Sessions creates opioid fraud detection unit, focuses on 12 districts

Twelve federal districts have been selected to participate in an Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, created by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ will fund twelve Assistant United States Attorneys for three year terms to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting fraud related to prescription opioids. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the program’s formation at the Columbus Police Academy in Ohio.

Data analytics program

The unit will consist of a data analytics program, which will allow targeted investigation and prosecution. Sessions stated that the team would use such information as physicians who prescribe opioids at a higher rate than peers, the average age of patients receiving the prescriptions, and pharmacies dispensing large amounts of opioids to focus its investigation.

The federal prosecutors, located in districts across the country, will work with various agencies to investigate and prosecute opioid fraud, including pill mills and unlawful diversion of opioids. Most of the districts are located in the east and Midwest, such as Florida, Michigan, Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia.

Atlanta pain clinic feels financial hurt after allegedly bending Medicare rules

Atlanta Medical Clinic (AMC) and its owner agreed to pay $250,000 to settle False Claims Act (FCA) (31 U.S.C. §3729 et seq.) allegations that the clinic billed Medicare for services performed by a suspended physician and for administering drugs that were not approved by the FDA.

Suspended physician

An AMC physician was suspended from the Medicare program in June 2013 for making false statements regarding his criminal history. Despite the suspension, AMC allegedly continued to claim and receive payment for medical services rendered by the physician. Because of the suspension, none of those services were eligible for Medicare reimbursement and, therefore, reimbursement claims related to those services constituted false claims. AMC allegedly circumvented the suspension by submitting claims for services performed by the physician as though they were performed by another physician.

Unapproved drugs

AMC also, allegedly, violated the FCA by seeking and obtaining reimbursement for a Canadian, non-FDA approved knee treatment drug—Orthovisc®. The alleged claims are false because Medicare does not cover the cost of foreign, non-FDA approved treatments.

Houston physician found guilty for role in $1.5M fraud scheme

Following a four-day trial, a Houston-area physician was convicted of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to pay and receive illegal kickbacks in a scheme involving home health services involving Allied Covenant Home Health, Inc. (Allied). Sentencing is scheduled for September 25, 2017.

Scheme

According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the physician was involved in a scheme to defraud Medicare by submitting $1.5 million in fraudulent claims from 2006 to 2013. Evidence showed that the physician admitted patients for home health services through Allied without regard for qualification for such services. The physician falsified medical records and signed false documentation to show that patients met Medicare criteria for home health service reimbursement when they did not.

The evidence also showed that the physician paid illegal kickbacks to the owner of Harris Health Care Group (Harris). These kickbacks were paid in order to facilitate Medicare billing for facet injections. These injections were not medically necessary or not provided.

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.