55 Hospitals To Pay $35M+ To Settle FCA Claims Charges On Kyphoplasty Procedures

July 6, 2013

Whistleblowers Played A Big Role, Collectively Will Receive $5.5 Million From Settlement Proceeds

Fifty-five hospitals in 21 states will pay a total of more than $34 million to settle Justice Department allegations that the health care facilities submitted false claims to Medicare for a minimally-invasive procedure used to treat certain spinal fractures that often are due to osteoporosis known as “kyphoplasty.”

The settlement stems from charges by the Justice Department and Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) that the settling hospitals frequently billed Medicare for performing kyphoplasty procedures on the more costly inpatient basis, rather than an outpatient basis, in order to increase their Medicare billings  when the kyphoplasty could have been performed safely and effectively as an outpatient procedure without any need for a more costly hospital admission.

With the settlements announced July 1,  the Justice Department says it has now reached settlements with more than 100 hospitals totaling approximately $75 million to resolve allegations that they mischarged Medicare for kyphoplasty procedures.   Justice Department officials credited whistleblowers with helping it to identify the charged misconduct in virtually all of the cases.  They collectively will receive an estimated $5.5 million of the total of $34 million to be paid under the settlements.

 55 Settlements Impact Systems & Providers Across The Nation

According to the Justice Department’s July 1 announcement of the settlements, the settling facilities, and the amounts they have agreed to pay, include 23 hospitals affiliated with HCA Inc., Nashville, TN, who have agreed to pay a total of $7,145,842.72.  These include:

  •  Aventura Hospital & Medical Center, Aventura, FL
  • Capital Regional Medical Center, Tallahassee, FL
  • Coliseum Medical Center,  Macon, GA
  • Coliseum Northside Hospital, Macon, GA
  • Conroe Regional Medical Center, Conroe, TX
  • Denton Regional Medical Center, Denton, TX
  • Doctors Hospital of Sarasota,  Sarasota, FL
  • Edmond Regional Medical Center, Edmond, OK
  • Fawcett Memorial Hospital, Port Charlotte, FL
  • Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, Fort Walton Beach, FL
  • Garden Park Medical Center, Gulf Port, MS
  • JFK Medical Center, Atlantis, FL
  • Los Robles Regional Medical Center, Thousand Oaks, CA
  • North Florida Regional Medical Center,  Gainesville, FL
  • Northlake Medical Center,  Tucker, GA
  • Oklahoma University Medical Center,  Oklahoma City, OK
  • Palmyra Medical Center,  Albany, GA
  • Redmond Regional Medical Center,  Rome, GA
  • Southwest Florida Regional Medical Center,  Fort Myers, FL
  • St. Lucie Medical Center,  Port Saint Lucie, FL
  • Summit Medical Center,  Hermitage, TN
  • Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center,  Las Vegas, NV
  • Wesley Medical Center, Wichita, KS

Also 6 hospitals affiliated with Lifepoint Hospitals, Inc., Brentwood, TN, have agreed to pay a total of $2,522,502.69.  These include:

  • Andalusia Regional Hospital, Andalusia, AL
  • Jackson Purchase Medical Center, Mayfield, KY
  • Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital,  Somerset, KY
  • Minden Medical Center,  Minden, LA
  • Russellville Hospital, Russellville, AL
  • Western Plains Medical Complex,  Dodge City, KS

Also, 5  hospitals affiliated with Trinity Health, Livonia, MI, have agreed to pay a total of $3,910,017.53.  These include:

  • Mercy Medical Center, – Dubuque,  Dubuque, IA
  • Mercy Medical Center – Sioux City,  Sioux City, IA
  • St. Joseph Mercy Hospital,  Pontiac, MI
  • Mercy Health Partners,  Muskegon, MI
  • Mount Carmel New Albany Surgical Hospital,  New Albany, OH

Justice Department officials also report that 4hospitals affiliated with Morton Plant Mease BayCare Health System, Clearwater, FL, have agreed to pay a total of $2,378,325.45.  These include:

