I recently discussed the trends related to False Claims Act (FCA) settlements in the home health sector, as revealed in the Healthcare Fraud & Abuse Settlements Database which we launched earlier this year. The database was part of the comprehensive Healthcare Fraud & Abuse Resource Center that provides an overview of FCA enforcement settlements, court decisions, updates involving the Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute, and other developments affecting the healthcare industry.

“We wanted to create a database of False Claims Act settlements to allow providers to have easy access to information, to see the cases that the government or regulators have resolved in the health care fraud space,” I told Home Health Care News. “This is the first publicly available database of this type.”

According to the information in the database, home health providers have paid at least $422.6 million since 2012 to settle FCA allegations. This represents 51 different cases over the time period from 2012-2020.

Continue Reading False Claims Act Cases in Home Health Sector

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare providers have relied on telehealth options to provide patients access to care. But, as I discussed in a recent article for Physicians Practice, “As long as utilization of telehealth services remains high, corresponding scrutiny and government enforcement efforts will remain focused on this area.”

In the article, I recommend ways that physicians and other providers can prepare for this additional scrutiny:

Continue Reading Telehealth Scrutiny Following COVID-19 Pandemic

We explored the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in Universal Health Servs., Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar to mark the fifth anniversary of this key False Claims Act opinion in a recent article for Law360. As we point out in the article, the Supreme Court’s decision “continues to have a profound impact on the manner in which FCA allegations are pleaded in FCA complaints, investigated by the government and litigated by parties to FCA lawsuits.”

In the article, we examine significant cases that have followed in the five years since Escobar’s consideration of the False Claims Act’s materiality standard and how the Supreme Court’s ruling has impacted the approach to dispositive motions in False Claims Act litigation, the significance of the government’s intervention decision in qui tam actions, and the pursuit of discovery from the government in False Claims Act cases. We also outline how the U.S. Department of Justice’s 2018 Granston memo addressing DOJ’s dismissal authority under the False Claims Act intersects with the Court’s decision in Escobar.

The full article, “Where FCA Litigation stands 5 Years After Escobar,” was published by Law360 on June 23 and is available online.

We are excited to announce the launch of our new Healthcare Fraud & Abuse Resource Center, which will provide a central location for healthcare leaders to access tools and information, including:

  • An innovative, searchable database featuring more than 1,300 significant False Claims Act (FCA) settlements from the last decade.
  • The most recent edition of our Healthcare Fraud & Abuse Annual Review, an in-depth and comprehensive analysis of the past year’s court decisions involving the FCA and enforcement developments affecting the healthcare industry.
  • A video library where visitors can watch segments (some for CLE credit) about fraud and abuse issues facing the healthcare industry, as well as practical tips and takeaways for preparing for, responding to and resolving a healthcare fraud investigation.

In addition, previous editions of our Annual Review publications can be accessed at the Resource Center, along with quick links to posts from this blog and to other publications and events that may be of interest.

In the last year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has brought more than 100 criminal cases relating to Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Fraud.  These criminal prosecutions started at a blistering pace, with the first indictments coming within the very first months of the program’s inception. This wave of criminal prosecutions and convictions related to some of the more flagrant abuses – individuals who fraudulently obtained funds from the program and then went on spending sprees for things like Lamborghinis, mansions, and private jet travel.

These prosecutions focused on individuals and organized groups who obtained or used PPP funds fraudulently, often including charges for false statements (18 U.S.C. § 1001), aggravated identify theft (18 U.S.C. § 1028A(a)(1)), false statements in a loan application (18 U.S.C. § 1014), wire fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343), bank fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1344), and Title 26 tax charges. Along with these prosecutions came significant resources, including new fraud coordinators and data analytics teams across the country.

Now, we are starting to see the first civil enforcement actions relating to the program. This signals a new phase of enforcement for the DOJ and all organizations who benefited from the program must pay close attention.

Continue Reading PPP Investigations, Settlements and Litigation on the Horizon

How should a court evaluate the FCA’s materiality requirement when the government’s ability to deny claims is constrained? According to a recent decision from the Eleventh Circuit, the court should “broadly” consider the government’s “pattern of behavior as a whole,” and may find evidence of materiality in administrative actions that might not support materiality in other cases.

Background

The case, U.S. ex rel. Donnell v. Mortgage Investors Corporation, was brought by two mortgage brokers who specialized in originating mortgage loans guaranteed by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Under the program at issue, VA regulations limited the fees and costs lenders could collect from veterans and required lenders seeking VA guarantees to certify compliance with the fee-and-cost restrictions. The relators alleged that the defendant, Mortgage Investors Corporation (MIC), defrauded the VA by charging veterans prohibited fees and falsely certifying they had not done so.

After originating loans and obtaining VA guarantees, MIC typically sold its loans on the secondary market to holders in due course. This introduced an “important wrinkle,” the appeals court noted, because the VA is statutorily required to honor its guarantee when borrowers default on loans possessed by holders in due course.

Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Broadens Materiality Analysis for Some Cases

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama recently ordered that a relator’s qui tam lawsuit must be unsealed upon the case’s voluntary dismissal, denying the relator’s request to maintain the action under seal post-dismissal. This ruling in U.S. ex rel. Meythaler v. Encompass Health Corporation serves as an important reminder that public access to court records is vitally important and that whistleblowers’ allegations and identities will almost certainly be made public, even where the case is dismissed without litigation.

