Changing Market | Manage Your Practice

How Walmart’s Latest Healthcare Announcement Can Be Your Key to Higher Prices

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, beginning in January 2019, Walmart is requiring employees needing spine surgery to travel to certain contracted hospitals for their surgery.

The paper reports that among the health systems Walmart will favor are the Mayo Clinic, Geisinger, and Memorial Hermann.

So what’s that mean for you, assuming you’re not a Walmart employee.

Well, this may just be the tip of the iceberg. Will other large employers choose centers of excellence/centers of low cost/centers of what (?) in areas of the country for their employees’ major healthcare treatment? In fact, why think about in terms of “across the country,” when if a patient can fly some appreciable distance, he or she might just as easily be shipped off to a Joint Commission accredited facility in, well, India.

There other ways of looking at this, too. As more patients become comfortable with the notion of traveling to what’s billed as a “center of excellence” in some distant locale, might you, too, work to brand the care that you provide in a way that attracts patients from a larger geographic area, and I’m not just talking about the next county.

And, here’s another view: If someone or something has to travel, why can’t it be you. Not necessarily you, personally. But, you in terms of your brand name, stature, and technique? Whether that’s through branch locations, franchising, licensing, or joint ventures isn’t, at this stage, the point. The point is that there are many ways of looking at how you can increase the catchment area of your practice.

The first step in expanding your practice is to expand your way of thinking.

Let’s talk.

Comment or contact me if you’d like to discuss this post.

Mark F. Weiss

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Physician Behind Bars for Referrals: Kickbacks, Bribes, and Mail Fraud – Podcast

Former physician Dr. Greenspan, at 80 years old, will conceivably spend the rest of his life behind bars due to his connection with the Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services, LLC scam.

Listen in and learn to be a smarter practitioner. Here are some of the major takeaways:

1. Fitting a deal within one of the AKS safe harbors is not, never was, and never will be a guaranty that you are immune from AKS prosecution.
2. Even if compliance with a safe harbor is legit, compliance with it protects you from AKS prosecution only.
3. Those you work with are potential witnesses against you. s life behind bars.

Comment or contact me if you’d like to discuss this post.

Mark F. Weiss


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Compliance | Kickback

Physician Behind Bars for Referrals: Kickbacks, Bribes, and Mail Fraud

Physician, well, former physician, Bernard Greenspan is whiling away his time in federal prison in Butner, NC. He’s part way into his 41 month sentence in connection with the Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services, LLC (“BLS”) scam that, at my last count, resulted in the conviction of 43 defendants, 29 of them of doctors.

Greenspan, a family medicine doctor, was convicted of multiple crimes, including violation of the federal Anti-Kickback Statue, in connection with receiving bribes totaling approximately $200,000 from BLS, its employees and associates in return for the referral of blood samples worth approximately $3 million in billings to BLS.

Interestingly, and frightening for those physicians, and others, who misunderstand the AKS and its place in the pantheon of prosecutorial weapons, Greenspan received the money from BLS and its affiliates through rental, services, and consulting agreements that were apparently vetted for “compliance” with the AKS’s space rental and personal services safe harbor.

After all, Greenspan’s attorney argued that the doctor had entered into legal agreements for rent and services and that there was no evidence that he ever made referrals in exchange for remuneration. So, how could the payments be kickbacks?

What You Need To Know

1.  Fitting a deal within one of the AKS safe harbors is not, never was, and never will be a guaranty that you are immune from AKS prosecution, because the safe harbors do not protect sham arrangements. Accordingly, Greenspan was indicted and convicted of violating the AKS, also known as 42 U.S. Code § 1320a–7b.

Unfortunately, too many deals that facially fit within a safe harbor are “ass backward” arrangements designed to cover up illegal arrangements: Lab owner Joe tells Dr. Sally that he’ll give her a little “taste” if she sends some patients his way. Sally feigns horror, but sees no problem with Joe’s comeback: Joe’s cousin Lou will rent space from Sally for $X pursuant to a lease that meets all of the check-the-box requirements of the space rental safe harbor. That includes the fact that the rent will be within the range of FMV. Sally will send her patients’ blood samples to Joe’s lab.

Like the old expression goes, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. The lease was just the lipstick. The acceptance of $X, even if it is fair market value, was the pig, the crime.

