What Is The Stark Law?
The Stark Law, named after U.S. Congressman Pete Stark, is an amendment to the Social Security Act, which governs referrals of Medicare patients to facilities where the physician has a direct or indirect financial interest. These are known as self-referrals.
Violations of physician self-referral (Stark) law and the Anti-Kickback statute may be difficult to detect, but can result in major penalties, and lead to both civil and criminal investigations and litigation. It is imperative to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Although there are some exceptions, under Stark Law, a physician, or other health care provider such as a dentist, optometrist, or even a chiropractor, including those in Dallas, may not refer patients to receive designated health care services that the provider or the immediate family member of the physician has a financial interest. A designated service may include clinical lab services, physical therapy and home health services, but physician service is not included under this definition. Financial relationships include any ownership interest, compensation agreements or even investment interests. Violations are evaluated under a strict liability standard; therefore, lack of intent will not shelter a physician or entity from Stark liability.
Key Legal Considerations
Some key questions to be asked include:
- Are the providers being paid more if they refer business to the entity?
- Is the payment arrangement with the provider commercially reasonable or represents fair market value excluding the value of the referrals from the physician?
Keeping this in mind, if the hospital pays a physician greatly over the fair market value, this may open the hospital or entity up for an audit from the Department of Justice or from Medicare. Because there had been an increase in physician acquisition by hospitals and an increased hospital employment of providers, entities must be careful about not only violations but also situations that could present the impression of a violation.
Entities are required to self-report within 60 days any potential violations. Violations carry severe monetary penalties, including treble damages for a knowing violation, potential liability under the False Claims Act and an exclusion from Medicare reimbursements (which may likely shut down the entity).
Do You Have A Compliance Program?
It is important to have a good compliance program, which should include a company officer and counsel to review policies, procedures, and contracts that apply to physician, providers, and services. Fair market values of office spaces for physician groups should be regularly documented and compiled, and compliance personnel should ensure that physicians are not receiving more compensation for services beyond which they actually perform. As always, generating and maintaining proper documentation and records is paramount to prevent or defend from any asserted charges of Stark Law violations. Our lawyers have extensive consulting experience in this area and can help you develop robust internal practices.
Get Compliance Help Today
Maintaining compliance in the health care industry is essential for success. If you have any questions about the Stark laws, please don’t hesitate to contact Steven Clark at Clark Firm PLLC. Call 469-513-1711 now or send an email.
Our attorneys serve clients in the Dallas metroplex and throughout Texas.
42 U.S.C. 1395
42 U.S.C. §1320a-7b(b)
42 U.S.C. 1395
42 U.S.C. 1395x(q).