On July 18, 2016, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California issued one of the first post-Escobar decisions addressing a motion to dismiss FCA allegations on grounds that the complaint did not satisfy Rule 9(b)’s pleading standard. In the intervened case, the United States alleged that diagnostic sleep studies were performed in locations that violated federal law and/or were performed by technicians who were not licensed or certified. The United States proceeded on multiple FCA theories (including factual falsity, express false certification, fraud in the inducement, and implied false certification).
On June 16, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated opinion in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar regarding the implied certification theory of False Claims Act (FCA) liability. The Court’s unanimous opinion, drafted by Justice Clarence Thomas, is significant in three respects, detailed further below: (1) the Court ruled that, in certain circumstances, the implied certification theory can be a basis for FCA liability; (2) the Court held that an express condition of payment in a statutory, regulatory or contractual requirement is relevant—but “not automatically dispositive”—in determining FCA liability; and (3) the Court clarified how the FCA’s materiality requirement should be enforced by lower courts addressing FCA suits premised on an implied false certification theory.
The FCA continues to be the federal government’s primary civil enforcement tool for investigating allegations that healthcare providers or government contractors defrauded the federal government. In the coming weeks, we will take a closer look at recent legal developments involving the FCA. This week, we examine recent court decisions considering the requirement that a relator plead and prove falsity to establish an FCA claim and evaluate the different theories of falsity that have emerged during the last several years.
Use of Statistical Sampling to Establish Falsity
Following last year’s landmark ruling in U.S. ex rel. Martin v. LifeCare Centers of America, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 142657 (E.D. Tenn. Sept. 29, 2014), statistical sampling has become an increasingly important issue in FCA cases. This year, decisions by the district court in U.S. ex rel. Paradies v. AseraCare, Inc., 2015 WL 8486874 (N.D. Ala. Nov. 3, 2015), reiterated this fact. AseraCare faced allegations that it falsely billed the government for hospice patients that failed to satisfy requirements that patients be terminally ill and have a life expectancy of six months or less. Anticipating lengthy trial testimony concerning the statistical sample of 233 claims, the district court bifurcated the trial for the FCA’s falsity element from trial for all other elements. In arriving at its novel decision, the district court rejected the government’s objections that bifurcation would result in juror confusion and duplicative evidence.
For the first time in recent history, the previous year’s healthcare fraud headlines were noteworthy as much for legal developments and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) pronouncements as they were for the healthcare fraud recovery haul by the government.
To be sure, DOJ enjoyed yet another banner year of civil and criminal healthcare fraud enforcement results. During the fiscal year ending September 30, 2015 (FY 2015), the federal government racked up nearly $3.6 billion in civil fraud recoveries, marking the eleventh straight year in which such recoveries exceeded $1 billion.
Bass, Berry & Sims attorney Brian Roark was interviewed for an article in Becker’s Hospital Review and identified five trends that will impact False Claims Act (FCA) recoveries in 2016. Several case rulings from 2015 and a shift in government focus has the potential to allow for continued financial recoveries in the coming year, especially within the healthcare industry.
The five trends outlined in the article include:
- Use of extrapolation
- Focus on physician compensation
- Spotlight on individual liability
- Disclosure of overpayments
- Recognition of implied certification
The full article, “5 False Claims Act Trends, Cases that Will Fuel Recoveries in 2016,” was published by Becker’s Hospital Review on January 6, 2016 and is available online.
There are a number of key issues that will drive the government’s enforcement efforts in the coming year and that will have a significant impact on how healthcare fraud matters are pursued by relators asserting FCA claims and are defended on behalf of healthcare providers. In the coming weeks, we will examine these issues in greater depth and why healthcare providers should keep a close eye on these issues. This week, we examine the future of implied certification as a viable FCA theory of falsity.
In December 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the petition for writ of certiorari in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. Escobar and will consider whether and to what extent the implied certification theory is a viable theory of falsity under the FCA. This case undoubtedly will be one of the most closely watched FCA cases to be argued before the Supreme Court since the 1986 amendments to the FCA.