On February 5, 2018, the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, found that there are huge gaps in regulation of assisted living facilities. The report, entitled “Medicaid Assisted Living Services: Improved Federal Oversight of Beneficiary Health and Welfare is Needed,” comes on the heels of years of discussion as to whether assisted living facilities are sufficiently regulated by individual states, or whether further federal oversight is warranted.
The suggestion of the need for federal regulation of assisted living came from GAO’s finding that more than $10 billion a year is spent from federal and state funds for assisted living services for more than 330,000 Medicaid beneficiaries. With demand for additional Medicaid assisted living funding, and the potential increase in demands of the senior population in the next 5 years, these numbers will continue to rise significantly as noted by the GAO: “Medicaid spending on long-term care is significant, representing about one quarter of Medicaid spending annually and is expected to grow with an aging population.” Continue reading GAO Report: Assisted Living Providers & Federal Regulation
By Lisa W. Clark and Erin M. Duffy
On January 3, 2018, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) finalized revisions to the Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records regulations, found in 42 CFR Part 2. The new final rule implements the changes proposed a year ago by SAMHSA in its supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM), which was issued alongside the first major changes to the federal regulations governing Part 2 covered data since 1987. After receiving public comment on the SNPRM, SAMHSA has finalized provisions relating to the disclosure of patient-identifying substance use information for payment and healthcare-related purposes and the disclosure of patient-identifying substance use information for the purposes of carrying out a Medicaid, Medicare or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) audit or evaluation. The new final rule also permits lawful holders to issue an abbreviated notice of the prohibition on redisclosure to accommodate electronic health record systems with standard character limitations on free text fields.
Read the full story on the Duane Morris LLP website.
On January 13, 2017, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) sent a Memorandum (“Memo”) to State survey agency directors encouraging long-term care providers to “consider cybersecurity when developing or reviewing their emergency preparedness plans.” The Memo was a follow-up to the CMS long-term care emergency preparedness rule published in the Federal Register on September 16, 2016: “Medicare and Medicaid Programs; Emergency Preparedness Requirements for Medicare and Medicaid Participating Providers and Suppliers.” Under that final rule, long-term care facilities were held to additional standards, including requirements to have emergency and standby power systems in place. Nursing homes were also required to create plans regarding missing residents that could be activated regardless of whether the facility has activated its full-scale emergency plan. The rule was spurred on by recent flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and other emergency disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, according to CMS.
Whether State surveyors will actually enforce lack of cybersecurity plans for emergency preparedness as violations remains to be seen from this Memo. But certainly, a State survey agency could impose deficiencies for failure to have a proper cybersecurity plan and/or a proper cybersecurity back‑up plan as part of a facility’s emergency preparedness going forward. It is not clear why CMS decided to send this encouragement Memo three months after the Final Rule on emergency preparedness, but it likely has something to do with the fact that 2016 was a banner year for HIPAA privacy infractions and HIPAA enforcement by the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”), the entity responsible for HIPAA compliance. In 2016, payouts for HIPAA violations skyrocketed to record heights of $23.51 million from OCR enforcers against health care providers. That number was triple the previous record of almost $7.94 million in payouts in 2014, followed by $6.19 million in payouts in 2015.
Continue reading Cybersecurity and Emergency Preparedness for Long-Term Care
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.
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.
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 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.
Continue reading Recent Trends In FCA Litigation Against Hospice Care Providers
As a result of an August 3, 2015 federal court decision, nursing homes and other health care providers that participate in Medicare or Medicaid are well-advised to pay careful attention to the law that requires report and return of any overpayment within 60 days of the date on which the overpayment is “identified.” In Kane v. Healthfirst, Inc. et al., the Southern District of New York found that the word “identified” means the date on which a provider is “put on notice” that a claim may have been overpaid. The court said that providers cannot delay commencement of the 60-day period until the overpayment amount has been definitively determined.
The defendants in the case had argued that simply being on notice of a potential overpayment was not enough to trigger the 60-day repayment rule, which was a provision in the 2010 Affordable Care Act. While recognizing the burden on providers to bring to conclusion a thorough and definitive investigation of a potential overpayment within 60 days, the court was firm in its finding, referring to the “demanding standard of compliance.” However, there was a suggestion that prosecutorial discretion could act to assist a provider that did not comply with the letter of the law but acted diligently to attempt to determine an overpayment amount within the required timeframe.
This case, triggered by a former employee of one of the provider defendants under the False Claims Act whistleblower provision, is important because it is the first time there has been a court opinion addressing the meaning of the term “identified” as used in the law. Draft regulations published in 2012 have not been finalized.
In a recent 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Center, Inc., Slip. Op., 575 U.S. ____ (March 31, 2015), Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, took aim at health care providers seeking to enforce Medicaid rate-setting provisions against a state that refused to incorporate those provisions in the state’s Medicaid plan, and instead reimbursed providers for Medicaid services at lower rates.
In Armstrong, the plaintiffs, providers of habilitation services under Idaho’s Medicaid plan sought an injunction to prevent Idaho’s State Department of Health from violating Section 30(A) of Medicaid, 42 U.S.C. § 1396(a)(30)(A), which requires a state to “assure that payments are consistent with efficiency, economy, and quality of care,” while “safeguard[ing] against unnecessary utilization of. . . care and services.” The Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s decision that the Supremacy Clause gave the providers an implied right of action to seek an injunction requiring Idaho to comply with Section 30(a). Continue reading SCOTUS Limits Claims Brought by Healthcare Providers’ for Denied Medicaid Reimbursement
A district court in the Northern District of Illinois recently partially granted a motion to dismiss the Government’s False Claims Act (“FCA”) complaint filed against IPC The Hospitalist Company, Inc. (“IPC”) and its subsidiaries and affiliates. The district court dismissed IPC’s subsidiaries and affiliates because the Government simply “lumped” those subsidiaries and affiliates in with IPC, and did not plead facts tying the subsidiaries and affiliates to the alleged fraud. The decision underscores an important defense available to FCA defendants, and highlights the nuanced pleading requirements that the Government must meet in an FCA case. Continue reading Certain FCA Defendants Dismissed; “Lumping” Defendants Together Is Not Enough To State An FCA Claim