Articles Posted in Health Care Fraud

When whistleblower attorneys bring a qui tam False Claims Act case, the most successful results usually occur when Government counsel and the whistleblower’s lawyers (Relator’s counsel) work together in what is known as the “public-private” partnership model.

This approach to qui tam cases allows the government to leverage its limited resources by calling on the resources provided by private attorneys. This is essentially a “joint prosecution effort, ” in which the government counsel and investigators can rely on Relator’s counsel at each stage,

–from the beginning of its investigation,

–to obtaining input for preparation of subpoenas for documentary evidence from the defendants,

–to review of evidence compiled by the government in response to subpoenas,

–to evaluation of the responses and explanations that defendants provide,

–to providing analyses and summaries of evidence rebutting the defendants’ factual arguments,

–to performing research that ultimately will be used by the government to rebut the defendants’ legal arguments,

–to performing damages calculations and marshaling arguments in support,

–to consulting with the government on negotiation strategies and steps to be taken to resolve the matter,

–and, finally, to try the case, or otherwise resolve the case.

The taxpaying members of the public are the beneficiaries of this joint effort, which allows the government both to stop and recover damages for fraud, as well as to make those who steal from taxpayers think twice.
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The health care industry is adjusting to major changes to the nation’s major “whistleblower” law, the False Claims Act.

Both in 2009 and 2010, Congress has removed obstacles to whistleblowers’ use of this anti-fraud statute to address Medicare and Medicaid fraud, as well as fraud affecting every other federal program. As we have written about previously, the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 (“FERA”) overruled key judicial decisions that had undermined the the False Claims Act’s effectiveness.

This year, the landmark health care bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”), limited the FCA’s “public disclosure” bar, including by allowing the government to prevent dismissal of cases that it believes should proceed.

The major new “health care” law that the President signed this week, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111-148), includes increased efforts to combat health care fraud and abuse, especially fraud in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

It was significant that, on the very same day that this law took effect, an outstanding group of government prosecutors and investigators brought to an efficient conclusion a $12 million recovery of funds in a qui tam whistleblower case alleging health care fraud in violation of the False Claims Act. The case was brought by our firm, Finch McCranie, LLP, the Simpson Firm, LLC, and James G. Gustino, P.A..

The next day, after a meeting in Washington with the Department of Justice on another False Claims Act case, I sat in on the Senate debate of amendments to the new health care law. Whatever differing views may exist about many of the new law’s provisions, all taxpayers agree that stopping fraud in health care is an essential step to preserving scarce health care dollars.

We are proud to have been able to work with an excellent government team of lawyers and investigators in helping recover this $12 million for the American taxpayers. They are Renee Brooker and Eva Gunasekera of the Department of Justice, Ralph Hopkins of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, and Special Agent Robert Murphy of HHS-OIG.

A description of the case is below:

Melbourne Internal Medicine Associates (MIMA) of Brevard County, Florida, will pay $12 million to resolve a whistleblower lawsuit alleging hidden schemes to defraud Medicare and other federal programs in connection with radiation cancer treatment. This whistleblower case was successfully pursued by Finch McCranie, LLP and Simpson Law Firm, LLC, both of Atlanta.

After investigating the whistleblower’s claims, the U.S. Department of Justice joined the lawsuit and filed its own complaint alleging a sustained fraudulent course of conduct by the MIMA Cancer Center and its former Medical Director, Todd Scarbrough, MD. The government’s complaint contended that MIMA submitted millions of dollars of claims for radiation oncology services that were provided without required physician supervision, were never provided at all or were otherwise improper, and sought to hide the fraud through “sham” practices. The complaint also alleged that executives at MIMA were aware of a substantial number of the fraudulent billing practices.

“Health care fraud is incompatible with patient safety,” said Michael A. Sullivan, attorney with Finch McCranie, LLP, and author of the leading whistleblower blog https://www.whistleblowerlawyerblog.com. “These doctors were paid for personally supervising radiation treatments for cancer patients, but did not provide the supervision that they gave the appearance of providing. How would patients feel to learn that their doctor’s ‘supervision’ of a potentially dangerous radiation treatment was to set up an ‘autoreply’ to emailed images of the patients, which the doctor would not review at all, or would review too late to make adjustments before patients are irradiated? With growing concerns over how cancer patients can be overexposed to radiation even when physicians are supervising the procedures, how much harm can be caused when physicians fail to provide the personal supervision that they are paid to provide?”
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Among the many 2009 changes to strengthen the False Claims Act is one whose impact is about to be experienced: greater use of “civil investigative demands” to gather evidence.

Civil investigative demands allow to government to require any person believed to have documents or information relevant to a False Claims Act investigation to do the following:

(A) to produce such documentary material for inspection and copying,

The Justice Department has just announced that, to protect patients from harm in seven Georgia psychiatric hospitals, its Civil Rights Division has filed for relief including immediate appointment of a monitor to protect those patients.

