The DOJ recently reported that two-thirds of the $2.68 billion in False Claims Act judgments and settlements in 2023, or $1.8 billion, came from the healthcare industry. 2023 also marked the highest number of FCA settlements and judgments in a year, totaling 543.
The treble damages that result from FCA violations provide a powerful tool to the federal government to root out fraudsters who knowingly defraud the U.S. or fail to pay money owed to the U.S. As Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, stated, “the record-breaking number of recoveries reflects, those who seek to defraud the government will pay a high price.”
Healthcare FCA settlements and judgments spanned the industry, including managed care providers, hospitals, pharmacies, laboratories, long-term acute care facilities, and physicians. FCA claims settled or decided included charges against providers for overbilling and medically unnecessary billing, and charges against insurers for submitting inaccurate information, such as diagnosis codes, in order to increase reimbursement. Kickbacks and lab testing fraud were also the subject of FCA settlements and judgments.
The $57 million healthcare fraud scheme involved Elbeblawy and his co-conspirators submitting false claims to Medicare for services that were not actually provided, not medically necessary, or for patients who were procured through kickbacks to doctors and patient recruiters.
The case was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which operates in nine cities across the country, and has charged nearly 2,000 defendants who have collectively billed more than $6 billion.
In an important decision for providers facing a lawsuit alleging violations of the False Claims Act, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, in U.S. ex rel. Pelletier v. Liberty Ambulance Service, Inc., Case No. 3:11-cv-587-J-32MCR (Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division), dismissed the government’s complaint intervening in a qui tam action that alleged that Liberty Ambulance Service, among other providers that settled with the government prior to the dismissal, submitted false claims to Medicare and Medicaid for ambulance services that were never provided, on the basis that the government’s complaint failed to satisfy the heightened pleading requirements under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 9.
The Court’s decision is significant because the government attached to its complaint affidavits of current and former employees of Liberty and a dispatcher, along with other materials, suggesting that falsified reports were submitted to Liberty that would be payable by Medicare and Medicaid, but, as the Court found, “the allegations stop short of describing what happened once the run reports were submitted to the Liberty office for processing.” The Court’s decision hinged on the lack of any evidence pertaining to the actual billing process employed by Liberty. In fact, the affidavit of the person who claimed the most familiarity with that process, did not claim to have witnessed the submission to the government of any actual false claims.
Although the dismissal was without prejudice to the government amending the complaint to provide greater particularity, the decision is an important example for providers facing False Claims Act claims of how the heightened pleading requirements under FRCP 8 and 9 may strengthen their defense.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued the final rule regarding waivers of the application of the physician self-referral law, the Federal anti-kickback statute, and the civil monetary penalties (CMP) law provision relating to beneficiary inducements to specified arrangements involving accountable care organizations (ACOs) under section 1899 of the Social Security Act (the Act) (the “Shared Savings Program”). For purposes of the Shared Savings Program, providers must integrate in ways that potentially implicate fraud and abuse laws addressing financial arrangements between sources of Federal health care program referrals and those seeking such referrals. The Shared Savings Program focuses on coordinating care between and among providers, including those who are potential referral sources for one another—potentially in violation of the fraud and abuse laws.
In order to provide flexibility for ACOs and their constituent parts, the following five waivers have been created:
ACO pre-participation waiver – waives the physician self-referral law and the Federal anti-kickback statute that applies to ACO-related start-up arrangements in anticipation of participating in the Shared Savings Program, subject to certain limitations, including limits on the duration of the waiver and the types of parties covered.
ACO participation waiver – waives the physician self-referral law and the Federal anti-kickback statute that applies broadly to ACO-related arrangements during the term of the ACO’s participation agreement under the Shared Savings Program and for a specified time thereafter.
Shared savings distributions waiver – waives the physician self-referral law and the Federal anti-kickback statute that applies to distributions and uses of shared savings payments earned under the Shared Savings Program.
Compliance with the physician self-referral law waiver – waives the Federal anti-kickback statute for ACO arrangements that implicate the physician self-referral law and satisfy the requirements of an existing exception.
Patient incentive waiver – waives the Beneficiary Inducements CMP and the Federal anti-kickback statute for medically related incentives offered by ACOs, ACO participants, or ACO providers/suppliers under the Shared Savings Program to beneficiaries to encourage preventive care and compliance with treatment regimes.
The waivers apply uniformly to each ACO, ACO participant, and ACO provider/supplier participating in the Shared Savings Program. The waivers are self-implementing; parties need not apply for a waiver. Rather, parties that meet the applicable waiver conditions are covered by the waiver.
The Office of Inspector General identified “reducing waste in . . . hospice care” as one of the “top management challenges” for the 2015 fiscal year. The federal government’s efforts to respond to that challenge are illustrated by several recent developments in False Claims Act (“FCA“) cases brought against hospice care providers. For example, the Robinson-Hill, Betts, and Gooch cases discussed herein underscore the attention given to hospice care providers and their alleged billing and personnel-related practices, and the high monetary settlements that can result from such attention.
One arrow in the quiver for healthcare providers sued for violations of false claims and anti-kickback statutes is pressing for discovery from the whistleblower/relator, including a deposition of the relator. The failure of the whistleblower to comply with the discovery obligations could result in meaningful sanctions, including dismissal.
In an opinion openly skeptical of a relator’s knowledge, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the dismissal of False Claims Act claims against a Chicago pharmacy brought by a former employee of the pharmacy. The principal claims in the case, Grenadyor v. Ukrainian Village Pharmacy, Inc., were that the pharmacy’s practice of soliciting and keeping its base of mostly Ukrainian customers by providing gifts of caviar and Russian language TV Guides, as well as waiving co-pays, amounted to kickbacks in violation of the federal (and several state) anti-kickback statutes.
Judge Richard A. Posner, the author of the court’s opinion, revealed his distaste for the relator early in the opinion by describing him as a “bounty hunter”. The court rejected most of the relator’s claims because he had failed to identify a single patient who received gift bags worth more than the de minimis $50, even though the relator had amended his complaint ostensibly to correct this deficiency, and had not alleged that the pharmacy intended to offer kickbacks when it certified to the government that it would abide by Medicare and other federal laws. Continue reading “7th Circuit Clarifies FCA Fraud Standard”
On March 30, 2011, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid issued the long-awaited, proposed regulations for the Medicare Shared Savings Program, including details of the requirements for qualifying as an accountable care organization (ACO), such as:
Eligible legal entities
Criteria for shared governance
Assignment of beneficiaries to ACOs
Different types of risk contracts
Benchmarks and calculations of savings
Shared savings, antitrust issues and policies, Medicare anti-kickback, and other regulatory requirements as applied to ACOs
On December 28, 2010, the Office of the Inspector General published a notice of intent to develop regulations in the Federal Register soliciting recommendations for modifications to the safe harbors under the anti-kickback statute and suggestions for new safe harbors and OIG Special Fraud Alerts. The solicitation was published in accordance with Section 205 of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which requires HHS to publish this formal solicitation annually. The notice lists the criteria that HHS will consider in reviewing the proposals submitted and recommends that proposals be accompanied by supporting data and/or justifications.