Tighten Disability Compliance To Avoid ADA Suits, Program Disqualification & Other Risks

July 30, 2013

The Department of Justice’s July 29, 2013 announcement that it is suing Dr. Hal Brown and Primary Care of the Treasure Coast of Vero Beach, Florida (PCTC) for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating and retaliating against two deaf patients reminds physicians, clinics, hospitals and other health industry providers, their landlords, and other vendors to tighten their understanding, practices of federal and state disability discrimination laws to avoid getting nailed for improper discrimination.   Following on the Department of Health & Human Service’s recently announced exclusion of a physician that illegally discriminated against a HIV-positive patient, health care providers are on notice that Federal officials are gunning for health care providers who illegally discriminate against patients and others with disabilities.

With the Justice Department, HHS and others targeting discrimination in the health care industry, physicians and their practices, clinics, hospitals and other private and public health care providers, and their landlords and other vendors should update their understanding of disability discrimination responsibilities and exposures, and then review and tighten policies, practices, workforce training and oversight, and other risk management and compliance practice to help prevent and mitigate exposures to disability and other discrimination claims.

Health Care Providers & Industry Under Fire For Disability Discrimination

While the heavy emphasis generally placed upon the enforcement of disability laws by the Obama Administration has heightened the risks of all U.S. businesses, health care providers are particularly at risk to disability discrimination liability as a result of the Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative of the Justice Department and related health industry disability enforcement initiatives of HHS and other federal agencies.

Health care provider, like other U.S. businesses, face sweeping responsibilities under the various federal laws such as the public accommodation and other disability discrimination prohibitions of the ADA, Section 504, the Civil Rights Act and various other laws. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act generally requires recipients of Medicare, Medicaid, HUD, Department of Education, welfare and most other federal assistance programs funds including health care, education, housing services providers, state and local governments to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to programs, services, or activities receiving federal financial assistance.

The ADA extends the prohibition against disability discrimination to private providers and other businesses as well as state and local governments including but not limited to health care providers reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid or various other federal programs.  Rather, the ADA requirements and disability discrimination prohibitions generally apply to all U.S. health care and other businesses even if they do not receive federal financial assistance.  Under the ADA, health care providers and other covered businesses generally have a duty other to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to their programs, services or activities.  In many instances, these federal discrimination laws both prohibit discrimination and require health care and other regulated businesses to put in place reasonable accommodations needed to ensure that their services are accessible and available to persons with disabilities.

Specifically under the ADA:

  • The public accommodation provisions generally both prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities when delivering health care or other services, as well as require health industry and other businesses to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities unless the health care provider proves its actions are defensible under an exception to these general rules.
  • The employment discrimination provisions generally prohibit health care industry and other employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with a disability and require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled workers unless the health care provider can prove that its conduct qualifies under one of the allowable exceptions to the general prohibition against discrimination.
  • The anti-retaliation rules prohibit retaliation against an individual because he opposes an act that is unlawful under the ADA or because he made a charge, testified, assisted or participated in any way in an investigation, proceeding or hearing under the ADA.  These provisions also make it unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten or interfere with any individual exercising their rights protected by the ADA.

Meanwhile the Civil Rights Act and other laws prohibit discrimination based on national origin, race, sex, age, religion and various other grounds.  These federal rules impact almost all public and private health care providers as well as a broad range housing and related service providers.

Justice Department ADA Suit Against Brown & PCTC

The ADA lawsuit against Dr. Brown and PCTC comes on the heels of the Justice Department’s Celebration of the 23rd Anniversary of the ADA last week and is an example of one of a growing number of lawsuits and other actions against health care providers resulting from the Justice Department “Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative”  and related Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) enforcement efforts focusing on ensuring access to health care for individuals with disabilities.

The Department of Justice suit charges Dr. Brown and PCTC with violating the public accommodation and anti-retaliation provisions of ADA by discriminating against a deaf couple, Susan and James Liese by discriminating against a deaf couple, Susan and James Liese and then retaliating against the couple for engaging in activities protected under the ADA.

According to the Justice Department’s complaint, Dr. Brown and PCTC terminated Mr. and Mrs. Liese as patients because the couple pursued ADA claims against a hospital located next door to and affiliated with PCTC for not providing effective communication during an emergency surgery.  The complaint alleges that after learning that the Lieses threatened the hospital with an ADA suit based on failure to provide sign language interpreter services, PCTC and Dr. Brown, who was the Liese’s primary doctor at PCTC, immediately terminated the Lieses as patients.

The Justice Department says this termination of the Lieses as patients violated the ADA.  According to Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, “A person cannot be terminated as a patient because he or she asserts the right to effective communication at a hospital.”

While it remains to be seen if the Justice Department will be successful in its suit against Dr. Brown and PCTC, it has experienced significant success in disability discrimination actions against other health care providers.

Justice Department Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative Successes Growing

Justice Department suits like the ADA suit against Dr. Brown and PCTC are increasingly common and successful.

While the Justice Department across the years has prosecuted various health care providers for illegal discrimination under the ADA, it has turned up the heat with its nationwide Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative.  According to the Justice Department, it intends that the prosecutions under the Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative to focus and leverage the Justice Department’s resources together and send a clear message that disability discrimination in health care is illegal and unacceptable.

Since the Justice Department announced its Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative last year, for instance, the Justice Department has entered into 18 settlements under the Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative.  These include three agreements requiring health care providers to provide auxiliary aids and services, including sign language interpreters, to individuals who are deaf to ensure effective communication in health care settings including two settlements in the last month.

On June 27, 2013, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee announced that Heart Center of Memphis has agreed to provide qualified sign language and oral interpreters as well as other auxiliary aids and services to patients who are deaf, have hearing loss or have speech disabilities to resolve a Justice Department complaint charging the Heart Center violated the ADA by telling a deaf patient that it was his responsibility to arrange a sign language interpreter for his appointment.  After several unsuccessful attempts to get the Heart Center to provide a qualified sign language interpreter as required by law, the patient cancelled his appointment.

On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia announced it had reached a disability discrimination settlement agreement with Midtown Neurology P.C.  The settlement resolved a complaint alleging that Midtown Neurology P.C. failed to provide, over multiple appointments, a qualified sign language interpreter for a patient who is deaf.   At one appointment, the patient underwent a painful neurological test.  Because there was no interpreter, the patient could not communicate that she was frightened and in pain, and that she wanted the doctor to stop the procedure.  Under the agreement, Midtown Neurology P.C. will provide auxiliary aids and services, including qualified interpreters, to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing where necessary to ensure effective communication.

In previous months, the Justice Department also has reached settlement agreements resolving charges health care providers violated the ADA by failing to provide interpreters or other accommodations for deaf or other communication impaired patients with Burke Health and Rehabilitation Center (May 3, 2013); Monadnock Community Hospital (April 5, 2013); Manassas Health and Rehab Center (April 5, 2013); Gainesville Health and Rehab Center (April 5, 2013); the Center for Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine, Inc. (April 5, 2013); Northern Ohio Medical Specialists (April 5, 2013); Northshore University Healthsystems (June 28, 2012); Steven Senica, M.D., and Senica Bruneau, Ltd. (June 11, 2012); Trinity Regional Medical Center and Trinity Health Systems (March 29, 2012); Henry Ford Health System (February 1, 2012); and Cheshire Medical Center, Keene Health Alliance, and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Clinic D/B/A Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene (October 31, 2011)

In addition, the Justice Department also particularly is aggressive in prosecuting health care providers that discriminate against individuals with HIV.  In the past six months, the Department reports it has reached five settlement agreements with medical providers to address HIV discrimination.

