There is an inherent risk in entering into financial arrangements where payments to a service provider are only made when a referral is generated. On August 15, 2014, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) made this perfectly clear in an unfavorable advisory opinion issued to a specialty pharmacy that wanted to pay local retail pharmacies for providing support services to it.
Background of Request for OIG Advisory Opinion.
According to the OIG, the requestor, a specialty pharmacy, dispenses specialty pharmaceuticals used to treat a variety of chronic and life-threatening illnesses. The specialty pharmacy stated that the drugs offered at its establishment are frequently unavailable to retail pharmacies. In light of this, the specialty pharmacy asked whether it would be permissible to enter into agreements with various local pharmacies in which the specialty pharmacy would provide its specialty drug prescriptions to local pharmacies’ patients. Under the proposed contractual arrangement, the local pharmacies would be required to provide various support services, including:
1. Accepting the prescription from the patient or prescriber;
2. Gathering patient and prescriber demographic information;
3. Recording patient-specific history and use, including drug names, strength and directions;
4. Patient counseling;
5. Informing the patients about access to specialty drugs, including the availability from pharmacies other than the specialty pharmacy;
6. Obtaining patient consent to forward the prescription to the specialty pharmacy;
7. Transferring prescription information to the specialty pharmacy; and
8. Providing ongoing patient assessments for subsequent refills.
The retail pharmacies would be paid a “per-fill fee” by the specialty pharmacy at the time that the initial prescription was transmitted and upon each subsequent refill.
OIG Issued Negative Opinion Due to Anti-Kickback Statute.
The OIG issued an unfavorable opinion for this proposed agreement, concluding that the federal Anti-Kickback Statute was implicated because the specialty pharmacy would pay a per-fill fee for support services each time a local pharmacy referred a specialty drug prescription. After evaluating the arrangement, the OIG concluded that the per-fill fees were inherently subject to abuse because they were paid only when the support services provided by the retail pharmacy resulted in a referral to the specialty pharmacy. Thus, the OIG found that such a per-fill fee is directly linked to business generated by the local pharmacy for the specialty pharmacy, and could influence the local pharmacy’s referral decisions. OIG noted that the Anti-Kickback Statute is implicated if one purpose of the remuneration is to generate referrals.
Exceptions to Anti-Kickback Laws.
Like many other regulatory frameworks, the Anti-Kickback Statute has exceptions. The law provides a number of safe harbors to the rule which allow otherwise impermissible referral arrangements to pass muster.
Because the exceptions are numerous and often subject to change, it is highly recommended that any new business arrangement, or substantial change to an existing one, is reviewed by a health law attorney experienced in the area of Anti-Referral and Anti-Kickback Laws.
Consult With A Health Law Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Pharmacists and Pharmacies.
We routinely provide deposition coverage to pharmacists, pharmacies and other health professionals being deposed in criminal cases, negligence cases, civil cases or disciplinary cases involving other health professionals.
We can review business referral arrangements and provide legal counsel on whether they are not in violation of federal and state anti-referral laws.
The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing physicians, physician assistants and other health professionals in investigations and at Board of Pharmacy hearings. Call now or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.
Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. “OIG Advisory Opinion No. 14-06” (August 15, 2014). From: https://oig.hhs.gov/fraud/docs/advisoryopinions/2014/AdvOpn14-06.pdf
Ciesla, Frank, Christian, Beth, and Burd, Ari. “Office of Inspector General (OIG) Issues Unfavorable Advisory Opinion to Specialty Pharmacy for Support Service Payments.” The National Law Review. (August 18, 2014). From: http://www.natlawreview.com/article/office-inspector-general-oig-issues-unfavorable-advisory-opinion-to-specialty-pharma
About the Author: Lenis L. Archer is as attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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