Resolving potential violations of the stark law
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Resolving Potential Violations of the Stark Law. Rob Stone Alston & Bird, LLP Georgia Academy of Health Care Attorneys Health Care Law Update & Annual Meeting May 16, 2014. The dreaded call…. “I think we may have a Stark problem…”. Positive Spin.

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Resolving Potential Violations of the Stark Law

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Resolving potential violations of the stark law

Resolving Potential Violationsof the Stark Law

Rob Stone

Alston & Bird, LLP

Georgia Academy of Health Care Attorneys

Health Care Law Update & Annual Meeting

May 16, 2014


The dreaded call

The dreaded call…

“I think we may have a Stark problem…”


Positive spin

Positive Spin

  • Effective Compliance Programs are supposed to identify problems

  • Based on the number of problems we’ve identified…

    …we must have an extremely effective Compliance Program!


Step one perform a stark law analysis

Step One – Perform a Stark Law Analysis

  • Analyze, don’t assume.

  • There are a lot of misconceptions about the Stark Law (all of which are based in truth):

    • Requires a written agreement, signed by both parties

    • Must be for at least one year

    • Cannot be amended within the first year

    • Physician ownership prohibited

    • Compensation to the physician cannot be based on volume or value of referrals

  • Finally - don’t forget the hold-over provisions and the rules on Temporary Non-Compliance


Step two consider options

Step Two– Consider Options

  • Cure problems prospectively (i.e., execute a new, Stark compliant agreement as quickly as possible)

  • Attempt to cure problems retroactively – but note CMS Preamble discussion in 2008

  • Determining whether other steps are necessary will require input from entire compliance/business/legal team

  • Wide range of potential responses – vary depending on facts

    • Nothing

    • Internal corrective actions (training, employment action, restrictions, medical staff/professional board referral)

    • Submit a routine refund

    • Submit a self-disclosure


Recent headlines about self disclosure

Recent Headlines About Self-Disclosure

  • “When in doubt, Self-Disclose”

  • “Stark Self-Disclosures Are on the Rise”

  • “Fraud self-disclosure requires careful strategy”

  • “No easy street for addressing Stark Law Liability”

  • “Proceed with Caution: Counsel Sign-Off Doesn’t Guarantee Stark Law Compliance”

  • “Healthcare Providers and Self-Disclosure of Violations” – in Corruption, Crime Compliance

  • * Cites available on request


Common scenarios leading to self disclosures

Common scenarios leading to self-disclosures

  • Transactional diligence uncovers potential violation or overpayment

  • Compliance program or routine audit identifies issue

  • Change in administration or compliance officer (or first compliance officer hired)

  • Allegation from employee or former employee

  • Issue flagged by a recovery contractor


What are some of the factors involved in the disclosure determination

What are some of the factors involved in the disclosure determination?

  • More avenues and options available for self-disclosure

  • Affirmative obligation to refund overpayments in the Affordable Care Act

  • Conversion of retained overpayments to “false claims” 60 days after identification (the 60 Day Rule)

  • General increase in health care enforcement efforts and resources available to regulators


Risks benefits of self disclosure

Risks & Benefits of Self-Disclosure

  • Risks are fairly obvious

    • Government spotlight on your organization

    • Cannot predict amount of settlement or other potential consequences

    • Lengthy process

    • Cannot “un-ring the bell”

  • Potential benefits

    • Potentially cuts off qui tam actions & running of the “60 day clock” for FCA liability

    • Government policy is to take into consideration the fact that a provider self-disclosed

    • Allows you to control the narrative (or at least the first version of it)


Affirmative obligation to refund overpayments

Affirmative Obligation to Refund Overpayments

  • Section 6402 of the Affordable Care Act included an affirmative obligation for any person who receives an overpayment to “report and return the overpayment to the Secretary, the State, an intermediary, a carrier, or a contractor, as appropriate . . . And notify the [party who receives the refund] in writing of the reason for the overpayment.”

  • The statute requires compliance within 60 days after the date on which the overpayment “was identified” or the overpayment converts to a False Claim, by virtue of its ongoing retention.

