This one's a real stinker

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Every once in a while you run into or hear about someone so transparently phony that all you can do is stare and wonder: Is this clown for real? That happened to me early last month.
On Nov. 8, the OIG posted an advisory opinion that addressed two questions posed by a DME company that furnishes home oxygen products and other medical equipment to "a national population that includes Medicare and Medicaid program beneficiaries." This provider wanted to know: 1. If its current practice of providing "free" interim oxygen to patients before they qualify for Medicare benefits is legal; and 2. If it would be OK to administer pulse oximetry tests for free to patients if it would help a doctor evaluate their condition?
Now that's gall. After all the charges of fraud and abuse and kickbacks that the industry has endured and tried to combat over the years, some anonymous DME wants to know if it's OK to give doctors and patients something for free. And this from a national provider--not some bumpkin who just entered the business--that should know better. (We won't even discuss the possible health/legal ramifications of providing a drug that's not medically necessary. As one industry watcher said: "What is this guy, some secret Santa giving out oxygen?")
Naturally, this provider made it clear that he in no way expects patient referrals from doctors for this "free" service. Nor does this company expect patients who received these "free" services to commit their future Medicare business to it. Of course not. This provider believes in freedom of choice and offers these free services with no ulterior motives in mind.
Yeah, right.
Of course, the OIG bought none it. It's all bad. BAD. BAD. BAD. A "thinly veiled scheme," the OIG wrote at one point.
"I wouldn't put it on my Einstein list," said healthcare attorney Neil Caesar. "I think that sometimes people think the government is stupid. But one thing the DMERCs, CMS and the OIG are not is stupid or naive."
Unfortunately, the same can't be said for this provider.
Oh, yeah. In posing its question to the OIG, this company dirtied the good names of thousands of other providers by calling the practice of supplying free interim oxygen "common practice throughout the home oxygen industry."
If that's the case, its news to Caesar and healthcare attorney Jeff Baird, who likes to say that if something doesn't pass the smell test, it's probably not legal. In this case, I can just imagine the OIG holding its nose with one hand and writing its analysis with the other. I know I did when I read it.