Owners, operators, and leaders of health care organizations face an ever-growing imperative to lock down compliance by the organization and its employees and agents both to protect their organizations and its investors and themselves personally against the criminal, civil and administrative sanctions that result when health care organizations or their people break the rules.
The Departmnet of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) increasingly are going after owners, operators and other leaders of healthcare organizations for participating in, failing to act to prevent or inadequately investigating and redressing fraud or other illegal conduct in their organizations or by members of their organization’s team. Leaders and owners need to learn the rules and what to do to manage their risk. Owners and leaders must get informed about their expectations and exposures and learn and take the right steps to adopt compliance plans, monitor and enforce compliance, investigate and redress concerns and deal with these responsibilities and risk
The latest slew of federal health care fraud prosecutions reported by DOJ and OIG during the first two weeks of October illustrate some of the risks owners and executives face when they, their organization or employees or agents violate these rules. DOJ and federal regulators like OIG have made clear that they construe these rules to require leaders both to abstain from violating these laws and to adopt and administer effective compliance plans, oversight and other actions to train and prevent their employees and agents from violating these rules. See, e.g., Practical Guidance for Health Care Governing Boards on Compliance Oversight.
Of course, owners and management leaders inevitably face significant financial loss and other fallout if their organizations or members of their teams are found to have violated federal or state health care fraud laws. Over the past decade, however, owners and leaders increasingly also face growing risks of personal prosecution when their organization or someone on their team breaks the rules.
Owners, executives or other leaders who may be tempted to underesktimate the significance of these warnings should note DOJ’s increasingly aggressive and heavy handed prosecution of owners, executives and other leaders who either directly participate in, or by failing to adopt or administer meaningful compliance and investigation practices, are perceived to have allowed, encouraged or facilitated employees or agents to engage in actions hat DOJ, OIG or other federal regulators consider fraudulent.
DOJ’s growing emphasis on holding health care executives accountable for health care fraud or other violations of federal health care and other laws is clearly reflected in the prosecutions and convictions it announced during the first two weeks of October clearly demonstrate the critical need for health care organization owners, officers and other leaders (executives) to safeguard themselves personally, as well as their organizations against becoming targeted or convicted of health care fraud or other violations of federal health care laws by ensuring their organization adopts and administers effective compliance programs and taking other meaningful, well-documented steps , efforts to ensure the effectiveness of these compliance efforts.
Federal criminal and civil health care fraud laws both prohibit owners, operators and executives from participating in or conspiring to violate federal anti-kickback, anti-referral, false claims and other health care fraud laws, as well as provide various mechanisms that impose liability against owners and executives that fail to adopt and administer appropriate compliance, audit and other oversight and enforcement processes and procedures. Since October 1, 2016, for instance, DOJ has announced the following healthcare charges, convictions and settlements involving owners and executives.
- On October 4, 2016, a federal judge sentenced Bassem Kuran, the President and owner of Pennsylvania based a VIP Ambulance, Inc 10 months imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release, plus ordered him to pay $66,901.93 in restitution for making false statements to Medicare. See Ambulance Company Owner Sentenced To 10 Months In Prison;
- On October 5, 2016, DOJ four California residents that operated Louisiana based Care Concepts, LLC, and California based Choice Home Medical Equipment and Supplies (Choice), Geoffrey and Marla Ricketts and Samuel and Sunyup Kim, are awaiting sentences of up to 10 years in prison, $250,000 fines, restitution liabilities, and three years’ supervised release for their health care fraud convictions relating to a $38 million fraud scheme centering around the distribution of “talking glucose meters” not medically needed and often not even requested. Four Californians Plead Guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Health Care Fraud;
- On October 6, 2016, the owner of a medical supply company was sentenced to 60 months in prison for his role in a scheme that fraudulently billed more than $4 million to Medicare. Owner of Los Angeles Medical Supply Company Sentenced to 60 Months in Prison for Multimillion-Dollar Medicare Fraud Scheme;
- On October 6, 2016. United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri Tammy Dickinson and Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced the sentencing for federal health care fraud of a Springfield, Mo. man who operated four Family Medical Center clinics in southern Missouri. See Springfield Man Sentenced for Fraud Scheme to Overcharge Medicaid, Medicare at Four Clinics;
- On October 6, 2016, DOJ announced the sentencing in federal court of the Los Angeles owner of a medical supply company to 5 years in prison for his role in a scheme that fraudulently billed more than $4 million to Medicare. See Owner of Los Angeles Medical Supply Company Sentenced to 60 Months in Prison for Multimillion-Dollar Medicare Fraud Scheme;
- On October 7, 2016, a Tampa, Florida home health agency owner was convicted by a federal jury for her participation in a multimillion-dollar health care fraud and money laundering scheme. Owner of Florida Home Health Agency Convicted in Multimillion-Dollar Health Care Fraud Scheme;
- On October 12, 2016, U.S. Attorney Josh J. Minkler announced the indictment of former Chief Executive Officer James Burkhart, former Indiana nursing home chain American Senior Communities (ASC) Chief Operating Officer Daniel Benson, for their alleged roles in a vast fraud, kickback, and money laundering scheme involving ASC. Former American Senior Communities executives indicted;
- On October 13, 2016, the U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts announced the agreement of Haverhill-based skilled nursing facility operator Whittier Health Network, Inc., and its Director of Long Term Care, Leo Curtin, to pay $2.5 million to resolve allegations concerning inflated Medicare claims. See Nursing Home Operator and Director of Long Term Care to Pay $2.5 Million to Settle False Claims for Rehabilitation Therapy. See Nursing Home Operator and Director of Long Term Care to Pay $2.5 Million to Settle False Claims for Rehabilitation Therapy; and
- On October 14, 2016, a federal district judge in the Northern District of Alabama sentenced the former chief executive of two non-profit health clinics for the poor and homeless to 18 years in prison for funneling millions in federal grant money to private companies he formed to contract with the clinics. See Former Non-Profit Health Clinics CEO Sentenced to 18 Years for Funneling Millions in Grant Money to Private Companies.
