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Free medical services can cause federal investigation of doctors

On Behalf of The Law Firm of Brent D. Ratchford |

Doctors or clinics in North Carolina sometimes offer free medical services as a form of community outreach and support. However, these seemingly positive actions can result in violations of federal laws. Unless conducted in careful compliance with the law, free services may be viewed by federal investigators as illegal payments meant to entice new patients to seek more services paid for by the government.

Applicable federal laws

Medicine represents a complex discipline and the business of delivering medical care is complicated as well. At the federal level, health care providers must comply with the:

  • False Claims Act
  • Civil Monetary Penalties Law
  • Stark Law
  • Anti-Kickback Statute

Potential penalties

Government investigators who suspect that your practice violated any of these laws could recommend that white-collar crime charges be levied against you. Upon being found guilty, a range of penalties become possible, including:

  • Fines
  • Prison sentence
  • Suspension or permanent removal from federal health care programs

As you can see, the stakes are very high. Removal from federal health care programs can gut revenue for your practice. Investigations concerning medical services are highly dependent on interpreting the application of law to medical and billing records.

Improve your compliance program

Going forward, you can adjust your compliance program to limit accusations of rewarding people with free medical care in the hopes of acquiring them for paid services. Advisory opinions issued by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General direct health care providers not to advertise paid services alongside free services. You should also explicitly inform patients receiving free services that this was not done to promote paid services or a specific provider.