Physician Contracting: An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a

Physician Contracting: An Ounce of
Prevention Is Worth a Ton of Cure
Ten best practices to maintain compliance in today's regulatory environment
In 2012, the United States government won or
negotiated over $3 billion in health care fraud and abuse
judgments and settlements.
market value process, the periodic review process and
the responsible internal contract manager or business
lead.
Some of the most significant penalties were assessed to
health care systems that failed to adequately monitor
their physician arrangements. Failure to do so proved to
be costly for all involved. Often the simplest contract
terms to monitor received the least attention (e.g.,
expiration dates) and resulted in the costliest penalties.
Many systems lack a formal process that ensures regular
contract reviews. Many more lack automated tools to
help them with the work involved.
2. Invest in standard contract templates for common
contracts such as medical director arrangements, on-call
agreements and leases for office space.
So in this era of ever-increasing hospital and physician
integrations, coupled with a highly technical and
complicated regulatory environment where everyone is
potentially a whistleblower, what best practices can we
offer to those who want to avoid the pain that comes from
running afoul of the law and the disproportionate
penalties that follow?
Commercial reasonableness is an explicit requirement in
most of the applicable Stark exceptions and AKS safe
harbors. Do you have a sound business or clinical
purpose for entering into the arrangement with the
physician, even if the physician does not refer any
patients to the hospital? Be sure to define the need for
the service in the contract and avoid multiple
arrangements beyond legitimate need (e.g., multiple
medical directors for service lines).
Ten Best Practices for Physician Contracting
1. Maintain a written protocol that describes the process
applicable to all physician financial arrangements.
It should address the basics, including signature authority,
the pre-execution review process, required terms, the fair
Templates help ensure required elements of Stark
exception or AKS safe harbor are included in the terms of
the contract (e.g., time sheet requirement for medical
directors).
3. Verify the need for services.
4. Consider the use of evergreen clauses vs. term limits.
Evergreen clauses prevent contracts from expiring due to
human error. Although the Stark law includes certain
holdover provisions in the event a contract expires, these
provisions are limited and do not apply to every exception.
Your contracts will still require periodic attention.
5. Lease agreement penalties and late fees are a dual-edged
sword.
It's okay to build penalties and late fees into your lease
agreements - until the moment you fail to enforce them.
Failure to enforce late fees may be considered physician
remuneration so the lesson here is: if you have them enforce them!
6. Define the specific services a physician is to provide, or in
the case of office space leases, describe the space to be leased
to the physician.
Being detailed helps demonstrate the commercial
reasonableness and fair market value of the arrangement
and avoid common problems created by including vague
phrases like, "physician agrees to provide medical services
to hospital patients." In the case of leases, include a copy
of the floor plan in the lease document.
7. Confirm fair market value.
The concept that remuneration (be it purchase price,
compensation for services or something else) must be at
"fair market value" is found in the AKS safe harbors as well
as nearly every Stark law exception. While not required,
consider obtaining an FMV opinion from a third party if the
FMV might be questioned. If there is no third-party
opinion, then outside evidence supporting the FMV of the
financial aspects of the arrangement should be included in
the file.
8. Invest in a contract management system.
An effective contract management system is imperative.
The system should advise the provider of deadlines,
necessary changes and other events when Stark
compliance could become in jeopardy ("tickler
system"). Link the system with accounts payable (no
payment without verification of a written contract).
Consider assigning specific staff with responsibility to
monitor and supervise the ongoing maintenance of
physician-related contracts.
9. Conduct regular contract reviews.
Confirm that the contract is not expired and that
services are still necessary. Updating the FMV
wouldn’t hurt. Review accounts payable data and
match to contract terms.
10. Self-disclosure.
If after a full internal investigation you find problems,
then determine the appropriate process for reporting
actual or potential violations. Confirm that there are
no other problematic arrangements to avoid multiple
disclosures. It is critical to also report any problems
that resulted in government overpayments.
For more information, please contact Jerry Hallett at
317.429.3902 or [email protected] Ntracts, LLC, a
subsidiary of Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman, one
of the nation’s preeminent health care law firms, has
created a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) application that
enables health care organizations to take command of
their contracts by creating a single contract repository
from which they can proactively notify, track, monitor
and report. Learn more at ntracts.com.