Spurred in large part by the changing landscape of medicine, more and more medical professionals are seeking to become a part of something bigger. Often, they are under the misassumption that they can set up and run their practice like any other business – until New York State’s strong prohibition of the corporate practice of medicine comes knocking on their door.

 

According to a 1998 report from a meeting of the New York State Board of Regents, “[p]rofessional services can be offered only by a licensed person or an organization otherwise authorized by law.” Under New York State law, this means that professional services can only be offered within a professional service corporation (“PC”) or a professional limited liability company (“PLLC”). Article 15 of the New York Business Corporation Law permits the formation of a professional service corporation only if all shareholders (1) are licensees of one profession (Section 1503) and (2) practice only such profession (Section 1506). The prohibition of the corporate practice of medicine extends beyond medical doctors to include an array of licensed professionals, such as dentists, dental hygienists, optometrists, chiropractors, podiatrists, pharmacy, nursing, ophthalmic dispensing, speech-language pathology, audiology, respiratory therapy (and technology), occupational therapists (and assistants) and physical therapists (and assistants).

One area that is a common pitfall for professionals is the sharing of profits or “fee-splitting.” The prohibition of the corporate practice of medicine, codified in 8 CRR-NY 29.1, prevents professionals from directly or indirectly sharing profits or splitting fees with non-licensed professionals.   Most often this comes up in an arrangement where the PC or PLLC employs a management services organization to run its company in exchange for a percentage of revenue.[1] Such an arrangement runs afoul of the prohibition and, in order to comply, all services that the PC or PLLC receives should be paid at fair market value.

 

A violation of the prohibition on the corporate practice of medicine can result in prosecution, fines and penalties. As articulated by Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General of the State of New York, in In the Matter of Aspen Dental Management, Inc. (Assurance No: 15-103), the theory underlying the prohibition is that “medical and dental decisions should be made by licensed providers using their best clinical judgment, and should not be influenced by management companies’ shared interest in potential profits.” In Aspen Dental, the management organization – which was not a professional organization – was required to restructure so that it no longer received percentage of gross profit, no longer employed clinical staff, and no longer had discretion over how the individual offices were run. Moreover, Aspen Dental was required to pay a $450,000 civil penalty and pay an independent monitor to oversee the implementation of the settlement for three years.

 

 

It remains to be seen what, if any, changes are made to the prohibition on the corporate practice of medicine in New York as the world shifts to value based reimbursement; however, for the time being professionals should remain cautious, not only when structuring their corporate entities but also when engaging with outside service providers.

 

[1] Note also that for some providers, fee splitting may result in STARK and anti-kickback violations, among others.