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Docs-to-Hospital Shuttle Service OK, Says OIG

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, March 25, 2011

Federal inspectors said they see nothing illegal about a free local transportation arrangement that would shuttle patients from physicians' offices to an adjacent hospital.

The nonprofit hospital, whose name was redacted in the opinion, had asked the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services if the complimentary shuttle service the hospital wants to offer would violate anti-kickback statutes and other federal laws against self-referrals.

The hospital wants to make available a free wheelchair-accessible van, driven by a licensed EMT employed by the hospital, for patients and their families. The van would transport patients needing evaluation and treatment at the hospital and who are unable to transport themselves from the 41 physicians' offices located on or adjacent to the hospital's 108-acre campus,

The hospital said the shuttle is needed because its campus has limited parking far from public entrances; walkways are difficult for feeble, elderly patients to navigate; and there are limited public transportation services.

OIG said that the shuttle service would not violate anti-kickback or self-referral statutes if:

  • The arrangement would not selectively limit eligibility to targeted populations of federal healthcare program beneficiaries. Patient eligibility would be uniformly determined by the physicians in accordance with the hospital's written policy.
  • The shuttle service would be reasonable in cost and not include expensive transportation such as limousines.
  • The arrangement would only be offered locally from the physicians' offices located on or contiguous to the hospital, at a distance of no more than a one-quarter mile.
  • The service would not be advertised.
  • The hospital certified that the availability of local public transportation and parking is limited.
  • The cost of the transportation would not be included on any federal healthcare program cost reports or claims, nor shifted to any federal healthcare program.

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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