Oklahoma’s Harmon Memorial Hospital, Physician Pay $1.5M Qui Tam Health Care Fraud Settlement

Harmon County Healthcare Authority (Harmon Memorial Hospital) and Dr. Akram R. Abraham, of Hollis, Oklahoma have agreed to pay $1,550,000 to settle claims of health care fraud of the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  Like a $5 million settlement announced with Christus Spohn Health System Corporation earlier in June, the settlement highlights the growing exposures that hospitals and other health care providers face to qui tam actions initiated in response to reports of misconduct made by employers or other business partners.  These and a slew of other prosecutions and settlements send a clear signal that health care providers face significant exposure from current or past aggressive practices raising risks of prosecution under Federal or state health care fraud and false claims laws.

Harmon Memorial Hospital Settlement

The settlement jointly announced June 20, 2012 by Sanford C. Coats, United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, and Scott E. Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, resolves a lawsuit styled United States of America and State of Oklahoma ex rel. Randy L. Curry v. Harmon County Healthcare Authority, Akram R. Abraham, M.D., P.C., and Akram R. Abraham, M.D., Case No CIV-09-1321-D, filed in Oklahoma City federal court under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the federal False Claims Act (FCA) and the Oklahoma Medicaid False Claims Act (OMFCA).

Randy L. Curry is from Harmon County and served as the hospital Administrator of Harmon County Healthcare Authority (HCHA) from 2008 to 2009. HCHA operates the Harmon Memorial Hospital in Hollis, Oklahoma. Dr. Akram R. Abraham, M.D., is a medical doctor licensed to practice in the Oklahoma who has a medical practice and resides in Hollis, Oklahoma.

The United States and State of Oklahoma alleged that from July 1, 2001, through May 30, 2008, both HCHA and Dr. Abraham violated the FCA and the OMFCA by submitting claims, or causing claims to be submitted, to the Medicare and Medicaid programs that violated the federal “Stark” regulations and Anti-Kickback Statute.

Specifically, the government alleged that there was a prohibited contractual relationship between HCHA and Dr. Abraham resulting in excessive remuneration which was not commercially reasonable in the absence of health care referrals and that HCHA and Dr. Abraham made false certifications that the Medicare and Medicaid claims they submitted were in compliance with federal and state regulations.

The alleged improper remuneration included, but was not limited to, free rent of office space, free billing and staff personnel, reimbursement of uncollected accounts receivable, duplicative per encounter payments for emergency room services, and improper payment of locum tenens physician services. HCHA and Dr. Abraham have each denied liability.

In the settlement, HCHA agreed to pay $550,000 and Dr. Abraham agreed to pay $1,000,000 to resolve the claims. In addition, both HCHA and Dr. Abraham have entered into five year corporate integrity agreements with the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General which requires additional regulatory compliance reporting and monitoring. Under the qui tam provisions of the FCA and OMFCA, Randy Curry will receive a share of the settlement proceeds.

Christus & Other Qui Tam Settlements Rising Risk

The HCHA settlement follows the announcement earlier this month that Christus Spohn Health System Corporation has paid the United States more than $5 million to settle Justice Department and a former executive’s qui tam claims that it profited from violations of the False Claims Act by inappropriately admitted patients to inpatient status for outpatient procedures.   HCHA and Christus are just two of a lengthy and growing list of qui tam cases and settlements that reflect the tide of liability arising from qui tam and other whistleblower activities.

Since January 2009, the Department of Justice has recovered over $11.1 billion under the False Claims Act. Of this amount, more than $7.4 billion was recovered in health care fraud matters. Last year, more than 630 qui tam matters were filed with the Department of Justice – more than in any other year in the history of the FCA and an increase of more than 47% since 2009. More than two-thirds of these qui tam cases alleged false claims to government health care programs.

Meanwhile, the OMFCA went into effect on November 1, 2007, and its focus is solely on fraud perpetrated against the Oklahoma Medicaid Program. Since its passage, over 351 qui tam cases have been filed on behalf of the State of Oklahoma. The State has received over $63.8 million in civil recoveries resulting from cases alleging fraud on the Oklahoma Medicaid system. The Oklahoma Attorney General’s MFCU is the only Oklahoma law enforcement agency dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of Medicaid fraud.

 These and other statistics document the HCHA and Christus settlements and their underlying actions are reflective of a concerning rise in qui tam related exposures by health care providers.  These and other qui tam actions as well as non-qui tam prosecutions of health care fraud and other compliance related cases, make clear that disgruntled current or former employees, contractors and business partners frequently are key players in qui tam or other prosecutions against health care providers.  These “insiders” often know about the skeletons are in health care and other organization’s compliance closets.    With many whistleblowers concerned about their own potential liability or axes to grind, the tight economy and job markets and reforms making it easier and more attractive for whistleblowers to bring and recover, qui tam and whistleblower claims are on the rise.  Health care providers need to recognize and take steps to respond to these trends and incentives as part of their risk management and compliance efforts.

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 better place their organization in a position successfully to respond and defend against potential investigations or charges.  In light of the growing qui tam risks, health care providers also should tighten internal investigation, exit interview and other human resources and business partner oversight, reporting and investigation policies and practices to help identify and redress potential fraud or other qui tam, retaliation and similar  exposures early and more effectively.  

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 get 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 (469) 767-8872 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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