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: 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.

Kusserow on Compliance: OIG cases involving sanctioned parties and tips to avoid violations

Compliance Officers must screen employees against the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE). This is stressed in all of the OIG’s compliance guidance documents. CMS makes it a condition of participation and enrollment. The LEIE continues to change and grow with more than 3,000 exclusions added annually. Failure to screen employees, medical staff, contractors, and vendors results in a great risk. The OIG may consider claims that include work or products from a sanctioned party to be false and fraudulent. Violations can result in monetary penalties. Most cases that deal with this issue are brought to the OIG’s attention through the “Self-Disclosure Protocol.”  In all the recent cases posted, the OIG imposed penalties, but the penalties were mitigated by the fact the matters were self-disclosed—as a result, none of these cases resulted in a Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA). The OIG posts a number of these cases on its website. The following are examples of recent actions against organizations that engaged individuals they knew or should have known were excluded from participation in the federal health care programs:

  • Southwest Trinity Management, LLC (STM), in Oklahoma paid $141,986.36 in settlement for employing an excluded licensed practical nurse that provided items or services that were billed to Federal health care programs.
  • Diamonds & Pearls Health Services, LLC (DPHS), Cleveland, Ohio paid $75,471.92 for employing an excluded individual who was a scheduling/staffing coordinator, provided items or services to DPHS patients that were billed to Federal health care programs.
  • Center for Ear, Nose Throat & Allergy, P.C. (CENTA) in Indiana, paid $51,564.14 for employing an excluded medical records file clerk, provided items or services to CENTA’s patients that were billed to Federal health care programs.
  • MHMR, Fort Worth, Texas, paid $97,869.78 for employing a program director who had been excluded to provide items or services to clients who were receiving services funded by a Medicaid waiver program.
  • Shawnee Health Services (Shawnee), Carterville, Illinois, paid $107,761.08 as result of employing an excluded individual as a case manager, provided items or services to clients that were receiving services under a Medicaid waiver program.
  • Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) paid $39,343.61 as result of employing an excluded hospice social worker that provided items or services to patients of a community based hospice operated by ADH.
  • Century Pharmacy (Century), Brooklyn, New York, paid $10,000 for an employed excluded individual, who assisted in filling prescriptions in addition to performing other clerical tasks, provided items or services to Century patients that were billed to Federal health care programs.
  • Sundance Behavioral Healthcare System (Sundance), Texas, paid $49,183.48 for an employed sanctioned licensed vocational nurse that provided items or services to patients that were billed to Federal health care programs.
  • ASAP Professional Home Health (ASAP), Houston, Texas, paid $21,797.76 for an employed excluded attendant, provided items or services to ASAP patients that were billed to Federal health care programs.

Practical Screening Tips

  1. Ensure periodic sanction screening of employees, medical staff, contractors, and vendors against the LEIE—best practice is monthly screening.
  2. Inasmuch as most states have developed their own exclusion database, with many states mandating monthly screenings, care should be taken to understand and meet state screening requirements.
  3. Inasmuch as most LEIE exclusions arise from another underlying court, state agency, or licensure board action, it is advisable to also conduct background checks and seek written assurances in applications that prospective employees, contractors, and vendors have not been subject to any prior court or licensure board actions.
  4. It is common for individuals that may be the subject of an investigation, but not yet sanctioned with final actions, to be under investigation for considerable time, therefore it is a best practice to require as a condition of employment, gaining staff privileges, or engagement for the applicant to attest that they have not been, nor are they now, the subject of an investigation by any duly authorized regulatory or enforcement agency. It is also advisable to add a condition that they must promptly report any notice of investigation that involves them.
  5. Educate and inform management and employees on their obligation to promptly report any notification of an adverse action by any duly authorized regulatory or enforcement agency.

Daniel Peake of the Compliance Resource Center (CRC) works with many organizations in ensuring proper sanction screening and from that experience offers a number of practical tips to avoid creating an actionable violation.  He can be reached at dpeake@strategicm.com or (703) 236-9850.

 

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

Kusserow on Compliance: Changes in the Stark Law

Over the years, the Stark law has evolved considerably from regulatory requirements to use by the DOJ in enforcement of the False Claims Act. Unlike the Anti-Kickback Statute, which is enforced by the OIG, the Stark law is considered regulatory and under CMS jurisdiction. The Stark law was designed to prohibit doctors from referring Medicare patients to hospitals, labs, and colleagues with whom they have financial relationships, unless they fall under certain exceptions. Stark 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. Providers have registered numerous concerns that the Stark Law is inhibiting their ability to participate in Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) reforms. The CMS Administrator, Verma, has acknowledged the difficulty of reconciling the Stark Law’s restrictions with the current shift to value based payment structures, noting that that the Stark Law “was developed a long time ago” with current payment systems and operations being different, requiring some changes in the rules. This is not the first time 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 the 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 its docket involved arrangements that may technically violate the statute but do not actually pose significant risks of abuse, thus necessitating some changes and clarifications.

Inter-Agency Group formed to focus on easing Stark Barriers

During a January, 2018 American Hospital Association webinar, the CMS Administrator announced plans to convene an inter-agency group consisting of CMS, the OIG, HHS General Counsel, and the DOJ to focus on how to minimize the regulatory barriers of the Stark law that began in 1989 and underwent expansion in the 1990s. Verma noted that the review is in line with CMS’s “Patients Over Paperwork” initiative, which is in accord with the President’s Executive Order that directs federal agencies to “cut the red tape” to reduce burdensome regulations.

Congress Acts

Regardless of the results of the inter-agency review, the fact remains that only so much can be done by regulatory policy changes. All real changes must be made in the law will necessarily have to come from Congress. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 imposed changes on laws related to health care fraud and abuse. On one side they quadrupled fines and doubled potential prison time from five to ten years for violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute.  The Civil Monetary Penalties (CMP) law penalties were doubled. On the other side, Congress moved to reduce some of the burdens by codifying CMS regulatory guidance. Some specific relief involved expired leases and personal services contracts that, if otherwise compliant, will remain protected as long as the terms and conditions continue unchanged.

 

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