In 1972, U.S. Congress passed Federal anti-kickback laws to protect patients from medical referrals based upon the health care provider receiving a kickback or financial incentive, rather than on medical necessity. In general, kickbacks include the practice whereby a person or business pays someone to find new clients or referrals and/or pays that person a percentage of the increased transactions resulting from those referrals. Florida’s Stark Laws address situations in which the health care provider has a business interest in the facility to which he/she makes referrals.
Chapman Law Group attorneys help health care practitioners understand and comply with the anti-kickback laws, including identifying the types of activities that receive exemptions or “safe harbors.” Safe harbor refers to activities viewed as acceptable practices and depends on the circumstances of the relationship. Our health care attorneys can help you determine if and how you can meet safe harbor provisions.
Anti-kickback laws regularly affect the daily practices of Florida’s health care professionals. The business of health care generates frequent referrals back and forth between providers of goods and services, and sometimes these relationships provide for unlawful financial incentives. All health care practitioners should understand whether their inbound and outbound referral patterns are making them susceptible to liability under the Florida anti-kickback statutes because the penalties for non-compliance are severe. For example, violations of the Patient Brokering law are third-degree felonies, punishable by up to five years (ten years for habitual offenders) imprisonment, and a $5,000 fine.
Kickbacks take many different forms, some obvious, like providers who accept cash in exchange for referrals. Others are more subtle, such as a hospital giving providers reduced office rent in exchange for the informal agreement to refer patients to the hospital. It is surprisingly easy to unintentionally run afoul of Florida’s anti-kickback laws.
The FBI and state authorities actively enforce the anti-kickback laws. Even unintentional anti-kickback violations are prosecuted because the statutes do not require willful or knowing conduct.
Given the severe penalties under Florida’s anti-kickback laws, health care professionals and providers should work with their health care attorney to ensure that their referral relationships are legitimate and do not lead to exposure under the law.
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