Kusserow on Compliance: Health care mergers and acquisitions due diligence

Hardly a day passes when the press does not report on a new merger or acquisition in the healthcare sector.  Some of these are monumental in scope, but most relate to individual hospitals, facilities, or entities.  The number of hospital and health system mergers and acquisitions continued their upward trend in the first quarter of 2017, with an eight percent increase from 25 to 27 transactions compared to the first quarter of 2016.  This trend is likely to continue and is stimulated by health care reform that will likely result in more consolidation and integration among hospitals and physician practices.  There are two common types of due diligence; financial and legal.  However, the highly regulated nature of the health care industry requires a third type; regulatory due diligence to avoid discovering and having to make disclosures of regulatory violations and overpayments of millions of dollars.

Financial and Legal Due Diligence

Due diligence reviews generally focuses on financial accountability and legal liabilities. An independent accounting firm focuses on reviewing and evaluating the balance sheets, income statements, audit reports, and cash flow statements and projections in measuring financial viability. There are many very competent public accounting firms that specialize in this type of work. For legal due diligence, the focus is on examining the entity’s structure; business permits and/or approvals; employment and labor law compliance; environmental law approvals, permits and compliance; contractual rights and obligations; intellectual property rights and obligations; real property law compliance; securities and financing regulatory compliance; tax exposure risks; consumer protection law and exposure risks; and/or licenses; previous and/or current litigation; media reports; and external consultants and/or advisors. There are an abundant number of law firms that provide high quality services in this type of work.  What is often missing is focusing on the potential health care regulatory and legal compliance issues.

Health Care Regulatory Due Diligence

In the health care sector, things are more complicated, wherein health care facilities are subject to a tremendous number of state and federal laws and regulations that govern how business must be conducted. As such, there are significant risks that a purchaser can inherit serious regulatory liabilities without checking to see how the entity is complying with these rules. With the right experts with experience in doing this kind of work, the time and costs for the due diligence review be only a small fraction of the costs of either a financial or legal review. The reason is simple: financial and legal due diligence involves detailed examination of a large volume of information. Regulatory compliance experts know exactly where to look for any weaknesses without having to do a “deep dive.” As such, it is difficult to imagine why a party looking to make an acquisition would not want a regulatory due diligence. High on the list for any reviews should be arrangements with referral sources—the highest enforcement priority of both the DOJ and OIG for many years—and review of the claims processing system and controls to ensure that there are not regulatory issues waiting to be discovered by CMS contractors or enforcement agencies.  In virtually all cases, problems will be identified that in very few cases would interfere with the decision to acquire, but is very likely to not only avoid a future liability but puts on the table additional tools to improve the negotiation terms and conditions.


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.

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.