Former Center Texas Medical Center CFO Faces 5 Years After Guilty Plea To EHR Incentive Fraud Reminder To Manage Incentive Compliance

The prosecution and resulting November 12, 2014 guilty plea of former Shelby Regional Medical Center Chief Financial Officer Joe White to making false statements when applying for electronic health record (EHR) incentives highlights another growing fraud exposure risk that health care organizations and their leaders need to manage arising from applications or other claims made in seeking EHR or other incentives or grants.

White presently faces sentencing to up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to making a false statement in an application for EHR incentives he signed on behalf of Center, Texas-based Shelby Regional Medical Center.  White plead guilty to the charge before U.S. Magistrate Judge John D. Love on November 12, 2014.

The charges against White stemmed from an application he made on behalf of the medical center for EHR incentives.  According to information presented by the U.S. Department of Justice in court, White was the Chief Financial Officer for the medical center owned and operated by Dr. Taqriq Mahmood. White oversaw the implementation of EHRs for the hospital and was responsible for attesting to the meaningful use of electronic health records in order to qualify to receive incentive payments under Medicare’s Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program.  The Justice Department charged that on November 20, 2012, White knowingly made a false statement to Medicare falsely representing that the hospital was a meaningful user of electronic health records, when the hospital did not meet the meaningful use requirements.  As a result, the medical center received $785,655.00 in EHR incentives from Medicare.  A federal grand jury indicted White on February 6, 2014.  He faces up to five years in prison when sentenced.  The sentencing date is not set yet.
White’s prosecution and guilty plea is one of several actions that highlight the growing exposure that health care organizations and their leaders face to criminal and civil prosecution for fraud or other misconduct in seeking or collecting federal incentives or grants.

Federal and state officials responsible for administering the massive influx of grants and incentives to health care providers and others authorized under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Stimulus Bill and other legislation now are auditing and investigating fraud or other compliance concerns and acting aggressively to prosecute organizations and individuals criminally, civilly or both for fraudulent or other abuse of the rules.  The White criminal conviction, for instance, follows the October, 2014 civil complaint and simultaneous settlement of theFalse Claims Act civil suit,   US ex rel. v. Columbia U. and ICAP complaint-in-intervention  and its resolution through the simultaneously filed US ex rel. v. Columbia U. and ICAP stipulation and order (“Settlement”) involving the Trustees Of Columbia University In The City Of New York (“Columbia University”), and ICAP (formerly known as the International Center For Aids Care And Treatment Programs) (collectively, “Columbia”).  In that suit, federal officials charged Columbia University with improperly defrauding the federal government in violation of the False Claims Act in federal grants that Columbia University obtained to fund ICAP’s AIDS- and HIV-related work. The United States’ Complaint-in-Intervention (the “Complaint”) alleged that Columbia University, as the grant administrator on behalf of ICAP, received millions of dollars in federal grants and, pursuant to the rules applicable to such grants, was required for nearly 200 of ICAP’s employees located in New York City to use a suitable means of verifying that the employees had actually performed the work charged to a particular grant. The Complaint alleges that Columbia was well aware that this was not being done, yet continued wrongly to charge many federal grants for work that was not devoted to the projects they funded.   According to the Justice Department, Colombia failed to ensure that these reports were created or verified by the more than 200 individuals for which grant monies were sought. Instead, Columbia’s Finance Department provided information for these reports even though the employees of that department had limited or no knowledge of which grants the individuals actually worked on. In addition, the lawsuit charged that the effort reports were certified as correct by the principal investigators on the grants without using suitable means to verify the accuracy of the reports. Instead of taking the appropriate steps to determine whether the reports were accurate, the principal investigators would certify large batches of the reports, without making any inquiry into whether the allocation of work among the grants was accurate. Moreover, ICAP’s management was well aware of the inaccuracies of the effort reporting system.  According to the complaint, these omissions resulted in Columbia charging grants for work that was not performed on the project being funded by that grant. For instance, an ICAP Finance Analyst stated that he spent approximately 15-20% of his time on MCAP in fiscal year 2010, but his effort report falsely listed his MCAP effort, and related salary charges, as 85%. Likewise, in fiscal year 2010, an ICAP Subcontracts Manager’s effort report listed her effort as 100% MCAP, but the Subcontracts Manager actually worked on three other grants, in addition to MCAP, that year. The time submitted for many other employees was similarly mischarged.  The complaint also charged that ICAP also charged federal grants for time spent on activities that are not chargeable to any federal grants, such as competitive grant proposal writing. For example, an ICAP Grants Manager spent a significant amount of her time writing competitive grant proposals, but her effort report showed that all of her time was charged to grants, with as much as 92% of her time charged to MCAP in some years.

In the Settlement, Columbia admitted failing to use a suitable means of verifying whether the salary and wage charges that ICAP applied to specific federal grants were based on an employee’s actual effort for that grant. Columbia also admitted that as a result, certain effort reports contained inaccurate information, and for a number of years ICAP mischarged certain federal grants for work that was not allocable to those agreements. Columbia also agreed to pay $9,020,073 to resolve the Government’s claims.

The White criminal prosecution and conviction and the Colombia civil prosecution and settlement are two of a growing list of reminders to health care, educational and other organizations receiving Department of Health & Human Services or other federal grants or incentives as a critical reminder to review and tighten as necessary their federal grant and other incentive program compliance and documentation to ensure that it can withstand an audit or other scrutiny by federal officials.

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.

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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©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

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