By: 12 April 2015
Back-surgery centre dangled illegal hotel and travel incentives

Hotel and travel packages offered to entice spinal surgery patients

A busy back-surgery centre offered illegal incentives to encourage patients to undergo spine operations, including paying for airfare and hotels as well as other out-of-pocket expenses, according to claims made in a Florida lawsuit filed by a competitor.

The Florida-based Laser Spine Institute, which advertises for patients on national cable channels such as CNN, allegedly made improper offers in emails that were obtained through discovery requests in the lawsuit.

In one email, sent in 2012, a ‘patient coordinator’ at the Laser Spine Institute informed a co-worker that he “had to offer free hotel to close deal” with a patient who was insured through Medicare, and noted that he had informed the patient that he “needed to put hotel in her travel companion’s name due to medicare rules”.

Medicare prohibits offering inducements to patients, says Kevin Darken, a former federal health-care fraud prosecutor in Florida. “The email is very problematic because a free hotel stay for a Medicare patient clearly qualifies as remuneration, and providing a free hotel stay to close a deal indicates that the hotel stay was intended as an inducement to the patient,” he says, adding that putting the hotel in another person’s name also suggests the company was aware of the restrictions against inducements.

In a company statement, Laser Spine Institute said its employees “are extensively trained on procedures and protocols to ensure that we comply with state and federal requirements. As an additional step to ensure quality, our compliance team monitors all patient communications and takes corrective action as appropriate.”

In a statement issued by its lawyer, Laser Spine Institute said the claims in the lawsuit are “unproven allegations asserted by a competitor.”

Source: BloombergBusinessWeek