Kusserow on Compliance: Changes in the Stark Law

Over the years, the Stark law has evolved considerably from regulatory requirements to use by the DOJ in enforcement of the False Claims Act. Unlike the Anti-Kickback Statute, which is enforced by the OIG, the Stark law is considered regulatory and under CMS jurisdiction. The Stark law was designed to prohibit doctors from referring Medicare patients to hospitals, labs, and colleagues with whom they have financial relationships, unless they fall under certain exceptions. Stark prevents hospitals from paying providers more when they meet certain quality measures, such as reducing hospital-acquired infections, while paying less to those who miss the goals. Providers have registered numerous concerns that the Stark Law is inhibiting their ability to participate in Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) reforms. The CMS Administrator, Verma, has acknowledged the difficulty of reconciling the Stark Law’s restrictions with the current shift to value based payment structures, noting that that the Stark Law “was developed a long time ago” with current payment systems and operations being different, requiring some changes in the rules. This is not the first time CMS has tried to move the easing of rules concerning the Stark law. In 2015, CMS published a Proposed rule relaxing aspects of the Stark law, including easing of some of the strict liability features of the law and the CMS burden in dealing with the interpretation of key terms, requirements, and other issues.  After reviewing an enormous amount of self-disclosures, CMS realized that a large part of its docket involved arrangements that may technically violate the statute but do not actually pose significant risks of abuse, thus necessitating some changes and clarifications.

Inter-Agency Group formed to focus on easing Stark Barriers

During a January, 2018 American Hospital Association webinar, the CMS Administrator announced plans to convene an inter-agency group consisting of CMS, the OIG, HHS General Counsel, and the DOJ to focus on how to minimize the regulatory barriers of the Stark law that began in 1989 and underwent expansion in the 1990s. Verma noted that the review is in line with CMS’s “Patients Over Paperwork” initiative, which is in accord with the President’s Executive Order that directs federal agencies to “cut the red tape” to reduce burdensome regulations.

Congress Acts

Regardless of the results of the inter-agency review, the fact remains that only so much can be done by regulatory policy changes. All real changes must be made in the law will necessarily have to come from Congress. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 imposed changes on laws related to health care fraud and abuse. On one side they quadrupled fines and doubled potential prison time from five to ten years for violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute.  The Civil Monetary Penalties (CMP) law penalties were doubled. On the other side, Congress moved to reduce some of the burdens by codifying CMS regulatory guidance. Some specific relief involved expired leases and personal services contracts that, if otherwise compliant, will remain protected as long as the terms and conditions continue unchanged.


Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

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Copyright © 2017 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.