  • Morton Plant Hospital,  Clearwater, FL
  • Morton Plant North Bay Hospital,  New Port Richey, FL
  • Mease Dunedin Hospital, Dunedin, FL
  • Mease Countryside Hospital, Safety Harbor, FL

Justice Department officials also say 3  hospitals affiliated with Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation, Memphis, TN, have agreed to pay a total of $691,168.  These are:

  • Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, North Columbus, MS
  • Baptist Memorial Hospital-Collierville,  Collierville, TN
  • Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis,  Memphis, TN

In addition, Justice Department officials say 2 hospitals affiliated with Covenant Health, Knoxville, TN, have agreed to pay a total of $1,845,641.74.  These are  Parkwest Medical Center in  Knoxville, TN  and Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge in Oak Ridge, TN.

Meanwhile, 2 hospitals affiliated with Bayhealth Medical Center, Newark, DE, also reportedly have agreed to pay a total of $1,115,306.37.  These are Bayhealth Kent General Hospital,  Dover, DE  and Bayhealth Milford Memorial Hospital,  Milford, DE.

In addition to these hospitals, the following facilities have agreed to pay the following settlements:

  • Atrium Medical Center, Middletown, OH, has agreed to pay $4,232,992.50
  • Altru Health System, Grand Forks, ND, has agreed to pay $1,492,690
  • Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA, has agreed to pay $1,485,846
  • Des Peres Hospital, St. Louis, MO, has agreed to pay $900,000
  • Mount Sinai Medical Center, Miami, FL, has agreed to pay $1,846,194.00
  • New England Baptist Hospital, Boston, MA, has agreed to pay $374,814.48
  • St. Anne’s Hospital, Fall River, MA, has agreed to pay $552,745
  • The Queen’s Medical Center, Honolulu, HI, has agreed to pay $1,055,249.57
  • Trover Health System, Madisonville, KY, has agreed to pay $1,162,837
  • Wayne Memorial Hospital, Goldsboro, NC, has agreed to pay $1,250,000.

In addition to today’s settlement, the government previously settled with Medtronic Spine LLC, the corporate successor to Kyphon Inc., for $75 million to settle allegations that the company defrauded Medicare by counseling hospital providers to perform kyphoplasty procedures as inpatient rather than outpatient procedures.

According to Tom O’Donnell, Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Investigations of the HHS-OIG New York Regional Office,  “The settlements related to kyphoplasty billing that have been reached with over 100 hospitals represent one of the largest and most successful multi-party health care investigations in the nation.”

While these settlements relate specifically to kyphoplasty procedures, they send a message impacting all procedures and practice areas that they risk OIG and/or Justice Department prosecution if procedures are performed in a most costly manner to increase reimbursement which is not medically necessary.  Justice Department officials warned health care providers  that Justice and OIG will act “Whenever hospitals knowingly overcharge Medicare, critically needed resources are wasted and health costs are driven up.”

Whistleblower Involvement Played Big Role

As in other recently announced settlement agreements, see e.g., Whistleblower Collects $2.7 M of $14.5M Sound Inpatient Physicians Overbilling Settlement, whistleblower involvement played a key role in helping OIG and Justice to identify and prosecute the alleged misconduct.

According to the Justice Department, all but four of the settling facilities announced today were named as defendants in a qui tam, or whistleblower, lawsuit brought under the False Claims Act, which permits private citizens to bring lawsuits on behalf of the United States and receive a portion of the proceeds of any settlement or judgment awarded against a defendant.  The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Buffalo, N.Y., by Craig Patrick and Charles Bates.  Mr. Patrick is a former reimbursement manager for Kyphon, and Mr. Bates was formerly a regional sales manager for Kyphon in Birmingham, Ala.  The whistleblowers will receive a total of approximately $5.5 million from the settlements.

