Don’t let donations turn into hospital kickbacks

If a local hospital is pressuring you to donate to the hospital’s charitable foundation, you could end up as a test case for the OIG. That’s because even something that seems innocuous, like charitable donations, could be construed as a kickback arrangement.

Critics say hospital-based physicians often feel coerced to offer donations, and hospital-based physicians are especially vulnerable. For example, a hospital might indicate that its exclusive contract with a specialist might be awarded to another doctor if a target for donations isn’t met, says Neil Caesar, an attorney in Greenville, SC.

The Office of the Inspector General already has warned hospitals not abuse their charitable status, notes Tom Greeson, an attorney at Hazel and Thomas in Falls Church, VA. Greeson says he believes the agency will prosecute more kickback cases now that Congress has given it authority to levy administrative penalties for kickbacks, rather than having to go through lengthy criminal trials.

Now, OIG can threaten to impose administrative penalties of up to $50,000 plus triple damages per violation, which providers might prefer to a long, expensive court battle.

While physicians may consider themselves victims in this, anyone who solicits or pays to get business could be found guilty of violating the statute. So how should you respond to high-pressure solicitations? "Just tell the hospital that your lawyer says this isn’t a good idea. And then ask them what their lawyer thinks," Caesar says.