Articles Posted in Medicare and Medicaid Fraud

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:

Outrage over misuse of public funds is a healthy reaction to those who cheat taxpayers. It can also create interesting bedfellows, as newly-introduced legislation in the House demonstrates.

HR 3571, aimed at “de-funding ACORN,” would ban federal contracts and most federal funds to any organization that “has filed a fraudulent form with any Federal or State regulatory agency,” among other things. (Complete bill is below.)

As. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) observed correctly, fraud by those who receive government funds involves much “bigger fish” than ACORN–and bigger dollar amounts of alleged fraud.

“We can’t have a situation where the laws of justice are applied to one organization and not to any of the others, particularly when there are organizations that are polluting water for our soldiers and electrocuting them.” Grayson presumably was referring to allegations that KBR’s performance of government contracts for our troops has caused soldiers to be electrocuted and otherwise endangered.

Rep. Grayson is on target. He saw these abuses as a lawyer vindicating the public’s interest in fighting fraud in pursuing qui tam whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act, the nation’s primary civil statute for combating fraud and false claims against the government.

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Dan Issa (R-CA) appeared to agree with this principle–“abuse and fraud will not be tolerated,” as his spokeperson told ABC News.

Battling fraud against taxpayers can and should be a universal concern of both parties. Let’s see whether this bill is weakened by those who reap the most rewards from cheating the public. The full text of the proposed legislation is below:
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In one of two prominent whistleblower cases in the news this week, whistleblower John Kopchinski will be awarded more than $50 million for his role in exposing improper “off-label marketing” of the drug Bextra by Pfizer. Other whistleblowers also will be rewarded because of this settlement. That settlement of $2.3 billion is the largest in history ($1 billion to settle False Claims Act allegations, and $1.3 billion in criminal fine and forfeiture).

As large as the Pfizer settlement is, the other whistleblower’s actions seem likely to lead to recovery of dollars that could dwarf this $2.3 billion settlement. UBS whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld has lifted the shroud of secrecy from thousands of American taxpayers’ offshore accounts at UBS. He has given the IRS a foothold into recovering potentially many billions in unpaid taxes owed.

Yet Birkenfeld was recently sentenced to serve 40 months in federal prison for conspiracy to defraud the United States in a tax fraud scheme while at UBS. His conviction also calls into question his ability to receive a reward under the IRS Whistleblower Program from the billions to be collected by the IRS.

How could this happen?

There are tried and true steps lawyers representing whistleblowers must take to protect their clients from the risk of prosecution. This was one of the topics of the “IRS Whistleblower Boot Camp” panel discussion that I led this past March, with panelists including IRS Whistleblower Office Director Steve Whitlock–how to protect the whistleblower who has potential criminal liability, but who has valuable information.

If adequate protection cannot be obtained, often the whistleblower with real criminal exposure should choose not to go forward. If the information is important enough to the government, however, protection for the whistleblower often can be negotiated, so long as the whistleblower is truthful and forthcoming. As former federal prosecutors who have also defended clients in white collar criminal prosecutions, we have represented many clients in obtaining this type of protection.
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At the 20th Annual Convention of NELA, the National Employment Lawyers Association, I recently had the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion of some of the country’s top “whistleblower” lawyers. The topic was “The Most Pressing Issues in Representing Whistleblowers.”

Joining me in this panel discussion were Richard Renner and David J. Marshall. Richard is an attorney with Kohn & Colapinto in Washington, DC. and also serves as Legal Director of the National Whistleblowers Center. David is a partner with Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP in DC.

The discussion included:

Today was a monentous day for those who believe in integrity in how taxpayer funds are treated.

President Obama signed into law today the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009, which makes important amendments to the country’s most important tool for fighting fraud, the False Claims Act.

Also important today, the Obama administration announced an expansion of DOJ’s health-care strike forces, which are designed to combat fraud in Medicare and Medicaid programs. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the initiative.

Today is an historic day–the House of Representatives has passed the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 by a vote of 367-59. The Act includes long-needed amendments to the nation’s primary anti-fraud law, the False Claims Act, about which we have written often.

The amendments are designed to protect the hundreds of billions in taxpayer funds now being spent from fraud affecting TARP, other “stimulus” measures, Medicare and Medicaid, national defense including the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and reconstruction efforts, and countless other government programs.

The Senate approved the Act by a vote of 92-4 on April 28th. A conference committee now will consider reconciling differences in the versions of the bill.

The new law closes a series of “loopholes” that allowed dishonest contractors to cheat the American public, and is intended to restore the False Claims Act to its original intent.

Our whistleblower lawyer blog has provided previously a detailed explanation of how the False Claims Act works by allowing private citizen “whistleblowers” (also known as qui tam “relators”) to report fraud and share in the government’s recovery. The False Claims Act also protects whistleblowers from retaliation.

Much will be written about the new amendments, which will greatly strengthen the Act’s effectiveness in combating fraud. We congratulate those in Congress with the wisdom to pass the amendments, as well as all involved in this effort!
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New legislation to combat financial institution fraud, securities fraud, mortgage fraud, and other fraud and abuse is gaining momentum, and brings closer long-needed amendments to restore to its intended strength the nation’s major “whistleblower” law, the False Claims Act.

The Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 (S. 386) received support yesterday in a statement from the Administration:

The Administration strongly supports enactment of S. 386. Its provisions would provide Federal investigators and prosecutors with significant new criminal and civil tools and resources that would assist in holding accountable those who have committed financial fraud.