Former Orthofix Executive Pleads Guilty To Anti-Kickback Law Violations

Thomas P. Guerrieri has pleaded guilty in federal court before U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel for violating the Anti-Kickback statute. Guerrieri was the former vice-president of sales at a medical device company, Orthofix,  that sold bone growth simulators. His sentencing is scheduled for July 11, 2012 at 2:30 p.m. He faces up to five years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and forfeiture.

Had the case proceeded to trial, the Government would have proven that Guerrieri facilitated signing up a surgeon in New York to a “consulting” agreement with the company to induce the surgeon to prescribe the company’s bone growth stimulators. The surgeon was paid tens of thousands of dollars by the company, but provided little or no consulting services in return. The surgeon was supposed to document his services in time sheets provided to the company, but for years he did not fill out these forms or provide any legitimate consulting services, even though he was paid every month.

In or about Aug. 2007, the surgeon became concerned about increased government scrutiny of consulting arrangements such as his. The surgeon, Guerrieri, and a territory manager for the company decided to create and backdate time sheets going back to 2006 to make it seem as though the surgeon filled out these forms contemporaneously and performed legitimate consulting services. In addition, at the surgeon’s request, Guerrieri and the territory manager obtained a letter from the company’s general counsel indicating that the surgeon was compliant under his consulting agreement, which was not true. Guerrieri did these things to induce the surgeon to continue to order bone growth stimulators from the company.

In addition, Guerrieri and others executed a scheme to pay Michael Cobb, a RI physician’s assistant, for each bone growth stimulator ordered by Cobb. The surgeon had delegated to Cobb the choice of which stimulator his patients received. For years, the device company paid Cobb $50-$100 for each stimulator that his surgeon prescribed. In Sept. 2008, the device company issued a policy expressly prohibiting any payments to anyone who works for a surgeon that prescribes the company’s products. Guerrieri and others were concerned that if they could no longer pay Cobb under the new policy, the company might lose Cobb’s business. Thus, Guerrieri, and others, devised a scheme where Cobb continued to be paid for each order, but the payments were made by a vendor of the device company, making it more difficult to trace the paper trail back to the device company. Cobb is also charged with violating the Anti-Kickback law. His plea hearing is set for April 19, 2012 at 3:15 p.m. before Judge George A. O’Toole, Jr.

Federal regulators credit sophisticated statistical profiling and other new fraud investigation tools with playing a key role in the federal health care fraud investigation that lead to the arrest on health care fraud indictments today (February 28, 2012) of a Dallas-area physician, the office manager of his medical practice, and five home health agency owners. The Dallas-area defendants charged in the indictments unsealed today face health care fraud charges related to their alleged participation in a nearly $375 million health care fraud scheme involving fraudulent claims for home health services.  In a related action, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) suspended an additional 78 home health agencies (HHA) associated with defendant Roy based on what CMS views as credible allegations of fraud against them.

Federal officials say today’s arrests and CMS suspensions resulted from Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations conducted by the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT).   HEAT is a joint initiative announced in May 2009 between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce anti-fraud laws around the country.  Justice Department officials say the conduct charged in this indictment represents the single largest fraud amount orchestrated by one doctor in the history of the HEAT initiative.

Legal reforms and new resources granted under the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) and various other legal changes have beefed up the fraud detection and fighting powers of Federal health care fraud investigators and prosecutors.  Examples of these new tools include:

  • Tough new rules and sentences for criminals
  • Enhanced screening and other enrollment requirements
  • Increased coordination of fraud prevention efforts
  • Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT)
  • New focus on compliance and prevention
  • Expanded overpayment recovery efforts
  • New durable medical equipment (DME) requirements
  • An additional $350 million over 10 years to ramp up anti-fraud efforts
  • Greater oversight of private insurance abuses
  • Senior Medicare Patrols

Using these expanded tools, the HEAT Task Force and other federal health care fraud investigators are enjoying record successes in deploying these tools to achieve successful health care fraud prosecutions.  Government’s health care fraud prevention and enforcement efforts recovered nearly $4.1 billion in taxpayer dollars in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 according to the FY 2011 Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program Report  jointly released by HHS and the Justice Department on February 14, 2012.

The continuing success of these and other federal health care fraud investigation and enforcement efforts continue to demonstrate the need for health care providers and payers to strengthen their compliance practices and documentation to avoid getting caught in the ever tightening health care fraud dragnet.

Health Care Providers Must Act To Manage Risks

In response to the growing emphasis and effectiveness of Federal officials in investigating and taking action against health care providers and organizations, health care providers covered by federal false claims, referral, kickback and other health care fraud laws should consider auditing the adequacy of existing practices, tightening training, oversight and controls on billing and other regulated conduct, reaffirming their commitment to compliance to workforce members and constituents and taking other appropriate steps to help prevent, detect and timely redress health care fraud exposures within their organization and to position their organization to respond and defend against potential investigations or charges.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance 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. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other 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. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, 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 responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see here.

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©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

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