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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A recent piece of federal legislation intended to address the opioid crisis across the United States may have some unintended consequences. In attempting to prohibit “patient brokering” in the narrow context of addiction treatment and recovery centers, Congress may have unwittingly passed an unprecedented expansion of federal prosecutorial authority over payment arrangements between providers and referral sources for private-pay patients. For the reasons discussed in this blog post, any individual or entity who provides services relating to addiction treatment or recovery (as well as all clinical laboratories, regardless of whether they provide any addiction treatment or recovery services) should examine their arrangements with all referral sources for private-pay patients, even those who do not refer patients for addiction treatment or recovery services.

On October 24, 2018, the President signed into law the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act (the “SUPPORT Act”), as discussed here. The SUPPORT Act consolidated a number of opioid-related bills, including the Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act of 2018 (EKRA), which was intended to address the problem of “patient brokering” in the context of treatment centers and sober homes.


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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 will take a closer look at recent legal developments involving the FCA. This week, we examine recent court decisions considering relators’ efforts to plead and prove falsity under the FCA by relying on a worthless services theory of liability.

The Seventh Circuit’s decision in U.S. ex rel. Absher v. Momence Meadows Nursing Center, Inc., 764 F.3d 699 (7th Cir. 2014), casts significant doubt on the “worthless services” theory of FCA liability. Following the Seventh Circuit’s ruling in Momence, courts have reaffirmed the high hurdle that relators must surmount in order to plead a “worthless services” claim under the FCA.


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