The federal government is wary of physicians giving patients free gifts or services, concerned that they may directly or indirectly be trying to steer Medicare and Medicaid patients toward specific providers or products. For this reason, the regulations on “inducements” are wide-ranging with stiff penalties. However, there are a few exceptions, including one that allows physicians to provide free local transportation to patients under certain circumstances.
The exception defines “local” as transporting patients within 25 miles of the physician in an urban area and within 50 miles in a rural area. The transportation may be provided only to patients who are considered established to both the entity offering the transportation as well as the provider, and the patient must be seeking medically necessary services. You may not advertise the transportation service, although the vehicle may display signs that show who is providing the service.
You will need to create a transportation policy that details the criteria for how and when transportation is provided and uniformly apply the policy. If your transportation service is need-based, your policy should specify how that need is determined.
You can use a third-party transportation service, but you cannot pay on a per-patient basis. If a patient wants to use public transportation, such as a taxi or city bus, you can offer the patient a voucher or reimburse the expense based on a receipt. You can offer to transport patients to other physicians you refer them to, but you cannot limit transportation service to just one physician.
Shuttle services that run on set routes and set schedules can be offered to both new and established patients as well as visitors and employees. The service may not be marketed or advertised, and the 25- and 50-mile boundaries apply.
Read the full FPM article: “Patient Inducements: The New Dos and Don'ts."
Sign up to receive FPM's free, weekly e-newsletter, "Quick Tips & Insights," featuring practical, peer-reviewed advice for improving practice, enhancing the patient experience, and developing a rewarding career.