell the business and it results in a multimillion-dollar payday for their labors. The excess money has allowed Mom and Dad to invest with various financial advising firms, several fund management groups, and directly with new startups and joint ventures. Their experience has made them savvy investors, with a detailed understanding of how much to invest, when, and where. They cannot justify formation of a full family office with dedicated investors to manage the funds, but Mom and Dad have set up a trust fund for the children to allow these investments to continue to grow over the years. Eventually, Mom and Dad pass. Their children enjoy the fruits of their labors, and, by the time the grandchildren are adults, Mom and Dad's savvy investments are gone.

Provider Relief Funds – Continued Confusion Regarding Reporting Requirements and Lost Revenues

In Fall 2020, HHS issued multiple rounds of guidance and FAQs regarding the reporting requirements for the Provider Relief Funds, the most recently published notice being November 2, 2020 and December 11, 2020. Specifically, the reporting portal for the use of the funds in 2020 was scheduled to open on January 15, 2021. Although there was much speculation as to whether this would occur. And, as of the date of this article, the portal was not opened.

Ohio S.B. 310 Loosens Practice Barrier for Advanced Practice Providers

S.B. 310, signed by Ohio Governor DeWine and effective from December 29, 2020 until May 1, 2021, provides flexibility regarding the regulatorily mandated supervision and collaboration agreements for physician assistants, certified nurse-midwives, clinical nurse specialists and certified nurse practitioners working in a hospital or other health care facility. Originally drafted as a bill to distribute federal COVID funding to local subdivisions, the healthcare related provisions were added to help relieve some of the stresses hospitals and other healthcare facilities are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HHS Issues Opinion Regarding Illegal Attempts by Drug Manufacturers to Deny 340B Discounts under Contract Pharmacy Arrangements

The federal 340B discount drug program is a safety net for many federally qualified health centers, disproportionate share hospitals, and other covered entities. This program allows these providers to obtain discount pricing on drugs which in turn allows the providers to better serve their patient populations and provide their patients with access to vital health care services. Over the years, the 340B program has undergone intense scrutiny, particularly by drug manufacturers who are required by federal law to provide the discounted pricing.