FCA Complaint Filed Under Seal

The relator, a physician formerly employed by the defendant, filed suit under the False Claims Act (FCA) against an inpatient rehabilitation facility operator and the CEOs of two of its Alabama facilities. The complaint alleged numerous schemes, including allegations that the defendants sought reimbursement for treatment of patients who were not eligible for rehabilitation benefits, delayed discharges and other orders to increase reimbursement, and made improper referrals to a home health agency. Per the FCA’s procedural requirements, 31 U.S.C. § 3730(b)(2), the relator filed his complaint under seal, giving the government a statutory period of at least 60 days to investigate the allegations and determine whether to intervene in the case.

The government declined to intervene in the action last fall. The relator then filed a notice of voluntary dismissal with prejudice, to which the government later consented. The relator also filed a motion asking the court to maintain the action under seal even after the case was dismissed to prevent the defendants from learning that the relator had filed a qui tam action against them. The government took no position on the relator’s motion.

Continue Reading Relator Cannot Maintain Dismissed Qui Tam Action Under Seal, District Court Rules

A common feature of False Claims Act (FCA) litigation is the pursuit of liability under the FCA’s so-called “reverse” false claims provision, 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1)(G).  Reverse false claims liability applies when a person or entity knowingly does either of the following:

  1. Makes, uses, or causes, to be made or used, a false record or statement material to an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the government.
  2. Conceals or knowingly and improperly avoids or decreases an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the government.

The reverse false claims provision of the FCA is especially significant for healthcare providers, in part because the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) (as well as associated regulations) expressly linked the knowing retention of overpayments from federal healthcare programs to reverse false claims liability under the FCA.  Specifically, the relevant statutory provision of the ACA defines the term “obligation,” as used in the FCA, to include any overpayment that is not “reported and returned” within 60 days after it is “identified,” a term courts and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have interpreted somewhat broadly.   See 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7k(d).  Thus, by “improperly avoid[ing]” this “obligation”—i.e., knowingly or recklessly failing to return the overpayment within the ACA’s 60-day timeframe—a provider violates the FCA.

The upshot for providers is that a failure to diligently investigate and appropriately address a potential overpayment may lead to a host of problems, including whistleblower lawsuits, intrusive government scrutiny, and ultimately, FCA liability for treble damages and civil penalties.  What’s more, this may be true even in cases where the receipt of the overpayment was not itself the result of any fraudulent conduct.  Indeed, as the cases discussed below demonstrate, that risk is far from just hypothetical.

Continue Reading Provider Beware: Recent FCA Cases Emphasize the Importance of Diligently Addressing Potential Overpayments

For several years, courts have wrestled with the question of whether subjective clinical decisions regarding the type and amount of treatment patients may need can be false for purposes of establishing False Claims Act (FCA) liability.  The question of whether the FCA requires a showing of objective falsity has divided appellate courts in a number of recent high-profile cases.

For their part, practitioners have kept a close eye on whether the Supreme Court might bring much-needed clarity to this issue.  On February 22, the Supreme Court declined to do so, denying a petition for certiorari with respect to the Third Circuit’s opinion in U.S. ex rel. Druding v. Care Alternatives.

In Druding, the relators, who were former employees of a hospice provider, filed a qui tam action alleging that the hospice provider submitted false claims by routinely certifying patients who were not terminally ill for hospice care.  During the litigation, the relators’ expert examined the medical records of nearly 50 patients and concluded that the documentation did not support a certification of terminal illness for approximately 35% of those patients.  The hospice provider produced its own expert who testified a physician could have reasonably concluded that the patients at issue were terminally ill and needed hospice care.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Declines to Weigh in on Key Falsity Question

We released our Healthcare Fraud & Abuse Annual Review earlier this month. To serve as a companion to the Review, we’re hosting a complimentary webinar on Thursday, February 18, 2021 from 8:00-10:00 a.m. PT / 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. CT / 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. ET. that will take a deeper dive into key focus areas covered throughout the Review, including:

  •  Enforcement update and issues to watch.
  • False Claims Act update.
  • Stark Law/Anti-Kickback Statute enforcement updates.
  • Managed care and pharma/medical device developments.

We hope you can join us for this timely discussion of healthcare fraud issues from the past year and how they will impact proceedings in 2021. If you have not done so already, please click to download your copy of the current edition of the Healthcare Fraud & Abuse Annual Review.

Who Should Attend?

  • In-house legal counsel
  • Compliance officers
  • Privacy officers
  • C-level executives, consultants and principals

Accreditation

Tennessee CLE
This program is pending approval for two hours General Tennessee CLE credit. Please provide your BPR number upon registration in order for Bass, Berry & Sims to report your participation to the Tennessee CLE Commission following the conference.

Other State CLE
Bass, Berry & Sims does not seek direct accreditation from states outside of Tennessee, but some states allow attorneys to earn credit through reciprocity or self-submission. Certificates of completion and other common supporting documents will be provided for use in jurisdictions outside of Tennessee.

Questions?

Submit your questions for presenters upon registration or email questions to Claire Krummenacher.