Tag Archives: fraud

SCOTUS To Decide Viability and Scope of “Implied Certification” Liability

In Universal Health Services Inc. v. U.S. et al. ex rel. Escobar et al., case number 15-7, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide the viability and scope of the “implied certification” theory of liability under the False Claims Act.   That theory has been upheld in various circuits, resulting in FCA liability and penalties, including treble damages, for government contractors’ reimbursement claims where the contractor has failed to comply with a statute, regulation, or contractual provision that does not state that it is a condition of payment. For the healthcare industry, whose participants are generally subject to a gauntlet of federal and state regulations, statutory requirements, and contractual provisions, the significance of the implied certification theory of FCA liability is obvious.

The FCA imposes liability on any person who “knowingly presents, or causes to be presented, a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval.” See 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1)(A)-(G). “Knowingly” requires actual knowledge of false information, deliberate ignorance of the truth or falsity of information, or reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of information.” Id. § 3729(b)(1)(A)(i)-(iii). The FCA imposes a mandatory civil penalty of between $5,500 and $11,000 for each violation of the Act, as well as treble damages. 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1); 28 C.F.R. § 85.3(a)(9).

Under the implied certification theory, a defendant may be held liable under the FCA where it knowingly violates a statute, regulation, or contractual provision, even if that provision has nothing to do with payment. In Universal Health, for example, the Petitioner, a mental health facility, was held liable under the FCA for failing to comply with Massachusetts regulations governing the scope of services and staffing requirements, including staff qualifications, certification, and supervision, at mental health facilities. Unlike other provisions in the Massachusetts regulations, these provisions did not condition reimbursement on their being complied with.  The specific injury in Universal Health alleged by the Relators was that their daughter experienced an adverse reaction to a drug that was prescribed by a nurse who was not supervised in accordance with the Massachusetts regulations; namely, the requirement that she be supervised by a board certified psychiatrist. Among other things, the First Circuit Court of Appeals determined that Petitioner’s lack of understanding of the regulatory requirements regarding supervision was sufficient to constitute a “knowing” violation of the FCA.

The Supreme Court will decide whether the implied certification theory of liability is ever viable, and, if so, whether it can be applied to claims for payment where the alleged falsity resulted from failing to comply with a regulatory, statutory or contractual provision that is not explicitly a condition of payment by the government.

The facts in Universal Health are not uncommon in the healthcare industry. Indeed, among other amici, the American Hospital Association, Federation of American Hospitals and Association of American Medical Colleges have jointly filed an amicus brief in support of Petitioner.

Another Healthcare Fraudster Convicted

In addition to the sentencing Tuesday of Patricia Akamnonu, owner of Ultimate Care Home Health Services, for 10 years for conspiring with her husband and others to commit healthcare fraud, late yesterday the owner and manager of three Miami-area home health agencies, Khaled Elbeblawy, was convicted on counts of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and pay healthcare kickbacks.

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.

 

 

Wife Joins Husband Behind Bars for Healthcare Fraud

On Tuesday, January 19, a federal judge in Texas sentenced Patricia Akamnonu to 10 years in federal prison for her role in a conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud.   Akamnonu and her husband, Cyprian  Akamnonu, who together owned Ultimate Care Home Health Services, pleaded guilty to their role in the conspiracy, which involved them and others recruiting Medicare beneficiaries for treatment at Ultimate and then billing for skilled nursing services that the beneficiaries either did not qualify for or were not necessary.  Mr. Akamnonu is currently serving out a similar 10-year sentence, and both were ordered to each pay $25 million in restitution.

The conspiracy, which raked in $40 million plus for Ultimate and $375 million for all of the co-conspirators, is considered one of the largest healthcare frauds in history.  Dr. Jacques Roy, who certified more than 78% of the false claims submitted to Medicare by Ultimate and the Akamnonus, is scheduled to be tried for his role in the conspiracy in May 2016, and faces a possible life sentence.

A reminder to providers that healthcare fraud can carry stiff criminal and civil penalties.

False Claims Act Claims Dismissed by Federal Court in Florida

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.

 

$125 Million Settlement For Alleged FCA Violations

In a settlement with the US DOJ in U.S. ex rel. Halpin and Fahey v. Kindred Healthcare Inc. et al., 1:11-cv-12139, Kindred Healthcare, Inc., a skilled nursing and long-term care company, has agreed to pay the federal government more than $125 million for alleged False Claims Act violations by a therapy services company, RehabCare Group, Inc., acquired by Kindred in June, 2011.

RehabCare contracts with more than 1,000 skilled nursing facilities across the country, and, along with Kindred, is alleged to have caused those facilities to submit Medicare claims for services at the highest reimbursement levels that were not actually provided, or not necessary.   Two whistleblowers stand to receive almost $24 million from the settlement.

While all providers need to have strong compliance, this is a reminder that larger providers, whose operations span multiple offices, cities and states, need to be especially vigilant and install strong company-wide compliance programs.

HHS OIG Notice Seeks Comments on Safe Harbors, Special Fraud Alerts

Once a year, as required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) solicits proposals to develop new or revised anti-kickback, fraud and abuse safe harbors. The OIG published its request for proposals for new or revised safe harbors in the December 29, 2011 Federal Register. The notice also seeks comments on developing special fraud alerts.

Continue reading HHS OIG Notice Seeks Comments on Safe Harbors, Special Fraud Alerts

OIG Solicits Proposals for New Anti-Kickback Safe Harbors and Special Fraud Alerts

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.

To read the notice published in the Federal Register, please go to: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2010-12-28/pdf/2010-32705.pdf.

CMS Will Acquire New Tools to Prevent Fraud

On December 16, 2010, at the regional health care fraud prevention summit in Boston, Massachusetts, HHS Secretary Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder announced that CMS will issue a solicitation for new analytic tools to prevent fraud in Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP. In its press release on the subject, HHS stated that the tools will “integrate many of the Agency’s pilot programs into the National Fraud Prevention Program and complement the work of the joint HHS and Department of Justice Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT).” The tools will be designed to prevent fraudulent payments before they occur, including through predictive modeling and identification of real-time trends by tracking billing patterns and other information.

To read the full press release, please go to: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2010pres/12/20101216a.html.