Feds Health Fraud Suit Against Psychiatrists Shows Risks Providers Run From Aggressive Referral or Billing Activities

A civil lawsuit seeking millions of dollars of damages  from a Chicago-area psychiatrist provides a clear warning to physicians and other health care providers of the significant potential legal risks that can arise if they improperly receive compensation or other perks for participating in conferences, prescribing treatments or engage in other arrangements that violate federal or state anti-kickback or other health care fraud laws.On November 15, 2012, the Justice Department sued Chicago-area psychiatrist Dr. Michael J. Reinstein in the Northern District of Illinois with receiving illegal kickbacks on at least 50,000 claims and filing at least 140,000 false Medicare and Medicare Claims for antipsychotic medications he prescribed for thousands of mentally ill patients in area nursing homes.  The suit against Dr. Michael J. Reinstein seeking triple damages under the False Claims Act, plus a civil penalty of $5,500 to $11,000 for each alleged false claim. See here.

The lawsuit involves Reinstein’s use of clozapine, a rarely-used medication that has serious potential side effects and is generally considered a drug of last resort, particularly for elderly patients. While clozapine has been shown to be effective for treatment-resistant forms of schizophrenia, it is also known to cause numerous side effects, including a potentially deadly decrease in white blood cells, seizures, inflamation of the heart muscle, and increased mortality in elderly patients.

According to the suit, 69-year old Reinstein has provided psychiatric medical services in the Chicago area since 1973. According to the lawsuit, Reinstein routinely prescribed antipsychotic and other psychiatric medications knowing that, because most of his patients are indigent nursing home residents, pharmacies dispensing the medications submitted claims to Medicaid, and beginning in 2006, to Medicare Part D. Reinstein also submitted Medicare and Medicaid claims for pharmacologic management of his patients, knowing that he did not engage in substantive evaluations of his patients’ medical and psychiatric conditions to properly manage their medications. Instead, he allegedly prescribed medications to his patients based on his receipt of kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies.

Prior to August 2003, Reinstein prescribed Clozaril, the trade name for clozapine manufactured by Novartis, and he often had more than 1,000 patients using the medication at any given time. For many years, Novartis paid Reinstein to promote Clozaril, the complaint alleges. After Novartis’ patent for Clozaril expired in 1998, Reinstein resisted pharmacy and drug company efforts to switch his patients to generic clozapine and he continued to be the largest prescriber of Clozaril to Medicaid recipients in the United States. In July 2003, Novartis notified Reinstein that was withdrawing its support for Clozaril, and ended the regular payments that it had been making to Reinstein. 

In August 2003, Reinstein finally agreed to switch his patients to generic clozapine manufactured by Miami-based IVAX Pharmaceuticals, Inc., the suit alleges, if IVAX agreed to pay Reinstein $50,000 under a one-year “consulting agreement;” pay his nurse to speak on behalf of clozapine; and fund a clozapine research study by a Reinstein-affiliated entity known as Uptown Research Institute. IVAX agreed and Reinstein immediately began switching his patients from Clozaril to IVAX’s clozapine. He quickly became the largest prescriber of generic clozapine in the country.

“Reinstein’s inordinate prescribing of clozapine stands in stark contrast to its extremely limited use by other physicians,” the lawsuit states. While generally only four percent of schizophrenia patients who were prescribed antipsychotics received clozapine, during the time Reinstein was alegedly accepting kickbacks from IVAX, more than 50 percent of his patients were prescribed IVAX’s clozapine. At one nursing home, Reinstein had 75 percent of the 400 residents on IVAX’s clozapine.

Between 2003 and 2006, the lawsuit charges Reinstein requested, and IVAX provided, additional direct and indirect benefits to Reinstein and his associates, including paying airfare, lodging, meals, and entertainment expenses for a pharmacy owner and spouse, Reinstein’s nurse, his accountant and spouse, his administrative assistant and spouse, and Reinstein and his wife to travel to IVAX’s headquarters in Miami. IVAX also paid for Reinstein and his entourage to go on a fishing trip, a boat cruise, and a golf outing; annual renewal of Reinstein’s $50,000 “consulting agreement;” and tickets to sporting events and free IVAX-manufactured medication for Reinstein’s personal use.

