On December 11, 2018, the United States announced that it has elected to intervene in a False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit filed against Sutter Health and its affiliated entity Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) alleging that the defendants defrauded the Medicare Advantage program by submitting false patient information to the government. The whistleblower, a former employee of PAMF, alleges that Sutter “has taken and continues to take hundreds of millions of dollars in inflated capitation payments” by submitting “risk adjustment data Sutter knows to be inaccurate, incomplete or false.”

Medicare Advantage Plans

Medicare Advantage, formally known as Medicare Part C, allows private insurance companies, acting as “Medicare Advantage Organizations (MAOs),” to offer insurance plans and administer Medicare benefits. MAOs contract with healthcare providers such as Sutter to provide Medicare services to the plans’ enrollees. Instead of receiving reimbursement on a traditional fee-for-service basis, MAOs provide benefits under a capitated payment system, whereby government reimbursement is based on each individual beneficiary’s risk adjustment data.

Continue Reading DOJ Intervenes in Another Medicare Advantage Risk Adjustment FCA Suit

In U.S. ex rel. Poehling v. UnitedHealth Group, Inc., the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California partially granted UnitedHealth’s motion to dismiss the government’s FCA claims, which were based on the allegation that UnitedHealth’s attestations as to the truth and accuracy of the risk adjustment data submitted were false because the district court found that the government had failed to plead the attestations were material to the payment decision, as required by the Supreme Court’s decision in  Escobar.  The district court declined to dismiss the remaining claims, including an FCA claim added by the government after its complaint in the similar Swoben case was dismissed (which we discussed here), which alleged a violation of the reverse false claims provisions due to failure to delete invalid diagnosis codes without reference to the attestation.  The district court did grant the government leave to amend, with the second amended complaint to be filed by February 26, 2018.

Continue Reading Government Survives Dismissal of Remaining FCA Claims in Managed Care Case

Background

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California recently dismissed a complaint-in-intervention filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in U.S. ex rel. Swoben v. Secure Horizons.  As previously reported, in this significant test case, DOJ filed its complaint on May 1, 2017, as to the UnitedHealth Group parties (collectively, UnitedHealth), marking the first time that DOJ joined a whistleblower suit alleging FCA violations regarding Medicare Advantage.  The complaint alleged that the “risk adjustment” payments, which account for the severity of patient conditions as compared to an average Medicare fee-for-service beneficiary, were boosted by ignoring questionable diagnoses.

Continue Reading Dismissal of Medicare Advantage FCA Suit Marks Significant Defeat for Government

The DOJ’s recent complaint-in-intervention in US ex rel. Poehling v. United Health Group—one of two qui tam cases against United Health currently pending in the Central District of California—emphasizes the government’s view that, in order to avoid FCA liability based on allegedly inflated risk adjustment scores for Medicare Advantage members, health plans must follow up on any information they know or have reason to know indicating that providers are submitting or have submitted invalid codes to the health plan.

Continue Reading Second DOJ Complaint: Knowledge of Invalid Codes Requires Follow-Through to Avoid Liability