In January of 2019, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) implemented a helpful change to the signature exception to the Stark Law. In particular, the exception may now be used more than once during a 3-year period for compensation arrangements with the same referring physician.

History of Signature Exception

The signature exception to the Stark Law has undergone several revisions within the past few years. The original version of the exception was implemented by CMS effective October 1, 2008 in response to concerns regarding the potential for significant Stark Law penalties for mere “technical” violations of the statute. The original language in the signature exception provided for a grace period for noncompliance with the signature requirement of many of the compensation arrangement exceptions to the Stark Law, such as the personal service arrangements exception and fair market value exception. In particular, a 90-day grace period was permitted for late signatures that were inadvertent, and a 30-day grace period was permitted for late signatures that were “not inadvertent.” In addition, the exception could only be used once for the same referring physician during a 3-year period. In other words, after the exception was used once by a DHS entity for a late signature on a compensation agreement with a referring physician, any late signatures on other agreements entered into by the DHS entity and the same referring physician during the following 3-year period would trigger a violation of the Stark Law.
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Beginning on June 1, 2017, health care providers of services and suppliers must submit all information necessary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) to analyze actual or potential violations of the federal physician self-referral law (the “Stark Law”) using approved forms designed to streamline the CMS Voluntary Self-Referral Disclosure Protocol (the “SRDP”).  If you are currently working on a self-disclosure filing for CMS, you must convert that disclosure to this new format or risk CMS rejecting the disclosure in its entirety. The new forms, contained within Form CMS-10328 available here, must be used for all voluntary Stark Law self-disclosures submitted on or after June 1, 2017, except disclosures by physician-owned hospitals and rural providers regarding a failure to disclose physician ownership on the provider’s website or in any public advertisement.[1]
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corporative buildingIn the 2016 Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule published on Nov. 16, 2014, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) finalized the proposed exception for timeshare arrangements that we discussed in our earlier blog post [80 Fed. Reg. 70,886, 71,300 (Nov. 16, 2015)]. As we stated in our earlier post, a timeshare or part-time “space use” arrangement typically provides a physician with the use of office space during scheduled time periods. The space usually includes furnishings with basic medical office equipment, supplies and support personnel so that the physician is able to use the space, on a turn-key basis, to see patients during scheduled times. Prior to the implementation of the new timeshare exception, these types of arrangements needed to be structured to comply with the Rental of Office Space Exception, which includes “exclusive use” requirements that many hospitals and physicians found burdensome [42 C.F.R. § 411.357(a)].
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horizon_lights178441822Proposed Stark exception could impact hospital and physicians timeshare/ part-time agreement arrangements

In July 2015, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) published a proposed rule pertaining to payment policies under the 2016 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (“Proposed Rule”) (80 Fed. Reg. 41,685). In addition to changes to the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule and other Medicare Part B payment policies, the Proposed Rule addresses modifications to the Stark Law and provides guidance on CMS’s interpretation of existing Stark Law exceptions.
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clipboard with white blank paper masks stethoscope blood pressurThe U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an opinion June 12, 2015, lambasting the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (“CMS”) rationale in implementing the ban on “per-click” space and equipment leases under the Stark Law. This ban, which went into effect Oct. 1, 2009, was effectively challenged by the Council for Urological Interests (“Council”), which was also behind the successful challenge against the application of the Stark Law to hospital lithotripsy services in 2002.

Among the more colorful descriptions used by the Court in describing CMS’s position were that it was “incomprehensible,” “tortured”, and “the stuff of caprice.” And on an even more scathing note, the Court described CMS’s reading of the legislative history of the Stark Law as belonging to the “cross-your-fingers-and-hope-it-goes-away school of statutory interpretation.”
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money-closeup122486570The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a special fraud alert on June 9, 2015, stating that physician compensation arrangements may result in significant liability. Hopefully this is not a surprise to any physician or entity that treats federal health plan beneficiaries. However, given that, historically, OIG regulatory actions largely (although not exclusively) focused on the entity from which a physician received compensation, such as hospitals, laboratories, durable medical equipment suppliers, pharmacies, etc., the June 9, 2015, fraud alert highlights the potential for physician liability in these arrangements.
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Due diligence is often perceived as a mundane part of the mergers & acquisitions (M&A) process, but its importance in healthcare transactions is critical. Due diligence is one of the first steps of any transaction and involves a buyer undertaking an in-depth examination of the target to evaluate the business and uncover potential issues or liabilities. In the healthcare industry, diligence is especially important considering the heavy regulation of the industry, the unique areas of risk, and the significant liabilities that could be imposed upon a buyer if issues and liabilities are not identified before the transaction closes.
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