Tax Fraud & Tax Evasion Among Medicaid Providers: New IRS Whistleblower Program Fills Gap in False Claims Act for Whistleblowers and Their Attorneys

Two important topics of this whistleblower lawyer blog are addressed in a recent Government Accounting Office (GAO) Report on tax cheating by Medicaid providers. The Report shows the wisdom of the new IRS Whistleblower Program, which fills a “gap” in the coverage of the major whistleblower statute, the False Claims Act.

GAO reports that thousands of Medicaid providers collect large amounts of federal dollars each year, while cheating the government by failing to pay taxes owed–usually payroll taxes and personal income taxes. In testimony before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, GAO’s Gregory D. Kutz, described these abuses.

These tax abuses reportedly included:

• The owner of a chain of nursing homes, who owed more than $14 million in taxes, while having a $2 million home with crystal chandeliers, porcelain china, and Oriental rugs.

• The owners of a hospital, who owed $5 million in payroll taxes, but who bought a vacation home worth $1 million.

• A medical-clinic owner, who owed more than $1 million to the IRS, had a $4 million house, luxury vehicles, and a pleasure boat.

According to the Report, “[r]ather than fulfill their role as ‘trustees’ of federal payroll tax funds and forward them to IRS, these providers diverted the money for other purposes. Willful failure to remit payroll taxes is a felony under U.S. law. Individuals associated with some of these providers diverted the payroll tax money for their own benefit or to help fund their businesses. Many of these individuals accumulated substantial assets, including million-dollar houses and luxury vehicles, while failing to pay their federal taxes. In addition, some case studies involved businesses that were sanctioned for substandard care of their patients. Despite their abusive and related criminal activity, these 25 providers received Medicaid payments ranging from about $100,000 to about $39 million in fiscal year 2006.” (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08239t.pdf, at 2).

The new IRS Whistleblower Program may provide a means to stop this abuse. Authorized by Congress in December 2006 (with the new regulations due to be issued by December 20, 2007), the new IRS Whistleblower Program established an enforceable right for “whistleblowers” or informants to receive 15-30% of money recovered by the IRS, including interest and penalties.

The federal False Claims Act, which was invigorated in 1986 with provisions that have made it the government’s “primary” weapon against fraud, allows rewards for whistleblowers who report Medicare fraud, Medicaid fraud, and most other types of fraud and false claims against the federal government. The False Claims Act expressly does not apply to IRS obligations, however. Thus, the new IRS Whistleblower Program allows whistleblowers to help stop tax fraud and evasion by Medicaid providers, and to receive a share of the recovery.

Our whistleblower attorneys will continue to work both with the IRS and with the Department of Justice in representing whistleblowers who bring such fraud to light.