Kusserow on Compliance: 2018 FCA enforcement and 10 tips for channeling whistleblowers internally

 New health care qui tam cases average 9 per week

$2.5 billion in recoveries from health care sector

75 percent of cases predicated by “Whistleblowers”

Whistleblowers are entitled to up to 25 percent of recoveries

The vast majority of False Claims Act cases are brought to the DOJ by “whistleblowers” (qui tam relators), under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act (FCA). In 2018, this continued to be the case. The DOJ’s Civil Division reported having 645 new qui tam actions initiated last year, at an average of 14 new cases per month. Of that total, 446 were health care cases—about nine a week average. Federal recoveries, including settlements and judgments, amounted to over $2.8 billion. Most of this, over $2.5 billion, related to health care and life sciences. FCA violations occur when someone knowingly submits a false or fraudulent claim for payment to the government.  The penalty for doing this is up to three times the amount of each claim, plus penalties as high as $21,563 per claim. Whistleblowers file cases with the DOJ on behalf of the United States as well as themselves and must provide all the evidence they have supporting the complaint. The DOJ decides to intervene (take over prosecution) or not. If the DOJ decides to intervene, the government takes the lead in prosecuting the case; and if not, the relator may proceed with the prosecution on their own in federal court.  The relator is entitled to 15 to 25 percent of the government’s recovery, plus attorneys’ fees and expenses.

The recovery results in 2108 marked the ninth consecutive years where recoveries have exceeded $2 billion. Of the health care recoveries, more than three quarters of that sum were as result of qui tam cases. Health care and life sciences settlements involved drug and device manufacturers, hospitals, Medicare Advantage plans, pharmacies, and laboratories. The largest settlement, for $625 million, was with AmerisourceBergen Corp. and its subsidiaries, and it involved resolution of allegations that it repackaged and resold cancer drugs to profit from “overfill” in the original packaging. The other major settlements also involve pharmaceutical manufacturers. In those cases, the FCA was violated as result of payment of kickbacks to induce the flow of business.  The largest case among providers involved an independent physician association that entered into a $270 million settlement with another case resulting in a $216 million settlement with the former hospital chain, Health Management Associates.

10 Tips: Channeling Whistleblowers Internally 

  1. Review/update hotline-related polices/procedures (confidentiality, anonymity, non-retaliation, duty to report, etc.)
  2. Promote the reporting of wrongdoing (newsletter, intranet, training programs, etc.)
  3. Find ways to provide feedback so that employees know reporting is taken seriously
  4. Consider engaging experts to evaluate compliance communication channels effectiveness
  5. Allegations of potential violations of law or regulations must be promptly investigated.
  6. Ensure that individuals are trained and competent to conduct prompt investigations.
  7. All cases where investigation indicates potential violations, disclose promptly
  8. Take appropriate disciplinary action against identified wrongdoers
  9. Understand CMS and OIG self-disclosure protocols that may avoid FCA investigation
  10. Ensue investigations finding of potential violations of law are promptly disclosed to the DOJ

Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

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Copyright © 2019 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.