 Mitigate Risks With Effective Oversight of Both Documentation & Operations

As Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Stuart F. Delery noted in the settlement announcement. “Physicians who participate in Medicare and other federal health care programs must document and bill for their services accurately and honestly.” With qui tam and other whistleblower participation, the Justice Department, HHS and other federal and state fraud investigators go beyond merely challenging whether the medical record documentation supports the charges billed to question whether the medical record itself accurately reflects the care in fact delivered by relying upon testimony of employees or other “insiders” often with an axe to grind against the provider.

To mitigate these exposures, health care providers clearly should work diligently both to ensure that their billing and other compliance programs accurately, honestly and completely document the care provided and code and bill for those services in accordance with the currently applicable federal program rules.  While these compliance and risk management programs are indispensable components of any effective health care fraud compliance program, health care providers also should recognize that the effectiveness of their health care fraud and other compliance program also may depend on the effectiveness of their operational and workforce oversight and management.  Along with effective billing and other fraud detection and compliance programs, providers also need effective medical quality and records documentation, provider and workforce performance and management, investigations and other management programs.

As a key element of these activities, providers should constantly be on watch for evidence of gaps between the medical and billing documentation and the factual realities looking at broad range of sources. Providers should target these activities to cover both specific medical documentation, coding and care, and other operational indicators that could show a problem.  With qui tam and other whistleblower claims rising, however, providers should keep in mind that mere auditing of records and billing patterns alone often fails to uncover key evidence of potential concerns.

To help identify potential areas of scrutiny, providers should carefully monitor and examine the adequacy of their compliance and risk management agreements against corporate integrity agreements with other providers who have reached settlements with the Department of Justice, HHS Office of Inspector General or other agencies like the TranS1 Inc. Corporate Integrity Agreement .

Health care providers also should take into account a plethora of other potential indicators including but not limited to peer review and quality assurance data, deficient as well as inexplicably exceptional medical record or other record keeping documentation, hotline, exist interview and other workforce feedback, disagreements among providers in patterns of care, political and interpersonal differences, and a host of other indicators that could show a valid compliance concern or a developing hostility that could become the incentive for a whistleblower or other complaint. Providers should document these and other efforts to investigate, monitor and redress potential concerns  In addition, providers also should guard against qui tam, retaliation and other claims by ensuring that their human resources, peer review, credentialing, background and other investigations, privacy and other operational activities are designed, documented to be both legally compliant and defensible.

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 25 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters.

Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies and to respond to DEA 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 including a number of programs and publications on OCR Civil Rights rules and enforcement actions. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, 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 with these or other compliance concerns, wish to ask about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 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, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information about this communication click here.

About Solutions Law Press

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:

 

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information about this communication click here. 

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.   ©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc..  All other rights reserved.


Whistleblower Collects $2.7 M of $14.5M Sound Inpatient Physicians Overbilling Settlement

July 6, 2013

Former employee-turned Whistleblower Craig Thomas will collect $2.7 million out of the $14.5 million settlement that Sound Inpatient Physicians Inc. (SIP) will pay $14.5 million to settle allegations that it overbilled Medicare and other federal health care programs under a settlement announced by the Justice Department on July 3, 2013.  The SIP announcement comes the same day the Justice Department announced medical device manufacturer TranS1 Inc., now known as Baxano Surgical Inc., will pay $6 million to resolve whistleblower-prompted FCA allegations that TranS1 Inc. caused health care providers to submit false claims to Medicare and other federal health care programs for minimally-invasive spine surgeries.

Both the SIP and TranS1 Inc. charges and settlement clearly show the ever-growing risk of Justice Department prosecution that providers face when billing Medicare or other government programs for care beyond the level delivered and documented in the medical record. The litigation and resulting settlement also show the too-often underappreciated rule that employees, vendors and other whistleblowing insiders increasingly play in the initiation and success of these prosecutions and how they impact the ability of providers charged with fraud to prove they have billed Medicare or other federal health plans accurately and honestly for services actually delivered in the manner documented in the record and in accordance with applicable Federal program rules.