Of course, the costs and liabilities of federal criminal or civil investigations and prosecutions are only part of the challenges an organization and its leaders generally face when their healthcare organization or its actions are questioned under federal health care fraud or other laws. Whistleblower or other claims of employees and agents claiming to have been penalized for questioning practices, shareholder or other investor lawsuits, federal program disqualification, loss of position or reputation, the financial and other burdens of responding to and defending investigations and charges and a parade of other horribles that typically attend investigations and prosecutions also often exact a heavy toll on health care organization owners and leaders caught up in federal fraud investigations or prosecutions.
In the face of these growing risks, healthcare owners, executives and other leaders need a clear and up to date understanding of health care fraud laws and the obligations and expectations that these rules create not only for their organizations, but also increasingly them personally. Owners and other leaders need to understand the health care fraud rules, the ways that liability can attach not only to their organization but also themselves and their leaders under these rules, the burdens of proof and assumptions that create special challenges in responding to challenges or defending charges and actions and strategies they should take before, during, and after compliance issue or prosecution arises to strengthen their ability to defend or mitigate their and their organization’s liability exposures. As part of these efforts, owners and leaders not only should ensure that their organization adopt, train staff and others on and meaningfully administer up-to-date compliance programs in a manner that clearly documents the commitment of their organization and its leaders to compliance. Owners, executives and leaders also should become educated about the expectations of DOJ, HHS and other agencies and whistleblowers are likely to expect concerning their role and actions as owners and leaders both in establishing a clear expectation of compliance, as well as adopting, overseeing and enforcing practices and policies to maintain compliance, investigate and redress potential wrongdoing and otherwise maintain the compliance and culture expected and required under federal law. Owners and leaders should ensure that they and others in their organization are trained to recognize potential compliance issues, understand the steps they and their organization need to take when a potential compliance concern arises, and how to conduct and document investigations and other actions to strengthen their and their organization’s ability to defend against potential charges or other claims..
Owners, executives and other leaders also should anticipate, and prepare in advance for the likelihood that they and their organizations will need to respond investigations, suspected violations, whistleblower claims and other events that could create substantial exposure for their organizations and themselves personally. Leaders need to understand that the nature and risks associated with these potential health care fraud liabilities may make ill-advised commonly used settlement or other practices for resolving quickly disputes or other concerns. Owners and leaders bearing these responsibilities should seek specific advice and training about their responsibilities, as well as recommended strategies for investigating and responding to concerns that may carry or give rise to these risks. Most leaders also will want to ensure that their employment, shareholder and other agreements include sufficient flexibility and protections to protect the executive or other leader for termination, retaliation or other loss or injury for taking appropriate steps to investigate and respond to a compliance concern as well as plan in advance by arranging for their organization to provide indemnification, insurance or other coverage, and/or securing personally coverage to provide coverage needed to fund what often may be substantial legal fees arising out of investigation and defense of investigations, charges, or other actions and the corporate, employment and other fallout that often accompanies such events.
About The Author
A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, current American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, former scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and JCEB Council Representative, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, the former Board President and Treasurer of the Richardson Development Center for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, and past Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, is AV-Preeminent (the highest) rated attorney repeatedly recognized for her nearly 30 years of experience and knowledge representing and advising healthcare, health plan and other health industry and others on these and other regulatory, workforce, risk management, technology, public policy and operations matters as a Martindale-Hubble as a “LEGAL LEADER™” and “Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law, Labor and Employment Law, and Business & Commercial Law and among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” by D Magazine.
Ms. Stamer’s health industry 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, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.
Ms. Stamer also is known for her experience in HIPAA and other privacy and data security and breach concerns. The scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers and other plan sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA, FACTA, trade secret and other information privacy and data security rules, including the establishment, documentation, implementation, audit and enforcement of policies, procedures, systems and safeguards, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, and others. In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.
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 or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.
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