Kusserow on Compliance: DOJ moves against spine device manufacturer for paying kickbacks

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has intervened in a qui tam whistleblower case filed against SpineFrontier, Inc. and related entities and executives for alleging paying kickbacks to spine surgeons to induce use of their surgical devices. According to the complaint, spine surgeons were given over $8 million in sham “consulting” payments ostensibly for product evaluations, when in fact the payments were for use of SpineFrontier devices.

The defendants allegedly created Impartial Medical Experts LLC IME—a purported consulting company—as an entity intermediary to funnel kickbacks to spine surgeons. IME was designed to shield the defendants and spine surgeons from government scrutiny by creating a false impression that surgeons were consulting through an independent third-party entity. The Defendants generally paid “consulting” spine surgeons $500 for a cervical procedure, and $1,000 for a lumbar procedure—but only if the surgeon used SpineFrontier devices. The United States alleges that consulting spine surgeons often performed little or no work beyond implanting the devices—for which they were separately paid by insurers—and that the Defendants did not systematically collect or use feedback from consultants and paid them even when they had provided no feedback at all.

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 © 2020 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

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 anti-kickback law for clinical labs

– Law creates new compliance risk areas for 2019

– Compensation of sales personnel affected

– Not limited to federal health care programs

For the new year, compliance officers should recall Congress passing into law the Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act of 2018 (EKRA), which became effective October 24, 2018. It applies to Medicare and Medicaid, as well as many commercial health insurance plans. It has the effect of eliminating “safe harbors” used by clinical labs in marketing services. The law was intended to be part of the effort to target the national opioid crisis. It makes it a criminal offense to solicit or receive any remuneration, directly or indirectly, in return for referring a patient or patronage to a recovery home, clinical treatment facility or clinical laboratory; or to offer or pay a kickback to “induce” a referral of an individual to a recovery home, clinical treatment facility or clinical laboratory, or in exchange for an individual using the services of a recovery home, clinical treatment facility or clinical laboratory. Penalties for each violation can include a fine of up to $200,000 and imprisonment of up to 10 years. The law has seven “safe harbors,” some of which are similar to the safe harbors under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute that is generally applicable to Medicare and Medicaid services, however the safe harbor for employees and independent contractors under the law expressly excludes from safe harbor protection any payment made to an employee or independent contractor that is determined or varies by:

  • the number of individuals referred;
  • the number of tests or procedures performed; or
  • the amount billed or received.

The EKRA adds an all payor (public and private) provision that enables the federal government to monitor provider arrangements intended to generate business for any laboratory services, not only those related to individuals in treatment for substance abuse disorders, payable by a federal health care program or commercial health insurer.

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 © 2018 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

Kusserow on Compliance: Understanding and addressing whistleblowers

The vast majority of the cases resolved by the Civil Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) were cases brought by “whistleblowers” under the qui tam provision of the False Claims Act (FCA). Whistleblowers are responsible for an even higher percentage of cases resulting in OIG Corporate Integrity Agreements (CIAs). Although most compliance officers are well aware of this program, many remain unclear as to how the process works. Tom Herrmann, J.D., who served over 20 years in the Office of Counsel to the OIG and as an Appellate Judge for the Medicare Appeals Board, explained that Congress permitted a whisltleblower called the “Relator” to file a case with the DOJ under the FCA.  Since this provision of law went into effect in 1986, there have been over 10,000 qui tam cases filed with a current average of one such case being filed every day of the year. The intent was to create incentives for private parties to detect and pursue fraud under the FCA. In return for reporting this information, Relators receive a portion (usually about 15 to 25 percent) of any recovered damages.  Once the lawsuit is filed, it is placed “under seal”, meaning that it is kept secret from everyone but the government, in order to give the DOJ enough time to investigate the allegations in deciding whether to join (“intervene”) in the case. Intervention by the DOJ occurs only in about one in five qui tam lawsuits, leaving whistleblowers the option to pursue cases on their own, however the chances of success are much lower than in cases when the government joins. Most successful qui tam cases are resolved through settlement negotiations rather than a court trial, although trials may occur.

Kash Chopra, J.D., noted that the overwhelming number of cases that result in a CIA, arise from whistleblowers and these, in turn, are based upon violations of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS). It is the government’s position that all claims arising from a corrupt arrangement violating the AKS or in some cases, the Stark Law, are considered fraudulent. This is even when the services rendered were needed and provided appropriately.  She advises here clients that the best ways to manage the whistleblower risk is to ensure that they are channeled through internal communication channels and their complaints are promptly evaluated, investigated, and resolved.  It is worth considering the following:

  1. Using outside experts to independently audit arrangements with physicians and evaluate compliance communication channel effectiveness.
  2. Ensuring a 24/7 hotline operated externally by experts in recognizing health care compliance issues.
  3. Reviewing/updating hotline-related polices/procedures (confidentiality, anonymity, non-retaliation, duty to report, etc.).
  4. Making sure that the duty to report suspected wrongdoing is explained in the Code, policies and training.
  5. Having trained and competent people on hand to conduct prompt and competent investigations of matters raised through the hotline.
  6. Moving quickly to use CMS and OIG self disclosure protocols when there is credible evidence of violations; and not wait until the DOJ gets involved.

For more information on this subject, Kashish Parikh-Chopra can be reached at kchopra@strategicm.com or via telephone at (703) 535-1413.

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 © 2018 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.