The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) routinely encourages the subjects of False Claims Act (FCA) enforcement actions to make voluntary disclosures and fully cooperate with the government on the premise that cooperation leads to reduced liability. The DOJ recently issued guidance on the types of activities that will earn “cooperation credit.” But how much is cooperation worth, in terms of actual dollars? According to recent data and an analysis by Seton Hall Law School Professor Jacob T. Elberg, perhaps not much.

Discretion over Damages Multiplier Incentivizes Cooperation

The government’s basis for incentivizing cooperation lies primarily in its discretion in seeking damages and penalties allowable under the FCA. A defendant can be liable under the FCA for three times the amount of damages the government sustains, plus a civil penalty for each false claim. But such severe damages and penalties are not required, particularly where the government and a defendant negotiate a settlement to resolve FCA allegations without a court judgment or any finding of liability.


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Government Settles with Several Entities, Individuals

Last week, Vanguard Healthcare and related entities reached a settlement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) for the stated amount of more than $18 million to settle allegations related to billing worthless services to Medicare and Medicaid programs from 2010 to 2015. The settlement also includes a resolution of claims against two individuals—Vanguard’s majority owner and CEO and its and former director of operations—consistent with the DOJ’s ongoing policy of focusing on individual liability (as discussed here). The CEO and director of operations will pay $212,500 and $37,500, respectively, of the total settlement sum. In its press release, the DOJ called this the “largest worthless services resolution in Tennessee history.”

The United States and the state of Tennessee sued the nursing home chain in September 2016, after the Vanguard entities had filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.  In the complaint and in claims filed in the bankruptcy cases, the government alleged damages in excess of $56 million.  The primary allegations were that Vanguard and its subsidiaries billed Medicare and TennCare for “non-existent, grossly substandard, and/or worthless nursing home services[.]” The alleged inadequate care included staffing and supply shortages, a lack of infection control, failure to administer medications as prescribed, failure to care for wounds as ordered, lack of adequate pain management, and overuse of psychotropic medications and physical restraints, among other quality of care allegations. The government also alleged that Vanguard submitted Pre-Admission Evaluations and Preadmission Screening and Resident Reviews (certifications that TennCare uses to determine a patient’s Medicaid eligibility and required level of care) with forged physician or nurse signatures.


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In June 2018, Healogics, Inc., the nation’s largest provider of advanced chronic wound care services, agreed to pay to up to $22.51 million to resolve False Claims Act (FCA) allegations that, from 2010 to 2015, it caused wound care centers to submit claims to Medicare for medically unnecessary and unreasonable hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy. Healogics manages almost 700 hospital-based wound care centers where HBO therapy is provided. HBO therapy is a modality wherein a patient’s full body is enclosed in a pressurized chamber and exposed to high concentrations of oxygen. Medicare covers the therapy only when used to treat certain conditions (e.g., diabetic foot ulcers) and only when administered in certain circumstances (e.g., after no measurable signs of healing for prior 30 days of treatment with standard wound therapy).

Pursuant to the settlement agreement, Healogics paid $17.5 million and could pay an additional $5.01 million if its earnings exceed certain levels over the next five years. Healogics also agreed to enter into a five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) as part of the resolution.


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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 continue to take a closer look at recent legal developments involving the FCA. This week, we examine judicial review of FCA settlements and recent cases considering this issue.

In U.S. ex rel. Michaels v. Agape Senior Cmty., Inc., the Fourth Circuit considered the scope of DOJ’s authority to review and ultimately veto a settlement reached by relators and the defendants.  The panel had little difficulty affirming the district court’s determination that DOJ’s veto authority in this regard is unreviewable.


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After granting the relators’ petition for an interlocutory review of the district court’s rejection of the use of statistical sampling to establish FCA liability, the Fourth Circuit ultimately declined to reach that issue in its opinion recently issued in U.S. ex rel. Michaels v. Agape Senior Community, Inc.  This conclusion comes as no surprise based on the comments and questions posed by the panel during the course of oral argument, as we covered here.
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In recent years, civil enforcement efforts involving the FCA have grown significantly. Today, the FCA impacts a vast array of businesses, as it is commonly used to redress false claims for government funds involving everything from government contracts to Medicare and Medicaid to federally insured mortgages.  The versatility and reach of the FCA has enabled DOJ to use this powerful enforcement tool to recover more than $20 billion during the last five years alone.

A review of several recent FCA settlements indicates that the DOJ continues to actively pursue FCA claims for a wide range of conduct and in a wide variety of industries.


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Texas-based hospital chain Tenet Healthcare Corporation and two of its Atlanta-area hospitals, Atlanta Medical Center and North Fulton Hospital, have agreed to pay more than $513 million to resolve civil and criminal claims related to violations of the federal False Claims Act (FCA) and Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS). Settlement of the underlying cases, which are styled U.S. ex rel. Williams v. Health Management Associates Inc., No. 3:09-cv-00130 (M.D. Ga.) and U.S. v. Atlanta Medical Center, Inc. No. 16-cr-00350 (N.D. Ga), are one of the largest FCA and AKS settlements this year.

On October 3, 2016, the United States filed a bill of information charging Atlanta Medical and North Fulton with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and pay and receive kickbacks and bribes. The government alleged that, from 2000 to 2013, Atlanta Medical and North Fulton paid prenatal clinics providing medical services to women (many of whom were undocumented, uninsured and indigent) for referrals for labor and delivery, postnatal, and infant services.  According to the government, business documents show that these referrals resulted in “extremely generous” Medicaid reimbursements and a profitable relationship between the hospitals and the clinics.
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On August 24, 2016, DOJ announced a $2.95 million settlement with defendants facing FCA liability for allegedly delaying repayment of more than $800,000 in Medicaid overpayments. The settlement amounted to nearly 3.5 times the amount of the improper billings stipulated in the settlement documents.

This is the first FCA settlement involving the Affordable Care Act’s 60-day repayment provision and flows from allegations that the defendants violated the obligation to report and remit overpayments within 60 days of when such payments have been identified. The stipulation accompanying the parties’ settlement of the FCA claims at issue also included language that the defendants “admit[ted], acknowledge[d], and accept[ed] responsibility for” the conduct underlying the government’s allegations regarding the  violation of this obligation.


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DOJ recently reached settlements in connection with three long running enforcement efforts, amassing more than $1 billion in settlement funds. These settlements reflect the continued expansion of aggressive government enforcement in the healthcare industry. Since January 2009, DOJ claims recovery of more than $16.2 billion in healthcare-related FCA cases alone.

Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis AG agreed to pay $390 million to settle allegations that it provided unlawful rebates to specialty pharmacies to boost prescription refills for Novartis products. While Novartis did not admit that these rebates constituted illegal kickbacks, it did acknowledge providing rebates to three specialty pharmacies to incentivize an increase of prescription refills. This settlement comes at the conclusion of Novartis’ five-year CIA resulting from a settlement with DOJ in 2010. As part of its latest settlement, Novartis has agreed to extend its CIA for an additional five year period. Additionally, Novartis has agreed to amend its CIA to include obligations covering the company’s interactions with specialty pharmacies and to provide an annual report to DOJ detailing Novartis’ compliance with the CIA.


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On October 16, 2015, Tuomey Healthcare agreed to pay more than $74 million to resolve a $237 million judgment in a long-standing FCA matter that had threatened to bankrupt the nonprofit hospital. The action, styled U.S. ex rel. Drakeford v. Tuomey Healthcare Systems, Inc., No. 05-2858 (D.S.C.), involved FCA allegations that Tuomey employed and