The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) recently issued Advisory Opinion No. 21-02, regarding a joint investment by a health system, a manager, and certain surgeons in an ambulatory surgery center (“ASC”) (the “Proposed Arrangement”). According to a national survey, most hospitals and health systems are planning to increase their investments in ASCs and anticipate converting hospital outpatient departments to ASCs. Many hospitals with ASCs operate the ASCs as physician joint ventures. As payors and patients continue to show interest in having outpatient procedures performed in ASCs, there is an expected trend to see an increase in investments and joint ventures in ASCs therefore making the Advisory Opinion particularly noteworthy.

In their request to OIG, the health system and the manager (“Requestors”) specifically inquired whether the Proposed Arrangement would constitute grounds for sanctions under the Federal Anti-Kickback statute (“AKS”). Based upon the facts provided in the request for the Advisory Opinion and a supplemental submission, the OIG reached the favorable conclusion that due to the low risk of fraud and abuse, the OIG would not impose sanctions on the health system or the manager in connection with the Proposed Arrangement.

The Proposed Arrangement

Under the Proposed Arrangement, the health system, five orthopedic surgeons, three neurosurgeons employed by the health system, and a manager, would invest in a new ASC. The health system would own 46 percent of the ASC, the surgeons would collectively own 46 percent of the ASC, and the manager would own 8 percent of the ASC. The manager certified that no physician has had, or would have, ownership in the manager that provides management and other services to the ASC. Furthermore, the ASC would operate in a medical facility owned by a real estate company jointly owned by the health system, the surgeons, and the manager. The ASC would enter into space and equipment leases as well as service arrangements with the health system and the real estate company.

OIG’s Analysis

Based on the following criteria, the OIG determined that the following safeguards in the Proposed Arrangement would mitigate the risk and that, as such, the OIG would not impose administrative sanctions in connection with the Proposed Arrangement:

Health System and Physician Investor Interest

(1) Although one or more of the neurosurgeons would fail to meet the Hospital-Physician ASC Safe Harbor Provision requirement that a physician investor derive at least one-third of his or her medical practice income for the previous fiscal year or previous 12-month period from the performance of ASC-qualified procedures, the health system certified that the neurosurgeons would use the ASC on a regular basis as part of their medical practices. Additionally, the health system certified that the surgeons would rarely refer patients to each other.

(2) The Proposed Arrangement would contain certain safeguards to reduce the risk that the health system would make or influence referrals to the ASC or the surgeons. For example, the health system certified that any compensation paid by the health system to affiliated physicians for services furnished would be consistent with fair market value and would not be related, directly or indirectly, to the volume or value of any referrals. In addition, the health system certified that it would refrain from any actions designed to require or encourage affiliated physicians to refer patients to the ASC or the surgeons and would not track referrals made to the ASC.


Continue Reading OIG Issues Favorable Advisory Opinion on Ambulatory Surgery Center Joint Venture

In December 2015, we wrote about the many failed health insurance co-ops created under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), and the impact of those failures on providers and other creditors, consumers, and taxpayers. At that time, co-ops across the country had more than one million enrollees. As of January 2021, there were roughly 120,000 enrollees

At the end of March, Florida joined the roster of states that have erected legal shields for health care providers against COVID-19-oriented liability claims. Concerned about uncertainty surrounding the emergency measures taken in response to COVID-19 and the effects that lawsuits could have on the economic recovery and the ability of health care providers to remain focused on serving the needs of their communities, the Florida Legislature passed CS/SB 72 on March 29, 2021.  Governor Ron DeSantis signed CS/SB 72 into law as Laws of Florida 2021-1.  This law creates two new statutory provisions – section 768.38 and section 768.381, Florida Statutes – effective on passage.

What Are the Liability Protections?

Section 768.381, Florida Statutes provides protection for health care providers regarding COVID-19-related claims, as follows:

  • Complaints alleging claims subject to the law must be pled with particularity, or will be dismissed. This is a higher pleading standard than typically required for a civil complaint, and requires a greater degree of specificity.
  • Plaintiffs must prove gross negligence or intentional misconduct. This is a higher standard than ordinary negligence or professional malpractice.
  • Health care providers are provided with several affirmative defenses which, if proven, preclude liability. These defenses primarily relate to a provider’s substantial compliance with government-issued standards regarding COVID-19, infectious disease generally in the absence of standards specifically applicable to COVID-19 or the inability to comply with applicable standards in light of medical supply shortages.
  • There is a one-year statute of limitations on COVID-19-related claims against health care providers, which is substantially shorter than that for simple and medical negligence claims. When this statute starts to run depends on whether the claim arises out of the transmission, diagnosis, or treatment of COVID-19, or from other circumstances such as a delayed or canceled procedure. Actions for COVID-19 related claims that accrued before the law’s effective date must commence within one year of the effective date.


Continue Reading Florida Legislature Provides COVID-19 Liability Protection for Health Care Providers

This Diagnosing Health Care Podcast episode dives into the growth of physician practices accepting risk-based payments from health plans and examines why these practices are attractive to investors. Special guest Jason Madden, Managing Director at Accordion, and Epstein Becker Green attorneys Joshua FreemireJason Christ, and Tim Murphy, discuss the health

Epstein Becker Green (“EBG”) has released Value-Based Payments: A Comprehensive State Survey.

EBG has researched, compiled, and analyzed state-specific content about the regulatory requirements involved in providers moving away from fee for service reimbursement (such as discounted fees and per diems) and towards value-based payment arrangements involving “downside” risk or insurance risk-sharing with insurers, HMOs,

In an important win for healthcare providers, on July 17, 2020, the Third Circuit determined in a published opinion that an out-of-network provider’s direct claims against an insurer for breach of contract and promissory estoppel are not pre-empted by ERISA.  In Surgery Ctr., P.A. v. Aetna Life Ins. Co.[1] In an issue of first impression, the Third Circuit addressed the question of what remedies are available to an out-of-network provider when an insurer initially agrees to pay for the provision of out-of-network services, and then breaches that agreement.

