For over a decade, PCS has been warning optometrists regarding the potential inducement to refer violations surrounding free CE provided to optometrists by ophthalmology groups. The Anti-Kickback Statute has always been very clear on this issue, stating that inducement would be liberally interpreted. Based on a request from ophthalmology, the Office of the Inspector General, our Federal police, has now issued guidance on this issue, guidance that supports PCS’s recommendation that has been in place for years (General Advisory Opinion 22-14).
The following are the key points of the OIG opinion.
- Optometrists attending ophthalmology-sponsored CE events should be charged a Fair Market Value fee to attend such events.
- NOTE: While not covered in the OIG opinion, the Anti-Kickback Statute clearly states that “anything of value” can be considered an inducement. This can include free meals, drinks, allowing staff or spouses to attend free and other actions.
- The opinion clearly states that funding of the event entirely by the ophthalmology group with or without the sponsorship of an industry partner could be considered inducement.
- While most inducement cases place the burden of blame on the inducer (ophthalmology group), the Anti-Kickback Statute is also clear that they may consider the induced optometrist equally guilty, even without knowing they were induced or did not take action (refer) based on the free event.
- Penalties for inducement under the Anti-Kickback Statute are severe with potential civil (fines) or criminal (felony) charges.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
The OIG has clearly stated they may/will seek sanctions for violation of this rule. Optometrists are encouraged to not attend CE provided by ophthalmologists or ophthalmology groups unless a Fair Market Fee is charged. Also be very cautious about free meals and drinks provided at CE events provided by ophthalmologists or ophthalmology groups.