Chiding parties, court grants doctor sanctions for manufacturer’s failure to disclose witnesses

In an animated opinion, a judge grants a request for sanctions against Boston Scientific for failure to disclose witnesses after a long history of discovery disputes.

Noting that it was “[c]learly. . . not enamored with the parties’ conduct,” a district court judge in Minnesota found that Boston Scientific Corporation (BSC), a medical device manufacturer, failed to fully disclose certain witnesses and therefore granted, in part, a doctor’s motion for sanctions in a False Claims Act (FCA) (31 U.S.C. §3729 et seq.) action. Although the court found that both parties “share the blame as to certain discovery woes,” it found that the medical device manufacturer engaged in a shell game by failing to disclose four individuals as having specific knowledge of certain relevant information (U.S. ex rel Higgins v. Boston Scientific Corp., October 16, 2019, Rau, S).

Discovery proceedings

Initially, the doctor filed a qui tamaction on behalf of the government, alleging that the manufacturer violated the FCA. The doctor claimed that the manufacturer sold defective medical devices and that it provided kickbacks. Following the outcome of several procedural motions, the doctor filed his Second Amended Complaint. The court began the road of guiding the parties through discovery. Initially, the parties appeared to work cooperatively and productively, parsing out electronically stored information (ESI) search terms and custodians. However, later, the parties reported that they were at an “impasse” regarding certain issues. The court provided a step-by-timeline of discovery, including agreements and disputes. At some point, it became apparent that discovery had broken down. During the course of discovery, the doctor filed several motions to compel. In each instance, the court found in the doctor’s favor.

Later, the doctor raised several issues, including the manufacturer’s last-minute amendment to its initial disclosure. Specifically, on the last day of discovery, the manufacturer disclosed seven new individuals it might use to support its claims or defenses, four of which had information about FDA correspondence and submissions. Those four, along with others, were not disclosed as custodians. The doctor subsequently filed this motion for sanctions.

The court found that the manufacturer left off from its initial disclosure the individual who was a “central witness” regarding the manufacturer’s communications with the FDA about the relevant medical devices, along with several other individuals. The court rejected the manufacturer’s contention that it had no affirmative obligation to amend its disclosure to add the individuals. With respect to one individual, the manufacturer claimed he was referenced in hundreds of documents, but according to the court, those represented only a small number of the total documents produced. In its ruling, the court found the manufacturer’s logic was flawed. Among other things, the court questioned how, if the manufacturer made a truthful and fulsome response to the government’s FCA investigation, it failed to recognize the import of the newly-disclosed individual’s knowledge. Instead, the court said it was convinced that the manufacturer engaged in malfeasance.

According to the court, manufacturer misled the doctor. The initial disclosures were the foundation for all discovery, and the manufacturer’s failure to disclose the newly-disclosed individuals prejudiced the doctor throughout discovery. The court suggested that the manufacturer knew what it was doing. The court claimed that the manufacturer’s failure to disclose was not an oversight, but a strategy that coincided with baseless legal arguments regarding that and other discovery issues, leading to gamesmanship the court said it wound not reward.

Turning to the sanctions to be levied, the court said that rules of procedure makes exclusion of evidence the default, self-executing sanction in the event a party fails to comply disclosure rules. However, the rule permits imposition of alternative sanctions. In this instance, exclusion of the witnesses’ testimony would be detrimental to the doctor and would reward the manufacturer. Accordingly, the court ordered the manufacturer to produce documents from the newly-disclosed witnesses and the doctor was granted leave to depose the four individuals. Additionally, the manufacturer was barred from using documents or testimony that it could not affirmatively show was produced to the doctor during discovery or in light of the ruling at hand. The manufacturer was also ordered to pay the doctor’s costs and attorneys’ fees incurred in filing the motion for sanctions and for the additional discovery.

Kusserow on Compliance: Huge fraud schemes involving telemedicine and DME

– Charges against two dozen people involving over $1.2 billion

 – Administrative Action against 130 DMEs submitting $1.7 Billion in claims

The DOJ announced charges against 24 defendants—including the CEOs, COOs, and others associated with five telemedicine companies, the owners of dozens of durable medical equipment (DME) companies, and three licensed medical professionals—associated with health care fraud schemes involving more than $1.2 billion. CMS and the Center for Program Integrity (CPI) have taken adverse administrative action against 130 DME companies that had submitted over $1.7 billion in claims and were paid over $900 million. The scheme involved payment of illegal kickbacks and bribes by DME companies in exchange for the referral of Medicare beneficiaries by medical professionals working with fraudulent telemedicine companies for back, shoulder, wrist, and knee braces that were medically unnecessary.

