Chiropractor, Modern Vascular Office-Based Labs and Modern Vascular Corporate Entities Face False Claims Act Prosecution

Three consolidated False Claims Act (“FCA”) lawsuits against chiropractor Yury Gampel (“Gampel”), 15 Modern Vascular office-based labs owned primarily by Gampel located across the United States, and five Modern Vascular-affiliated companies owned by Gampel alert other chiropractic, physician and other medical providers using office-based labs send a clear warning to other health care providers and suppliers for services covered or billed to Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE or other federal health care programs about the necessity to ensure their arrangements don’t involve illegal financial relationships or transactions.

False Claims Act Liability Arising From Participation In Or Filing Claims Involving Improper Inducements

The Justice Department suit against the defendants alleges the defendants both arose from the defendants participation in arrangements involving the offering and payment of illegal remuneration in violation of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”) and that the claims for benefits made to Medicare and other federal programs for care provided involving the arrangement violated the FCA.

The AKS generally prohibits any person or entity from soliciting, receiving, offering, or paying any direct or indirect prohibited remuneration as an inducement or reward for referring, recommending, ordering, or arranging for the purchase of any item or service for which payment may be made in whole or in part by a federal health care program. Parties violating the AKS commit a felony punishable with a fine of up to $100,000, imprisonment for up to 10 years or both.

In addition to any criminal liability arising under the AKS, filing claims derived or involving transactions prohibited by the AKS also can trigger liability for violation of the FCA. The FCA makes it unlawful for any person to submit, directly or indirectly, false or fraudulent claims for payment to the Government by among other things:

  • Knowingly presenting, or causing to be presented, a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval in violation of 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1)(A) (the “presentment provision”); or
  • Knowingly making, using, or causing to be made or used, a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim in violation of 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1)(B).

The FCA defines the term “knowingly” under the FCA very broadly. As defined, “knowingly” means that a person, with respect to information, (i) has actual knowledge of the information, (ii) acts in deliberate ignorance of the truth or falsity of the information, or (iii) acts in reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the information. 31 U.S.C. § 3729(b). No proof of specific intent to defraud is required to show that a person acted knowingly under the FCA.

Violations of the FCA subject the defendant to mandatory civil penalties per FCA violation, plus three times the amount of damages that the Government sustains as a result of the defendant’s actions. 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a). Under 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7(b)(7), health care providers submitting claims to Medicare or other federal health care programs also can face exclusion from participation in federal health care programs for FCA violations.

Health care providers filing claims for Medicare or other federal health plans can violate the FCA by knowingly presenting or causing to be presented claims for items or services that the person knew or should have known were not medically necessary, or were false or fraudulent. 42 U.S.C. §§ 1320a-7a(a)(1).

Moreover, health care providers under the Medicare statute have an affirmative duty to familiarize themselves with the statutes, regulations, and guidelines regarding coverage for the Medicare services. As a condition of program participation, Medicare regulations require providers and suppliers to certify that:

  • The provider or supplier meets, and will continue to meet, the requirements of the Medicare statute and regulations, 42 C.F.R. § 424.516(a)(1), including that any claims and underlying transactions made in a claim for Medicare comply with the Federal anti-kickback statute and the Stark law), and on the supplier’s compliance with all otherwise applicable conditions of participation in Medicare; and
  • The provider or supplier will not knowingly to present or cause to be presented a false or fraudulent claim for payment by Medicare, or to submit claims with deliberate ignorance or reckless disregard of their truth or falsity.

Additional certifications of continued compliance with these requirements also are required when claims are filed. Accordingly, since health care providers and suppliers are responsible for taking appropriate steps to familiarize themselves with the rules and regulations applicable to their claim and the transactions underlying it and certify in connection with the filing of the claim that the claim and its underlying transactions comply with the law, health care providers filing claims involving prohibited financial incentives or other transactions prohibited by law risk FCA liability.

