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Stark Law Violation Q&A: What People Want to Know

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Stark Law violations

The Physician Self-Referral Law, commonly referred to as the Stark Law, is a federal law passed in 1989 that prohibits healthcare providers from referring Medicare and Medicaid patients for “designated health services” to entities with which the provider has a financial relationship. This includes physician practice management companies, such as those that employ new physicians and offer administrative outsourcing. 

In essence, the Stark Law prevents stark law violations by prohibiting healthcare providers from receiving payments from referrals if there is an existing financial relationship.

The Stark Law can be complex to understand, but its purpose is simple: to prevent overutilization of designated health services and kickbacks associated with referrals among healthcare providers. The law applies to all Medicare and Medicaid providers, including hospitals, physician clinics, nursing homes, laboratories, and other medical facilities. It also applies to individual physicians who refer Medicare or Medicaid patients for designated health services.


Stark Law Violations: Answering 9 FAQs

Due to the complexity of the law and the various scenarios that can include safe harbor stipulations, understanding the violations can be a challenge. Here are nine frequently asked questions related to Stark Law violations: 

1. What are the consequences of violating the Stark Law?

Violating the Stark Law generally carries serious consequences. Depending on the nature of the violation, sanctions may include civil and administrative penalties, revocation of Medicare or Medicaid licensure, exclusion from participation in Medicare or Medicaid programs, and criminal charges. 

2. How can I determine if a transaction or arrangement violates the Stark Law?

Five basic elements, if they are present at the same time, will show a transaction violates the Stark Law: 

  •  a physician must make 
  •  a referral for the furnishing of 
  •  designated health services payable by Medicare 
  •  to an entity 
  •  with which he/she (or an immediate family member) has a financial relationship.


3. What are the financial penalties for Stark Law violations?

Civil penalties range from $15,000 per claim up to $100,000 per claim with an additional assessment of up to three times the amount of damages sustained by the federal government. The False Claims Act can also be used to assess treble damages plus fines from $5,500 to $11,000 for each false claim submitted.

4. What are some common examples of Stark Law violations?

Since the Stark Law took effect, there have been sufficient violations to determine a pattern of the more common scenarios: 

  • Self-referral: This occurs when a physician refers patients to a healthcare entity in which they have a financial interest, such as a lab, imaging center, or pharmacy. Unless an exception applies, this type of self-referral is prohibited under the Stark Law.
  • Improper financial relationships: Stark Law prohibits physicians from entering into financial relationships with healthcare entities to which they refer patients unless specific exceptions or safe harbors apply. For example, if a physician receives kickbacks or referral fees in exchange for patient referrals, it would be a Stark Law violation.
  • Inappropriate compensation arrangements: The Stark Law restricts the types and amounts of compensation that physicians can receive for services they provide. For instance, if a physician is paid more than fair market value for their services, it could be considered a violation.
  • Indirect compensation arrangements: Stark Law also covers indirect compensation arrangements, where a physician receives compensation from an entity other than the one to which they refer patients. If the compensation is tied to patient referrals, it may be a violation.
  • Non-compliance with documentation requirements: The Stark Law has specific documentation requirements, such as written agreements, that must be met to ensure compliance. Failing to properly document and retain records related to financial relationships and referrals can lead to Stark Law violations.

Looking for Specific examples? Take a look at our blog: Stark Law Violations | 9 Expensive Examples


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5. Are there any exceptions or safe harbors to the Stark Law?

Yes, the Stark Law does provide a number of exceptions referred to as "safe harbors". These are situations in which financial relationships between healthcare providers and entities to which they refer patients may exist.

A safe harbor can be established if payments made by the referring entity are:Stark Law violations - compliance

  • Set in advance
  • Consistent with fair market value
  • Not based on the volume or value of referrals or other business generated 

Safe harbors also exist for certain leases and recruitment arrangements. Compliance with these specific requirements will avoid any potential violations of the Stark Law.

For more information on Stark Law and ensuring compliance, consider this resource: 

Stark Law Examples: Protection Details and Application


6. Can individuals be held personally liable for Stark Law violations?

Yes, individuals can be held personally liable for Stark Law violations. The law applies to people as well as organizations and entities, including those that are self-employed. Individuals can be held liable for submitting false claims or making prohibited referrals within the scope of the law and may be subject to civil penalties, fines, and other legal consequences.

In addition to any financial liability they may incur, individuals may also face reputational damage due to their involvement in a Stark Law violation. For this reason, it is important for all healthcare providers to understand the requirements of the law and how they apply to any arrangements with parties outside of their organization.