2.  Even if compliance with a safe harbor is legit, compliance with it protects you from AKS prosecution only. There are many other laws that prohibit much of the same conduct and to which the AKS safe harbors have absolutely no relevance.

For example, in addition to the AKS violation, Dr. Greenspan was also indicted for, and found guilty of, violating:

  • 18 U.S. Code § 371 – Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud United States: The conspiracy with BLS and its owners and managers to defraud Medicare.
  • 18 U.S. Code § 1343 – Fraud by wire, radio, or television: The Medicare payments sent by interstate bank wire (the electronic payments from the Medicare contractor to BLS’s bank account).
  • 18 U.S. Code § 1952 – Interstate and foreign travel or transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises (the “Travel Act”): Both (a) the payments by the Medicare contractor to BLS’s bank account by bank wire, and (b) the fact that the payments constituted commercial bribery under New Jersey state law, thus triggering violation of this federal law. (See my article Why Your Compliance Efforts May Be Worthless.)

3.  I’ve written many times that those you work with are potential witnesses against you. For example, people often turn employees into whistleblowers in respect of civil prosecution for violation of the False Claims Act.

As anyone who watches crime story movies or TV shows should know, the same situation, but on steroids, plays out in respect of criminal prosecution: Other participants in the scheme flip on you to reduce their charges or punishment.

In the case of Dr. Greenspan, the two brothers at the center of the BLS scheme, the company’s president, David Nicolls, and Scott Nicolls, testified that they entered into a conspiracy with Greenspan to get the blood samples in exchange for kickbacks.

What You Must Do

Every new, and every existing, financial relationship with anyone or any entity with which physicians and other healthcare providers do business must be vetted or re-vetted in light of today’s enforcement reality. Immediately. If they’re violative, they must be unwound.

As to Dr. Greenspan, at 80 years old, it’s conceivable that he’ll spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Comment or contact me if you’d like to discuss this post.

Mark F. Weiss

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Another Physician Guilty of Receiving Insys/Subsys Kickbacks

On October 25, 2017, another physician, Jerrold Rosenberg, M.D., pleaded guilty to charges related to the plethora of kickback prosecutions emanating from Insys Therapeutics, Inc., and its fentanyl drug, Subsys.

Couch and Ruan Sent to Prison

In February of this year, I wrote in my post Pain Medicine Doctors Alleged to Have Received $115,000 in Kickbacks … Plus $40 Million in Illicit Profit, about the cautionary tale of two Mobile, Alabama pain medicine doctors, Drs. John Couch and Xiulu Ruan, both then in the midst of their federal court trial for, as was then alleged, receiving $115,000 in kickbacks from Insys in connection with Subsys.

Among the allegations:

• That Couch and Ruan prescribed, and also sold through their owned pharmacy, large quantities of Subsys, based on misleading diagnoses, defrauding payors.
• That their profit of $40,000,000 from dispensing Subsys and other controlled substances was an illicit profit from a “pill mill.”
• That they received “speaking fees” from Insys based on the number of Subsys prescriptions they wrote.

Subsequently, Couch and Ruan’s trial moved forward to guilty verdicts and then to sentencing: Crouch was sentenced to prison for 240 months and Ruan received an even stiffer sentence, 252 months behind bars.

Neither of the Mobile, Alabama physicians currently reside in the state: Dr. Couch passes (or, does) time at the Federal Correction Institute in Forrest City, Arkansas, while Dr. Ruan enjoys the view from behind bars at the Federal Correction Institute in Oakdale, Louisiana.

In addition to their lengthy prison sentences, the duo was ordered to make restitution of $6,282,023.00 to Medicare, $3,649,092.97 to Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama, $2,285,170.70 to Tricare, and $1,695,929.00 to United Heath Group.

Fanto, Seth, and Gingerich Indicted

In my post dated September 5, 2017, Drugs, Sentencing, and Lock (and Roll on to Another Kickback Prosecution), I wrote about criminal charges brought by the State of Arizona against three pain medicine physicians, Steve Fanto, M.D., Nikesh Seth, M.D., and Sheldon Gingerich, M.D.

The allegations: That the physicians collected sham educational “speaker fees” in exchange for writing prescriptions for Subsys.

The criminal complaint claims that from March 2012 to April 2017, more than $33 million, or 64 percent of Subsys sales in Arizona, came from prescriptions written by Fanto, Seth, and Gingerich.

