A Houston, Texas Federal jury on March 4, 2013 convicted the owner and operator of a Houston-area ambulance company, Olusola Elliott, of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and six counts of health care fraud for submitting false and fraudulent claims to Medicare for ambulance services.
Elliott owned and operated Double Daniels LLC, a Texas entity that purportedly provided non-emergency ambulance services to Medicare beneficiaries in the Houston area. During the course of the scheme, the Justice Department charged that Elliott submitted and caused the submission of approximately $1,713,716 in fraudulent ambulance service claims to Medicare.
According to evidence presented at trial, Elliott and others conspired from April 2010 through December 2011 to unlawfully enrich themselves by submitting false and fraudulent claims to Medicare for ambulance services that were medically unnecessary and not provided. Evidence showed that Elliott falsified patient records in order to fraudulently bill Medicare for beneficiaries who were not in need of ambulance services. According to court documents, Elliot transferred the proceeds of the fraud to himself and others after Medicare payments were sent to Double Daniels.
Elliot is scheduled for sentencing on May 31, 2013, in Houston. The six health care fraud counts and the conspiracy count each carry a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine
Federal prosecutors brought the charges as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas and the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.
Strike Force & Other Zealous Health Care Fraud Enforcement Continues
The conviction is another reminder to health care providers, leaders and organizations of the advisability of tightening compliance practices and taking other steps to guard against ever-expanding health care fraud exposures. Even as the jury convicted Elliott, federal prosecutors finalizing a health care fraud settlement with another group of Texas providers. On March 5, 2013, the Justice Department announced that Children’s Physician Services of South Texas (CPSST) and Radiology Associates had agreed to pay more than $2 million collectively to settle claims they violated the False Claims Act and the Texas Medicaid Fraud Prevention Act between 2002 and 2007. Under the settlement, CPSST, a part of the Driscoll Health System, agreed to pay $1.5 million, while Radiology Associates, an independent physician group serving the Driscoll Health System, will pay $800,000 to settle claims they billed and received payment twice for the professional reading and interpretation of genetic ultrasounds. See, Corpus Christi Radiologist Group and Children’s Genetic Services Clinic Settle False Claims Act Allegations.
Already a lead federal enforcement priority for more than a decade, the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2012 (FY2012 Report) documents that DOJ and HHS health care fraud enforcement activities scored big in 2012, and that qui tam whistleblowers played a big part and shared big in the profits.
The FY2012 Report says DOJ opened 1,131 new criminal health care fraud investigations involving 2,148 potential defendants. Federal prosecutors had 2,032 health care fraud criminal investigations pending, involving 3,410 potential defendants, and filed criminal charges in 452 cases involving 892 defendants. A total of 826 defendants were convicted of health care fraud-related crimes during the year. Also in FY 2012, DOJ opened 885 new civil health care fraud investigations and had 1,023 civil health care fraud matters pending at the end of the fiscal year. In FY 2012, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) health care fraud investigations resulted in the operational disruption of 329 criminal fraud organizations, and the dismantlement of the criminal hierarchy of more than 83 criminal enterprises engaged in health care fraud.
Meanwhile, HHS’ Office of Inspector General (HHS/OIG) excluded 3,131 individuals and entities in FY 2012. Among these were exclusions based on criminal convictions for crimes related to Medicare and Medicaid (912) or to other health care programs (287); for patient abuse or neglect (212); and as a result of licensure revocations (1,463). In addition, HHS/OIG imposed civil monetary penalties against, among others, providers and suppliers who knowingly submitted false claims to the Federal government. HHS/OIG also issued many audits and evaluations with recommendations that, when implemented, would correct program vulnerabilities and save program funds.
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. Along with a broad health care fraud enforcement and compliance programs, these efforts should include targeted efforts to prevent and manage fraud and other whistleblower claims by employees, business partners and others.
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 23 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 compliance and risk management policies and to respond to DEA 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 including a number of programs and publications on OCR Civil Rights rules and enforcement actions. Her insights on these and other related matters 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 ask 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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