7. What is the process for reporting Stark Law violations?

There are several complex steps involved when you have discovered a Stark Law violation and plan to report it to the appropriate authorities:

  • Gather information: Collect all relevant information and evidence regarding the suspected Stark Law violation, such as documentation, correspondence, and witness statements.
  • Contact legal counsel: Consult with legal counsel experienced in healthcare law to understand the specific requirements and implications of reporting a Stark Law violation.
  • Follow internal reporting processes: If you are an employee or affiliated with the healthcare organization involved in the violation, follow your organization's internal reporting procedures. This may involve notifying a designated compliance officer or department within the organization.
      • Consider anonymous reporting: If you wish to remain anonymous, consider utilizing a reporting hotline or anonymous reporting system provided by your organization or an external agency. This allows you to report the violation without revealing your identity.
      • External reporting: If internal reporting does not yield satisfactory results or if you are not affiliated with the organization involved, you may need to report the Stark Law violation to external entities. This can include government agencies such as the Office of Inspector General (OIG) or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
  • Provide detailed information: When reporting the violation, provide as much detailed and accurate information as possible. Include relevant facts, dates, individuals involved, and any supporting documentation that can help substantiate the claim.
  • Maintain confidentiality: If you reveal your identity during the reporting process, ensure that the agency or organization maintains confidentiality to the extent permitted by law. This can help protect you from potential retaliation.
  • Cooperate with investigations: If an investigation is initiated based on your report, be prepared to cooperate fully with the investigating agency or organization. This may involve providing additional information, participating in interviews, or testifying if required.


8. What steps can healthcare organizations take to ensure compliance with the Stark Law?

Healthcare organizations must remain compliant with the Stark Law in order to protect their patients and avoid potential legal penalties. As such, there are a number of steps that healthcare organizations should take to ensure compliance:

  1. Conduct regular compliance assessments: Implement a comprehensive compliance program that includes periodic assessments to identify and address any potential Stark Law violations. This can involve conducting internal audits, reviewing financial relationships, and evaluating referral patterns within the organization.
  2. Educate and train staff: Provide ongoing education and training to physicians, staff, and relevant personnel about the Stark Law, its requirements, and the potential consequences of non-compliance. This training should cover topics such as prohibited referrals, financial relationships, documentation requirements, and exceptions or safe harbors.
  3. Establish robust policies and procedures: Develop and implement clear and effective policies and procedures that address Stark Law compliance. These policies should cover areas such as:
    • Self-referral
    • Compensation arrangements
    • Documentation
    • Reporting mechanisms for potential violations. 

Regularly review and update these policies to reflect changes in the law and industry best practices.

    1. Seek legal guidance: Engage legal counsel experienced in healthcare law to review and provide guidance on financial relationships, contracts, and arrangements involving physicians. They can help ensure that the organization's practices align with Stark Law requirements and can provide advice on structuring compliant arrangements.
    2. Monitor and audit practices: Implement a monitoring and auditing system to regularly review financial relationships, referral patterns, and documentation within the organization. This can help identify any potential violations or areas of non-compliance. Promptly address any identified issues and take corrective action as necessary.
    3. Maintain accurate and thorough documentation: Ensure that all financial relationships, compensation arrangements, and referrals are properly documented and maintained. This includes written agreements, contracts, and other relevant documentation. Accurate and comprehensive documentation is crucial in demonstrating compliance and justifying exceptions or safe harbor protections.
    4. Stay updated with changes in the law: Stay informed about any updates, changes, or new regulations related to the Stark Law. This can be achieved through regular communication with legal counsel, industry publications, participation in conferences or webinars, and monitoring updates from regulatory agencies.

By following these steps, medical organizations can enhance their compliance efforts and reduce the risk of Stark Law violations. However, it is important to note that legal advice should always be sought to address the specific circumstances and complexities of each organization's compliance requirements.

9. What is the intent requirement for a Stark Law violation?

The Stark Law is a strict liability statute, meaning that a violation can occur even without any criminal intent. This means that medical organizations must be aware of the requirements regardless of the intentions of their employees or contractors. The intent requirement comes into play when interpreting specific regulations and penalizing violations – if an organization has not taken sufficient steps to address potential violations, they may still face significant penalties.

Organizations must have adequate policies and procedures in place to ensure compliance with the Stark Law. Regular review and training should also be conducted to ensure that all personnel understand the organization’s expectations and obligations with respect to Stark Law compliance. Organizations should keep detailed records of their compliance efforts in order to demonstrate that steps were taken to avoid violating the law, even if it was not possible to prevent all violations from occurring.

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