Medical Identity Theft/Fraud Convictions Highlight Need For Health Care Providers To Safeguard Health Information, Guard Against Fraud Schemes

Convictions Highlight Health Care Data Bases Attractive, Vulnerable Target For Medicare Fraud Schemers

A Federal judge sentenced 25 year old Miami resident Yenky Sanchez, 25 to serve more than 5 years in Federal prison for his role in the theft of Medicare numbers and other information of elderly and disabled Florida residents as part of a plan to defraud Medicare, Medicaid and other federal programs.  Coming on the heels of a November 3 conviction in West Virginia of Sargis Tadevosyan in a separate identity theft for Medicare fraud scheme, the convictions highlight the growing commitment and effectiveness of Federal and state investigators in investigating and prosecuting individuals who seek to use identity theft schemes to defraud Medicare or other federal programs.

Sanchez Conviction & Sentencing

The sentence arises from criminal charges brought by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in conjunction with other federal and state agencies, which charged Sanchez considered to commit health care fraud, authentication feature fraud and aggravated identity theft.  According to DOJ documents, Sanchez, participated in a scheme with Raul Diaz-Perera, to steal and sell Medicare numbers and other data about clients of their employer, the Florida Department of Children and Families’ (DCF).  Diaz-Perera previously was employed with DCF. According to the evidence at trial against Sanchez and a factual proffer filed with the court during the plea hearing for co-defendant Diaz-Perera, Sanchez used his position as employees at a DCF call center in downtown Miami to steal Medicare numbers and other personal information for purposes of committing health care fraud and identity theft.  The intent of Sanchez and his co-conspirator was for those numbers to be used to fraudulently bill Medicare for services that were never provided to the DCF beneficiaries. Sanchez was convicted of conspiring to commit health care fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349; conspiring to commit authentication feature fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1028(a)(3) and (f); and aggravated identity theft, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1028A(a)(1).  Based on these convictions, U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga sentenced Sanchez on November 21, 2011 to 65 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Judge Altonaga also imposed a $5,000.00 fine on Sanchez.

Tadevosyan Conviction

Federal officials previously also had scored another Medicare fraud/identity theft prosecution victory just a few short weeks earlier in West Virginia.  On November 3, 2011, a federal jury convicted Armenia citizen Sargis Tadevosyan in connection with a health care fraud scheme that intended to defraud millions of dollars from Medicare. Tadevosyan was found guilty of two felony counts: conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.  Tadevosyan faces up to 20 years in prison for the conspiracy conviction and a mandatory consecutive sentence of two years for aggravated identity theft and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on January 26, 2012.

In contrast to the small scale conspiracy that apparently occurred in the Sanchez case, the Tadovosyn scheme apparently was orchestrated by organized crime. Department of Health and Human Resources Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) uncovered the activities of Tadovosyn as part of its investigation of fraud schemes involving false front providers, whereby a company posed as a Medicare health care provider, and unlawfully billed Medicare as if they were providing legitimate services. Ultimately, investigators discovered that Tadevosyn and others were involved in defrauding Medicare and other health care payers as part of a scheme that used false front provider companies.  In total, more than $4 million in Medicare claims were submitted by the false front providers.  To co-conspirators of Tadevosyn pleaded guilty in September to aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft in connection to the health care fraud plot.  Those two co-defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on December 1, 2011.

In announcing the Tadevosyan conviction, federal officials affirmed their commitment to finding and prosecuting identity theft targeting Medicare and other health insurance programs. “This investigation revealed that organized criminal groups are still brazenly attempting to steal taxpayer money from our national health insurance programs,” said Nicholas DiGiulio, Special Agent in Charge for the Inspector General’s Office of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. “Today’s results demonstrate that we will do whatever it takes to catch these individuals in the act before they receive a penny of taxpayers’ money.”

Federal Laws, Investigations & Prosecutions of Medical Identity Theft Schemes Tightening

Whether from deliberate schemes to misappropriate data or other less sinister compromises of personal health information or other sensitive data, health care providers, health plans and other businesses face rising responsibilities to protect data and increasing exposures for failing to do so.

Federal law imposes stiff sanctions against organizations and individuals that engage in theft of personal or other sensitive information, health or other federal program fraud or both.  In an effort to stem the tide of health care and identity theft fraud, federal and state legislators and regulators have tightened federal and state laws to strengthen laws prohibiting health care fraud and identity theft, to require that health care providers, health plans, federal and state agencies and others that collect, possess or access sensitive personal health information, personal financial information or other sensitive date safeguard and protect sensitive information against improper access or misuse, to increase the penalties for violation of these federal and state laws and to provide law enforcement with expanded tools to investigate and prosecute violations of these laws.  See e.g., Cybercrime and Identity Theft:  Health Information Security Beyond HIPAA.  

As a result of these new and expanded mandates, health care providers, health plans, financial organizations and a broad range of other businesses and governmental agencies face a host of complicated mandates to protect personal health information, personal financial information and other sensitive data under laws such as the Health Information Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Fair & Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), state and federal identity theft and data security and other laws and significant liability for failing to fulfill these responsibilities. 

Health care providers, health insurers and others handling protected health information are particularly at risk when their data is compromised.  Recent amendments to HIPAA require these entities and their business associates to tighten their data privacy and security safeguards and to monitor and timely report data breaches, as well as significantly expand their potential liability exposure for failing to comply with HIPAA’s requirements. See e.g., UCLA Health Systems Payment of $865,500 To Settle HIPAA Charges Shows Rising HIPAA Risk; CVS Settles Privacy Charges; Rite Aid Agrees to Pay $1 Million to Settle HIPAA Privacy Case As Office of Civil Rights Proposes Tighter HIPAA Privacy & Security Regulations; 2 New HIPAA Criminal Actions Highlight Risks From Wrongful Use/Access of Health Information; President Signs Long-Sought Red Flag Rule Exemption Into LawAs part of its ongoing implementation of stepped up enforcement responsibility and powers enacted as part of these recent amendments, the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced on November 8, 2011 its kickoff of a new compliance audit effort. These developments send a forceful message that all businesses generally and health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses and their business associates specifically must get serious about compliance with the privacy, security and data breach requirements of HIPAA and other applicable law by implementing and administering the policies, procedures, training and oversight necessary to comply with these and other federal and state mandates regarding the protection of personal health information and other sensitive data.  Learn more about the recent convictions and related data breach exposures here.

For Help With Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs

If you need assistance providing compliance or other training, reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns/ She also regularly designs and presents risk management, compliance and other training for health care providers, professional associations and others.   Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

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©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

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