Articles Posted in Health Care Fraud

Each December, some of the nation’s top health care lawyers gather to discuss developments in prosecuting and defending health care fraud cases at the Health Care Fraud Institute in Atlanta. Because the qui tam law–the False Claims Act– is the government’s primary civil tool to combat fraud and false claims, the False Claims Act developments are a highlight of the discussion.

This year, I was honored again to be invited to participate as part of the False Claims Act panel with Rick Shackelford, an accomplished defense lawyer at King & Spalding, LLP; Marlan Wilbanks, my colleague; and our excellent moderator, Jim Breen.

One of the major developments we focused on was the increasing number of cases in which the Justice Department relies on private attorneys representing whistleblowers (“relators”) to litigate cases, since the government has limited resources.

Each Fall, the Justice Department tallies its recoveries of taxpayer dollars that have been pilfered through fraud directed at federal programs. A year ago, DOJ proudly announced $3 billion in recoveries in False Claims Act cases, and a record $8.7 billion recovered in the three years starting in 2009.

Late this year, DOJ will announce that its fraud recoveries tripled from $3 million in FY 2011 to more than $9 million in FY 2012. This trend of increasingly large recoveries of stolen taxpayer funds proves once again the effectiveness of laws like the False Claims Act, which incentivize whistleblowers to expose fraud through its qui tam provisions.

Although health care cases account for the vast majority of FCA recoveries, growing areas include banking, mortgage, and pension fraud cases involving fraudulently obtained taxpayer dollars, as my colleagues at Taxpayers Against Fraud point out. States are also using their own false claims laws to recover stolen taxpayer funds.

In qui tam cases, private citizen whistleblowers (known as “relators”) file suit on the government’s behalf to expose fraud against taxpayer funds. The whistleblowers can receive 15-25% of the government’s recovery of stolen funds if the government prosecutes the case, and 25-30% if the government leaves it to the whistleblower to pursue the recovery.

Consider the history of False Claims Act recoveries that have totalled more than $39 billion since 1986, when Congress authorized meaningful rewards to whistleblowers:
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Last week the government’s criminal trial of former GlaxoSmithKline vice president and associate general counsel Lauren Stevens ended abruptly, as the judge found no basis to allow the case to go to a jury. Prosecutors had charged that she obstructed justice and made false statements to cover up the company’s improper marketing of the antidepressant drug Wellbutrin SR.

While she dodged a bullet, the case jolted lawyers handling health care fraud investigations, which are more typically civil cases under the False Claims Act.

Yet also last week, prosecutors succeeded in convicting Raj Rajaratnam for insider trading. Wall Street’s hedge fund industry took note of the government’s use of investigative tools such as recorded phone calls.

Of interest to whistleblowers reporting fraud under the False Claims Act, the IRS Whistleblower Program, or the brand new SEC Whistleblower and CFTC Whistleblower Programs is an upcoming presentation, “Avoiding the Mistakes of the UBS/Birkenfeld Case: Protecting Whistleblowers from Criminal and Civil Liability.”

This discussion is part of a fascinating gathering this April in South Beach–the OffshoreAlert Conference. As the brochure promises:

Where else could tax collectors mingle with tax minimizers, asset tracers with asset protectors, regulators with the regulated, whistleblowers with their former employers and crooks with prosecutors?

How to protect whistleblowers from criminal and civil liability was a topic my panel discussed at the 2010 IRS Whistleblower Boot Camp in Washington. Because we had the IRS Chief Counsel’s Office participating in that discussion, we were unable to discuss directly what went wrong for Birkenfeld as he brought important information about tax evasion to the attention of the IRS, but ended up serving a prison sentence of 40 months. (We have written previously about Birkenfeld’s errors revealed in the court record.)

At the OffshoreAlert Conference discussion this year, I will moderate the panel discussion about what can be done to protect whistleblowers from criminal and civil exposure. Joining me are former Justice Department official and former General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Joe D. Whitley; former prosecutor and now whistleblower attorney Marc Raspanti; and federal and international tax attorney Richard Rubin.

The program description is reprinted below:
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This Part 4 of a six part summary explains how the federal False Claims Act works, after Congress amended it three times in 2009-2010. It also discusses similar provisions of some state False Claims Acts.

This is an update from a previously published article by whistleblower lawyer blog author Michael A. Sullivan.

III. Overview of How the Modern False Claims Act Works (with Comparisons to Some State False Claims Acts)

A. Conduct Prohibited

The federal False Claims Act imposes civil liability under several different theories, only four of which were generally used before FERA. FERA has added an additional theory of liability for retention of overpayments, which now will likely be used quite often in health care cases:

First, the Act makes liable any person who knowingly presents, or causes to be presented, a “false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval.”

Second, the Act creates liability for using a “false record or statement.” It imposes liability on any person who “knowingly makes, uses, or causes to be made or used, a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim.”

“Claim” is broadly defined, and is not limited to submissions made directly to the federal government:
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At the annual Fraud and Compliance Forum in Baltimore that runs through Tuesday, the nation’s top health care lawyers will be paying close attention to recent changes to the nation’s primary whistleblower law, the False Claims Act. The “qui tam” provisions of the False Claims Act allow private citizen whistleblowers (“relators”) to share in the government’s recovery of damages.

As a former defense attorney who now represents whistleblowers, I have been asked to present a program at this conference with Rick Shackelford of King & Spalding, to discuss these major amendments to the False Claims Act–the first since 1986. Congress acted decisively in three recent major bills to restore the False Claims Act to its intended strength, in the face of court decisions that created obstacles to its use.

The recent amendments were part of the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009, Pub. L. No. 111-21, 123 Stat. 1617 (“FERA”); the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Pub. L. 111-148, 124 Stat. 119 (“PPACA”); and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Pub. L. No. 111-203, 124 Stat. 1376 (the “Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act”).

This week’s forum is sponsored by the American Health Lawyers Association and Health Care Compliance Association.

An updated discussion of the False Claims Act after these 2009 and 2010 changes will appear soon on this Whistleblower Lawyer Blog. A brief summary of those important changes to the Act is below:
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Smart and effective state Attorneys General have fought fraud against their citizens through encouraging greater use of the country’s major whistleblower law, the False Claims Act, and state versions of that law.

Texas AG Greg Abbott, for example, has a staff that has long distinguished itself for recovering millions of stolen taxpayer funds in health care fraud cases, under the leadership of Pat O’Connell and, more recently, Ray Winter.

Following this tradition, Indiana AG Greg Zoeller is urging employees of pharmaceutical companies and heath care entities to help stop health care fraud, and possibly share in the recovery as qui tam whistleblowers under the state and federal False Claims Acts.

While we have discussed in detail how the False Claims Act operates, AG Zoeller’s announcement gives a succinct summary. We have reprinted it below, and applaud his efforts.
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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 “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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