To mitigate these exposures, health care providers both should strengthen their health care medical record documentation, billing and other fraud and compliance programs and their employee, vendor and other workforce relations and management processes.

Former SIP Employee’s Qui Tam Claim Prompted Suit

The settlement resolves charges that SIP fraudulently inflated billings to government programs brought in U.S. ex rel. Craig Thomas v. Sound Inpatient Physicians, Inc. and Robert A. Bessler, Civil Action No. C09-5301RBL (W.D. Wash.) that initially came to the government’s attention through a lawsuit filed by former SIP employee, Craig Thomas, under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act  (FCA).  The FCA allows private citizens to bring civil actions on behalf of the government and share in any recovery.  Thomas will receive $2.7 million of the $14.5 million settlement for exposing Sound Physicians’ inflated claims.

In the lawsuit, the Justice Department alleged that SIP, a Tacoma, Washington-based employer of more than 700 hospitalists and post-acute physicians at 70 hospitals and a growing network of post-acute facilities in 22 states, between 2004 and 2012, knowingly submitted inflated claims to federal health benefits programs for its hospitalist employees for higher and more expensive levels of service than documented by hospitalists in patient medical records.

The SIP civil settlement illustrates the growing reliance on whistleblowers and other FCA tools by the Federal government in its rising campaign against false claims and other health care fraud by physicians, hospitals and other health care providers under the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative announced in May 2009 by Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.   Since January 2009, the Justice Department claims to have recovered a total of more than $14.7 billion through FCA cases, with more than $10.7 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.

TranS1 Inc.  Whistleblower Gets $1M+ Out of $6M Settlement

Whistleblower claims also prompted the charges and settlement announced against medical device manufacturer TranS1 Inc. The Justice Department announced July 3 that TranS1 Inc. has agreed to pay the United States $6 million to resolve allegations under the FCA.  Whistleblower Kevin Ryan, whose qui tam claim prompted the investigation that lead to the settlement will collect $1,020,000 from the settlement.

The settlement resolves Justice Department charges developed out of the qui tam action of a former employee that TranS1 knowingly caused health care providers to submit claims with incorrect diagnosis or procedure codes for minimally-invasive spine fusion surgeries using Trans1’s AxiaLIF System.  That device was developed as alternative to invasive spine fusion surgeries.  The United States alleges that TranS1 improperly counseled physicians and hospitals to bill for the AxiaLIF System by using incorrect and inaccurate codes intended for more invasive spine fusion surgeries.  The Justice Department alleged that, as a result, health care providers received greater reimbursement than they were entitled to for performing the minimally-invasive AxiaLIF procedures.

The Justice Department also claimed TranS1 knowingly paid illegal remuneration to certain physicians for participating in speaker programs and consultant meetings intended to induce them to use TranS1 products, in violation of the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute, 42 U.S.C.  § 1320a-7b(b), and thereby caused false claims to be submitted to federal health care programs.  The Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits offering or paying remuneration to induce referrals of items or services covered by federally-funded programs and is intended to ensure that a physician’s medical judgments are not compromised by improper financial incentives and are based solely on the best interests of the patient.

In addition, the Justice Department alleged that TranS1 promoted the sale and use of its AxiaLIF System for uses that were not approved or cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, including use in certain procedures to treat complex spine deformity, and which were thus not covered by federal health care programs.

“A medical device manufacturer violates the law when it advises physicians and hospitals to report the wrong codes to federal health insurance programs in order to increase reimbursement rates,” said Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.  “Health care providers are required to bill federal health care programs truthfully for the work they perform.”

As part of the settlement, TranS1 has agreed to enter into a corporate integrity agreement with the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services.  That agreement provides for procedures and reviews to be put in place to avoid and promptly detect conduct similar to that which gave rise to this matter.