The DOJ alleges those charged with paying doctors to prescribe DME either without any patient interaction or with only a brief telephonic conversation with patients they had never met or seen. The proceeds of the fraudulent scheme were allegedly laundered through international shell corporations and used to purchase exotic automobiles, yachts, and luxury real estate in the United States and abroad. Some of the defendants obtained patients for the scheme by using an international call center that advertised to Medicare beneficiaries and “up-sold” the beneficiaries to get them to accept numerous “free or low-cost” DME braces, regardless of medical necessity. The international call center allegedly paid illegal kickbacks and bribes to telemedicine companies to obtain DME orders for these Medicare beneficiaries. The telemedicine companies then allegedly paid physicians to write medically unnecessary DME orders. Finally, the international call center sold the DME orders that it obtained from the telemedicine companies to DME companies, which fraudulently billed Medicare. Collectively, the CEOs, COOs, executives, business owners and medical professionals involved in the conspiracy are accused of causing over $1 billion in loss.

 

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.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on Google+ or LinkedIn.

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

Kusserow on Compliance: New OIG Work Plan items

The HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently issued updates to its Active Work Plan (Work Plan). The Work Plan outlines ongoing and planned audits and evaluations for the fiscal year and beyond. Recent additions related to Medicare/Medicaid include the following:

  1. Medicare Part D Rebates Related to Drugs Dispensed by 340B Pharmacies. Drug manufacturers often do not pay for Medicare Part D prescription rebates filled at 340B-covered entities and contract pharmacies because the manufacturer already provides a discount on the drug. The OIG will conduct a study to determine the potential rebate savings if Part B program sponsors and manufacturers could agree on eligible prescriptions filled at 340B pharmacies that receive rebates.

 

  1. Characteristics of Part D Beneficiaries at Serious Risk of Opioid Misuse or Overdose. An OIG data brief found that about 71,000 Medicare Part D beneficiaries were at serious risk of opioid misuse or overdose in 2017. The OIG will study: (1) the characteristics of these beneficiaries, including their demographics and diagnoses; (2) the opioid utilization of these beneficiaries; and (3) the extent to which these beneficiaries have had adverse health effects related to opioids and any overdose incidents.

 

  1. Ensuring Dual-Eligible Beneficiaries’ Access to Drugs Under Part D: Mandatory Review.

Part D plans that meet certain limitations have the discretion to include different Part D drugs and drug utilization tools in their formularies. Under the Affordable Care Act, the OIG conducts an annual study to review the extent to which Part D sponsors’ formularies include drugs commonly used by Medicaid and Medicare Part D beneficiaries.

 

  1. Nursing Facility Staffing: Reported Levels and CMS Oversight. CMS uses the Payroll Based Journal auditable daily staffing data to analyze staffing patterns and populate the staffing component of the Nursing Home Compare website. It aids the public determine the results of health and safety inspections, quality of care at nursing facilities, and staffing. The OIG will issue two reports to: (1) describe nursing staffing levels that facilities report to the Payroll-Based Journal; and (2) examine CMS efforts to ensure data accuracy and improve resident quality of care.

 

  1. Medicare Part B Payments for Podiatry and Ancillary Services. Medicare Part B covers podiatry services for medically necessary treatment of foot injuries, diseases, or other medical conditions affecting the foot, ankle, or lower leg. It does not cover routine foot-care services unless they are: (1) necessary and integral part of otherwise covered services; (2) for the treatment of warts on the foot; (3) in the presence of a systemic condition or conditions; or (4) for the treatment of infected toenails. The OIG will review Part B payments to determine whether podiatry and ancillary services were medically necessary and supported in accordance with Medicare requirements.

 

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.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on Google+ or LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Kusserow on Compliance Newsletter

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

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.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on Google+ or LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Kusserow on Compliance Newsletter

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