Houston-Area Nurse Gets 97 Month Sentence For Role In $5.2 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme

A Houston-area home health nurse will serve a 97 month prison sentence for her participation in a $5.2 million Medicare fraud scheme according to a May 16, 2012 announcement by the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Health and Human Service (HHS).  The sentence is the latest in a growing series of reminders to health care providers and others of the growing risk of imprisonment and other consequences that can result from the submission of inappropriate Medicare or other health program claims.

Ezinne Ubani, the former director of nursing at Family Healthcare Group, a Houston home health care company, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas in the Southern District of Texas to 97 months in prison, followed by three years supervised release.  Ubani also was ordered to pay $2.5 million in restitution jointly and severally with her codefendants.  Ubani was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and two counts of making false statements following a May 2011 trial.

According to the evidence presented at trial and in court documents, Family Healthcare Group purported to provide skilled nursing to Medicare beneficiaries.  Family Healthcare Group paid co-conspirators to recruit Medicare beneficiaries for the purpose of filing claims with Medicare for skilled nursing that was medically unnecessary and/or not provided.  The evidence showed that Ezinne Ubani falsified documents to support the fraudulent payments.  After the Medicare beneficiaries were recruited, other co-conspirators fraudulently signed plans of care stating that the beneficiaries needed home health care when in fact they knew the beneficiaries were not home-bound and not in need of skilled nursing.

Ubani is the seventh defendant sentenced in connection with this scheme.  Three other defendants, Clifford Ubani, Princewill Njoku and Cynthia Garza Williams, await sentencing in the Southern District of Texas.

Feds Continue To Turn Up HEAT on Health Care Fraud

The investigation and prosecution that lead to Ubani’s sentence are part of a growing number of prosecutions and convictions resulting from the federal HEAT Task Force.   Empowered with new data mining, statistical profiling and other new fraud fighting resources created under the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) and other recently enacted laws, 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. 

according to Justice Department officials, since their inception in March 2007, Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in nine locations have charged more than 1,330 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $4 billion.  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.    Furthermore, this trend is likely to continue.  Federal officials say the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers along side the ongoing investigatory and enforcement activities of the HEAT Task Force and other federal and state agencies.

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 help 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 set up 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 help 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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THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

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

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