Mitigate Risks With Effective Oversight of Both Documentation & Operations

As Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Stuart F. Delery noted in the settlement announcement. “Physicians who participate in Medicare and other federal health care programs must document and bill for their services accurately and honestly.” With qui tam and other whistleblower participation, the Justice Department, HHS and other federal and state fraud investigators go beyond merely challenging whether the medical record documentation supports the charges billed to question whether the medical record itself accurately reflects the care in fact delivered by relying upon testimony of employees or other “insiders” often with an axe to grind against the provider.

To mitigate these exposures, health care providers clearly should work diligently both to ensure that their billing and other compliance programs accurately, honestly and completely document the care provided and code and bill for those services in accordance with the currently applicable federal program rules.  While these compliance and risk management programs are indispensable components of any effective health care fraud compliance program, health care providers also should recognize that the effectiveness of their health care fraud and other compliance program also may depend on the effectiveness of their operational and workforce oversight and management.  Along with effective billing and other fraud detection and compliance programs, providers also need effective medical quality and records documentation, provider and workforce performance and management, investigations and other management programs.

As a key element of these activities, providers should constantly be on watch for evidence of gaps between the medical and billing documentation and the factual realities looking at broad range of sources. Providers should target these activities to cover both specific medical documentation, coding and care, and other operational indicators that could show a problem.  With qui tam and other whistleblower claims rising, however, providers should keep in mind that mere auditing of records and billing patterns alone often fails to uncover key evidence of potential concerns.

To help identify potential areas of scrutiny, providers should carefully monitor and examine the adequacy of their compliance and risk management agreements against corporate integrity agreements with other providers who have reached settlements with the Department of Justice, HHS Office of Inspector General or other agencies like the TranS1 Inc. Corporate Integrity Agreement .

Health care providers also should take into account a plethora of other potential indicators including but not limited to peer review and quality assurance data, deficient as well as inexplicably exceptional medical record or other record keeping documentation, hotline, exist interview and other workforce feedback, disagreements among providers in patterns of care, political and interpersonal differences, and a host of other indicators that could show a valid compliance concern or a developing hostility that could become the incentive for a whistleblower or other complaint. Providers should document these and other efforts to investigate, monitor and redress potential concerns  In addition, providers also should guard against qui tam, retaliation and other claims by ensuring that their human resources, peer review, credentialing, background and other investigations, privacy and other operational activities are designed, documented to be both legally compliant and defensible.

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 25 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters.

Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies and to respond to DEA 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 including a number of programs and publications on OCR Civil Rights rules and enforcement actions. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, 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 with these or other compliance concerns, wish to ask about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 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, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information about this communication click here.

About Solutions Law Press

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:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information about this communication click here. 

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.   ©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc..  All other rights reserved.


HHS/DOJ Partner With Private Health Plans To Further Ramp Up Health Care Fraud Heat!

July 30, 2012

Health care providers and payers should ensure that practices for billing private payers can withstand the scrutiny of federal and state health care fraud enforcers after the July 26, 2012 announcement of a ground-breaking new public-private antifraud initiative between federal and state health care fraud fighters and a private insurers under which  private insurers will share an unprecedented amount of private health claims data, fraud detection practices, and other coöperation with federal and state official fraud prevention and prosecution efforts.

Government Health Care Fraud Fighters Partner With Private Insurers

The Federal health care fraud fighting departmental duo of the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) Justice (DOJ) last week expanded their network of fraud fighting resources by launching a “ground-breaking” partnership among the federal government, State officials, several leading private health insurance organizations, and other health care anti-fraud groups to prevent health care fraud. HHS and DOJ say the following organizations and government agencies are among the first to join this partnership:

  • America’s Health Insurance Plans
  • Amerigroup Corporation
  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association
  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
  • Coalition Against Insurance Fraud
  • Federal Bureau of Investigations
  • Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General
  • Humana Inc.
  • Independence Blue Cross
  • National Association of Insurance Commissioners
  • National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units
  • National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association
  • National Insurance Crime Bureau 
  • New York Office of Medicaid Inspector General
  • Travelers
  • Tufts Health Plan
  • UnitedHealth Group
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • U.S. Department of Justice
  • WellPoint, Inc.