Gampel, Modern Vascular FCA Complaint

Derived from the Justice Department’s assumption and consolidation of various qui tam lawsuits separately brought by various physicians, the United States filed its complaint in three consolidated lawsuits pending in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729-3733 (“FCA”) which allow a private citizen to sue on behalf of the government and share in any recovery. The United States is also entitled to intervene in the lawsuits, as it did in these cases.

The resulting consolidated three consolidated Justice Department lawsuits seek to recover treble damages and civil penalties, and under common law and equitable theories of recovery from defendants for their billing of Medicare, TRICARE and other federal health care programs for claims resulting from transactions involving prohibited remuneration offered and provided in violation of the AKS under Gampel’s alleged schemes Nobility Management LLC; Modern Vascular LLC; Modern Vascular of South Florida LLC; Modern Vascular Management LLC; Modern Vascular Management – East LLC; Modern Vascular Management – West LLC; Modern Vascular Institute LLC; Modern Vascular of Mesa LLC; Modern Vascular of Glendale LLC; Modern Vascular of Sun City LLC; Modern Vascular of Tucson LLC; San Antonio Vascular Specialists Corp. dba Modern Vascular; Fort Worth Vascular Specialists Corp. dba Modern Vascular; Modern Vascular of Denver LLC; Modern Vascular – Navajo LLC; Modern Vascular of Fairfax LLC; Modern Vascular of Houston LLC; Modern Vascular of Indianapolis LLC; Modern Vascular of Southaven LLC; Modern Vascular of St. Louis LLC; and Modern Vascular of Kansas LLC. 

The Justice Department complaint alleges Defendant Yury Gampel, a chiropractor, is the founder and former Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) of a franchise of office-based labs (“OBL”) located in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia operating under the name Modern Vascular (collectively, the “Modern Vascular OBLs”). The Modern Vascular OBLs – each its own separate legal entity – focus on the treatment of peripheral arterial disease (“PAD”), particularly through an aggressive use of vascular intervention procedures, such as angioplasty and atherectomy. The complaint claims Gampel and the Modern Vascular defendants designed and promoted the franchises that incorporated a package of management and other services provided by various Modern Vascular defendant companies.

Defendant Nobility Management, LLC, provides management services to the Modern Vascular OBLs. Defendants Modern Vascular Management, LLC; Modern Vascular Management – East, LLC; and Modern Vascular Management – West, LLC, offer
IT and management support to Modern Vascular OBLs. Defendants Modern Vascular, LLC, and Modern Vascular of South Florida, LLC, are corporations controlled by Gampel that have various ownership interests in Modern Vascular OBLs. Through Modern Vascular, LLC, and Modern Vascular of South Florida, LLC, and in his own capacity, Gampel is the majority owner of the Modern Vascular OBLs. (These entities that own and manage the Modern Vascular OBLs are referred to collectively below as “Modern Vascular Corporate.”)

The complaint alleges that Gampel and Modern Vascular Corporate designed and implemented a fraud scheme at Modern Vascular OBLs at the expense of patients and federal payors from at least January 1, 2018 through June 30, 2022. Among other things, the complaint charges Gampel and the Modern Vascular defendants offered physicians the opportunity to invest in Modern Vascular office-based labs to induce them to refer their Medicare and TRICARE patients to Modern Vascular for the treatment of peripheral arterial disease. More specifically, Gampel and Modern Vascular Corporate opened Modern Vascular OBLs in new markets where referring physicians and vascular surgeons had established relationships. Prior to opening an OBL in a particular location, Gampel sought out up to 20 local physicians – usually podiatrists and pain management physicians – who traditionally referred to vascular surgeons and offered each up to a two percent ownership interest in the OBL in order to induce the physicians to refer to the OBL. Gampel and Modern Vascular Corporate selected these particular physicians (hereinafter “physician investors”) to offer ownership investment because Gampel and Modern Vascular Corporate identified them as potential high-referral sources. Once they invested in an OBL, Gampel and Modern Vascular Corporate further required the physician-investors to make referrals to Modern Vascular OBLs as a condition for remaining as a physician-investor. The complaint also alleges that Gampel pressured vascular surgeons and interventional radiologists employed at the Modern Vascular office-based labs to increase the number of invasive surgical procedures performed by tracking procedures and setting aggressive weekly and monthly goals for such procedures. In particular, Gampel and Modern Vascular Corporate provided remuneration to physician investors in Modern Vascular OBLs to induce those investors to refer patients to the Modern Vascular OBL.

