Legal Insights and Perspectives for the Healthcare Industry

In a March 19 letter to CMS and HHS-OIG, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) continued their oversight efforts regarding physician-owned distributorship (POD) relationships by raising questions about US Sunshine compliance by PODs. PODs involve the ownership of medical device distributorships by surgeons who use or recommend those products in their surgical procedures. The senators are critical of CMS and OIG efforts to expose and deter POD arrangements, citing long-held concerns that POD arrangements are, as the OIG has suggested in a prior Fraud Bulletin, "inherently suspect” and abusive arrangements that promote medically unnecessary services. The March letter raises an often debated question regarding POD compliance with Physician Sunshine Rules and whether CMS or the OIG have taken sufficient steps to assure transparency compliance with these particular arrangements.

Emerging as an industry disrupter, the Office of Inspector General for the US Department of Health and Human Services (OIG) has waded knee-deep into health policy and economics in proposing dramatic changes to the anti-kickback discount safe harbor protection. Its latest move targets certain industry sectors, proposing to remove their protection from administrative and criminal prosecution in connection with rebates and price reductions for prescription drugs.

Under the proposed rule issued February 6, the OIG proposes to amend the language of the existing discount safe harbor to no longer protect price reductions from prescription drug manufacturers to sponsors, MA plans, or Medicaid managed care organizations (MCOs), or to pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) under contract with those entities, in connection with the sale or purchase of prescription drugs (unless the price reduction is otherwise required by law). The proposal is elegant and simply excludes from the definition of a “discount” price reductions or other remuneration paid from a drug manufacturer to sponsors and MA plans, Medicaid MCOs, and PBMs. If a price reduction is not a discount, it is not excepted or protected and can be subject to enforcement. No other health industry sector is apparently targeted for this administrative rule change.