DOJ focus is on ‘egregious’ and ‘despicable’ health care fraud

In a speech on May 18, 2017, at the American Bar Association’s 27th Annual Institute on Health Care Fraud, Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco stressed that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would continue with keeping health care fraud a priority. The amount of loss to the American tax payer per year due to healthcare fraud is in the billions, with some estimates putting the number close to $100 billion per year.

Blanco stressed the importance of cooperation between the Medicare Strike Force, the U.S. Attorney’s Offices, and federal and state investigative agencies. He noted that the DOJ was employing an in-house data analytics team to review CMS billing data in order to focus on the most aggravated cases quickly. In turn this data is pushed to other federal and state investigative agencies.

Detailing examples of recent work by the Health Care Fraud Unit, Blanco highlighted that October 2016, Tenet Healthcare Corporation, a publicly-traded company and the third largest hospital chain in the United States, entered into a global resolution with the government, agreeing to resolve an investigation of a corporate bribery and fraud scheme at four Tenet-owned hospitals in Georgia and South Carolina. As part of that scheme, the hospitals paid over $12 million in bribes to a chain of prenatal care clinics in exchange for the referral of Medicaid patients.

Under the global resolution: (1) two Tenet subsidiaries pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and pay kickbacks and bribes in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute, and forfeited over $146 million in Medicare and Medicaid funds; (2) Tenet entered into a non-prosecution agreement requiring, among other things, an independent compliance monitor for a period of three years over all entities owned, in whole or in part by Tenet; and (3) Tenet and its subsidiaries entered into a civil settlement agreement and paid $368 million to the United States, the State of Georgia and the State of South Carolina (see Corporations, beware: Tenet Healthcare to pay $513M to settle kickback charges, Health Law Daily, October 4, 2016). Subsequently two individuals have pleaded guilty and a former senior executive of Tenet was indicted for the scheme (see DOJ comes for executive in Tenet fraud case, Health Law Daily, February 2, 2017).

CMS has estimated that the total health care spending in the United States in 2015 reached $3.2 trillion, or 17.8 percent of the gross domestic product. As such, the DOJ considered health care fraud as “egregious,” and from Blanco’s viewpoint, “despicable,” because it resulted in depriving medical care for those in actual need. Blanco noted that health care fraud impacts the public’s access to medical care, even the most basic forms, because fraud increases the costs for all.

Kusserow on Compliance: Senior executive exposure to liability for failing to embrace compliance

As the headlines continue to point to major misconduct and scandals involving senior corporate executives, compliance officers need to refocus their efforts and address a critical need. All too often, compliance officers have difficulty in requiring board members and senior executives to be briefed on the compliance program activities, undergo annual compliance training, and generally provide serious oversight and support for the compliance program. Many Board members and senior executives dismiss this as a waste of time that can be better used to carry out the mission of the organization.  The reality is just the opposite.  Over the last couple of years, the rumblings have increased significantly from regulatory and enforcement authorities concerning executives and Board members failing in their fiduciary compliance responsibilities.  Just listing the names of some of the initiatives and policy statements on the subject should be sobering, such as the following:

  • Responsible Corporate Officer Doctrine, in which the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) used enhanced  program exclusion authority against owners, officers, and managing employees of companies that are subject to criminal or administrative sanctions;
  • Yates Memorandum, which seeks greater accountability from executives of organizations found to engage in wrongdoing by placing higher prospective priority on executives over organizations;
  • Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs,” guidance issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Fraud Section, which is being used to assess “top-down” compliance programs, beginning at the Board and executive levels and cascading down through all levels of management; and
  • corporate integrity agreements negotiated by the OIG with entities found engaging in wrongdoing that create many stringent requirements on corporate officers and Board members, including personal certifications under penalty of law and requirements for compliance for leadership.

All of this movement by the DOJ and OIG make it clear that regulators and enforcement agencies consider failure of executives and Board members in supporting, empowering and overseeing compliance as the most significant compliance risks for any organization. This places a great deal of pressure on compliance officers, who must find ways to engage senior executives and the Board to understand their personal exposure to liability for failing to meet their fiduciary obligations towards the compliance program.  This in turn needs to move toward comprehensive training and education on compliance and executives’ and Board members’ roles in ensuring its effectiveness.   Compliance officers should consider reviewing all the material, including that in the hyperlinks provided in this blog to gain a fuller understanding about executive and Board member liability for not paying sufficient attention to and support for the compliance program.