HHS & DOJ Say Partnering With Private Insurers Will Give Ongoing Anti-Fraud Efforts Even More Punch

In announcing the new partnership on July 26, 2012, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder touted this new voluntary, collaborative public-private arrangement as the “next step” in the Obama administration’s efforts to combat health care fraud.

“This partnership is a critical step forward in strengthening our nation’s fight against health care fraud,” said Attorney General Holder.  “This Administration has established a record of success in combating devastating fraud crimes, but there is more we can and must do to protect patients, consumers, essential health care programs, and precious taxpayer dollars.  Bringing additional health care industry leaders and experts into this work will allow us to act more quickly and effectively in identifying and stopping fraud schemes, seeking justice for victims, and safeguarding our health care system.”

 “This partnership puts criminals on notice that we will find them and stop them before they steal health care dollars,” Secretary Sebelius said.  “Thanks to this initiative today and the anti-fraud tools that were made available by the health care law, we are working to stamp out these crimes and abuse in our health care system.”

Partnership Allows Feds To Use Private Payer Claims Data, Knowledge & Other Fraud Detection Resources

According to HHS and DOJ, the new partnership is designed to share information and best practices in order to improve detection and prevent payment of fraudulent health care billings. Its goal is to reveal and halt scams that cut across a number of public and private payers. HHS and DOJ say the partnership will private insurers to share their anti-fraud insights more easily with investigators, prosecutors, policymakers and other stakeholders and law enforcement officials more effectively to identify and prevent suspicious activities, better protect patients’ confidential information and use the full range of tools and authorities provided by the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) and other statutes to combat and prosecute illegal actions.

One unprecedented element of this partnership will involve the sharing of information on specific schemes, utilized billing codes and geographical fraud hotspots between the public and private partners.  The partners say the planned sharing of claims data and other information will help partners prevent, detect and respond to potential health care billing fraud by:

  • Helping partners to take action, to prevent losses to both government and private health plans before they occur;
  • Improving their ability to spot and stop payments billed to different insurers for care delivered to the same patient on the same day in two different cities;
  • In the future to use sophisticated technology and analytics on industry-wide healthcare data to predict and detect health care fraud schemes. 

Presumably, this will involve the extension of the use of state-of-the-art technology and data mining practices like those the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) already uses to review claims, to track suspected fraud trends and flag suspected fraudulent activity.

Partnership Expands Use & Reach of New Affordable Care Act & Other Health Care Fraud Detection & Enforcement Tools & Collaboration

The partnership builds upon and extends the reach and use of expanded legal tools created by the Affordable Care Act and other laws that Federal and state officials are using in their highly publicized war against health care fraud, waste and abuse in Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and, increasingly, private insurance plans.  Using these and other new tools, convictions under the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program increased by over 27% (583 to 743) between 2009 and 2011, and the number of defendants facing criminal charges filed by federal prosecutors in 2011 increased by 74% compared with 2008 (1,430 vs. 821).

The Affordable Care Act and other legislative changes and related programs have significantly strengthened the powers of HHS, DOJ and other federal and state agencies to investigate and prosecute health care fraud.  Among other things, these amendments and programs included :

