Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Recent OIG Investigation Into Hospices Reveals Compliance, Marketing And Kickback Issues

A recent Bloomberg article (Dec. 6, 2011) on hospices and in particular Harden Healthcare LLC  entitled "Aunt Midge Not Dying In Hospice Reveals $14B Market" reveals issues with some hospices and the focus of government investigations. Hospices are meant for the terminally ill and given that Medicare's reimbursement rates are higher for hospice care, this has been a growth industry.

The article relays a story that caught the interest of the Department of Justice. Janet Stubbs' aunt, Doris Midge Appling, was admitted to Hospice Care of Kansas (HCK) during the company’s “Summer Sizzle” promotion drive, which paid employees as much as $100 a head for referrals. Ms. Stubbs said she had no clue that the nursing home doctor who referred her aunt for hospice moonlighted as medical director for the hospice company. The aunt was discharged after 20 months in HCK, and lived four more years before her death in April at age 106. Medicare paid nearly $80,000 for her hospice care. The aunt is now known as Patient 11 in a civil lawsuit filed by the Justice Department against HCK and its owners.

Hospice care, once chiefly a charitable cause, has become a growth industry, with $14 billion in revenues, 1,800 for-profit providers and a base of Medicare-covered patients that doubled to 1.1 million from 2000 to 2009.

The article discusses the investigations pending in the hospice business - and these are often publicly traded companies and national hospice chains. This means that independent owned hospices will also be under scrutiny and will often have less funds to devote to compliance and responding to government investigations. It is therefore critical for hospices to engage in compliance immediately since there is increased scrutiny on the industry.

The compliance issues noted in the article include:
(1) paying salespeople bonuses for increasing the number of patients enrolled and/or length of stay;
(2) admitting ineligible patients;
(3) giving salespeople a budget of $500 a month to buy lunches and gifts for doctors and nursing-facility managers and staff;
(4) paying enrollment bonuses to doctors, admissions directors and branch managers;
(5) giving pizza parties, gift cards and other extras to its registered nurses and social workers for meeting admission targets;
(6) pay to nursing home doctors who double as hospice medical directors; and
(7) paying incentives to medical directors of hospices.

The inspector general of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department is probing hospice marketing practices and financial relationships with nursing facilities. The inquiry was spawned by a 2009 report by the Medpac commission, a congressional advisory body, that found hospices “aggressively marketed” to nursing-home patients, and paid incentives to medical directors for “inappropriate” referrals and enrollments.

Complicated Laws

Under various federal statutes, paying for patient referrals or compensating employees based on the number of Medicare patients recruited may be illegal. But the laws are painfully complicated and loaded with exceptions.  A conservative view of health care laws bars all employees and contractors from earning bonuses based on Medicare enrollment goals, including salesmen and managers. In structuring bonuses, it is critical to seek legal advice from an established and experienced health care lawyer before establishing the parameters.

Posted by Tracy Green, Esq. Please email Ms. Green at tgreen@greenassoc.com or call her at 213-233-2260 to schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation.  

Any questions or comments  should be directed to Tracy Green, a very experienced Medicare fraud attorneyMedi-Cal fraud attorneyCalifornia health care attorney, and California compliance attorney at tgreen@greenassoc.com.


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