As a physician you have a good working relationship with your colleagues in your community. It may seem inconsequential for you to refer a patient to another physician and for that physician to take you out to lunch in exchange for the referral. However, this seemingly benign situation could violate federal law.
The federal Anti-Kickback Statute
Under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) it is a crime for a physician providing services payable by a federal medical program to offer or accept money or other financial rewards in exchange for referrals.
If a physician violates this statute, it is considered criminal fraud. The physician could be fined $50,000 for each kickback along with three times the amount of money received or paid.
Safe harbor regulations
However, there is some protection for doctors in such situations referred to as a “safe harbor.” Federal regulations carve out situations in which a payment is not a kickback.
Specifically, physicians and suppliers are allowed to pay each other in exchange for referrals. However, these transactions cannot exceed the fair market value of the service or product offered.
Don’t run afoul of the AKS
It can sometimes be hard to understand what a kickback is and what it is not. The situation becomes even more confusing when you keep in mind that referrals in the private sector may be allowed under the right circumstances. If you are afraid that you may have violated anti-kickback laws you can seek qualified advice on how to avoid the harsh penalties you might now face.