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 © 2017 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

AGs request Medicaid policy change to fight in-home elderly abuse, neglect

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) estimate that one in 10 people aged 65 and over who live at home will become the victim of abuse has drawn the attention of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG). Millions of people in this age group are enrolled in Medicaid and the NAAG believes that a change in policy allowing federal funds to investigate more abuse and neglect cases—even those that occur in the home—will help.

Medicaid Fraud Control Units (MFCUs) are charged with investigating and prosecuting state Medicaid provider fraud as well as resident abuse and neglect complaints at Medicaid-funded health care facilities, and can choose to look into complaints at board and care facilities. The MFCUs usually operate within the state attorney general’s office. Because there are strict limitation on the use of MFCU funds to investigate fraud and abuse, the NAAG is now asking Secretary of HHS, Tom Price, to replace or eliminate the “outdated” policies. Instead NAAG provided two recommendations to the Secretary: (1) allow MFCU funds to investigate and prosecute abuse and neglect of Medicaid beneficiaries in non-institutionalized settings; or (2) allow use of MFCU funds to freely screen or review any and all complaints or reports of whatever type, in whatever setting.

The May 10, 1017, letter to Price was signed by attorneys general of 37 states and the District of Columbia. Montana Attorney General Tim Fox noted “abuse and neglect in the home takes many forms, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, and drug diversion. Abuse and neglect is perpetrated by family, friends, and caregivers alike. The requested change in policy would allow our MFCU to investigate reports…regardless of where they reside, whether it’s a home or in a healthcare facility.” David Y. Chin, Attorney General of Hawaii, cited “[the Hawaii MFCU] receives thousands of complaints relating to fraud and abuse and neglect every year…We hope that the federal government will hear our concerns and support our efforts to protect Hawaii’s most vulnerable residents.”

U.S. intervenes in UnitedHealth billing scheme suit

The federal government intervened in a qui tam lawsuit alleging that UnitedHealth Group entities (UnitedHealth) and Medicare Advantage organizations (MAOs) with which it contracted, including HealthCare Partners, deliberately concealed from the Medicare Part C program that they had submitted bills not supported by medical documentation, resulting in inflated risk adjustment payments that were never repaid to CMS. The U.S.’s intervention in this False Claims Act (FCA) (31 U.S.C. § 3729, et seq.), U.S. ex rel. Swoben v. Secure Horizons, is emblematic of its “commitment to ensure the integrity of the Medicare Part C program.” It is expected to file a complaint in another risk-adjustment-related FCA case, U.S. ex rel. Poehling v. UnitedHealth Group. Inc., no later than May 16, 2017.

MAOs must submit diagnosis codes for each enrollee for a particular calendar year to CMS (42 U.S.C. § 1395w-23(a)(3)). CMS uses the codes to create Hierarchical Condition Category (HCC) risk scores to adjust the capitated payment rates it pays to each MAO, increasing payment rates to MAOs with patient populations with more severe illnesses and decreasing payments to MAOs with patient populations with less severe illnesses. MAOs typically submit data to CMS and then perform a retrospective review of medical charts to ensure that the charts support the claims submitted. If an MAO discovers a diagnosis code for a patient that was not already submitted, it may do so at that time. However, MAOs are also required to withdraw previously submitted codes that they determine were not supported by medical documentation.

A former employee of Senior Care Action Network (SCAN) Health Plan and a consultant to the risk adjustment industry filed the qui tam suit and the government filed an intervening complaint, alleging that UnitedHealth, HealthCare Partners, and other defendants knowingly concealed the fact that previously submitted codes were not supported by medical documentation, resulting in higher risk adjustment payments. Specifically, the defendants hired coders to perform retrospective reviews, but knowingly concealed information about previously submitted codes so that the coders would not be able to identify codes that were not supported by medical documentation. In addition, certain employees created spreadsheets that did not permit the entry of previously submitted codes that should be withdrawn, as required by CMS.