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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.

The Masks Are Back: New OSHA Regulations for Healthcare Employers

Employment Law After Hours is back with a News Break Episode. Yesterday, OSHA published new rules for healthcare facilities, including hospitals, home health employers, nursing homes, ambulance companies, and assisted living facilities. These new rules are very cumbersome, requiring mask wearing for all employees, even those that are vaccinated. The only exception is for fully vaccinated employees (2 weeks post final dose) who are in a "well-defined" area where there is no reasonable expectation that any person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 will be present.

New OSHA Guidance for Workplaces Not Covered by the Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standard

On June 10, 2021, OSHA issued an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for occupational exposure to COVID-19, but it applies only to healthcare and healthcare support service workers. For a detailed summary of the ETS applicable to the healthcare industry, please visit https://youtu.be/vPyXmKwOzsk. All employers not subject to the ETS should review OSHA’s contemporaneously released, updated Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace. The new Guidance essentially leaves intact OSHA’s earlier guidance, but only for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers (“at-risk” meaning vaccinated or unvaccinated workers with immunocompromising conditions). For fully vaccinated workers, OSHA defers to CDC Guidance for Fully Vaccinated People, which advises that most fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, or local laws or individual business policies.

Employer Liability for COVID-19 Vaccine Side Effects

As employers encourage or require employees to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine, they should be aware of OSHA recording obligations and potential workers’ compensation liability. Though OSHA has yet to revise its COVID-19 guidance in response to the latest CDC recommendations, OSHA has revised its position regarding the recording of injury or illness resulting from the vaccine. Until now, OSHA required an employer to record an adverse reaction when the vaccine was required for employees and the injury or illness otherwise met the recording criteria (work-related, a new case, and meets one or more of the general recording criteria). OSHA has reversed course and announced that it will not require recording adverse reactions until at least May 2022, irrespective of whether the employer requires the vaccine as a condition of employment. In its revised COVID-19 FAQs, OSHA states:

The New Rule 1.510 - Radical Change for Summary Judgement Procedure in Florida

In civil litigation, where both sides participate actively, trial is usually required at the end of a long, expensive case to determine a winner and a loser. In federal and most state courts, however, there are a few procedural shortcuts by which parties can seek to prevail in advance of trial, saving time, money and annoyance. The most common of these is the “motion for summary judgment”: a request to the court by one side for judgment before trial, generally on the basis that the evidence available reflects that a win for that party is legally inevitable and thus required. Effective May 1, 2021, summary judgment procedure in Florida has radically changed.

Vacating, Modifying or Correcting an Arbitration Award Under R.C. 2711.13: Three-Month Limitation Maximum; Not Guaranteed Amount of Time

In a recent decision, the Supreme Court of Ohio held that neither R.C. 2711.09 nor R.C. 2711.13 requires a court to wait three months after an arbitration award is issued before confirming the award. R.C. 2711.13 provides that “after an award in an arbitration proceeding is made, any party to the arbitration may file a motion in the court of common pleas for an order vacating, modifying, or correcting the award.” Any such motion to vacate, modify, or correct an award “must be served upon the adverse party or his attorney within three months after the award is delivered to the parties in interest.” In BST Ohio Corporation et al. v. Wolgang, the Court held the three-month period set forth in R.C. 2711.13 is not a guaranteed time period in which to file a motion to vacate, modify, or correct an arbitration award. 2021-Ohio-1785.