In additional echoes of the Couch and Ruan prosecution, it was alleged that Drs. Fanto, Nikesh, and Gingerich gave insurers false and misleading information, including that patients had cancer when they did not, to obtain prior authorization for Subsys prescriptions.

Rosenberg Pleads Guilty

And now, in the most recent echo of Subsys “addiction” (addition, that is, to illegally gained money), Jerrold Rosenberg, M.D., a Providence, Rhode Island physiatrist, pleaded guilty last week to federal charges that he committed healthcare fraud and conspired to receive kickbacks in the form of “speakers fees” from Insys in order to induce him to prescribe Subsys.

In their case against Dr. Rosenberg, the United States Attorney General’s office alleged that between 2012 and 2015, he entered into an illegal scheme to take kickbacks from Insys. Specificially the payments were disguised as speaker’s fees from Insys. The “fees” were then a major factor in Rosenberg’s decision to prescribe Subsys to patients.

In an echo of the charges brought against Drs. Couch and Ruan, it was also alleged that Dr. Rosenberg upped his prescriptions of Subsys by fraudulently representing to insurers that his patients suffered from cancer pain when they did not.

Dr. Rosenberg is set to be sentenced to prison in January. Pursuant to a plea deal, the now 63 year old physician could spend up to the next 15 years in prison, perhaps actually a life sentence.

He also agreed to pay $754,736 in restitution to healthcare benefit programs.

Insys Executives Indicted

Just so that you don’t think that physicians were the only targets of Insys/Subsys related prosecutions, in December 2016, the federal government indicted a slew of now-former Insys executives for conspiracy to commit racketeering, mail and wire fraud, and conspiracy to violate the anti-kickback law, relating to what the U.S Attorney alleges was a nationwide conspiracy to bribe medical practitioners to unnecessarily prescribe Subsys and defraud payors.

The indicted executives are Michael L. Babich, the former CEO and President of Insys Therapeutics, Alec Burlakoff, the former Vice President of Sales, Richard M. Simon, the former National Director of Sales, Sunrise Lee and Joseph A. Rowan, both former Regional Sales Directors, and former Vice President of Managed Markets, Michael J. Gurry. Each pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Insys as Target

And, the company itself, Insys Therapeutics, Inc., has already paid $9.45 million to resolve state level investigations into the kickback-related affairs.

The Federal Anti-Kickback Statute and Other Prohibitions

In general terms, the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”) prohibits the offer, demand, payment, and acceptance of remuneration—that is, of anything of value—for referrals

The federal government, and many courts, interpret the AKS to apply even when an arrangement may have many legitimate purposes; the fact that one of the purposes is to obtain money for the referral of services or to induce further referrals is sufficient to trigger a violation of the law.

State laws differ in their treatment, scope and interpretation, but generally contain similar provisions barring remuneration for referrals, sometimes expressed as anti-kickback or fee-splitting prohibitions.

In addition, federal laws such as wire fraud statues and the Travel Act turn what are “simple” violations (a huge simplification!) of state laws into federal criminal offenses. The federal Controlled Substances Act permits prescribing and dispensing only for legitimate purposes, not in respect of “pill mill” and other massive prescribing activities. Additionally, the federal statute of healthcare fraud makes it a crime to defraud a healthcare benefits program, including a commercial insurer.

The Takeaways for You:

1. Money: The are many legitimate ways for physicians to increase their practice income. They include, depending on state law, investments in pharmacies and the direct dispensing of pharmaceuticals.

2. Structure: But any deal must be structured in compliance with the federal Anti-Kickback Statute, the Controlled Substances Act, Stark, and numerous other federal laws, as well as with various state law counterparts and other restrictions. Your investment in structuring things correctly is an investment in yourself and your jail-free future.

3. Compliance Auditing: No matter how well structured, it’s essential that you engage in periodic compliance audits coordinated through legal counsel. Laws change and actual behavior impacts all of the structure and planning. Even the best planning can be made worthless if illegal conduct takes place within the context of what was planned to be a proper structure.

4. Investigations: If you learn that you (or any person or entity connected to the operation) are under investigation, immediately engage a team of experienced healthcare attorneys and criminal defense counsel. Many potential prosecutions are resolved at this stage.

5. Indictment and trial: Again, immediately engage a defense team of healthcare and criminal defense counsel.

Comment or contact me if you’d like to discuss this post.

Mark F. Weiss

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