In January 2006, IVAX became a subsidiary of Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries, Ltd., an Israeli company. About seven months before the merger, Reinstein began moving large numbers of his patients to a form of clozapine manufactured by a competitor of IVAX/Teva. In April 2006, Teva paid all expenses for Reinstein and his entourage to travel to Miami, including a $2,300 boat cruise, and at least two dinners costing more than $1,700 each. During this trip Teva employees asked Reinstein what the company could do to induce Reinstein to prescribe more clozapine, and Reinstein suggested that Teva hire an associate of his from Chicago, the lawsuit alleges. Teva agreed and in the months after the hiring Reinstein put several hundred patients back on Teva’s clozapine. From 2007 to 2009, the suit alleges, Teva and Reinstein entered into annual “speaker agreements” that resulted in Teva paying Reinstein more than $100,000.

Based on this alleged conduct, the suit charges Medicaid received and paid more than 100,000 false claims from various pharmacies for IVAX/Teva clozapine prescriptions written by Reinstein between August 2003 and July 2011 as a result of illegal kickbacks he solicited and received from IVAX and Teva. Between 2006 and July 2011, Medicare Part D received and paid more than 40,000 false claims involving similar kickback-induced prescriptions. Likewise, between August 2003 and July 2011, Reinstein allegedly submitted more than 40,000 false claims and received payment from Medicaid for purported pharmacologic management, as well as more than 10,000 similar false claims to Medicare.

This lawsuit is one a growing list of civil and criminal investigations and enforcement actions by federal and state prosecutors targeting health care providers using expanded health care fraud laws and investigatory and prosecutorial powers granted under the Affordable Care Act and other legislation to help bring down health care costs. 

Through these and other flashy prosecutions, as well as a continuous campaign of audits and other activities, federal officials are trying to reduce Medicare and other health care expenditures, both by prosecuting health care providers for intentionally submitting false claims, as well as using the treat of audits, program, disqualification or civil or criminal prosecution to scare health care providers to reduce legitimate billings that could trigger a federal audit or other federal scrutiny. 

Federal officials are aided in these efforts by an arsenal of new health care fraud statistical profiling and other health care fraud detection and enforcement tools granted by Congress in recent years that make it easier for federal officials to target and successfully prosecute or bring other sanctions against health care providers whose billing or other business practices come under scrutiny. 

Coupled with the ever-lengthening list of civil settlements and civil monetary penalties, program disqualifications, and audits, Federal officials use high profile criminal sweeps like those announced today both to send a message to health care providers generally, and as a tool to pressure and encourage health care providers to accept settlements proposed by federal auditors and prosecutors to avoid the potential threat of more serious criminal, civil or administrative prosecutions. 

These activities are intended to send a strong message to health care providers that bill Medicare, Medicaid, or other public or private health care programs that they must be prepared to defend any charges billed to these or other federal health care programs and to defend their other business practices. 

In response to these threats, health care providers should take steps to strengthen their billing, referral, audit, medical and other recordkeeping and other compliance and risk management practices to enhance their ability to defend or prevent these exposures.  While most providers already are moving to tighten these practices, the move to electronic health records, changing rules and other pressures are undermining the sufficiency of these efforts.  This investigation shows that beyond mere aggressive billing practices, federal officials also are targeting for enforcement physicians and other health care providers that participate in financial or other referral incentive or reward practices prohibited by the anti-kickback, STARK or other relevant law as well as the filing of Medicare, Medicaid or other health claims for undelivered, unnecessary or otherwise uncovered care or  services. 

Amid these and other enforcement actions, all health industry players should exercise care to steer clear of activities that might violate federal health care fraud rules as well as consider whether corrective or other action might be necessary to address risks of prior activities that with the benefit of hindsight taking into account the current enforcement climate reflect potential exposures. 

In the case of physicians and certain other professionals, these plans need to include both efforts to manage potential government investigation risks and management of their practices to mitigate peer review or other disciplinary or practice regulatory oversight that often arises when the practices and hospitals start tightening oversight and controls on practices as part of their own efforts to protect their organizations from fraud or other audits. 

While almost all health care providers can find room to improve their documentation and tighten other compliance, it also is important that providers also plan for how they will finance the cost of defending an audit or other investigation.  Often, the financial cost of defending these and other charges prevents physicians or other health care providers from lodging effective defenses of legitimate practices.  To help avoid this quagmire, providers generally will want to explore getting special liability coverage, indemnification or other protection as part of their planning arrangements.

For Help With Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs

If you need help 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, audit, administer and defend billing, referral, privacy, staffing and recruitment 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. Contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail 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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