Today I am focusing on the self-referral ban under the federal Stark laws. In particular, a recent case – Fresenius Medical Care Holdings, Inc. v. Tucker (Dkt. No. 4:03-cv-00411-SPM-GRJ (Jan. 10, 2013, 11th Cir.)) – discussed the interplay between those laws and a State’s attempt to impose more stringent requirements. 

The court first focused on two exceptions to the Stark laws’ ban on physician self-referrals. These exemptions concern clinical lab services for end-stage renal disease (ESRD), as well as certain lab services performed by a company with stockholder equity in excess of $75 million. 

A Florida statute subsequently narrowed these exemptions, and that statutory change impacted a Florida business’ ability to make referrals. 

The plaintiff argued that Congress had crafted the Stark laws’ exemptions in order to benefit Medicare and Medicaid recipients and, as such, intended to provided explicit benefits. That argument was rejected. 

The circuit court found that federal law permitted State laws to be more stringent, and that this was such a situation. Moreover, the court was not convinced that the plaintiff’s business was stifled by the State rules and, instead, found that the impact to the business was marginal. 

It remains to be seen whether or not this ruling will encourage States to enact more stringent restrictions and make it even more difficult for businesses to comply with a non-uniform set of rules.

Among its many provisions, the newly signed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has imposed a new requirement on physicians who rely on the Stark "In-Office Ancillary Services" exception.  Physicians who refer patients for CT, MRI or PET (or other Stark services as designated by the Secretary of HHS) that will be provided by the referring physician’s practice under the Stark In-Office Ancillary Services exception must now inform the patient in writing at the time of the referral that the individual may obtain the services for which the individual is being referred from a person other than the referring physician’s practice, and provide the patient with a written list of suppliers (who furnish such services in the area in which such individual resides.

The provision in the new law has an effective date of January 1, 2010, so absent clarification from Congress or HHS, the above requirement is effective immediately.