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.

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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.

Kusserow on Compliance: Stark law to undergo interagency review

The CMS Administrator announced plans to convene an inter-agency group to focus on how to minimize the regulatory barriers created by Stark law, which was established in 1989 and underwent expansion in the 1990s. Providers have raised concerns from the beginning of the implementation of the Stark law. The agencies involved in the review will include CMS, OIG, HHS General Counsel, and the DOJ. The Stark law prohibits doctors from referring Medicare patients to hospitals, labs and colleagues with whom they have financial relationships unless they fall under certain exceptions. It also prevents hospitals from paying providers more when they meet certain quality measures, such as reducing hospital-acquired infections, while paying less to those who miss the goals. The result is the law is viewed as making it difficult for physicians to enter innovative payment arrangements because they are not susceptible to fair market value assessment—a Stark requirement. These prohibitions are seen as interfering with key factors related to value-based care. Unlike the Anti-Kickback Statute, which is enforced by the OIG, the Stark law is considered regulatory and falls under CMS jurisdiction. From a regulatory standpoint, there is only so much that CMS can do to make substantive changes. Any real changes in the law will have to come from Congress.

This is not the first time the CMS has tried to move the easing of rules concerning the Stark law.  In 2015, CMS published a Proposed rule relaxing aspects of the Stark law, including easing of some of the strict liability features of the law and CMS’ burden in dealing with the interpretation of key terms, requirements, and other issues. After reviewing an enormous amount of self-disclosures, CMS realized that a large part of the docket involved arrangements that may technically violate the statute but do not actually pose significant risks of abuse. Therefore, it appears that CMS seeks to reduce the number of self-disclosures reported. However, the proposed update is also intended to account for recent changes relating to health care reform and advancements in patient care and payment methodologies. CMS wanted to ensure that Stark does not inhibit Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) reforms and these are the same concerns driving the latest initiative.

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.