Regulators: Provider gift cards to nursing home residents won't draw fines

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Frontline, ProPublica slam assisted living sector in documentary airing tonight
Frontline, ProPublica slam assisted living sector in documentary airing tonight
A healthcare system that proposes giving gift cards to residents and other customers it disappoints with poor service is on firm legal ground, federal regulators say.

The unnamed provider, which has a skilled nursing facility, three hospitals and more, would not face sanctions for prohibited payments to clients, according to an advisory opinion posted online by the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.

The provider had asked for a rules review to make sure it wouldn't be subject to civil monetary penalties under rules that prohibit inducements to Medicaid or Medicare beneficiaries, officials said. The OIG opinion acknowledged that the gift cards "could potentially generate prohibited remuneration under the anti-kickback statute" but added that it would not pursue sanctions.

The healthcare system has proposed giving $10 cinema or restaurant gift cards to individuals "whose service expectations were not met." Instances could include delayed meals, loss of personal items, excessive wait times, too much noise and numerous other scenarios. The provider would track the cards to make sure no individual receives more than $50 in gift cards during a year.

The full OIG opinion, which applies only to the provider that requested it, can be found at http://oig.hhs.gov/fraud/docs/advisoryopinions/2008/AdvOpn08-07.pdf.