In a two-page memorandum, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a broad policy statement prohibiting the use of agency guidance documents as the basis for proving legal violations in civil enforcement actions, including actions brought under the False Claims Act (FCA). The extent to which these policy changes ultimately create relief for health care defendants in FCA actions is unclear at this time. That said, the memo provides defendants with a valuable tool in defending FCA actions, either brought by DOJ or relator’s counsel, that attempt to use alleged noncompliance with agency sub-regulatory guidance as support for an FCA theory.
Tony Maida counsels health care and life sciences clients on government investigations, regulatory compliance and compliance program development. Having served as a government official, Tony has extensive experience in health care fraud and abuse and compliance issues, including the federal and state Anti-Kickback and Stark Laws and Medicare and Medicaid coverage and payment rules. He represents clients in False Claims Act (FCA) qui tam matters, government audits, civil monetary penalty and exclusion investigations, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) suspension, and revocation actions, negotiating and implementing corporate integrity agreements, and making government self-disclosures. Read Tony Maida's full bio.
The government’s focus on the US opioid crisis has been consistently expanding over the past year beyond manufacturers to reach prescribers and health care providers who submit claims to federal health care programs for opioid prescriptions. These efforts increasingly include investigations under the False Claims Act and administrative actions, in addition to the more traditional criminal approach to these issues.
With the Trump administration’s public health emergency orders, it is expected for the government’s enforcement activities, including those instigated by relators and their counsel, to grow in this area.
On December 21, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) obtained more than $3.7 billion in settlements and judgments from civil cases involving fraud and false claims against the government in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2017. Recoveries since 1986, when Congress substantially amended the civil False Claims Act (FCA), now total more than $56 billion.
Of the $3.7 billion in settlements and judgments, $2.4 billion involved the health care industry, including drug companies, hospitals, pharmacies, laboratories and physicians. This is the eighth consecutive year that the department’s civil health care fraud settlements and judgments have exceeded $2 billion. In addition to health care, the False Claims Act serves as the government’s primary avenue to civilly pursue government funds and property under other government programs and contracts, such as defense and national security, food safety and inspection, federally insured loans and mortgages, highway funds, small business contracts, agricultural subsidies, disaster assistance and import tariffs. Continue Reading Justice Department Recovers More Than $3.7 Billion from FCA Cases in Fiscal Year 2017
Earlier this year, DOJ and OIG independently issued guides focused on evaluating compliance program effectiveness. The guides approach the topic from different perspectives but cover overlapping themes and work well in tandem. We reviewed the guides and compiled the reference tool to aid organization executives and boards of directors to measure compliance program effectiveness and, in turn, wisely invest resources.
One of the most litigated issues following the Supreme Court’s Escobar decision is whether the Court created a limited, two-part test to define the implied certification theory under the False Claims Act. In the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the prevailing view confirms that the proper interpretation of Escobar is that the implied certification theory can only proceed when the defendant made specific representations about the goods or services provided and that those representations were rendered misleading due to its failure to disclose noncompliance with material statutory, regulatory or contractual requirements. On August 10, 2017, federal district judge Deborah Batts in the Southern District of New York joined the majority view of her colleagues in U.S. ex. rel. Forcier v. Computer Sciences Corporation and the City of New York in dismissing part of the government’s complaint.
In this case, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint in intervention alleging the City of New York (City) and its billing contractor, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), submitted false claims to the Medicaid program in two ways.