  • Qui tam and other whistleblower incentives and programs that encourage employees, patients, competitors and others to report suspicious behavior;
  • Require providers, plans to self-identify, self-report and self-correct false claims and certain other non-compliance;
  • Increase the federal sentencing guidelines for health care fraud offenses by 20-50% for crimes that involve more than $1 million in losses;
  • Create penalties for obstructing a fraud investigation or audit;
  • Make it easier for the government to recapture any funds acquired through fraudulent practices;
  • Make it easier for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate potential fraud or wrongdoing at facilities like nursing homes;
  • Under the risk-based provider enrollment rules, providers and suppliers wishing to take part in Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP who federal officials view as posing a higher risk of fraud or abuse now must undergo licensure checks, site visits and other heightened scrutiny including ongoing monitoring as part of the new Automated Provider Screening (APS) system CMS implemented in December 2011.  The APS uses existing information from public and private sources to automatically and continuously verify information submitted on a provider’s Medicare enrollment application including licensure status Secretary to impose a temporary moratorium on newly enrolling providers or suppliers of a particular type or in certain geographic areas if necessary to prevent or combat fraud, waste, and abuse. 
  • Increased information sharing and coördination of investigations and enforcement among states, CMS, and its law enforcement partners at the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and DOJ including the highly publicized activities of the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), a joint effort between HHS and DOJ to fight health care fraud.
  • The power of CMS, in consultation with OIG, to suspend Medicare payments and require States to suspend Medicaid and SCHIP payments to providers or suppliers during the investigation of a credible allegation of fraud;
  • The deployment and use of the sophisticated data collection and mining technologies of CMS’ new Fraud Prevention System, which since June 30, 2011 has used advanced predictive modeling technology to screen all Medicare fee-for-service claims before payment and target investigative resources on areas that this profile identifies as reflecting heightened risks of health care fraud vulnerability to allow regulators and prosecutors to more efficiently identify and respond to suspected fraudulent claims and emerging trends;
  • Focused fraud prevention, detection and enforcement activities on Home Health agencies, Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies (DMEPOS) suppliers and certain other categories of providers and suppliers that federal officials view as historically presenting heightened concerns;
  • Expansion of the overpayment detection and recovery activities ofthe Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) program to Medicaid, Medicare Advantage, and Medicare Part D programs; and
  • Various other tools.

Health Plan Partnership Latest Wrinkle In Fed’s Efforts To Use Private Whistleblower & Other Resources To Find Fraud

The partnership with the health plans is the latest wrinkle in a growing network of private relationships and outreach that HHS and DOJ use to discover health care fraud.  By partnering with health plans, HHS and DOJ have recruited the health plans to help federal officials find and redress potential fraud in public and private health plans. 

HHS and DOJ already know the value of getting private citizens to watch for and report suspected illegal behavior.  Indeed, expended qui tam and other whistleblower activities already are paying off big for federal officials.  For example, a former executive’s qui tam claim helped bring about the settlement announced in June, 2012 under which Christus Spohn Health System Corporation recently  paid more than $5 million to settle Justice Departmentclaims that it profited from violations of the False Claims Act by inappropriately admitted patients to inpatient status for outpatient procedures.  The investigation leading to the settlement began in March 2008 after Christus – Shoreline’s former director of case management filed a lawsuit under seal under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act alleging the six hospitals were submitting false claims to the Medicare program by billing for services that should have been performed on an outpatient basis as if they were more expensive inpatient services. The allegations stated that these hospitals were routinely billing outpatient surgical procedures as if they required an inpatient level of care even though the patients often were discharged from the hospital in less than 24 hours.   The federal False Claims Act empowers private citizens with knowledge of fraud against the United States to present those allegations to the United States by bringing a lawsuit on behalf of the United States under seal. If the government’s investigation substantiates those allegations, then the private citizen is entitled to share in any recovery. In this case, that person will receive 20% of the $5,100,481.74 recovery.   

With qui tam and other reports of suspected fraud an increasingly frequent and valuable tool in the federal and state wars on health care fraud, officials have added a wide range of programs encouraging and in some cases financially rewarding individuals and businesses that report circumstances leading to fraud convictions.  The partnership with health plans reflects the latest wrinkle in these efforts.

Health Care Providers & Health Plans 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.  In light of the growing qui tam risks, health care providers also should tighten internal investigation, exit interview and other human resources and business partner oversight, reporting and investigation policies and practices to help find and redress potential fraud or other qui tam, retaliation and similar  exposures early and more effectively.  

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need help 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 help 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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THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


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