Articles Posted in State False Claims Acts

Recently, I was asked to explain the newly enacted “Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act” to some 200 city and county attorneys in Georgia. Although our firm has qui tam False Claims Act cases pending around the country, I take particular interest in making successful this law that I helped draft.

Since then, I have had many calls from attorneys about the new state False Claims Act, which includes qui tam provisions allowing whistleblowers to file suit and share in the recovery. Thus, I am summarizing here some major points about the law:

The Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act is a state version of the extremely successful federal False Claims Act (FCA). The FCA is the federal government’s primary civil tool for combating fraud directed at taxpayer funds. The majority of states already have such a law designed to stop and deter fraud against state government.

Background: The FCA originally was enacted during the Civil War. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed into law an amended version of the FCA, which has since generated more than $30 billion in recoveries from those who have defrauded the government. The FCA also helps deter fraud by those who do business with the government.

State False Claims Acts: As noted, based on the federal FCA’s great successes since 1986, Sen. Charles Grassley has helped lead efforts to encourage states to pass their own versions of the FCA. Congress established financial incentives for states that enact their own versions of the FCA that closely follow the FCA’s terms, through the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. (Those states receive an extra 10% of Medicaid fraud recoveries.) Congress amended the federal FCA in 2009-2010 to increase the FCA’s effectiveness.

At least twenty-eight other states now have enacted their own False Claims Acts, which are also based on the federal FCA. The majority of these states’ laws protect all state spending of any nature.

On May 24, 2007, Georgia’s “State False Medicaid Claims Act” became law. It is based on the 2007 federal FCA, but protects only Medicaid spending. The new 2012 Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act now protects all state and local government spending.

In sum, the new Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act (1) protects all state and local government spending from fraud, and not simply Medicaid spending; and (2) amends the State False Medicaid Claims Act to conform to the 2009-2010 federal FCA amendments. All states are required to conform to those amendments by 2013, or lose the federal incentive of an additional 10% of Medicaid fraud recoveries.
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The nation’s newest state False Claims Act was signed into law today by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, after passing unanimously in both houses of the legislature.

The “Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act” protects all taxpayer dollars spent not only by the State, but also by counties, municipalities, school districts, hospital authorities, and other local public bodies or entities.

Like the federal False Claims Act, this Act combats fraud and false claims against taxpayer funds by imposing “treble” damages and civil penalties of $5,500 to $11,000 for each false or fraudulent claim. It also provides rewards to whistleblowers.

I have been asked to publicize a seminar at which I am speaking on handling qui tam whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act, the nation’s primary whistleblower law addressing fraud that steals government funds. Here is the announcement:

AAJ will hold a “Qui Tam” Teleseminar on December 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm EST. With recently amended whistleblower laws and several high profile settlements, lawyers need to understand the procedural complexities and pitfalls in qui tam whistleblower cases. Cosponsored by the Qui Tam Litigation Group of AAJ, this teleseminar will provide an understanding this rapidly developing area of law.

View the agenda, faculty and register at www.justice.org/quitam. Use the promotion code QUITAM at online checkout to receive the special rate of $159.

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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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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Senator Chuck Grassley is making sure that the States take advantage of important, recent improvements to the federal False Claims Act–with the help of financial incentives. In doing so, Grassley highlighted a defect in Oklahoma’s False Claims Act that should disqualify any state with a similar defect from these financial incentives.

As we have discussed at length, in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, Congress recognized how effective the False Claims has been in recovering money for fraud against the government, by creating financial incentives for states that enact equally effective versions of the federal False Claims Act.

“Weaker” state versions of the False Claims Act do not qualify for the incentives, however. The Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services must approve a state’s False Claims Act before the incentives are available. So far, the IG has approved fourteen state FCAs, while disapproving six other state acts.

Since then, Congress has closed loopholes in the False Claims Act exploited by those who steal taxpayer funds. The 2009 Fraud Enforcement Recovery Act made significant improvements to strengthen the nation’s major whistleblower law, as we have summarized before. In March 2010, Congress modified the False Claims Act’s “public disclosure” and “original source” provisions as part of the major health care overhaul, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

This week, Grassley asked the Inspector General and Attorney General to review existing state False Claims Acts to ensure that they comply with these recent improvements to the federal False Claims Act.

“Updated information will help states fine tune existing state laws and state-level proposals, in order to be eligible for the federal incentive and beef up fraud-fighting efforts,” Grassley said. “This kind of effort at the state and federal level is more important than ever as Medicaid programs are expanded and face new burdens and growing fiscal challenges. Every dollar lost to fraud is one less dollar for those who depend on the program and harms the sustainability of the Medicaid program.”
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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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