First, DOJ argued that the defendants failed to adhere to Medicaid secondary payor requirements concerning the state’s Early Intervention Program (EIP), which pays for services to children with developmental delays. These requirements obligate municipalities to take “reasonable measures” to determine whether third party insurance coverage was available for the EIP services and seek reimbursement from such available payors. DOJ alleged that CSC and the City did not comply with these requirements by submitting incorrect policy numbers to third party insurers knowing that such claims would be denied and by incorrectly informing Medicaid that no third party coverage existed or such coverage had been rejected. Continue Reading Latest District Court Decision Confirms Escobar Two-Part Implied Certification Test
Following on the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) June announcement that it would begin updating its public-facing Work Plan on a monthly basis, OIG released its first update to add 14 new topics to the Work Plan on July 17. As the health care industry knows, OIG Work Plan sets forth various projects that the OIG’s Office of Audit Services (OAS) and Office of Evaluation and Inspections (OEI) are currently undertaking or planning to undertake in the future. Previously, OIG updated its Work Plan to reflect adjustments once or twice each year. In a stated effort to increase transparency in its audit and inspection work, OIG changed its practices to begin issuing monthly updates.
The 14 topics all describe new OAS audit work, much of which is focused on Medicare and Medicaid issues. Several areas appear to lend themselves to data-mining, such cross-checking claims between Medicare Parts A and B or providers of concurrent services. For example, the OIG aims to:
- Evaluate whether certain Medicare Part B payments for ambulance services are subject to Medicare Part A skilled nursing facility (SNF) consolidated billing requirements (i.e. the SNF received payment for the ambulance transport as part of the Part A payment, and thus was responsible for paying the ambulance provider);
- Compare Medicare Part B and Part A claims to check for overlapping claims between home health agencies and/or hospices and outside providers;
- Investigate the validity of Medicare payments for telehealth services provided at distant sites that do not have corresponding originating site claims; and
- Examine Medicare payments to hospital outpatient providers for non-physician outpatient services provided under the inpatient prospective payment system.
OIG also proposed two more wide-ranging programmatic reviews. First, OIG plans to conduct a study to identify “common characteristics” of “at risk” home health agency providers in an effort to target pre-and post-payment claim reviews. This OAS study appears to be a follow-up to an OEI study issued in June 2016 of “selected characteristics commonly found in OIG-investigated cases of home health fraud.” Second, OIG plans to review hospital electronic medical record incentive payments for compliance with Medicare’s meaningful use requirements. OIG’s continued examination of EMR incentive payments follows on OAS’ June 2017 report estimating that between May 2011 and June 2014, over $729 million was paid to hospitals and physicians who did not comply with the incentive program requirements.
For a full list of the 14 additional inquiries, visit the OIG’s Work Plan website.
On May 31, 2017, the US Department of Justice announced a Settlement Agreement under which eClinicalWorks, a vendor of electronic health record software, agreed to pay $155 million and enter into a five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement to resolve allegations that it caused its customers to submit false claims for Medicare and Medicaid meaningful use payments in violation of the False Claims Act.
This April, providers cheered when a federal district court in the Middle District of Florida found insufficient evidence to support a relator’s theory that a hospital had provided free parking to physicians, in violation of the Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS). In the Report and Recommendation for United States ex rel. Bingham v. BayCare Health Systems, 2017 WL 126597, M.D. Fla., No. 8:14-cv-73, Judge Steven D. Merryday of the Middle District of Florida endorsed magistrate judge Julie Sneed’s recommendation that Plaintiff Thomas Bingham’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment be denied and that Defendant BayCare Health System’s Motion for Summary Judgment be granted. However, as we discussed in a previous FCA blog post regarding these allegations, this type of case encapsulates a worrying and costly trend where courts allow thinly pleaded relator claims in which the government opted not to intervene, to survive past the motion to dismiss stage into the discovery phase of the litigation.
Bingham is a serial relator who practices as a certified real estate appraiser in Tennessee and was unaffiliated with BayCare. In his latest attempt, Bingham alleged that BayCare Health System had violated the Stark Law and the AKS by providing affiliated physicians free parking, valet services and tax benefits to induce physicians to refer patients to the health system. Continue Reading A Hospital’s Deserving Stark and AKS Victory—But At What Cost?
