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Can health centers give patients gift cards?

The Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recently issued an Advisory Opinion with information about whether or not it is appropriate for healthcare centers to provide patients with gift cards. The opinion is in response to a request from a health center to provide patients who repeatedly missed pediatric well visits with a $20 gift card to a big box store as incentive to come to the appointment.

The facility argued that the benefit of educating pediatric patients and their parents about primary care while also increasing the odds that the parents would schedule another, future visit warranted the $20 incentive.

Why did the healthcare center ask the OIG’s advice on this matter?

Because financial incentives to Medicare and Medicaid recipient patients can be a violation of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS). These violations can result in fines and other penalties. These penalties can include criminal liability.

What did the OIG decide?

Ultimately, the agency stated the arrangement would be a violation of the AKS. One of the reasons for this finding was the fact that at least one gift card was to a “big box store.” As such, the agency stated the gift card qualified as a cash equivalent and could not qualify for an exception to the AKS.

However, the OIG further stated that it would not impose sanctions. The following reasons played a role in this determination:

  • The amount, $20, was “nominal.”
  • The healthcare center did not market the gift cards.

It is important to note that the OIG stated this opinion was only applicable to the specific entity and could not be relied on by others. However, it provides insight into how the agency makes determinations for these types of claims.