The Office of Inspector General has released a special fraud alert on laboratory payments to referring physicians.

"We have repeatedly emphasized that providing free or below-market goods or services to a physician who is a source of referrals, or paying such a physician more than fair market value for his or her services, could constitute illegal remuneration under the anti-kickback statute," the special fraud alert says. "OIG also historically has been concerned with arrangements in which the amounts paid to a referral source take into account the volume or value of business generated by the referral source."

OIG said they believe the following types of arrangements between laboratories and physicians are suspect under the anti-kickback statute:

  • Blood-specimen collection, processing, and packaging arrangements
    "The anti-kickback statute is implicated when a clinical laboratory pays a physician for services. Whether an actual violation of the statute occurs depends on the intent of the parties—the anti-kickback statute prohibits the knowing and willful payment of such amounts if even one purpose of the payment is to induce or reward referrals of Federal health care program business," according to OIG. "This is true regardless of whether the payment is fair market value for services rendered. The probability that a payment is for an illegitimate purpose is increased, however, if a payment exceeds fair market value or if it is for a service for which the physician is paid by a third party, including Medicare."
  • Registry Payments
    "Registry Arrangements may induce physicians to order medically unnecessary or duplicative tests, including duplicative tests performed for the purpose of obtaining comparative data, and to order those tests from laboratories that offer Registry Arrangements in lieu of other, potentially clinically superior, laboratories," according to OIG. "OIG recognizes that whether any particular Registry Arrangement violates the anti-kickback statute depends on the intent of the parties to the arrangement. Payments from a laboratory to a physician to compensate the physician for services related to data collection and reporting may be reasonable in certain limited circumstances. However, the anti-kickback statute prohibits the knowing and willful payment of such compensation if even one purpose of the payments is to induce or reward referrals of Federal health care program business."

Download the full alert from OIG.