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New Guidance on Medicare Payment Rule Enforcement

A few days before Thanksgiving, the news media published an internal memo by the Office of General Counsel (OGC) at the US Department of Health and Human Services (Department) to officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The memo expressed OGC’s views on the impact of the Supreme Court’s Azar v. Allina Health Services, et. al., No. 17-1484 decision earlier this year on the enforcement of various CMS guidance. Specifically, OGC states that Medicare payment rules that meet the Court’s standard that did not go through notice-and-comment rulemaking cannot form the basis for an enforcement action, including an overpayment finding. The issue in this case was whether the Department’s determination that Medicare Part C patients should be included in the Medicare fraction represented a change in a “substantive legal standard” within the meaning of Section 1871(a)(2) of the Social Security Act (SSA). If the answer was yes, then...

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Questions Remain for the EHR Industry as a Second EHR Vendor, Greenway Health, Settles False Claims Act Allegations

DOJ announced on February 6, 2019, the Settlement Agreement resolving allegations in DOJ’s Complaint that Greenway caused its customers to submit false Medicare and Medicaid claims for payments under the EHR Incentive Programs in violation of the FCA and that it paid illegal kickbacks to current customers to recommend Greenway products (that are used to generate incentive payments or avoid penalties under the EHR Incentive Programs) to new customers. Under the Settlement Agreement, Greenway agreed to pay approximately $57 million to resolve the allegations without admitting liability. Greenway also entered into a five-year CIA with strict compliance oversight, reporting obligations and costly obligations to provide the latest version of Greenway’s EHR software to each of Greenway’s current customers at no additional charge. This settlement comes nearly two years after eCW entered into a groundbreaking settlement with DOJ. At that time, we wondered whether it...

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DOJ Expands New Enforcement Tactic – Obtains TRO to Prevent Pharmacy From Dispensing Opioids

On February 8, 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) in the Middle District of Tennessee against two pharmacies, their owner and three pharmacists from dispensing controlled substances, including opioids. The DOJ simultaneously unsealed a complaint alleging violations of the False Claims Act and Controlled Substances Act against the same parties. DOJ’s press release is available here. The DOJ described this action as part of a coordinated effort by the Prescription Interdiction & Litigation (PIL) Task Force to deploy its criminal, civil and regulatory tools to address the opioid epidemic in the United States. The complaint alleges that the pharmacies and pharmacists filled numerous prescriptions for controlled substances outside the usual course of professional practice and in violation of the pharmacists’ corresponding responsibility to ensure that prescriptions were written for a legitimate...

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Northern District of California Dismisses FCA Claim with Prejudice for Inability to Point to Particular Claims for Payment

On October 1, 2018, the District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed with prejudice a relator’s qui tam suit against Carelink Hospice Services, Inc. (Carelink) for failure to meet the heightened pleading standards mandated by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b). The court’s decision largely rested on the relator’s inability to specifically plead the existence of identifiable false claims—a strong affirmation that, in the Ninth Circuit, courts continue to hold relators to their pleading burdens. The relator worked for Carelink, a hospice provider, for a three-month period in 2015. As a hospice provider, Carelink needed to provide certifications of terminal illness to justify admissions to the facility and, in turn, receive reimbursements from Medicare for services rendered. The relator, without identifying particular claims for reimbursement or patients, alleged that Carelink violated the FCA by seeking reimbursement for patients who...

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Insys Announces Settlement-in-Principle with DOJ Over Alleged Subsys Kickback Scheme

Last month, Insys Therapeutics, Inc. announced that it reached a settlement-in-principle with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to settle claims that it knowingly offered and paid kickbacks to induce physicians and nurse practitioners to prescribe the drug Subsys and that it knowingly caused Medicare and other federal health care programs to pay for non-covered uses of the drug. The drugmaker agreed to pay at least $150 million and up to $75 million more based on “contingent events.” According to a status report filed by DOJ, the tentative agreement is subject to further approval and resolution of related issues. The settlement does not resolve state civil fraud and consumer protection claims against the company. The consolidated lawsuits subject to the settlement allege that Insys violated the False Claims Act and Anti-Kickback Statute in connection with its marketing of Subsys, a sub-lingual spray form of the powerful opioid fentanyl. The Food and Drug...

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Courts Weigh Appropriateness of Statistical Sampling in Ongoing Case

On April 2, 2018, the magistrate judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana issued an order refusing qui tam relators’ request to conduct discovery related to claims submitted to Medicare on a nationwide basis in an ongoing False Claims Act (FCA) case.  Importantly, the judge considered whether statistical sampling could be used to establish liability under the FCA for multiple entities affiliated with the defendant when the alleged false claims in the relators’ complaint originated from a single location. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) subsequently submitted a statement of interest defending relators’ discovery request and the use of statistical sampling to establish liability for false claims, which the court has not yet addressed. In the underlying qui tam case, the relators alleged that Evansville Hospital, a long-term acute care hospital in Indiana, and a physician violated the FCA by submitting claims to Medicare for...

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The Third Circuit Rejects the Anti-Kickback Statute “Tainted Claims” Theory

A key area of dispute in False Claims Act (FCA) cases based on Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) violations is what degree of connection plaintiffs must allege between alleged kickbacks and “false claims.” The AKS states that “a claim that includes items or services resulting from a violation of this section constitutes a false or fraudulent claim for purposes of [the FCA].” The government and relators typically argue that the mere fact that claims were submitted during the period of alleged kickbacks is sufficient. Defendants argue that the law requires plaintiffs to specifically identify claims “resulting from” an alleged kickback – i.e., that there is proof that the alleged kickback caused the referral or recommendation of the item or service contained in the claim. The Third Circuit’s recent decision in United States ex rel. Greenfield v. Medco Health Systems, Inc. articulated a middle of the road approach.  In affirming summary judgment for the defendants, the...

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The Opioid Crisis: An Emerging False Claims Act Risk Trend

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. Continue Reading.

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Escobar Upends $350 Million FCA Verdict

On January 11, 2018, a federal court in Florida overturned a $350 million False Claims Act (FCA) jury verdict against a nursing home operator, finding “an entire absence of evidence of the kind a disinterested observer, fully informed and fairly guided by Escobar, would confidently expect on the question of materiality.” In United States ex. rel. Ruckh v. CMC II LLC et al., the relator claimed that a skilled nursing facility and its management company failed to maintain “comprehensive care plans” ostensibly required by Medicare regulations as well as a “handful of paperwork defects” (for example, unsigned or undated documents). In addition, the relator alleged a corporate-wide scheme to bill Medicare for services that were not provided or needed. On February 15, 2017, a jury found that the defendants, collectively, had submitted or caused to be submitted more than 200 false claims and, based on statistical sampling and extrapolation, returned a verdict of...

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DOJ Settlement with Florida Medical Practice Serves as a Reminder: Delayed Repayment to Federal Programs Can Have Significant Consequences

While medical practices are generally aware that relators and the government pursue allegations of false or duplicative claims to federal health care programs, a recent settlement reflects a growing trend of False Claims Act (FCA) allegations concerning the failure to report and return identified overpayments. On October 13, 2017, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it had reached a $450,000 settlement with First Coast Cardiovascular Institute, P.A. (FCCI) of Jacksonville, Florida in a qui tam lawsuit alleging that FCCI failed to promptly return identified overpayments from federal health care programs after the overpayments came to the attention of the practice’s leadership. According to DOJ, FCCI accrued credit balances or overpayments—a common occurrence in instances where two insurers share responsibility for payment—from Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE and the Department of Veterans Affairs, totaling more than $175,000. DOJ alleged that,...

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