In a case of first impression, a federal court found that the federal physician self-referral law’s (Stark Law) requirement that financial arrangements with physicians be memorialized in a signed writing could be material to the government’s payment decision. This case raises troubling questions about applying the False Claims Act (FCA) to what many in the industry consider “technical” Stark issues, especially given the Supreme Court’s description of the materiality test as “demanding” and not satisfied by “minor or insubstantial” regulatory noncompliance.
United States ex rel. Tullio Emanuele v. Medicor Associates (Emanuele), in the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, involves Medicor Associates, Inc., a private medical group practice (Medicor), and Hamot Medical Center’s (Hamot) exclusive provider of cardiology coverage. Tullio Emanuele, a qui tam relator and former physician member of Medicor, alleged that Hamot, Medicor, and four of Medicor’s shareholder-employee cardiologists (the Physicians) violated the FCA and Stark Law because Hamot’s multiple medical director compensation arrangements with Medicor failed to satisfy the signed writing requirement in the Stark Law’s personal services or fair market value exceptions during various periods of time. The US Department of Justice declined to intervene in the case, but filed a statement of interest in the summary judgment stage supporting the relator’s position. Continue Reading Is the Stark Law’s “Signed Writing” Requirement Material to Payment: One Federal Court Says Yes
Released on March 27, 2017, the Compliance Program Resource Guide (Resource Guide), jointly prepared by the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) reflects the result of a “roundtable” meeting on January 17, 2017, of OIG staff and compliance professionals “to discuss ways to measure the effectiveness of compliance programs.” The resulting Resource Guide document catalogues the roundtable’s brainstorming discussions to “…provide a large number of ideas for measuring the various elements of a compliance program…to give health care organizations as many ideas as possible, to be broad enough to help any type of organization, and let the organization choose which ones best suit its needs.”
Here are a few main takeaways from the Resource Guide:
- Ideas for Auditing: The Resource Guide contributes to the critical conversation about how to evaluate compliance program effectiveness by listing additional ideas on what to audit and how to audit those areas. The items listed in the Resource Guide generally center on ideas on auditing and monitoring compliance program elements, such as periodically reviewing training and policies and procedures to ensure that they are up-to-date, understandable to staff and accurately reflect the business process as performed in practice. Legal and compliance can use this document to identify those particular elements that may be most applicable to their individual organization.
Organizations would also benefit from considering the questions listed in the new compliance program guidance issued in February by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, “Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs” (DOJ Guidance), as part of examining compliance program effectiveness. (We covered the DOJ Guidance previously.) Health care organizations may also use the various provider-specific compliance program guidance documents created by OIG over the years as another source for ideas on what to measure.
- Not a Mandate: The Resource Guide is very clear that it is not intended to be a “best practice”, a template, or a “‘checklist’ to be applied wholesale to assess a compliance program.” This clarification is an important one since there is the potential for the Resource Guide to be (incorrectly) viewed by qui tam relators or others as creating de facto compliance program requirements or OIG recommendations.
- How to Measure: The Resource Guide does not delve into how or who should undertake or contribute to the effectiveness review. Who conducts the review is a question that may have legal significance given the nature of a particular issue. General counsel and the chief compliance officer should consider this issue as part of the organization’s ongoing compliance program review. It may be valuable to include the organization’s regular outside white collar counsel to comment on such critical, relevant legal considerations as the proper conduct of an internal investigation; preserving the attorney-client privilege in appropriate situations; coordinating communications between legal, compliance and internal audit personnel; and applying “lessons learned” from the practices of qui tam relators and their counsel. Outside consultants may also have useful expertise and insight to contribute. In some situations, the organization may want to undertake a compliance program assessment conducted under attorney-client privilege as part of advising the executive team and the board audit and compliance committee.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of the Resource Guide is the extent to which it serves as a catalyst for closer, coordinated consideration of the metrics by which compliance program effectiveness may be measured by legal and compliance personnel and the audit and compliance committee. The Resource Guide is one of several resources that can be referenced by the general counsel and the chief compliance officer as they work together to support the organization’s audit and compliance committee in reviewing compliance program effectiveness.