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NewsOK Q&A: Medical practice support can be costly to suppliers, others

Mary Holloway

Mary Richard is recognized as one of pioneers in health care law in Oklahoma. She has represented institutional and non-institutional providers of health services, as well as patients and their families.

In this article, Oklahoma City Healthcare Attorney Mary Holloway Richard discusses the “Anti-Kickback Statute” and potential, federal violations of the statute as it relates to providers in the healthcare industry.

What is the authority for the federal government to oversee providers’ relationships with durable medical equipment (DME) and device suppliers and drug companies, such as educational programs that would seem to benefit the patient? How active is that oversight?

The Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) prohibits remuneration to induce referrals or use of products reimbursement by Medicare, Medicaid or other federal healthcare programs. The federal government, through its investigators and prosecutors, pursue civil remedies including fines for remuneration considered as kickbacks. Remuneration may be cash of in-kind contributions. Under the AKS both civil and criminal charges may result from an investigation by the federal government. Federal policy is designed to prevent relationships that purportedly “lead to excessive or unnecessary treatment,” drive up health care costs and inhibit free market competition. The kickback prohibition applies to all sources of referrals, even patients. For example, where the Medicare and Medicaid programs require patients to pay copays for services, you generally are required to collect that money from your patients. Routinely waiving these copays could implicate the AKS and you may not advertise that you will forgive copayments. However, providers are free to waive a copayment if the provider makes an individual determination that the patient cannot afford to pay or if reasonable collection efforts fail. In addition, providing free or discounted services to uninsured people is not prohibited. The beneficiary inducement statute (42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7a (a) (5)) also imposes civil monetary penalties on physicians who offer remuneration to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to influence them to use their services.

Is the federal government even active in investigating and prosecuting under the AKS?

Yes. The Office of the Inspector General, counsel for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), estimated in 2018 that for every $1 spent on investigating health care fraud, $4 is recouped. The government has investigated, prosecuted and settled claims with many types of providers and continues to do so. The government does not need to prove patient harm or financial loss to the programs to show that a physician violated the AKS. A physician can be guilty of violating the AKS even if the physician actually rendered a medically necessary service. Taking money or gifts from drug or device companies or DME suppliers is not justified by arguing that providers would have prescribed that drug or ordered that wheelchair even without a kickback. An example of unlawful activities comes from the Covidien case. A supplier of vein ablation products in California and Florida, Covidien recently settled its claims with the federal government that it offered or provided free to medical practices, or at discounted rates, practice development assistance, lunch-and-learns, dinners with physicians, and market development support, such as vein screening activities designed to recruit new patients to the practices — all provided free of charge or at discounted rates. This virtually uncompensated support, according to the Department of Justice, was designed to induce the use of certain items or services, leading to excessive and unnecessary treatments and driving up health care costs for everyone.

Are there any clear guidelines for physicians and other providers?

HHS has published guidelines for providers, such as “A Roadmap for New Physicians-Avoiding Medicare and Medicaid Fraud and Abuse,” which I routinely provide to new physicians, advanced-practice nurses and other providers. Failure to follow the guidelines can be costly. For example, the outcome of the Covidien investigation was a civil settlement agreement for violation of the AKS in the amount of $17,477,947, with additional payments in excess of $2 million by the company to the states of California and Florida for claims paid by their Medicaid programs.

How are violations of the AKS usually discovered?

Violations of the AKS are often discovered through “qui tam” actions brought by employees of the practice group or those with knowledge of its practices known as “whistleblowers” or “relators.” To avoid vulnerability to qui tam actions providers are advised to adopt and implement robust compliance policies, including training providers and other personnel regarding behavior that may constitute risk under a federal regulatory analysis. It is also advisable to have operating agreements of the practice’s legal entity and written agreements reviewed by counsel in order to shift legal liability where possible.

 

Published: 4/19/19; by Paula Burkes
Original article: https://newsok.com/article/5629122/medical-practice-support-can-be-costly-to-suppliers-others

NewsOK Q&A: Oklahoma Medicaid plans offer solution for costly prescription drugs

oklahoma city health care attorney mary richard

Mary Richard is recognized as one of pioneers in Oklahoma healthcare law. She has represented institutional and non-institutional providers of health services, as well as patients and their families. She also has significant experience in representing providers in regulatory matters.

In this article, Oklahoma City healthcare attorney Mary Holloway Richard discusses steps Oklahoma has taken to lower prescription drug costs for consumers.

Q: Oklahoma recently has been recognized by Secretary Alex Azar, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for innovations in its Medicaid prescription drug program designed to lower drug costs to the state. How was the state able to accomplish this feat?

A: Medicaid is a federal program that’s administered by the states. In Oklahoma, it’s administered by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. So, while the state receives some federal funding, a good portion of Medicaid funds are supplied by the state. In order to reduce costs related to prescription drugs, Oklahoma applied to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and was granted an amendment to the Oklahoma State Plan that facilitates prescription drug cost savings. The plan links the payment of a drug to its effectiveness and outcomes. This is essentially what we refer to as “value-based” prescription drug purchasing. CMS reports that “(t)he state plan amendment proposal submitted by Oklahoma will be the first state plan amendment permitting a state to pursue CMS-authorized supplemental rebate agreements involving value-based purchasing arrangements with drug manufacturers.” This program is part of the Trump administration’s “American Patients First” blueprint, designed to address rising drug prices.

Q: How will the amendment work in Oklahoma?

A: The amendment to the state plan, as approved by CMS, now allows Oklahoma to negotiate and enter into valued-based contracts with drug manufacturers. This means that, through identifying the most effective medications, the state can tailor its negotiations with manufacturers to drugs that have demonstrated the most success in treating patients, thereby achieving cost savings and efficiencies in treatment. Negotiating value-based contracts will supplement Oklahoma’s ability to control drug prices under its current participation in the Sovereign States Drug Consortium. The Consortium negotiates supplemental rebates on behalf of states. Oklahoma is free to accept or reject rebate offers.

Q: Are there other cost saving initiatives related to decreasing prescription drug costs?

A: Currently, certain drugs have a preferred status if they’re listed on the Medicaid State Supplemental Rebate Agreement. Almost every state Medicaid plan, including Oklahoma’s, gives the state the authority to negotiate supplemental rebate agreements with drug manufacturers. These agreements allow for rebates to be given to the state by manufacturers as least as large as those provided in the Medicaid national drug rebate agreement. Importantly, two other parts of the Trump administration’s plan to decrease drug costs include giving Medicare insurance plans greater ability to negotiate for the Medicare Program (Part B and prescription drugs) and to make drug prices transparent for consumers. The latter part of the president’s plan would require drugmakers to disclose list prices in public advertising.

 

Published: 7/10/18; by Paula Burkes
Original article: https://newsok.com/article/5600913/oklahoma-medicaid-plans-offer-solution-for-costly-prescription-drugs