This case arose because two patients—identified as J.L. and D.W.—required medical procedures that were not available in-network through Aetna. J.L. needed bilateral breast reconstruction surgery following a double mastectomy and D.W. required “facial reanimation surgery,” which the Third Circuit describes as “a niche procedure performed by only a handful of surgeons in the United States.” Neither J.L. nor DW had out-of-network coverage for these procedures. D.W.’s plan also contained an “anti-assignment” clause, which would have prevented D.W. from assigning his or her rights under the plan to the Plastic Surgery Center, P.A.
Continue Reading Third Circuit: Provider’s Out-of-Network Claims not Pre-empted by ERISA

In a previous post, we discussed the appropriate use of the Provider Relief Funds authorized and appropriated by Congress under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (“Relief Fund”) for healthcare providers and facilities. Within that post, we specifically discussed the limitation imposed on use of the Relief Funds for payment of salaries, a topic of great interest to many recipients. Under the Terms and Conditions, recipients are prohibited from using the funds for salaries in excess of the Senior Executive Service Executive Level II amount – an annual salary of $197,300 – or $16,441 a month. We noted that, although the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) had not spoken to this requirement with respect to the Provider Relief Funds, HHS permits other HHS grant Recipients to pay individuals’ salaries in excess of the $197,300 limit with non-federal funds.[1] Also, HHS’ federal contract regulations similarly limit use of federal contract funds for salary costs to the Executive Level II amount, but allow for amounts in excess of that limit to be paid with non-federal funds.[2]

Continue Reading Acceptable Use of CARES Act Provider Relief Funds – Salary Limitation Update

To address the COVID-19 public health emergency fiscal burdens, Congress authorized and appropriated the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act[1], Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (“Relief Fund”) for healthcare providers and facilities. The Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) has begun to distribute several tranches of the Relief Funds. All totaled, Congress provided $175 billion to the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (“Relief Fund”) through the CARES Act and the Payroll Protection Program and Health Care Act.[2]

As of May 7, 2020, HHS identified $50 billion for general distribution to Medicare providers. HHS distributed to Medicare providers the Relief Fund’s initial $45 billion tranche in April 2020, and is distributing the Relief Fund’s second $20 billion tranche. Also, HHS allocated Relief Funds to: hospitals in COVID-19 high impact areas ($10 billion); rural providers ($10 billion); Indian Health Services ($400 million), and skilled nursing facilities, dentists, and providers that take solely Medicaid (unidentified amounts).[3]


Continue Reading Appropriate Use of CARES Act Provider Relief Funds

One of the many relief efforts contained in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”), signed into law on March 27th, 2020, is a hiatus of sequestration as it applies to Medicare payments. Section 4408 of the CARES Act exempts Medicare from the effects of sequestration from May 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020.[1] It also postpones the sunset of sequestration as it applies to Medicare from the end of 2029 to the end of 2030.

As background, on January 2, 2013, “sequestration,” automatic spending cuts applicable to all categories of the Federal budget, went into effect. Sequestration included a 2.0% reduction in most Medicare spending, and as a result of its implementation, many providers experienced reductions in their reimbursement. In addition to traditional fee-for-service Medicare payments, some Medicare Advantage plans reduced reimbursement under their contracts with providers to reflect the effect of sequestration, effectively passing on to providers the reductions in premiums recovered by such plans due to sequestration. Even non-Medicare reimbursement was affected for many providers whose participation agreements with plans contained fee schedules based off of Medicare reimbursement.

While this suspension of sequestration is certainly good news for providers participating in traditional fee-for-service Medicare, and plans offering Medicare Advantage products, the effect the suspension will have on reimbursement for providers participating in Medicare Advantage or commercial lines of business which rely on Medicare rates is slightly less clear.


Continue Reading CARES Act Temporarily Suspends Sequestration: How Will It Affect Provider Reimbursement?

On April 10, 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) provided additional details regarding its plan to provide billions in relief to providers in an effort to off-set healthcare-related expenses resulting from the Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) outbreak.

Passed into law on March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also called the “CARES Act”, provided $100 billion in funding for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (the “Fund”). The Fund is a pre-existing resource overseen by the Office of Financial Planning & Analysis within HHS. The $100 billion added via the CARES Act was made available to qualifying healthcare providers to reimburse them for “health care related expenses or lost revenues that are attributable to [COVID-19]”. The CARES Act stipulated that the $100 billion would be made available to public entities, Medicare or Medicaid enrolled suppliers and providers and other entities as may be further specified in regulations or guidance, provided that any such provider must “provide diagnoses, testing or care for individuals with possible or actual cases of COVID-19”. Monies received from the Fund may not be used to cover expenses that have already been reimbursed through other sources or that other sources are obligated to reimburse. Little other detail regarding the funding or mechanism for disbursal was provided in the CARES Act itself.

In a new issuance on its website, found here, HHS provided additional details on the program. HHS noted that $30 billion out of the appropriated $100 billion will be distributed immediately via direct deposit, starting April 10, 2020. Further, HHS clarified that the money is “payment” and not a loan, and thus will not need to be repaid. The initial $30 billion tranche is being made available only to providers that received Medicare fee-for-service payments in 2019. The payments are being distributed according to the Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) of the billing organization.


Continue Reading $100 Billion Emergency Fund for Providers Under the CARES Act: New Guidance and Terms & Conditions of Acceptance