For instance, the Justice Department on July 26, 2013 announced that Barix Clinics, an organization that operates bariatric treatment facilities in Michigan and Pennsylvania, will pay $35,000 to victim-complainants and a $10,000 civil penalty, train its staff on the ADA and implement an anti-discrimination policy to settle Justice Department charges that Barix Clinics unlawfully refused to perform bariatric surgery on a man at its Langhorne, Pa., facility because he has HIV.  The Department also determined that Barix Clinics cancelled bariatric surgery for another individual at its Ypsilanti, Michigan facility because he has HIV.

The Barix Clinic settlement added to a long list of earlier settlements of ADA charges stemming from discrimination against HIV patients including Glenbeigh (settlement regarding exclusion of an individual from an alcohol treatment program because of the side effects of his HIV medication, March 13, 2013); Woodlawn Family Dentistry (dentist office’s unequal treatment of people with HIV in the scheduling of future dental appointments, February 12, 2013); Castlewood Treatment Center (eating disorder clinic’s refusal to treat a woman for a serious eating disorder because she has HIV, February 6, 2013); and Fayetteville Pain Center (unlawful exclusion of a person with HIV from treatment, January 31, 2013).

While most announced Justice Department settlements involve the denial of interpreters to deaf or other communication impaired patients and discrimination in the treatment of HIV patients, the Justice Department also has shown a willingness to prosecute health care providers who engage in other types of disability discrimination.  For instance, on April 3, 2012, the Justice Department reached a settlement with Richard Noren, M.D., Henry Kurzydlowski, M.D., and Pain Care Consultant, Inc., which resolved charges that they violated the ADA by failing to make reasonable changes to policies, practices, and procedures to enable a child with diabetes to participate in summer camp.  Furthermore, although not necessarily reflected in the currently published, officially announced settlements of the Justice Department, health care providers have reported that the Justice Department and HHS also have become increasingly aggressive in investigating disability claims of visually or other physically, cognitively, or emotionally disabled patients arising from the failure of health care providers to accommodate their need for support or comfort animals.

Justice Department Plans To Keep Heat On Health Care Providers

All signs are that the Justice Department intends to continue, if not expand its Barrier-Free Health Care Initiatives.  In fact, the suit against Dr. Brown and PCTC comes on the heels of the Justice Department’s filing of an ADA disabilities discrimination lawsuit against the State of Florida alleging the state is in violation of the ADA in its administration of its service system for children with significant medical needs.

The Justice Department lawsuit against the State of Florida charges that Florida’s programs have resulted in nearly 200 children with disabilities being unnecessarily segregated in nursing facilities which should be served in their family homes or other community-based settings.  The Justice Department further alleges that the state’s policies and practices place other children with significant medical needs in the community at serious risk of institutionalization in nursing facilities.  The department’s complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensatory damages for affected children.

“Florida must ensure that children with significant medical needs are not isolated in nursing facilities, away from their families and communities,” said Eve Hill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “Children have a right to grow up with their families, among their friends and in their own communities.  This is the promise of the ADA’s integration mandate as articulated by the Supreme Court in Olmstead.  The violations the department has identified are serious, systemic and ongoing and require comprehensive relief for these children and their families.”

Health Industry Disability Discrimination Risks:  Beyond The Justice Department

While private plaintiffs as well as the Justice Department and other agencies increasingly successfully sue health care providers for violating the ADA and other disability discrimination laws, the often significant damages and defense costs that often arise from these suits are only part of the exposure that health care providers should consider and manage.  Among other things, health care providers accused or found to engage in disability discrimination also generally also risk significant adverse publicity, loss or curtailment of federal or state program participation, reimbursement or other contractual or administrative penalties, licensing board and accreditation sanctions, burdensome corrective action and ongoing reporting and oversight and other consequences.

Perhaps most notably, HHS also is stepping up enforcement against health care providers that discriminate against the disabled.  Like the actions of the Justice Department, many of these enforcement actions focus heavily on discrimination against HIV patients as well as deaf or other individuals whose disabilities impairs their ability to communicate effectively with health care providers.

For instance, on July 18, 2013, HHS announced the termination of Medicaid funding to a California surgeon who intentionally discriminated against an HIV-positive patient by refusing to perform much-needed back surgery. The HHS Departmental Appeals Board concluded that the surgeon violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits disability discrimination by health care providers who receive federal funds. The order follows an Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigation of a complaint filed by a patient who alleged that the surgeon refused to perform back surgery after learning that the patient was HIV-positive. OCR found that the surgeon discriminated against the patient on the basis of his HIV status in violation of federal civil rights laws. See HHS Press Release; HHS Departmental Appeals Board Decision; OCR Violation Letter of Findings.

HHS’s exclusion of the surgeon from federal program participation is part of a long-standing policy of OCR of pursuing disability discrimination actions against providers that discriminate against patients with HIV.  For instance OCR previously has announced that an Austin, Texas orthopedic surgeon had agreed to ensure that individuals living with HIV/AIDS have equal access to appropriate medical treatment in order to resolve charges brought in an OCR Violation Letter of Finding charging the surgeon with violating the Rehabilitation Act by refusing to perform knee surgery on an HIV-positive patient.  See Settlement Agreement.

OCR, like the Justice Department, also is aggressive in pursuing Rehabilitation Act claims against health care providers for failing to provide interpreters or other appropriate accommodations for deaf or other patients with disabilities that impair their ability to communicate. In March, for instance, OCR announced a settlement agreement with national senior care provider, Genesis HealthCare (Genesis) which resolved an OCR complaint that Genesis violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by failing to provide a qualified interpreter to a resident at its skilled nursing facility in Randallstown, Maryland. See, Genesis Settlement.

OCR construes Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as among other things requiring that facilities take appropriate steps to ensure effective communications with individuals. According to OCR, throughout the patient’s stay at the facility, an OCR investigation showed center staff relied on written notes and gestures to communicate with the resident, even while conducting a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation with him.  Moreover, by not being provided a qualified interpreter, evaluations of his care and discussions on the effects of his numerous medications and the risks caused by not following recommended treatments and prescription protocols had harmful effects on the patient’s overall health status.  According to OCR Director Leon Rodriguez, “This patient’s care was unnecessarily and significantly compromised by the stark absence of interpreter services.” OCR concluded that in order for the patient and staff to be able to communicate effectively with each other regarding treatment, a qualified sign language interpreter would have been necessary.

Under the terms of the agreement, Genesis must require all facilities to provide interpreters and other suitable communications accommodations to language disabled patients, form an auxiliary aids and services hotline; create an advisory committee to provide guidance and direction on how to best communicate with the deaf and hard of hearing community; designate a monitor to conduct a self-assessment and obtain feedback from deaf and hard of hearing individuals and advocates and conduct outreach to promote awareness of hearing impairments and services that are available for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.  In addition Genesis will be required to pay monetary penalties for noncompliance with any terms of the agreement.

In announcing the Genesis settlement, Director Rodriguez warned, “My office continues its enforcement activities and work with providers, particularly large health care systems like Genesis, to make certain that compliance with nondiscrimination laws is a system wide obligation.

The Genesis Agreement is typical of a multitude of settlements resulting from OCR enforcement against health care providers for failing to accommodate deaf, speech or other communication impaired patients.  See, e.g. Cattaraugus County Department of Aging Settlement Agreement; District of Columbia Children and Family Services Agency Settlement Agreement (February 8, 2013); Memorial Health System Colorado Springs  Voluntary Resolution Agreement (November 7, 2012); Advanced Dialysis Centers Settlement Agreement (February  17, 2012).

When evaluating the need to provide interpreters, health care providers also should consider the advisability of offering interpreters for patients whose primary language is not English.  OCR’s discrimination enforcement efforts often extend to other language impaired persons such as English as a Second Language patients.  In addition to its efforts on behalf of individuals with disabilities impacting their ability to communicate, OCR recently announced a national initiative under which it will conduct compliance reviews of critical access hospitals as part of its efforts to strengthen language access for individuals whose primary language is not English.  See OCR Launches Nationwide Compliance Review Initiative To Strengthen Language Access Programs At Critical Access Hospitals.

Health care providers also should ensure that their take appropriate steps to accommodate other disabilities.  For instance, the use of support animals by veterans, children, and other patients with physical, emotional or cognitive disorders on the rise, health care providers need to ensure that their policies, practices, training, facilities leases and other vendor contracts, posting and other arrangements are updated to accommodate patients requiring the use of support or comfort animals.  OCR’s enforcement actions already have extended to protection of the rights of disabled individuals to have the aid and assistance of their service animals when receiving services from health care providers.  For instance, under a settlement agreement with the St. Mercy Medical Center (Mercy) in Fort Smith, Arkansas resolving an OCR complaint that it violated Section 504 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Mercy committed to revise it policies and procedures to comply with Section 504 and to provide staff comprehensive training on their obligations to provide services without discrimination to qualified persons with disabilities. This settlement follows an OCR investigation into a complaint filed by an individual whose service animal was not allowed to go with him into the hospital.  See, Mercy Settlement Agreement. This recent newscast video highlights how the failure to update postings, training, and other practices could result in a host of negative publicity and enforcement actions from refusing or limiting the ability of a person with a disability to have the support of his comfort animal within a health care facility. North Texas Vet Cries Foul After Service Dog Rejection.  This type of adverse publicity not only can do serious damage to a health care provider’s public image, it also is likely to trigger the type of investigation that lead to the Mercy enforcement action.

Other Disability Discrimination Risks

Defending or paying to settle a disability discrimination charge brought by a private plaintiff, OCR or another agency, or others tends to be financially, operationally and politically costly for a health care organization or public housing provider.  In addition to the expanding readiness of OCR, the Justice Department and other agencies to pursue investigations and enforcement of disability discrimination and other laws, physicians and other licensed professionals can expect that they may face disciplinary action by their applicable licensing boards, whose rules typically now make disability or other wrongful discrimination against patients a violation of their rules.  Meanwhile, the failure of health care organizations to effectively maintain processes to appropriately include and care for disabled other patients or constituents with special needs also can increase negligence exposure, undermine Joint Commission and other quality ratings, undermine efforts to qualify for public or private grant, partnerships or other similar arrangements, and create negative perceptions in the community.

Act To Manage & Mitigate Disability Risks

In the face of these growing risks ,  physicians, hospitals and their medical staffs, and other health care providers should review and tighten their policies, leases and other vendor contracts, practices and training to minimize their exposure to prosecution or other sanctions for disability discrimination.

In light of the expanding readiness of OCR, the Justice Department and other agencies to investigate and take action against health care providers for potential violations of the ADA, Section 504 and other federal discrimination and civil rights laws, health care organizations and their leaders should review and tighten their policies, practices, training, documentation, investigation, redress, discipline and other nondiscrimination policies and procedures.

Given a series of recent changes in the provisions of the ADA, discrimination regulations, and enforcement standards, this process generally should begin by reviewing the health care provider’s understanding and policies regarding disability and other discrimination to ensure that they comply with current legal and credentialing requirements and standards.  Once the organization confirms its understanding of current rules is up-to-date, the health care provider also should critically evaluate its operations to identify where its postings, policies, training, practices and operations need to be updated or tightened to meet these standards or avoid other risks.

In carrying out these activities, organizations and their leaders should keep in mind the critical role of training and oversight of staff and contractors plays in promoting and maintaining required operational compliance with these requirements.  Reported settlements reflect that the liability trigger often is discriminatory conduct by staff, contractors, or landlords in violation of both the law and the organization’s own policies.

To meet and maintain the necessary operational compliance with these requirements, organizations should both adopt and policies against prohibited discrimination and take the necessary steps to institutionalize compliance with these policies by providing ongoing staff and vendor training and oversight, contracting for and monitoring vendor compliance and other actions.  Organizations also should take advantage of opportunities to identify and resolve potential compliance concerns by revising patient and other processes and procedures to enhance the ability of the organization to learn about and redress potential charges without government intervention.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or tightening your policies and procedures, conducting training or audits, responding to or defending an investigation or other enforcement action or with other health care related risk management, compliance, training, 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 presentations and programs include How to Ensure That Your Organization Is In Compliance With Regulations Governing Discrimination, as well as a wide range of other workshops, programs and publications on discrimination and cultural diversity, as well as a broad range of compliance, operational and risk management, and other health industry matters.

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 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. About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here. 

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.

 

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Doc Caught Submitting Conflicting Patient Records to Private Payer Versus Medicare Criminally Sentence, Pays Civil Settlement

July 23, 2013

The  recent criminal sentencing and civil settlement of Illinois physician Dr. Mahmoud Yassin highlights the growing- but too often appreciated exposure of physicians and other health care providers and their billing or other management who submit conflicting claims data to private and government claims or otherwise permit in false  falsely bill or participate in the cover-up of fraudulent or other improper billings to payers.  The Yassin sentencing is notable both because Yassin incurred criminal liability for obstruction based on his presentation of altered patient records to a private payer and and civil liability for  making false claims to Medicare and others.

Yassin was sentenced July 22, 2013 to serve 30 days in prison and 3 years of probation and to pay  a fine of $10,000, a special assessment of $100, and restitution to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois in the amount of $19,615.17 in federal district court in Benton, Illinois for Obstructing a Criminal Health Care Fraud Investigator.  The felony obstruction conviction stemmed from charges that on March 2, 2012, when a FBI agent, having served a subpoena for patient records on Dr. Yassin, gave an altered patient progress note  that showed an in-office examination previously claimed to an insurance carrier, but which had not taken place.

In a separate civil settlement with the United States Attorney’s Office regarding false claims to Medicare, Dr. Yassin also previously has paid double damages for $87,348.64. The restitution and civil false claims settlement were based on claims for in person office visits in which the patient either failed to show up for an appointment or only was spoken to by telephone.

The Yassin prosecution demonstrates the importance of providers getting their records and billings straight when billing both private payers and government payers.  While most  health care providers recognize  the significant exposure they incur from overbilling Medicare or other federal programs as a result of the highly publicized, heavy-handed audit and enforcement activities of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) and Department of Justice (DOJ), many  don’t recognize their exposure from private payer billings or the potential interaction between private and government claims investigations  Amendments enacted as part of the anti-fraud provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) added private health plans to the list of plans protected by federal prohibitions against fraudulent billing by providers.  Furthermore, federal fraud investigators and private payers increasingly are working together on the investigation and redress of false billing and other aggressive practices.  These and other risks mean that providers cannot afford to be unprepared when asked to respond to investigations like one that lead to the Yassin conviction, recoupment or other audit and enforcement actions  See,  Secondary Payers Hit Physician Group With Recoupment After Medicare Audit Findings.   Rather, physicians and other health care clinics must be ready to prove and defend their billings to public and private payers.  In both cases, these preparations should ensure that records accurately and completely document the care provided, that the coding and billing applied is reflective of actual care and consistent with existing reimbursement, and otherwise defensible.  As demonstrated by Yassin, inconsistencies between records presented to different payers should be avoided.

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 presentations and programs include a wide range of compliance, risk management and other workshops, programs and publications.

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.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information about this communication click here. 

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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


OCR To Covered Entities: Learn From WellPoint $1.7 Settlement

July 12, 2013

WellPoint $1.7 M HIPAA Settlement Expensive Lesson On HIPAA Risks Of Leaving PHI Too Accessible In Web-Based Applications

With health care providers, health care organizations and others increasingly using Web-based applications and portals in operations and patient communications, managed care company WellPoint Inc. (WellPoint) is learning a $1.7 million lesson about the importance of ensuring Web-based applications and portals that allow access to members or other consumers protected health information (PHI) incorporate the administrative, technical and other security safeguards required by the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security rules.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced late yesterday (July 11, 2013) that WellPoint has agreed to pay $1.7 million to settle OCR charges that WellPoint violated the HIPAA Security Rule and left the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of 612,402 individuals accessible to unauthorized individuals over the Internet by failing to implement appropriate administrative and technical safeguards in its Web-based applications. See WellPoint HIPAA Settlement Press Release.

Web-based application use is increasingly popular among health care providers, health plans, employers and others.   Health care providers use them for health care operations, as well as patient engagement and communication tools.  Employers and health plans use them both in plan administration and as member tools.

The WellPoint settlement shows that managed care and other health insurers, health plans and their employer or other sponsors, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates can’t let their enthusiasm for the ease of use of these products to compromise the security of PHI.

Rather, health care providers and other Covered Entities, employer and other  health plan sponsors, their business associates, and the Web and other technology developers, providers and consultants marketing products, services or other solutions to these organizations should learn from WellPoint’s hard lesson to ensure that current and future Web-based applications, portals and other information system components that are or could be used to provide access to PHI incorporate the Security Rule safeguards both when originally implemented and with each subsequent upgrade.

HIPAA Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Rules Require PHI Safeguards & Other Protections

The Breach Notification Rule added to HIPAA under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health, or HITECH Act requires HIPAA-covered entities to notify OCR, affected individuals and the media promptly of a breach of “unsecured protected health information” (UPHI) impacting more than 500 individuals.  For smaller breaches, the Breach Notification Rule still requires prompt notice to impacted individuals, but allows Covered Entities to disclose the breach to OCR as part of an annual breach report and to forego notification to the media. UPHI generally includes any PHI, whether or not ePHI that is not either secured or destroyed in the manner described by the Breach Notification Rules.

In addition to the Breach Notification Rule, most Covered Entities and their business associates also are subject to state laws or regulations that impose similar or additional breach notification and other standards and responsibilities on the protection of personal health or other data including required notification and other responses following a breach of the security of UPHI or other PHI.

WellPoint’s $1.7 HIPAA Security Mistake

WellPoint’s $1.7 million settlement lesson resulted from an OCR investigation started in response to a breach report WellPoint submitted to comply with the Breach Notification Rules.

According to OCR, the Breach Report indicated that security weaknesses in an online application database left the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of 612,402 individuals accessible to unauthorized individuals over the Internet.

OCR says its investigation indicated that WellPoint did not implement appropriate administrative and technical safeguards as required under the HIPAA Security Rule.  According to OCR, WellPoint did not:

  • Adequately implement policies and procedures for authorizing access to the on-line application database;
  • Perform an appropriate  technical evaluation in response to a software upgrade to its information systems; or
  • Have technical safeguards in place to verify the person or entity seeking access to electronic protected health information maintained in its application database.

As a result, OCR concluded that from October 23, 2009 until March 7, 2010, WellPoint impermissibly disclosed the ePHI of 612,402 individuals by allowing access to their ePHI maintained in the application database. This data included names, dates of birth, addresses, Social Security numbers, telephone numbers and health information.

Under the resulting WellPoint HIPAA Resolution Agreement, WellPoint must pay OCR a $1.7 million settlement payment as well as take a series of corrective actions to correct the deficiencies in its policies and practices that resulted in the reported breach to minimize future risks of breaches resulting from these deficient.

OCR Warns Learn From WellPoint’s Experience

All Covered Entities and their business associates and leaders should heed the lesson sent to them by OCR in announcing the WellPoint settlement and take appropriate steps other to ensure that appropriate policies and safeguards are adopted and applied in selecting and implementing future application or system upgrades, as well as review existing systems to ensure that the security of existing systems and applications have incorporated and apply the requisite safeguards.

OCR made clear that the WellPoint settlement is intended to send a message to Covered Entities and their business associates to ensure that these steps are appropriately taken.  The settlement announcement states:

This case sends an important message to HIPAA-covered entities to take caution when implementing changes to their information systems, especially when those changes involve updates to Web-based applications or portals that are used to provide access to consumers’ health data using the Internet. Whether systems upgrades are conducted by covered entities or their business associates, HHS expects organizations to have in place reasonable and appropriate technical, administrative and physical safeguards to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of electronic protected health information – especially information that is accessible over the Internet.

The settlement announcement also reminds business associates that OCR will begin holding them directly accountable along with their Covered Entity clients for complying with many HIPAA requirements beginning in September, stating:

Beginning Sept. 23, 2013, liability for many of HIPAA’s requirements will extend directly to business associates that receive or store protected health information, such as contractors and subcontractors.

Take Documented Steps To Show You Hear OCR’s Messages

Covered entities and their business associates and leaders, and vendors and consultants offering services or products to them should take care to conduct careful and well-documented reviews and implement corrective actions necessary to show their applications and systems, policies and practices reflect their strong commitment and action to appropriately protect PHI in accordance with the expectations shown by the WellPoint HIPAA Resolution Agreement and other OCR settlements, OCR’s updated HIPAA regulations, and other OCR and industry information.

In addition to the guidance set forth in OCR’s Resolution Agreements with WellPoint and other Covered Entities, revisions to OCR’s Privacy and Security Rules in OCR’s 2013 restatement of its regulations here cause all Covered Entities and their business associates conduct a well-documented reassessment of the adequacy of their existing policies, systems and practices and steps taken to redress any uncovered gaps.

Among other things, the 2013 Regulations:

  • Revise OCR’s HIPAA regulations to reflect the HITECH Act’s amendment of HIPAA to add the contractors and subcontractors of health plans, health care providers and health care clearinghouses that qualify as business associates to the parties directly responsible for complying with and subject to HIPAA’s civil and criminal penalties for violating HIPAA’s Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification rules;
  • Update previous interim regulations implementing HITECH Act breach notification rules that require Covered Entities including business associates to give specific notifications to individuals whose PHI is breached, HHS and in some cases, the media when a breach of unsecured information happens;
  • Update interim enforcement guidance OCR previously published to implement increased penalties and other changes to HIPAA’s civil and criminal sanctions enacted by the HITECH Act;
  • Implement HITECH Act amendments to HIPAA that tighten the conditions under which Covered Entities are allowed to use or disclose PHI for marketing and fundraising purposes and prohibit Covered Entities from selling an individual’s health information without getting the individual’s authorization in the manner required by the 2013 Regulations;
  • Update OCR’s rules about the individual rights that HIPAA requires that Covered Entities to afford to individuals who are the subject of PHI used or possessed by a Covered Entity to reflect tightened requirements enacted by the HITECH Act  that allow individuals to order their health care provider not to share information about their treatment with health plans when the individual pays cash for the care and to clarify that individuals can require Covered Entities to provide electronic PHI in electronic form;
  • Revise the regulations to reflect amendments to HIPAA made as part of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) which added genetic information to the definition of PHI protected under the HIPAA Privacy Rule and prohibits health plans from using or disclosing genetic information for underwriting purposes; and
  • Clarifies and revises other provisions to reflect other interpretations and information guidance that OCR has issued since HIPAA was passed and to make certain other changes that OCR found appropriate based on its experience administering and enforcing the rules.

Covered Entities were required to begin complying with most of these rule changes earlier this year.  However, delayed compliance dates in the 2013 Regulations allowed Covered Entities and Business Associates to delay updates to pre-existing business associate agreements and the date that OCR would begin enforcing many of the HIPAA Rules directly against business associates to September 23, 2013.

Even without the necessity Settlements like that involving WellPoint, these 2013 Regulations make it imperative that Covered Entities to take the necessary steps to conduct an appropriate and well-documented review  and update as needed their systems, policies and practices,  business associate agreements, training and documentation.

With self-disclosures of breaches mandated by the Breach Notification Rules and OCR audits and enforcement rising, careful documentation of these activities and its analysis is necessary so that Covered Entities can be in a position to show OCR that the risk assessments required by the Security Rules was conducted as well as the efforts and commitment of the Covered Entity or business associate in the event of a breach investigation or audit. Yesterday’s WellPoint HIPAA announcement is just the latest in an ever-growing list of examples of the expensive consequences that can result if a Covered Entity or business associate cannot produce this documentation in response to an OCR audit or investigation. See, e.g.  OCR Hits Alaska Medicaid For $1.7M+ For HIPAA Security Breach; OCR Audit Program Kickoff Further Heats HIPAA Privacy Risks$1.5 Million HIPAA Settlement Reached To Resolve 1st OCR Enforcement Action Prompted By HITECH Act Breach Report; HIPAA Heats Up: HITECH Act Changes Take Effect & OCR Begins Posting Names, Other Details Of Unsecured PHI Breach Reports On Website; Providence To Pay $100000 & Implement Other SafeguardsIn contrast, the OCR website also provides a multitude of examples showing how the ability to produce documentation and other evidence showing diligent efforts to comply has helped other covered entities that fall under OCR investigation to avoid or mitigate serious sanctions.

Coupled with statements by OCR about its intolerance, the WellPoint and other settlements provide a strong warning to covered entities of the need to carefully and appropriately manage their HIPAA encryption and other Privacy and Security responsibilities. Covered entities are urged to heed these warning by strengthening their HIPAA compliance and adopting other suitable safeguards to minimize HIPAA exposures.

In response to the 2013 Regulations and these expanding exposures, all Covered Entities should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions against WellPoint and others, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses; and other developments to decide if additional steps are necessary or advisable.  Covered Entities and business associates should document this review in a manner that both reflects the scope and diligence of their activities including relevant considerations and decision-making about identified potential susceptibilities and reasoning about the adequacy of safeguards and other solutions.

Because this review is likely to uncover existing or past deficiencies or breaches, most covered entities and business associates will want to discuss with qualified legal counsel the planned assessment within the scope of attorney-client privilege to understand when and how to conduct the assessment to preserve options to claim attorney-client privilege to protect sensitive work product or discussions that may result in the course of the investigation within the attorney-client communication, work product or other evidentiary privileges, evaluation of the adequacy and appropriateness of the audit and resulting investigations and its documentation, and other assistance in strengthening the defensibility of compliance and risk management activities.

For Help With Compliance, Risk Management, Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other Needs

If you need help with HIPAA and other health and health plan related regulatory policy or enforcement developments, or to review or respond to these or other human resources, employee benefit, or other compliance, risk management, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

Nationally recognized for her extensive work, publications and leadership on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience representing, advising and assisting health care providers, health plans, their business associates and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical and other privacy and data security, employment, employee benefits, and to handle other compliance and risk management policies and practices; to investigate and respond to OCR and other enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She regularly designs and presents HIPAA and other risk management, compliance and other training for health care providers, health plans and their sponsors, their workforces, professional associations and others.

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 presentations and programs include a wide range of compliance, risk management and other workshops, programs and publications.

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.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here. 

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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Improper Billing Of Private Payers Increasing Source Of Liability & Risk For Providers

July 8, 2013

Physicians or other health care providers now have even more to worry about when a Medicare or other federal program audit reveals overpayments – repayment demands from commercial insurers and self-insured health plans, who are secondary payers.  Federal officials and private payers alike increasingly are coming after providers to recover overpayments or other inappropriate billings identified through audits or other investigations.  In the face of these actions, providers should use care to ensure that their billing and compliance programs appropriately manage and monitor the defensibility of claims billed to private payers as well as those to Medicare or other government programs.

Most  health care providers recognize  the significant exposure they incur from overbilling Medicare or other federal programs as a result of the highly publicized, heavy-handed audit and enforcement activities of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) and Department of Justice (DOJ).

Unfortunately, many health care providers don’t recognize that overbilling private payers can carry similar risks and liabilities.  Amendments enacted as part of the anti-fraud provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) added private health plans to the list of plans protected by federal prohibitions against fraudulent billing by providers.

While CMS, OIG and DOJ tend to emphasize Medicare and other federal program recoveries in media releases about their overbilling and health care fraud enforcement efforts, careful review of these actions increasingly shows that these enforcement actions often also cover overbilling of private health plans uncovered in connection with the underlying  Medicare or other federal program overpayment audit or investigation.   For instance, upcoding and other false billing of claims was the basis of the federal criminal health care fraud prosecution of the Chief Executive Officer of a small, rural Texas health care clinic.  Texas Clinic CEO Sentence Highlights Risks Of Upcoding. See, also Pharmas Face New Pressure To Put Patients Before Profits After GlaxoSmithKline Record $3 Billion Health Care Fraud & FDCA Settlement.

Unfortunately, many providers have failed to recognize and adequately respond to these and other clear indicators of their exposure to fraud, recoupment and other enforcement actions from sloppy or otherwise improper billings to private insurers and self insured plans.  With health care reform increasingly focusing on reducing health care expenditures in the private as well as public arena, already existing federal and state enforcement against providers for improper billing of private payers will inevitably grown.

Taking into account these and other trends toward stepped up enforcement against aggressive billing by providers of private insurance or self-insured plans, physicians and other providers should not be surprised or unprepared to respond to recoupment or other audit and enforcement actions like that recently reported by Nina Youngstrom in AIS Health about the recoupment demands by commercial insurers against a Kansas health care clinic based on the Medicare audit findings of overpayments. See,  Secondary Payers Hit Physician Group With Recoupment After Medicare Audit Findings.   Rather, physicians and other health care clinics must be ready to prove and defend their billings to private payers as well as Medicare and other government payers.

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 presentations and programs include a wide range of compliance, risk management and other workshops, programs and publications.

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.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information about this communication click here. 

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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Ambulatory Care Orgs Face New Joint Commission Standards Beginning January 1, 2014

July 8, 2013

Ambulatory care organizations should review their current policies and procedures for compliance with revised ambulatory care organization accreditation standards published by the Joint Commission (TJC) on June 25, 2013.   The new changes are effective January 1, 2014. The revisions include changes to standards on:

  • Renewal of clinical privileges
  • Requirements on providing care without regard to a patient’s ability to pay
  • Requirements for patient education about follow-up care to apply at the end of any episode of care;
  • Human resources
  • Leadership
  • Medication management
  • National patient safety goals
  • Provision of care, treatment, and services.

Ambulatory care organizations should begin assessing the implications of the new standards and identifying and implementing any changes they determine necessary or advisable to meet the new standards as soon as possible to ensure adequate time to operationalize compliance necessary to maintain desired accreditation.

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 presentations and programs include a wide range of compliance, risk management and other workshops, programs and publications.

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.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information about this communication click here. 

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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Hollywood Pavillion & Other Fraud Convictions Show Individuals Risk Prison Time For Health Care Fraud Involvement

July 6, 2013

Convictions Show Growing Fraud Enforcement Risks Reach Broadly To Broad Range Of Actors

Do you love your health care organization enough to go to jail?  With federal and state prosecutors stepping up health care fraud investigation and enforcement, this is a question that individuals leading, working or investing in health care organizations increasingly need to seriously consider.

As federal and state officials continue to ramp up their war on health care fraud, the ever-growing list of criminal convictions of individuals found to have participate in or tolerated prohibited billing, referral or other activities prohibited under federal or state health care fraud laws are intended to both punish the guilty and send a strong message to others throughout the industry: Don’t Do The Crime If You Don’t Want To Serve The Time!

Hollywood Pavilion Convictions

The July 28 federal jury conviction of four individuals for their involvement in nearly $70 million of fraudulent Medicare billings by Hollywood Pavilion (HP), a Miami-area mental health care hospital is the latest case in point.  The successful prosecutions shows again the readiness of the Justice Department to prosecute individuals at all levels of organizations for their participation in health care fraud activities even after obtaining criminal convictions, civil settlements, and program disqualification or other administrative consequences against the health care organizations, their leaders, employees and others that participate illegal schemes that defraud federal health care programs like Medicare, private health insurance plans or both.

In the verdicts announced July 28 stemmed from the Justice Department’s prosecution of the  former Chief Executive Officer, the former in-patient clinical director, former head of  intensive outpatient care and former director of physical therapy for various health care fraud, wire fraud and other charges for their participation in a massive scheme that attempted to defraud the United States of approximately $70 million by taking advantage of Medicare beneficiaries.

Federal officials originally announced charges against the four defendants as part of high-profile sting and takedown by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force of 91 individuals across the nation for their alleged involvement in submitting approximately $430 million in false billings to federal health care programs. See Indictment of 91 Shows Growing Heath Care Fraud Enforcement Risk.

The convictions resulted after the Justice Department tried the defendants with illegally paying bribes to a network of patient recruiters, falsifying documents and other criminal conduct in violation of federal health care fraud, wire fraud and other laws.  Based on evidence presented at trial, the federal jury found:

  • Karen Kallen-Zury, 59, and Daisy Miller, 44, each guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health care fraud, five substantive counts of wire fraud and two substantive counts of health care fraud;
  • Michele Petrie, 64, guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health care fraud and three substantive counts of wire fraud;
  • Kallen-Zury, Miller, Petrie and a fourth defendant, Christian Coloma, 49, of one count of conspiracy to pay bribes in connection with Medicare; and
  • Kallen-Zury and Coloma also each guilty of five substantive counts of paying bribes.

The convictions resulted after Federal prosecutors charged the four defendants and one other individual with participating and aiding HP to illegally bill Medicare for nearly $70 million for services that were not properly rendered, for patients that did not qualify for the services being billed and for claims for patients procured through bribes and kickbacks from at least 2003 through at least August 2012.

At trial, Federal prosecutors claimed that the defendants and their co-conspirators caused the submission of false and fraudulent claims to Medicare through HP, a state-licensed psychiatric hospital located in Hollywood that purportedly provided, among other things, inpatient psychiatric care and intensive outpatient psychiatric care.  Prosecutors claimed the defendants paid illegal bribes and kickbacks to patient brokers in order to obtain Medicare beneficiaries as patients at HP who did not qualify for psychiatric treatment, then illegally submitted claims to Medicare for those patients who were procured through bribes and kickbacks.

Among other things, Federal prosecutors charged and introduced evidence that:

  • Karen Kallen-Zury, the CEO and registered agent of HP, attempted to conceal the payment of bribes and kickbacks by creating false documents to make it appear as if legitimate services were being rendered;
  • Miller, the clinical director of HP’s inpatient facility, and Petrie, the head of HP’s intensive outpatient program, facilitated the payment of bribes to patient recruiters and oversaw the fraudulent admissions and treatment of unqualified patients;
  • Coloma, the director of physical therapy for an entity associated with HP, facilitated the payment of bribes and kickbacks, and he supervised the creation of false documents to conceal the bribery scheme.

All four defendants now are awaiting sentencing.

Zealous Investigation & Prosecution Part of National Anti-Health Care Fraud Campaign

These and other convictions provide tangible proof of the growing success of the efforts to zealously investigate and prosecute health fraud by the Justice Department, HHS and other federal officials under their joint the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), Medicare Fraud Strike Force and other anti-fraud efforts.   The joint Department of Justice-HHS Medicare Fraud Strike Force that lead to these charges and convictions is a multi-agency team of federal, state and local investigators designed to combat Medicare fraud through the use of Medicare data analysis techniques and an increased focus on community policing.  Since its announcement, the Strike Force has used the combined resources of agents from the FBI, HHS-Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), multiple Medicaid Fraud Control Units, and other state and local law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute a rising number of organizations and individuals throughout the industry for alleged violations of Federal health care fraud prohibitions.

In recent years, Congress has amended the False Claims Act and enacted other reforms that give the Justice Department and other federal officials working in these anti-fraud efforts new tools that they are using to strengthen the effectiveness of their anti-fraud investigation and prosecution efforts.  See Health Care Fraud Enforcement Packs New Heat.

Empowered by these and other new tools, the Justice Department and other participants in the HEAT and Medicare Fraud Strike Force increasingly are successful in prosecuting and convicting health care providers and others for participating in activities and schemes that violate federal or state health care fraud, referral, anti-kickback or other federal or state laws.  See, e.g., North Texas Medical Supply Company Owner Indicted For Health Care Fraud Now Also Charged With Immigration Fraud; Former Houston Texas Physician Gets 70 Month Prison Sentence For Fraud ConvictionEuless Healthcare Corporation Owner, Associates Face Conspiracy And Health Care Fraud Charges For Alleged Submission Of $700,000+ In Fraudulent Health Care Claims; Former Manager 9th Employee Sentenced For Involvement In Maxim Medicare False Claims Action; Detroit-Area Foot Doctor Pleads Guilty to Medicare Fraud Scheme; Merck To Pay $950 Million To Settle Vioxx® Off-Label Marketing ChargesIndeed, since the jury rendered its July 28 verdict, Justice Department officials already have announced several other prosecutorial successes.  See, e.g.,Los Angeles Medical Supply Company Owner Sentenced to Five Years in Prison for $8.4 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme; Los Angeles-Area Doctor and Patient Recruiter Plead Guilty to Participating in a Power Wheelchair Scheme That Defrauded Medicare of Over $10.1 MillionOwner of Rehabilitation Facility Pleads Guilty to Mail Fraud Charge; Local Oncology Practice Sentenced To Pay Millions for Medicare Fraud

In addition to criminal prosecutions, the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working with the HHS-OIG, are using a wide range of new and old tools in their campaign against what they perceive as fraudulent providers and to deter other perceived aggressiveness by health care providers and organizations.  See e.g., U.S. to use software to crack down on Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP fraud;   Health Care Fraud Enforcement Packs New Heat; OIG Shares Key Insights On When Owners, Officers & Managers Face OIG Program Exclusion Based On Health Care Entity Misconduct; OIG Launch of Health Care Fraud “Most Wanted” List Sign of Enforcement Risks; CMS Delegated Lead Responsibility For Development of New Affordable Care Act-Required Medicare Self-Referral Disclosure Protocol; HHS announces Rules Implementing Tools Added By Affordable Care Act to Prevent Federal Health Program Fraud.

The effectiveness of these Federal efforts to deter, find and prosecute false claims and other perceived abuses of Federal health care law has been significantly strengthened since Congress passed the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act).  Among other things, ACA empowered HHS to:

  • Suspend payments to providers and suppliers based on credible allegations of fraud in Medicare and Medicaid;
  • Impose a temporary moratorium on Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP enrollment on providers and suppliers when necessary to help prevent or fight fraud, waste, and abuse without impeding beneficiaries’ access to care.
  • Strengthen and build on current provider enrollment and screening procedures to more accurately assure that fraudulent providers are not gaming the system and that only qualified  health care providers and suppliers are allowed to enroll in and bill Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP;
  • Terminate providers from Medicaid and CHIP when they have been terminated by Medicare or by another state Medicaid program or CHIP;
  • Require provider compliance programs, now required under the Affordable Care Act, that will ensure providers are aware of and comply with CMS program requirements.

See HHS announces Rules Implementing Tools Added By Affordable Care Act to Prevent Federal Health Program Fraud.

Act To Manage Risks

In response to the growing emphasis and effectiveness of Federal officials in wielding these and other tools 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 presentations and programs include a wide range of compliance, risk management and other workshops, programs and publications.

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.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here. 

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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


55 Hospitals To Pay $35M+ To Settle FCA Claims Charges On Kyphoplasty Procedures

July 6, 2013

Whistleblowers Played A Big Role, Collectively Will Receive $5.5 Million From Settlement Proceeds

Fifty-five hospitals in 21 states will pay a total of more than $34 million to settle Justice Department allegations that the health care facilities submitted false claims to Medicare for a minimally-invasive procedure used to treat certain spinal fractures that often are due to osteoporosis known as “kyphoplasty.”

The settlement stems from charges by the Justice Department and Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) that the settling hospitals frequently billed Medicare for performing kyphoplasty procedures on the more costly inpatient basis, rather than an outpatient basis, in order to increase their Medicare billings  when the kyphoplasty could have been performed safely and effectively as an outpatient procedure without any need for a more costly hospital admission.

With the settlements announced July 1,  the Justice Department says it has now reached settlements with more than 100 hospitals totaling approximately $75 million to resolve allegations that they mischarged Medicare for kyphoplasty procedures.   Justice Department officials credited whistleblowers with helping it to identify the charged misconduct in virtually all of the cases.  They collectively will receive an estimated $5.5 million of the total of $34 million to be paid under the settlements.

 55 Settlements Impact Systems & Providers Across The Nation

According to the Justice Department’s July 1 announcement of the settlements, the settling facilities, and the amounts they have agreed to pay, include 23 hospitals affiliated with HCA Inc., Nashville, TN, who have agreed to pay a total of $7,145,842.72.  These include:

  •  Aventura Hospital & Medical Center, Aventura, FL
  • Capital Regional Medical Center, Tallahassee, FL
  • Coliseum Medical Center,  Macon, GA
  • Coliseum Northside Hospital, Macon, GA
  • Conroe Regional Medical Center, Conroe, TX
  • Denton Regional Medical Center, Denton, TX
  • Doctors Hospital of Sarasota,  Sarasota, FL
  • Edmond Regional Medical Center, Edmond, OK
  • Fawcett Memorial Hospital, Port Charlotte, FL
  • Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, Fort Walton Beach, FL
  • Garden Park Medical Center, Gulf Port, MS
  • JFK Medical Center, Atlantis, FL
  • Los Robles Regional Medical Center, Thousand Oaks, CA
  • North Florida Regional Medical Center,  Gainesville, FL
  • Northlake Medical Center,  Tucker, GA
  • Oklahoma University Medical Center,  Oklahoma City, OK
  • Palmyra Medical Center,  Albany, GA
  • Redmond Regional Medical Center,  Rome, GA
  • Southwest Florida Regional Medical Center,  Fort Myers, FL
  • St. Lucie Medical Center,  Port Saint Lucie, FL
  • Summit Medical Center,  Hermitage, TN
  • Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center,  Las Vegas, NV
  • Wesley Medical Center, Wichita, KS

Also 6 hospitals affiliated with Lifepoint Hospitals, Inc., Brentwood, TN, have agreed to pay a total of $2,522,502.69.  These include:

  • Andalusia Regional Hospital, Andalusia, AL
  • Jackson Purchase Medical Center, Mayfield, KY
  • Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital,  Somerset, KY
  • Minden Medical Center,  Minden, LA
  • Russellville Hospital, Russellville, AL
  • Western Plains Medical Complex,  Dodge City, KS

Also, 5  hospitals affiliated with Trinity Health, Livonia, MI, have agreed to pay a total of $3,910,017.53.  These include:

  • Mercy Medical Center, – Dubuque,  Dubuque, IA
  • Mercy Medical Center – Sioux City,  Sioux City, IA
  • St. Joseph Mercy Hospital,  Pontiac, MI
  • Mercy Health Partners,  Muskegon, MI
  • Mount Carmel New Albany Surgical Hospital,  New Albany, OH

Justice Department officials also report that 4hospitals affiliated with Morton Plant Mease BayCare Health System, Clearwater, FL, have agreed to pay a total of $2,378,325.45.  These include:

  • Morton Plant Hospital,  Clearwater, FL
  • Morton Plant North Bay Hospital,  New Port Richey, FL
  • Mease Dunedin Hospital, Dunedin, FL
  • Mease Countryside Hospital, Safety Harbor, FL

Justice Department officials also say 3  hospitals affiliated with Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation, Memphis, TN, have agreed to pay a total of $691,168.  These are:

  • Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, North Columbus, MS
  • Baptist Memorial Hospital-Collierville,  Collierville, TN
  • Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis,  Memphis, TN

In addition, Justice Department officials say 2 hospitals affiliated with Covenant Health, Knoxville, TN, have agreed to pay a total of $1,845,641.74.  These are  Parkwest Medical Center in  Knoxville, TN  and Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge in Oak Ridge, TN.

Meanwhile, 2 hospitals affiliated with Bayhealth Medical Center, Newark, DE, also reportedly have agreed to pay a total of $1,115,306.37.  These are Bayhealth Kent General Hospital,  Dover, DE  and Bayhealth Milford Memorial Hospital,  Milford, DE.

In addition to these hospitals, the following facilities have agreed to pay the following settlements:

  • Atrium Medical Center, Middletown, OH, has agreed to pay $4,232,992.50
  • Altru Health System, Grand Forks, ND, has agreed to pay $1,492,690
  • Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA, has agreed to pay $1,485,846
  • Des Peres Hospital, St. Louis, MO, has agreed to pay $900,000
  • Mount Sinai Medical Center, Miami, FL, has agreed to pay $1,846,194.00
  • New England Baptist Hospital, Boston, MA, has agreed to pay $374,814.48
  • St. Anne’s Hospital, Fall River, MA, has agreed to pay $552,745
  • The Queen’s Medical Center, Honolulu, HI, has agreed to pay $1,055,249.57
  • Trover Health System, Madisonville, KY, has agreed to pay $1,162,837
  • Wayne Memorial Hospital, Goldsboro, NC, has agreed to pay $1,250,000.

In addition to today’s settlement, the government previously settled with Medtronic Spine LLC, the corporate successor to Kyphon Inc., for $75 million to settle allegations that the company defrauded Medicare by counseling hospital providers to perform kyphoplasty procedures as inpatient rather than outpatient procedures.

According to Tom O’Donnell, Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Investigations of the HHS-OIG New York Regional Office,  “The settlements related to kyphoplasty billing that have been reached with over 100 hospitals represent one of the largest and most successful multi-party health care investigations in the nation.”

While these settlements relate specifically to kyphoplasty procedures, they send a message impacting all procedures and practice areas that they risk OIG and/or Justice Department prosecution if procedures are performed in a most costly manner to increase reimbursement which is not medically necessary.  Justice Department officials warned health care providers  that Justice and OIG will act “Whenever hospitals knowingly overcharge Medicare, critically needed resources are wasted and health costs are driven up.”

Whistleblower Involvement Played Big Role

As in other recently announced settlement agreements, see e.g., Whistleblower Collects $2.7 M of $14.5M Sound Inpatient Physicians Overbilling Settlement, whistleblower involvement played a key role in helping OIG and Justice to identify and prosecute the alleged misconduct.

According to the Justice Department, all but four of the settling facilities announced today were named as defendants in a qui tam, or whistleblower, lawsuit brought under the False Claims Act, which permits private citizens to bring lawsuits on behalf of the United States and receive a portion of the proceeds of any settlement or judgment awarded against a defendant.  The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Buffalo, N.Y., by Craig Patrick and Charles Bates.  Mr. Patrick is a former reimbursement manager for Kyphon, and Mr. Bates was formerly a regional sales manager for Kyphon in Birmingham, Ala.  The whistleblowers will receive a total of approximately $5.5 million from the settlements.

 Mitigate Risks With Effective Oversight of Both Documentation & Operations

As Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Stuart F. Delery noted in the settlement announcement. “Physicians who participate in Medicare and other federal health care programs must document and bill for their services accurately and honestly.” With qui tam and other whistleblower participation, the Justice Department, HHS and other federal and state fraud investigators go beyond merely challenging whether the medical record documentation supports the charges billed to question whether the medical record itself accurately reflects the care in fact delivered by relying upon testimony of employees or other “insiders” often with an axe to grind against the provider.

To mitigate these exposures, health care providers clearly should work diligently both to ensure that their billing and other compliance programs accurately, honestly and completely document the care provided and code and bill for those services in accordance with the currently applicable federal program rules.  While these compliance and risk management programs are indispensable components of any effective health care fraud compliance program, health care providers also should recognize that the effectiveness of their health care fraud and other compliance program also may depend on the effectiveness of their operational and workforce oversight and management.  Along with effective billing and other fraud detection and compliance programs, providers also need effective medical quality and records documentation, provider and workforce performance and management, investigations and other management programs.

As a key element of these activities, providers should constantly be on watch for evidence of gaps between the medical and billing documentation and the factual realities looking at broad range of sources. Providers should target these activities to cover both specific medical documentation, coding and care, and other operational indicators that could show a problem.  With qui tam and other whistleblower claims rising, however, providers should keep in mind that mere auditing of records and billing patterns alone often fails to uncover key evidence of potential concerns.

To help identify potential areas of scrutiny, providers should carefully monitor and examine the adequacy of their compliance and risk management agreements against corporate integrity agreements with other providers who have reached settlements with the Department of Justice, HHS Office of Inspector General or other agencies like the TranS1 Inc. Corporate Integrity Agreement .

Health care providers also should take into account a plethora of other potential indicators including but not limited to peer review and quality assurance data, deficient as well as inexplicably exceptional medical record or other record keeping documentation, hotline, exist interview and other workforce feedback, disagreements among providers in patterns of care, political and interpersonal differences, and a host of other indicators that could show a valid compliance concern or a developing hostility that could become the incentive for a whistleblower or other complaint. Providers should document these and other efforts to investigate, monitor and redress potential concerns  In addition, providers also should guard against qui tam, retaliation and other claims by ensuring that their human resources, peer review, credentialing, background and other investigations, privacy and other operational activities are designed, documented to be both legally compliant and defensible.

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 25 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.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information about this communication click here.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:

 

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information about this communication click here. 

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.   ©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc..  All other rights reserved.


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