The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has given approval for a Medicare provider to give away $20 grocery gift cards to induce senior citizens to get more taxpayer-funded health screenings and treatments.
According to WashingtonGuardian.com, HHS officials refused to identify the medical facility that is doing the grocery card promotion.
Under the plan, the Medicare provider would pay the cost of the grocery cards, so no tax dollars would be used for the cards.
“The goal of the gift card program was to incentivize patients to receive health screenings and other clinical services,” wrote the HHS inspector general. "...Although the Proposed Arrangement could potentially generate prohibited remuneration under the anti-kickback statute if the requisite intent to induce or reward referrals of Federal health care program business were present, the Office of Inspector General would not impose administrative sanctions."
The courts have ruled similar plans to be illegal in the past. A Walgreens pharmacy had to pay the government $7.9 million after a court ruled it was illegal to try to woo Medicare and Medicaid patients with "free gift cards, gift checks and other similar promotions that are prohibited by law, to transfer their prescriptions to Walgreens pharmacies.”
At the time, the HHS inspector came down against the free gifts: “This settlement makes clear that corporations seeking increased profits over their patients’ needs will pay a substantial price."
The legal concerns stem from the federal “anti-kickback statute,” which "makes it a criminal offense to knowingly and willfully offer, pay, solicit, or receive any remuneration to induce or reward referrals of items or services reimbursable by a Federal health care program."
But the anti-kickback statute also makes exceptions when the goal of the giveaways isn’t profit, but to promote general health, such as groceries. Certain rewards are allowed if they promote “access to care and poses a low risk of harm to patients and Federal health care programs.”