A proposed exception to enforcement of HHS' anti-kickback laws would allow hospitals to give free cybersecurity software to local providers they work with frequently, as part of an effort to facilitate more coordinated patient care.
The exception is part of a long-awaited proposal HHS unveiled Wednesday, which suggests changes to Stark law kickback protections the agency said "unnecessarily limit" coordinated care.
The proposed changes would allow hospitals to share cybersecurity software with nearby providers, so that there are fewer "weak links" that could compromise a patient's data, according to HHS. Improving each physician's cybersecurity posture would help to prevent hackers from infiltrating an unsecured provider's computer and spreading an attack among providers they work and share data with.
The change would include allowing a hospital to donate free cybersecurity software to physicians who refer patients to the hospital.
It's a provision that healthcare stakeholders have been requesting for years.
An HHS cybersecurity task force in 2017 called for amendments to the Stark law that would allow healthcare organizations to help physicians implement cybersecurity software, arguing that since cybersecurity is so dependent on all players in an industry, even organizations that put strong policies and software in place are vulnerable due to connections with less-secure providers.
It wouldn't be the first time HHS has added a Stark law enforcement exception for technology.
The cybersecurity technology proposal is in many ways similar to an exception the CMS and HHS' Office of Inspector General carved out during the buildup of the meaningful use program, allowing hospitals to donate electronic health record products and services to physicians and still receive patient referrals.
The broader proposed changes, however, are part of the first major update to Stark law rules and enforcement since 1989, according to HHS.
The two proposed rules the CMS and the OIG released Wednesday are meant to protect value-based payments and coordinated care from Stark Law enforcement—changes the agencies say will root out fraud, without discouraging providers from engaging in practices that would facilitate better patient care.
"Our proposed rules would be an unprecedented opportunity for providers to work together to deliver the kind of high-value, coordinated care that patients deserve," HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.