DOJ cited the threat to patients of “imminent and serious threat of harm to their lives, health and safety.”

The seven hospitals include East Central Regional Hospital, Georgia Regional Hospital at Savannah, Georgia Regional Hospital at Atlanta, Southwestern State Hospital, Central State Hospital, West Central Georgia Regional Hospital, and Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital.

The announcement is repinted below:
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Attorneys from across the country will gather tomorrow in Atlanta to discuss health care fraud and the 2009 amendments to the False Claims Act, the nation’s primary whistleblower statute.

I am pleased to be on the panel discussing “False Claims Act Developments,” moderated by Jack Boese of Fried Frank. This will be a particularly interesting year for this annual meeting, as Congress enacted major changes to the False Claims Act that took effect on May 20, 2009.

In addition, the “Health Care Fraud Enforcement Act” pending in the Senate would enhance further the government’s tools used to investigate and remedy Medicare and Medicaid fraud. This bill would remove any question that all payments made pursuant to illegal kickbacks are “false” for purposes of the False Claims Act.

Among the significant 2009 changes to the False Claims Act made by the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act are the following:

1. The amendments expanded the definition of “claim,” and fraud directed against government contractors, grantees, and other recipients is now plainly covered by the False Claims Act.

2. Funds administered by the United States government (e.g., in Iraq) are now protected.

3. Retaining overpayments of money from the government is now a stated basis of liability, which is a source of concern for health care providers, among others.

4. Liability for “conspiracy” to violate the Act is now broader.

5. Protection of whistleblowers and others against “retaliation” now extends not only to “employees,” but also to “contractors” and “agents”; and persons other than “employers” potentially may be liable for retaliation.

6. In investigations, the government now has authority to use “Civil Investigative Demands” more broadly, and to share information more with state and local authorities and with whistleblowers/relators.

7. A standard definition of what is “material” now applies in False Claims Act cases.

8. The statute of limitations has been clarified for when the government asserts its own claims, after the whistleblower (or “relator”) has filed a qui tam case under the False Claims Act.

The full agenda for tomorrow’s “SOUTHEASTERN HEALTH CARE FRAUD INSTITUTE” is below:
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The battle against those who steal taxpayer dollars through Medicare fraud and other health care fraud took a step forward this week. The Senate is now considering the “Health Care Fraud Enforcement Act,” which will enhance the government’s tools used to investigate and remedy Medicare and Medicaid fraud.

After a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday on “Effective Strategies for Preventing Health Care Fraud,” Senators Leahy, Kaufman, Specter, Kohl, Schumer, and Klobuchar sponsored the new anti-fraud measure.

Excerpts of the Senate announcement follow:

The bill makes straightforward but critical improvements to the federal sentencing guidelines, to health care fraud statutes, and to forfeiture, money laundering, and obstruction statutes, all of which would strengthen prosecutors’ ability to combat this particularly destructive form of fraud. These improvements include:

o Sentencing increases: The bill directs the Sentencing Commission to increase the guidelines range for health care fraud offenses and clarifies that the full potential scope of the fraud should be considered at sentencing.

o Redefining “health care fraud offense”: The bill includes all health care crimes within the definition of “health care fraud offense,” regardless of where they are codified. (ERISA, drug marketing, and kickback crimes are currently not included) This change will make available to law enforcement the full range of antifraud tools, including criminal forfeiture and obstruction penalties, to combat these offenses.

o Improving whistleblower claims: Kickbacks lead to unnecessary and risky medical care and pervert the doctor-patient relationship. This bill clarifies that all payments made pursuant to illegal kickbacks are false for purposes of the False Claims Act.

o Creating a common-sense mental state requirement for health care fraud offenses: Some courts have held that defendants must be aware that their conduct violates a specific provision of criminal law in order to be held accountable. This bill restores the original intent of Congress that a person is guilty of a health care offense if he knowingly does what the law forbids.

o Increasing funding: Money spent on health care fraud prevention and enforcement is returned manifold through costs savings and civil and criminal recoveries. This bill authorizes a modest, yet significant, increase in federal antifraud spending of $20,000,000 per year through 2016.

The new bill would add to legislation earlier this year to strengthen law enforcement statutes aimed at fraud, the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act.

Of particular importance to qui tam whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act, the nation’s major whistleblower law, the new bill removes any ambiguity that “kickbacks” violate the False Claims Act. The official summary discusses kickbacks in section 2(c):

Section 2(c). Kickbacks
All too often, health care providers secure business by paying illegal kickbacks, which needlessly increase health care risks and costs. When a doctor’s independent judgment is compromised by a kickback, the patient faces the risk that the doctor is making decisions that are not in the patient’s best interest. In addition, excessive payments to doctors increase health care costs, may result in unfair competition, and may compromise medical research independence and the standards of scientific integrity.