  • These changes - related to the retention of overpayments – are producing some of the most difficult issues in this area


Relationship between fca revisions rise in self disclosures

Relationship Between FCA Revisions & Rise in Self Disclosures

  • The utilization of various self-disclosure mechanisms has been increasing due, in part, to recent statutory changes to the False Claims Act

  • Fraud Enforcement Act of 2009 (FERA)

    • Expanded FCA liability for retention of overpayments by a person who knowingly and improperly avoids or decreases an obligation to pay to the government

  • Affordable Care Act (2010)

    • Providers must, within 60 days after the date on which an overpayment has been “identified” (or the date any corresponding cost report is due), report and return the overpayment and notify the recipient of the reason for the overpayment

  • After the 60 day window closes the overpayment converts to a False Claim


Avenues for self disclosure

Avenues for Self-Disclosure

  • DHHS OIG– disclosure must include issue triggering CMPs – no “pure” Stark violations (Updated April 2013)

  • CMS– Self Referral Disclosure Protocol (only potential or actual Stark violations)

  • DOJ/AUSA

  • Simple refund to MAC or other claims processor

  • If under a CIA – follow those reporting mechanisms (recent CIA allows for utilization of SRDP for Stark violations)

  • If currently engaged with investigators – likely report to those investigators


Comparing oig and cms disclosure

Comparing OIG and CMS Disclosure

OIG Self-Disclosure Protocol

CMS - SRDP

Limited to “actual or potential” Stark Law violations

CMS has authority to reduce damages from overpayment

Less information available – only 41settlements

Very little information about the settlement process

Potentially even lengthier process

  • Conduct that potentially violates Federal criminal, civil or administrative laws for which CMPs are authorized (false claims, AKS, excluded individuals)

  • Multiplier of financial damages

  • Well-established process

  • Lengthy process


Cms self referral disclosure protocol

CMS Self-Referral Disclosure Protocol

  • Protocol is available on the CMS Website (first posted Sept. 23, 2010 and revised May 6, 2011)

    • http://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Fraud-and-Abuse/PhysicianSelfReferral/Self_Referral_Disclosure_Protocol.html

  • FAQs published by CMS (last updated October 2013):

    • http://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Fraud-and-Abuse/PhysicianSelfReferral/Downloads/FAQsPhySelfRef.pdf

  • Limited to physician self-referral violations only

  • Not for advisory opinions, but is for resolution of actual or potential violations

  • Submission must contain detailed financial and legal analysis


Srdp statistics

SRDP Statistics

  • Statistics (through September 26, 2013):

    • Total disclosures = 322

    • Under review/Awaiting Information = 222

    • Referred to law enforcement = 3

    • Administrative hold = 18

    • Withdrawn by disclosing entity = 24

  • Range of settlements (through May 9, 2014)

    • Settled = 41

    • High = $584,700

    • Low = $60


Reported self disclosure settlement

Reported Self Disclosure Settlement

  • CMS only publishes the final settlement amount – not the potential liability.

  • This makes it impossible to determine the extent to which they’re using their authority to reduce Stark liability

  • Saints Medical Center Case – the first disclosure settled under the SRDP

    • Potential liability = $14,000,000

    • Settlement amount = $579,000

    • Amount paid as a percentage of potential = 4%

  • But it’s only one data point!


Reduction in overpayment amount

Reduction in Overpayment Amount

  • In determining the settlement amount, reductions are based on facts and circumstances, including:

    • Nature and extent of improper practice

    • Timeliness of the self-disclosure

    • Cooperation in providing additional information related to the disclosure

    • Litigation risk associated with the matter disclosed

    • Financial position of the disclosing party.


