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EKRA Updates: COVID-19 Testing, Employment Agreements, and More

Ever since the Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act (“EKRA”) was passed by Congress in 2018, we have been waiting to see how the law is interpreted and ultimately enforced. As a reminder, EKRA seeks to eliminate kickbacks in return for patient referrals to facilities that treat those overcoming addiction, such as recovery homes, clinical treatment centers, and laboratories.[1] (NOTE: EKRA applies to all laboratories, not just those related to addiction treatment.) It is essentially an expansion of the Anti-Kickback Statute, which only applies to those services that are reimbursable through federal healthcare programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, to now also cover services reimbursable through private insurers.[2]

Guidance and enforcement actions pertaining to EKRA are still sparse.  However, this is a good time to remember that our addiction treatment provider and laboratory clients should keep EKRA top of mind. All compliance policies, training, and risk assessments for addiction treatment homes and centers, as well as all laboratories, should address EKRA. Here is a quick summary of some key developments since EKRA went into effect.

First Criminal Conviction Under EKRA – January 2020

The first criminal conviction under EKRA occurred in January 2020. In that case, a Kentucky woman received $40,000 in kickbacks from the CEO of a toxicology laboratory for referring patients for urine tests at the CEO’s lab.  

COVID-19 Testing – March 2020

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) issued a warning that EKRA also applies to COVID-19 testing sites. On March 30, 2020, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) released information that a Georgia man, Erik Santos, was prosecuted for receiving kickbacks on a test-by-test basis from testing facilities for referring people to get tested for COVID-19 at their sites.[3] Santos ran his own marketing firm, which was supposed to help people find testing companies for a variety of services, not just for COVID-19. However, when the pandemic hit the United States, he expanded his business to those companies testing for the illness. Specifically, he received kickbacks for referring patients and then bundled them with a respiratory pathogen panel (RPP) test that was unnecessary in determining whether someone has COVID-19.[4]

Profiting off COVID-19 in particular was especially heinous, per the DOJ, because those that are affected by COVID-19 the most are people over the age of 65, a large number of which are covered under Medicare, implicating the Anti-Kickback Statute as well. Therefore, the DOJ stated that “Santos sought to maximize his kickback profits and to bleed federal health care resources at a time when Medicare beneficiaries across the United States were in dire need of coverage for medical treatment and services.”[5]

Employment Agreements – February 2021

In February 2021, a case was heard before the U.S. District Court of Hawaii that involved a medical laboratory, S&J, changing their sales team’s employment agreements from compensation-based to a flat-rate in order to comply with EKRA.[6] One of the employees argued that the laboratory did not have to change its employment agreements, and was subsequently fired for threatening to leave and refusing to sign the new agreement. The employee then sued S&J, and S&J filed counterclaims against him.[7]

Thus far, the only matter that has been resolved is whether or not summary judgment was proper in favor of the employee, for the counterclaims that S&J had brought against him.[8] Therefore, the decision of whether or not it was proper for the employment agreements to be changed to a flat-rate has yet to be decided, but the decision will impact other laboratories and other entities covered under EKRA.

Compliance Plan Updates

All healthcare providers should have a living, breathing compliance plan that addresses key healthcare regulations. For those in the addiction treatment space, as well as laboratories, it is important that these plans include EKRA compliance. 

If you have questions concerning EKRA, policies and forms you can use to comply with EKRA, or healthcare regulatory compliance in general, please contact Jeana M. Singleton at jmsingleton@bmdllc.com or 330-253-2001, or any member of the BMD Healthcare and Hospital Law group.

[1] 18 U.S.C. § 220

[2] JDSUPRA, EKRA Guidance for Clinical Laboratories in the Wake of COVID-19 Testing Surge, https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/ekra-guidance-for-clinical-laboratories-24711/#:~:text=EKRA%20broadly%20prohibits%20soliciting%2C%20receiving,are%20significant%2C%20and%20penalties%20per, (accessed April 22, 2021).

[3] United States Department of Justice, Georgia Man Arrested for Orchestrating Scheme to Defraud Health Care Benefit Programs Related to COVID-19 and Genetic Cancer Testing, (Mar. 30, 2020), https://www.justice.gov/usao-nj/pr/georgia-man-arrested-orchestrating-scheme-defraud-health-care-benefit-programs-related (accessed April 20, 2021).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] S&G Labs Hawaii, LLC v. Graves, 2021 IER Cases 54692, 2021 WL 621429, at *1 (D. Haw. Feb. 17, 2021), reconsideration denied, No. CIVIL1900310LEKWRP, 2021 WL 1081114 (D. Haw. Mar. 19, 2021)

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

New York, Kansas, Massachusetts, and Delaware Become the latest States to Adopt Full Practice Authority for Nurse Practitioners

While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly created many obstacles and hardships, it also created many opportunities to try doing things differently. This can be seen in the instant rise of remote work opportunities, telehealth visits, and virtual meetings. Many States took the challenges of the pandemic and turned them into an opportunity to adjust the regulations governing licensed professionals, including for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

Explosive Growth in Pot of Gold Opportunity for Bank (and Other) Cannabis Lenders Driving Erosion of the Barriers

Our original article on bank lending to the cannabis industry anticipated that the convergence of interest between banks and the cannabis industry would draw more and larger banks to the industry. Banks were awash in liquidity with limited deployment options, while bankable cannabis businesses had rapidly growing needs for more and lower cost credit. Since then, the pot of gold opportunity for banks to lend into the cannabis industry has grown exponentially due to a combination of market constraints on equity causing a dramatic shift to debt and the ever-increasing capital needs of one of the country’s fastest growing industries. At the same time, hurdles to entry of new banks are being systematically cleared as the yellow brick road to the cannabis industry’s access to the financial markets is being paved, brick by brick, by the progressively increasing number and size of banks that are now entering the market.

2021 EEOC Charge Statistics: Retaliation & Impact of Remote Work

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its detailed information on workplace discrimination charges it received in 2021. Unsurprisingly, for the second year in a row, the total number of charges decreased as COVID-19 either shut down workplaces or disconnected employees from each other. In 2021, the agency received a total of approximately 61,000 workplace discrimination charges - the fewest in 25 years by a wide margin. For reference, the agency received over 67,000 charges in 2020, and averaged almost 90,000 charges per year over the previous 10 years.

Ohio’s Managed Care Overhaul Delayed – New Implementation Timeline

At the direction of Governor Mike DeWine, the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) launched the Medicaid Managed Care Procurement process in 2019. ODM’s stated vision for the procurement was to focus on people and not just the business of managed care. This is the first structural change to Ohio’s managed care system since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) approval of Ohio’s Medicaid program in 2005. Initially, all of the new managed care programs were supposed to be implemented starting on July 1, 2022. However, ODM Director Maureen Corcoran recently confirmed that this date will be pushed back for several managed care-related programs.

Laboratory Specimen Collection Arrangements with Contract Hospitals - OIG Advisory Opinion 22-09

On April 28, 2022, the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) published an Advisory Opinion[1] in which it evaluated a proposed arrangement where a network of clinical laboratories (the “Requestor”) would compensate hospitals (each a “Contract Hospital”) for specimen collection, processing, and handling services (“Collection Services”) for laboratory tests furnished by the Requestor (the “Proposed Arrangement”). The OIG concluded that the Proposed Arrangement would generate prohibited remuneration under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”) if the requisite intent were present. This is due to both the possibility that the proposed per-patient-encounter fee would be used to induce or reward referrals to Requestor and the associated risk of improperly steering patients to Requestor.