The Department of Justice has had success both prosecuting illegal kickbacks and pursuing False Claims Act (FCA) matters predicated on underlying violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS). Nevertheless, defendants in such FCA cases continue to mount legal challenges. A court recently held that, even though a device company may have paid a kickback to a doctor to use a particular medical device, the bill for the procedure to implant the device was not false because the claim was submitted by the innocent hospital, and not by the doctor. United States ex rel. Thomas v. Bailey, 2008 WL 4853630 (E.D. Ark.) (Nov. 6, 2008). In other words, a claim that results from a kickback and that is false when submitted by a wrongdoer is laundered into a “clean” claim when an innocent third party finally submits the claim to the government for payment. This has the effect of insulating both the payor and the recipient of the kickback from FCA liability. This obstacle to a successful FCA action particularly limits Department’s ability to recover from pharmaceutical and device manufacturers, because in such instances the claims arising from the illegal kickbacks typically are not submitted by the physicians that received the kickbacks, but by pharmacies and hospitals that had no knowledge of the underlying unlawful conduct.

This section remedies the problem by amending the AKS to ensure that all claims resulting from illegal kickbacks are false, even when the claims are not submitted directly by the wrongdoers themselves. (Notably, in such circumstances, neither AKS nor FCA liability will lie against an innocent third party that submitted the claim but lacked the requisite intent required under those statutes.)

The full text of the bill is below:
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With the nation’s health care costs growing, a DOJ and HHS initiative to combat health care fraud continues to show progress.

Building on past enforcement efforts, in May 2009 the government announced its Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), as part of what is now a Cabinet-level battle against Medicare fraud. To date in FY 2009, the Department of Justice has recovered close to one billion dollars in health care fraud cases, and has obtained 300 convictions.

Last week, the government announced that its Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged twenty California defendants with $26 million in Medicare fraud from the sale of durable medical equipment (DME). That same week, the government charged six Houston area residents with participating in a scheme to submit claims to Medicare for medically unnecessary DME.

Defrauding the government of taxpayer dollars has gotten tougher over the past five months.

Important changes to the nation’s primary anti-fraud statute, the False Claims Act, took effect on May 20, 2009, when the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 became law.

Among the most significant changes, Congress clarified and corrected the False Claims Act by legislatively overruling certain court decisions that sought to limit the scope of the Act, including Allison Engine Co. v. United States ex rel. Sanders, 128 S. Ct. 2123 (2008); United States ex rel. Totten v. Bombardier Corp., 380 F.3d 488 (D.C. Cir. 2004), cert. denied, 544 U.S. 1032 (2005); and United States ex rel. DRC, Inc. v. Custer Battles, LLC, 376 F. Supp. 2d 617 (E.D. Va. 2005), rev’d, 562 F.3d 295 (4th Cir. 2009).

These important 2009 changes to the False Claims Act include the following:

1. The amendments expand the definition of “claim,” and fraud directed against government contractors, grantees and other recipients is now plainly covered by the law.

2. Funds administered by the United States government (such as in Iraq) are now protected.

3. Retaining overpayments of money from the government is now an explicit basis of liability, which will be a source of concern for health care providers, among others.

4. Liability for “conspiracy” to violate the Act is broader than before.

5. Protection of whistleblowers and others against “retaliation” now extends not only to “employees,” but also to “contractors” and “agents”; and persons other than “employers” potentially may be liable for retaliation.

6. In investigating, the government now has authority to use “Civil Investigative Demands” more broadly, and to share information more with state and local authorities and with whistleblowers/relators.

7. A standard definition of what is “material” now applies in False Claims Act cases.

8. The statute of limitations has been clarified to allow the government to assert its own claims, after the whistleblower (or “relator”) has filed a qui tam case under the False Claims Act.

Click here for a detailed discussion of the False Claims Act and the wave of new State False Claims Acts.

The amended False Claims Act is reprinted below, in its entirety:
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At the “Advanced Health Law” seminar on October 9, attorneys prosecuting and defending cases of alleged health care fraud will discuss the important new amendments to the False Claims Act. I am honored to be the panelist who will discuss these important new provisions from the perspective of representing whistleblowers (known as “relators”) who bring qui tam whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act.

These significant changes to the False Claims Act took effect on May 20, 2009, when the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 became law. Among the most important changes, Congress corrected and clarified the False Claims Act by legislatively overruling certain court decisions that sought to limit the scope of the Act, including Allison Engine Co. v. United States ex rel. Sanders, 128 S. Ct. 2123 (2008); United States ex rel. Totten v. Bombardier Corp., 380 F.3d 488 (D.C. Cir. 2004), cert. denied, 544 U.S. 1032 (2005); and United States ex rel. DRC, Inc. v. Custer Battles, LLC, 376 F. Supp. 2d 617 (E.D. Va. 2005), rev’d, 562 F.3d 295 (4th Cir. 2009).

The False Claims Act, as amended, now has these provisions: