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 Conviction; Euless 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 Charges. Indeed, 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 Million; Owner 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.
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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:
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