Proposed rule related to retention of overpayments february 2012

Proposed Rule Related to Retention of Overpayments (February 2012)

  • Applicable look back period

    • 4 years – current re-opening period, per CMS regulations

    • 6 years – statue of limitations for false claims

    • 10 years – recently PROPOSED re-opening period by CMS

  • But see – CMS’s FAQ regarding the SRDP:

    • “A disclosing party will satisfy [the requirements of the SRDP] by submitting a financial analysis setting forth the total amount actually or potentially due and owing for claims improperly submitted and paid within the time frame established for reopening determinations…”


Proposed rule related to retention of overpayments february 20121

Proposed Rule Related to Retention of Overpayments (February 2012)

  • Applicable look back period

    • 4 years – current re-opening period, per CMS regulations

    • 6 years – statue of limitations for false claims

    • 10 years – recently PROPOSED re-opening period by CMS

  • But see – CMS’s FAQ regarding the SRDP:

    • “A disclosing party will satisfy [the requirements of the SRDP] by submitting a financial analysis setting forth the total amount actually or potentially due and owing for claims improperly submitted and paid within the time frame established for reopening determinations…”


Proposed rule related to retention of overpayments

Proposed Rule Related to Retention of Overpayments

  • Definition of “Identified”

    • First moment it is alleged (even if not confirmed)?

    • When the fact is confirmed, but amount unknown?

    • When the amount has been determined?

    • Proposed Rule: When “the person has actual knowledge of the existence of the overpayment or acts in reckless disregard or deliberate ignorance of the overpayment”

      • Cannot take a “head in the sand” approach and stop doing self-audits or compliance checks

    • If facts warrant it, the Preamble allows time for a “reasonable inquiry” made with “all deliberate speed” before the 60 day clock starts


Current outstanding issues

Current/Outstanding Issues

  • Judgment calls around the presence of a violation

  • How will CMS treat the “white knight”

  • Defining “referral”

  • Estimating the settlement amount (A/K/A managing client expectations)

  • CHOW / Rejecting Assignment

  • Not an advisory opinion process – but you are allowed to submit “potential” violations

  • Determining the relevant time period for financial analysis (utilizing the reopening rules)

  • Inclusion of “zero dollar” disclosures

  • Disagreement regarding need for disclosure can generate ethical issues


Letter from congressman mcdermott

Letter from Congressman McDermott

  • August 13, 2013 letter from the “lead author” of the SRDP to Administrator of CMS

  • Complains about the delays in resolving disclosures submitted under the SRDP

  • Makes recommendations for providing more “certainty” and “guidance” to providers about the SRDP process, including:

    • Provide guidance on time parameters related to processing of submissions

    • Modify CMS internal process to facilitate information gathering and decision-making

    • Publicize more information regarding CMS internal deliberative process

    • Promptly transfer appropriate cases to OIG

    • Add incentives to submit complete application the first time


Proposed technical deficiency exception

Proposed Technical Deficiency Exception

  • Would explicitly allow for after-the-fact “curing” of inadvertent, technical Stark violations

  • Would provide mechanism for repayment and reconciliation of over/underpayments

  • Would require transparency for regulators and auditors through an agreement that states the parties are relying on the exception

  • Could not be used in cases involving the Antikickback Statute

  • Avoids the expense (in time and resources) of a self-disclosure

  • Encourages and rewards compliance programs that discover problems on their own


Proposal stark administrative simplification act

Proposal - Stark Administrative Simplification Act

  • Bipartisan bill introduced in December 2013

  • Would define “technical violation” as an unwritten, unsigned or lapsed agreement that is otherwise compliant with federal fraud and abuse law.

  • If the bill becomes law:

    • Technical violation disclosed within 1 year of the date of noncompliance = $5000 penalty

    • Technical violation disclosed more than 1 year from the date of noncompliance = $10,000 penalty

  • CMS would have 90 days to reject the disclosure, otherwise would be deemed accepted

  • Likely a revenue generator


To end a judicial quote

To End - A Judicial Quote

"There can be no doubt but that the statutes … of Medicare and Medicaid are among the most completely impenetrable texts within human experience. Indeed, one approaches them at the level of specificity herein demanded with dread, for not only are they dense reading of the most tortuous kind, but Congress also revisits the area frequently, generously cutting and pruning in the process and making any solid grasp of the matters addressed merely a passing phase."

Rehabilitation Ass'n of Virginia, Inc. v. Kozlowski, 42 F.3d 1444, (4th Cir. 1994).


Resolving potential violations of the stark law1

Resolving Potential Violationsof the Stark Law

Rob Stone

Alston & Bird, LLP

Georgia Academy of Health Care Attorneys

Health Care Law Update & Annual Meeting

May 16, 2014


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