QUESTION: What’s this I hear about the penalties for EMTALA violations being doubled? Haven’t we suffered enough?
ANSWER: I agree about the suffering, but sorry, that’s not going to affect the doubling of the EMTALA civil monetary penalties.
As difficult as EMTALA can be, until a few months ago, it had actually been years since the federal government issued a new EMTALA regulation, guideline or bulletin. But that’s not a complaint; EMTALA compliance is difficult enough with the existing rules, let alone any new ones.
So it’s interesting that the Office of Inspector General (the “OIG”) came out in December 2016 with some new regulations. The OIG revised its regulations concerning penalties, including civil monetary penalties (“CMPs”), that it can impose for EMTALA violations. These new rules were released in the OIG’s Final Rule concerning Medicare and State Health Care Programs; Fraud and Abuse; and Revisions to the OIG’s CMP Rules.
These new OIG regulations didn’t create new EMTALA responsibilities to be carried out. Instead, they simply addressed the OIG’s penalty rules. The most eye-popping of these concern the amount of the CMPs, now adjusted per inflation.
By the Act itself, which went into force in 1986, the OIG can fine hospitals with 100 beds or more and physicians up to $50,000 per EMTALA violation. Hospitals under 100 beds can be fined $25,000 per violation.
Noting that those figures have never been adjusted for inflation over the past 30-plus years, the OIG adjusted. Now, hospitals with 100 beds or more and physicians can be fined up to $103,139 per violation. Hospitals under 100 beds can be fined up to $51,570 per EMTALA violation.
The OIG did not revise the EMTALA-stated penalty amounts themselves; the EMTALA regulations still describe CMPs for $50,000 and $25,000. This is an inflation-adjusted increase detailed in another HHS-published document regarding CMPs. (A $50,000 penalty doesn’t get you as much in 2017 as it did back in 1986.)
The OIG has not suddenly become “penalty hungry” when it comes to hospitals, on-call physicians, and other EMTALA matters. The OIG suggested these clarifications in proposed regulations it issued back in May 2014. Both the Affordable Care Act and the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act enhanced the OIG’s authority to impose CMPs and to exclude individuals from participating in federal health care programs. This was the OIG taking advantage of those two statutes to clean up and clarify its EMTALA penalty rules.
As the new CMPs basically double the penalty amount, it’s also important to understand that the OIG’s CMPs apply to each EMTALA violation, and a hospital or a physician can violate EMTALA more than once in the care of a single patient. It’s not uncommon for an EMTALA wrongdoing to include multiple violations. With CMPs of now roughly $100,000 per EMTALA violation, a hospital can find itself with the potential for some pretty stiff fines.