Former employee turned whistleblower Donald Gale will receive $17.24 million of the $124.24 million that the U.S.’ largest provider of pharmaceuticals and pharmacy services to nursing homes, Omnicare, Inc. has agreed to pay to settle charges that Omnicare violated the Anti-Kickback Statute by offering improper financial incentives to skilled nursing facilities in return for their continued selection of Omnicare to provide pharmaceuticals and pharmacy services to their residents. The settlement announced June 25, 2014 by the Department of Justice (DOJ) highlights the growing risks that health care organizations using aggressive marketing incentive programs face to whistleblower, Department of Justice and other investigations.
According to DOJ, the Omnicare settlement resolves allegations that “Omnicare provided improper discounts in return for the opportunity to provide medication to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries” in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute. The settlement resolves allegations initially brought by two whistleblowers that Omnicare submitted false claims by entering into below-cost contracts to supply prescription medication and other pharmaceutical drugs to skilled nursing facilities and their resident patients to induce the facilities to select Omnicare as their pharmacy provider. The facilities were participating providers under agreements with Medicare and Medicaid. In addition to the facilities’ own claims for reimbursement from Medicare for short-term rehabilitation treatment rendered to patients, Omnicare submitted additional claims for reimbursement to Medicare and Medicaid for drugs Omnicare supplied.
The Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits offering, paying, soliciting or receiving remuneration to induce referrals of items or services covered by Medicare, Medicaid and other federally funded programs as a means of helping to ensure that the selection of health care providers and suppliers is not compromised by improper financial incentives and is instead based on the best interests of the patient. This settlement illustrates both the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud and marks another achievement for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative and the critical role that current or former employees or other whistleblowers often play in the successful investigation and prosecution of these cases.
The HEAT initiative announced in May 2009 by Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius makes heavy use of whistleblowers to uncover potential violations and then uses the False Claims Act and other expanded investigatory and enforcement tools granted by Congress to nail providers.
In conducting its war against health care fraud, Federal officials credited new tools created under the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) with aiding their health care fraud investigation and enforcement efforts. Legal reforms and new resources granted under the Affordable Care Act and various other legal changes have beefed up the fraud detection and fighting powers of Federal health care fraud investigators and prosecutors. Examples of these new tools include:
- Tough new rules and sentences for criminals
- Enhanced screening and other enrollment requirements
- Increased coordination of fraud prevention efforts
- Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT)
- New focus on compliance and prevention
- Expanded overpayment recovery efforts
- New durable medical equipment (DME) requirements
- An additional $350 million over 10 years to ramp up anti-fraud efforts
- Greater oversight of private insurance abuses
- Senior Medicare Patrols
The continuing success of these and other federal health care fraud investigation and enforcement efforts continue to prove the need for health care providers and payers to strengthen their compliance practices and documentation to avoid getting caught in the ever tightening health care fraud dragnet. Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered a total of more than $19.5 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $13.9 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs. In announcing the settlement, Justice Department officials sent strong warnings to other health care providers and suppliers about the dangers of providing or accepting improper discounts or other improper incentives as part of their business marketing strategies. “Health care providers who seek to profit from providing illegal financial benefits will be held accountable,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division Stuart F. Delery. “Schemes such as this one undermine the health care system and take advantage of elderly nursing home residents.” Meanwhile, Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said “Nursing homes should select their pharmacy provider based on the best quality, service and cost to the residents, not based on improper discounts to the nursing facility.”
Any quick look at the DOJ’s enforcement record shows its acting on these promises. For instance, in addition to the Omnicare settlement, DOJ also announced on June 25 the guilty plea of a physician and the sentencing on an ambulance company owner on health care fraud charges. See Huntersville Physician Pleads Guilty To Health Care Fraud and Tax Fraud and Agrees To Pay $6.2 Million to Settle Civil Fraud Claims; Ambulance Company Co-Owner Sentenced To 13 1/2 Years for Health Care Fraud Scheme.
Health Care Providers Must Act To Manage Risks
In response to the growing emphasis and effectiveness of Federal officials in investigating and taking action against health care providers and organizations, health care providers covered by federal false claims, referral, kickback and other health care fraud laws should consider auditing the adequacy of existing practices, tightening training, oversight and controls on billing and other regulated conduct, reaffirming their commitment to compliance to workforce members and constituents and taking other appropriate steps to help prevent, detect and timely redress health care fraud exposures within their organization and to 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 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.
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