By Dave Adler, ASTRO Vice President of Advocacy
Radiation oncologists looking to provide their patients with local transportation services to access their clinics should closely examine a new road map for health care providers.
For rural radiation oncology patients, travelling long distances on a daily basis for weeks can often be a significant road block in completing radiation treatment regimens. Time away from work and the costs of travel quickly add up for these patients, many of whom are lower income. As part of the new ASTRO Rural Radiation Oncology Initiative, some members have asked whether providing transportation services to shuttle patients to their daily treatments constitutes a beneficiary inducement under the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS).
As background, beneficiary inducement rules prevent providers from offering patients remuneration that they know is likely to influence the selection of a provider. While designed to protect patients and the Medicare program from abusive practices, some policymakers and providers, particularly in rural and underserved areas, expressed concern that the rules lacked street smarts and restricted access where there was a low risk of abuse.
On January 6, 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General issued new rules that codified new safe harbors and exceptions to the beneficiary inducement provisions. Thanks to the changes, a local transportation program may provide free transportation to and from health care provider appointments for established patients of a provider. According to Crowell Moring LLP, ASTRO’s outside legal counsel firm, to be protected under the safe harbor, transportation services must follow these rules of the road:
- Free or discounted transportation services may be provided to patients to travel to and from appointments with health care providers or suppliers.
- The availability of free or discounted local transportation services cannot be determined in a manner related to the past or anticipated volume or value of federal health care program business to or from an individual or entity.
- The transportation services made available cannot consist of air, luxury or ambulance transportation.
- A transportation program or the availability of transportation services cannot be publicly marketed.
- Marketing includes posting signage in public areas, including waiting rooms or lobbies of provider locations, posting online or otherwise communicating en masse the existence a transportation program or available transportation services.
- To ensure no public marketing, the availability of free or discounted transportation services should be discussed with a patient only based on a reasonable belief that the individual patient both: (1) is currently a patient of the affiliated provider, and (2) needs free or discounted transportation services to be able to keep his appointments.
- Transportation services may be made available only to established patients of the health care provider location to which they require transportation. A patient is considered “established” after he or she selects and initiates contact with a provider to schedule an appointment.
- The entity making arrangements for the transportation must also be the entity bearing the costs of the services. The cost burden cannot be shifted to a federal health care program.
- Services must be offered to patients only for the purpose of obtaining medically necessary items and services.
- A slightly less extensive set of requirements apply to a “shuttle service” that runs along a pre-established route.
- Transportation services can only be available for distances up to 25 miles in urban areas and 50 miles in rural areas.
While the rules could put some radiation oncology clinics on easy street to provide transportation services to patients, there is concern that the 50-mile restriction for rural areas will stop traffic. We’re interested in hearing from members on these issues, including:
- Are these rules right up your alley and allow your practice to provide enhanced transportation services?
- Is the 50-mile restriction a dead end for reaching patients in rural areas?
- Have you identified any innovative approaches that are the ticket to ride for providing transportation services to patients in rural areas?
Enter your response in the comment section below, we look forward to your feedback.
Before putting the pedal to the metal to offer local transportation, ASTRO members should avoid blind alleys by consulting their practice’s legal counsel to ensure compliance with the new rules and other relevant regulations.