The Justice Department charges that using this scheme, Defendants between January 1, 2018 and June 30, 2022 submitted, and caused to be submitted, tens of millions of dollars in false or fraudulent claims to Medicare, TRICARE and other federal health care programs by offering and providing illegal remuneration to health care providers to induce referrals to the Modern Vascular OBLs in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”), 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b. To induce referrals, Gampel and Modern Vascular Corporate provided remuneration to physician-investors in the form of equity ownership interests in an OBL, which also included distributions, the prospect of future distributions, and/or the prospect of a cash-out of the equity ownership amounts when
the Modern Vascular OBLs were sold. During the relevant time period, the Justice Department also claims Modern Vascular
OBLs received over $50 million from Medicare Part B alone for claims submitted for patients referred by physician-investors in violation of the FCA.

Warning To Other Heath Care Providers & Suppliers

In announcing its filing of the Gambrel FCA lawsuit, the Justice Department warned other federal health program providers and suppliers and their business partners, investors, employees and agents from violating the AKS, FCA or both in the provision of or billing of health care services or supplies. “As part of our mission to protect the American people, the FBI remains committed to safeguarding patients who rely on our healthcare systems,” said Deputy Assistant Director Aaron Tapp of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to investigate those who abuse our healthcare systems, place patients at risk, and waste taxpayer dollars.” 

This warning, along with the ever-lengthening list of federal criminal and civil prosecutions, convictions and settlements by the Justice Department, the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General and other agencies provide a strong warning to health care providers, suppliers and others involved in creating or administering transactions and other arrangements for the delivery and billing for health are to be billed to Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE and other health care arrangements covered by the AKS, the FCA or other federal or state health care fraud laws to take well documented care to ensure the care delivery arrangement does not involve transactions prohibited under the AKS or other federal or state health care fraud transactions and the care billed qualifies for reimbursement before submitting the claim. Parties who know or suspect that they may have participated in an arrangement prohibited under these laws or submitted prohibited claims should contact experienced legal counsel within the scope of attorney-client privilege for assistance in reviewing those concerns and exploring options for correction or mitigation.

For More Information

If your organization would like to learn more about the concerns discussed in this update or seeks assistance auditing, updating, administering or defending its human resources, compensation, benefits, corporate ethics and compliance practices, or other performance related concerns, contact management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

An attorney Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer is recognized for work helping organizations management people, operations and risk as  a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, a “Top Woman Lawyer,” “Top Rated Lawyer,” and “LEGAL LEADER™” in Labor and Employment Law and Health Care Law; a “Best Lawyers” in “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law.”

For 35 years, Ms. Stamer’s work has focused on advising and assisting businesses and business leaders with these and other employment and other staffing, employee benefit, compensation, risk, performance and compliance management and other operational solutions and concerns. Her experience includes helping management both manage performance and manage legal risk and compliance.  While helping businesses define and manage the conduct and performance of their employees, contractors and vendors, she also assists employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation, health and other employee benefit, workplace safety, leave, and other labor and employment laws, advises and defends businesses against labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, fraud and other regulatory compliance and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor, Department of Justice, SEC,  Federal Trade Commission, HUD, HHS, DOD, Departments of Insurance, and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer also speaks, coaches management and publishes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see hereor contact Ms. Stamer directly.

Other Helpful Resources & Information

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