The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a decision of interest to physicians and teaching hospitals. It concerns the method of rotating teaching physicians between multiple surgeries and billing Medicare for those services.
The case involves so-called "qui tam" claims (essentially, a whistleblower case) against a teaching hospital, by which a successful claimant gets to keep a portion of the penalties recovered. Basically, the Medicare program pays teaching hospitals for work by residents that is supervised by teaching physicians. Here, however, a hospital was alleged to have made its teaching physicians simultaneously supervise multiple surgeries — and then submit fee-for-service bills to the Medicare program for certain unsupervised work.
After addressing legal issues concerning claimants’ right to sue when the facts were generally in the public domain by way of government reports (those reports were not specific to this hospital), the suit was allowed to continue for now.
Note to physicians: The Court emphasized that a teaching hospital does nothing wrong if the teaching physicians are "immediately available" during all parts of the surgeries even if making a circuit between multiple operating theaters. The breadth of that holding, and whether it would apply to other circumstances, is not clear. Nevertheless, hospitals who bill Medicare for activities supervised by teaching physicians, and the physicians themselves, must pay special attention to these activities to stay within the law.