This week the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services published Advisory Opinion 12-15 in which it blessed an on-call compensation arrangement between a hospital and specialist physicians on its staff.  In finding that it would not prosecute the arrangement, the OIG pointed to several "safeguards" which it felt would adequately protect against a violation of the anti-kickback statute.  Among others, these included the following protections:

1. Based on an independent valuation, the per diem payment amounts were stipulated to be commercially reasonable, within the range of fair market value for actual and necessary services provided without regard to referrals or other business generated between the parties;

2. The hospital allocates funds for call coverage for each participating specialty and calculates the per diem annually, in advance, without regard to the individual Participating Physician’s referrals to the hospital;

3. Participating Physicians provide actual and necessary services, for which they are not otherwise compensated, including that Participating Physicians must respond within 30 minutes to a request from the hospital’s emergency department and, in some cases, must provide follow-up care.

4. The hospital offers the opportunity to participate in the arrangement to all specialists on its staff who are required by its bylaws to take unrestricted call and the method of scheduling on-call coverage is governed by a uniform equitable policy that does not take referrals into account.

Although an OIG Advisory Opinion may only be relied upon by the parties requesting it, this Advisory Opinion may provide useful guidance to hospitals and physicians in ensuring that their on-call arrangements are compliant.

In its recent Advisory Opinion No. 09-05, the OIG reviewed a proposed arrangement whereby a hospital would compensate physicians for on-call services performed on behalf of the hospital’s uninsured patients. The OIG concluded that while the Proposed Arrangement could potentially generate prohibited remuneration under the anti-kickback statute, if the requisite intent to induce or reward referrals of Federal health care program business were present, the Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) would not impose administrative sanctions on the arrangement.

Under the proposed arrangement, the hospital would pay physicians for services provided during on-call periods to indigent patients. The proposal included four discount payment amounts/categories: (1) Emergency consultations: $100 flat fee; (2) Care of patients admitted as inpatients from the Emergency Department: $300 per admission. (3) Surgical procedure or procedures performed on a patient admitted from the Emergency Department: $350 flat fee; and (4) Endoscopy procedure or procedures performed on a patient admitted from the Emergency Department: $150 flat fee.

The OIG noted that while there is “substantial risk that improperly structured payments for on-call coverage could be used to disguise unlawful remuneration” under the anti-kickback statute, the proposed arrangement included adequate safeguards against such abuse including:

(1) The payment amounts were represented to be within the range of fair market value for services rendered;

(2) The hospital had a legitimate rationale for revising its on-call coverage policy (physicians were refusing to provide on-call services);

(3) The proposed arrangement would be offered uniformly to all physicians on staff, the method of scheduling on-call coverage would be governed by the hospital’s medical staff by-laws, would be uniform within each department or specialty, and would not be used to selectively reward the highest referrers; and

(4) The proposed arrangement would appear to create an equitable mechanism for the hospital to compensate physicians who actually provide care that the Hospital must furnish.

While the Advisory Opinion does not contain any surprises, it provides a very useful analysis at a time when on-call compensation arrangements are proliferating. Physician who have on-call compensation arrangements or who are considering entering into one are well-advised to review their arrangements in light of the OIG’s analysis.