Adopting free EMRs without violating STARK laws

January 1, 2006

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) have proposed new rules that would relax regulations that prevent physicians who care for Medicare patients from getting free electronic medical record (EMR) technology from a health-care partner. Currently, if physicians accept such a gift, they risk violating federal Stark laws and anti-kickback statutes. To avoid the appearance of an improper financial relationship, physicians can pay fair market price for information technology products. This, however, is a major barrier to adopting an interoperable electronic health-care system—especially among individual physicians and small practices, according to American Medical News (10/24-31/05).

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) have proposed new rules that would relax regulations that prevent physicians who care for Medicare patients from getting free electronic medical record (EMR) technology from a health-care partner. Currently, if physicians accept such a gift, they risk violating federal Stark laws and anti-kickback statutes. To avoid the appearance of an improper financial relationship, physicians can pay fair market price for information technology products. This, however, is a major barrier to adopting an interoperable electronic health-care system-especially among individual physicians and small practices, according to American Medical News (10/24-31/05).

Under the proposed rules, physicians would be allowed to accept certain donations of hardware, software, Internet connectivity, and training and support services for systems for e-prescribing and EMRs. But they could not accept technology or services that are equivalent to products they already own. CMS and OIG are also considering placing a monetary cap on the size of any single donation to help ensure that inappropriate financial arrangements are avoided.

The agencies are reviewing recommendations during a 60-day comment period, after which they will promulgate final rules.