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OIG officials say they've been flooded with requests for advisory opinions on whether hospitals can restock ambulance supplies without violating the anti-kickback statute.
And another opinion on the subject — the fourth in less than two years — suggests that hospitals contemplating freebies should take care to get the ambulance companies and local agencies involved in the decision-making.
The facts of opinion 98-14 are broadly similar to earlier cases. A group of hospitals restocks drugs used by ambulance squads, and it's planning to do the same with ambulance supplies. OIG says restocking drugs won't be a problem as long as the intent is not to attract referrals to particular hospitals. But the agency appears less comfortable with free supplies.
The difference: The drugs are given under the auspices of a council that includes hospitals, EMS squads, consumers and local officials. That reassures OIG that the program will genuinely improve the quality of EMS care "for the benefit of the entire community."
Not so the plan to distribute ambulance supplies, which will be done through a group composed solely of hospitals. This provides less assurance that the drugs won't be given "solely for the benefit of a single provider or a group of providers," notes the opinion.