In generations past, it was common for a doctor to receive gifts as payment for services. A grateful family may have sent baked goods or produce, or a helpful doctor may have accepted more elaborate offerings in lieu of money. Those simple times are gone, and a more sophisticated and complex system now controls the way doctors receive payment.
If you work in the medical field, you may have patients who want to thank you with gifts. However, you may also face the temptation of vendors, pharmaceutical companies or other medical practices who offer enticing gifts for something in return. This is a violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute, and accepting such offers could place your career and your future in jeopardy.
What do kickbacks look like?
A general practitioner may know another doctor who is a specialist. It is common practice for the GP to recommend a specialist to a patient who needs one. However, if the GP receives a percentage of the patient’s fee or any other compensation in exchange for the referral, authorities consider this a kickback in violation of federal law. Kickbacks do not have to be money. They can include vacations, free meals, consultancy appointments or contracts, to name a few.
One common form of kickback occurs when doctors or others recruit Medicare or Medicaid patients, or play a part in a scheme to commit Medicare, Medicaid or insurance fraud. For example, someone may offer you a gift or fee when you refer patients to a certain hospital or order diagnostic tests from a particular medical facility, even if patients do not need those tests or treatments. If authorities learn of such a scheme, anyone involved may face serious charges.
Penalties for kickbacks
Because kickbacks could place patients’ well-being at risk, the penalties for a conviction are quite harsh. If a jury convicts you on health care kickback charges, you may be looking at as much as $75,000 in criminal and civil fines per violation, years in prison and loss of your medical license.
Facing these possibilities alone is unwise, and before you speak to investigators or other authorities, you would be smart to seek the advice and representation of a skilled criminal defense attorney with experience in white collar crime cases.