DOJ announces New Jersey Medicare and Virginia Medicaid fraud schemes

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that (1) a New Jersey woman has pled guilty in a $1 million Medicare fraud scheme that deceived seniors into unnecessary DNA tests, and (2) three Bristol, Virginia individuals have been indicted for fraudulently billing over $350,000 to Virginia Medicaid for services under the Virginia Medicaid Intellectual Disability (ID) waiver program that were not provided.

New Jersey fraud

Sheila Kahl, 44, admitted that she wrongfully accessed protected health information (PHI) and paid kickbacks to healthcare professionals on behalf of a Medicare fraud scheme involving a purported non-profit, The Good Samaritans of America. Sentencing is scheduled for March 14, 2017.

A DOJ press release from the District of New Jersey, based on the criminal information and court statements, alleged that from July 2014 through December 2015, Seth Rehfuss, 42, of Somerset, New Jersey, Kahl, of Point Pleasant, New Jersey and others used. The Good Samaritans of America as front to present information about genetic testing to seniors in low-income housing projects.

In order to convince senior citizens to submit to genetic testing, Rehfuss allegedly used fear-based tactics, including suggesting the senior citizens would be vulnerable to heart attacks, stroke, cancer and suicide if they did not have the genetic testing. Rehfuss also allegedly claimed that the genetic testing allowed for “personalized medicine.”

Rehfuss was previously charged on December 2, 2015. The pending criminal complaint against Rehfuss contains mere allegations, and he is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Virginia fraud

A grand jury, sitting in the Western District of Virginia, charged Deborah Branch, 64, Melissa Harr, 49 and Bryan Harr Sr., 40, with one count of health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, and two counts of wire fraud.

According to a DOJ press release from the Western District of Virginia, the indictment alleged that Melissa and Bryan Harr Sr., hired Branch to work with one of their children, who suffers from intellectual and physical disabilities and qualifies for services paid for by Virginia Medicaid, under the Virginia Medicaid’s ID waiver program. Branch was allegedly paid through two different Virginia Medicaid contractors.

The indictment further alleged that from January 2010 until September 2015, Branch submitted time sheets claiming she was providing services for Harr’s disabled son when she was not. In exchange for assisting Branch in getting paid for work she did not do, Branch allegedly paid the Harrs approximately $200 every two weeks. Virginia Medicaid paid out $350,641.02 to two different Virginia Medicaid contractors, Public Partnerships, LLC and ResCare (formerly known as Creative Family Solutions), based on Branch’s time sheets, of which $207,854.43 was paid to Branch.

State Governors Elect Not to Implement Parts of PPACA

After the United States Supreme Court’s ruling last week that states cannot be forced to expand their Medicaid programs to receive federal funding, states are given the tough decision to make whether they will indeed expand their Medicaid rolls as suggested by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) (P.L. 111-148).

Thus far, five states have made it clear that as a result of last week’s decision, they do not plan to expand their Medicaid programs: Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin.

All of those five states, which have Republican governors, participated in the lawsuit against the bill, which was the subject of last week’s ruling. In addition, six states have publicly raised doubt as to whether they will participate: Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey and Texas. Currently, only ten states have affirmatively pledged to participate in Medicaid expansion, which leaves nearly two-thirds of the states in question.

Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker issued a statement on the same day the Supreme Court released their decision on PPACA, indicating, “Wisconsin will not take any action to implement ObamaCare.” (Obama Care is a casual term commonly used to refer to PPACA and its provisions.) Walker emphasized his concerns that the bill would cost his state’s tax payers to “pay more money for less healthcare” and that both quality of and access to care would be reduced under the bill. He expressed his hope that this year’s elections would ultimately result in the repeal of the bill at a federal level.

Governor Bobby Jindall of Louisiana announced that his state will not be expanding its Medicaid program in response to PPACA; nor will it be setting up private health insurance exchanges called for by the bill. Under the provisions of PPACA, if Louisiana or any other state fails to establish a fully operable exchange by January 1, 2014, the federal government will implement an exchange for that state. Jindall agreed that reform of the health care system is necessary, but that an “expensive, unsustainable entitlement program is not the solution to our problems.”

In Florida, Governor Rick Scott similarly announced that his state will neither set up exchanges nor expand its Medicaid rolls to comply with PPACA. Approximately 20 percent of Florida residents are uninsured, however, Scott pointed out that it would cost Florida taxpayers $1.9 billion to add those residents to the Medicaid program. He raised concern over the rapidly increasing Medicaid program in the state, which he said is growing “three and a half times as fast as Florida’s general revenue.”

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley declared that her state will opt out of expanding its Medicaid program and that block grants, which offer flexibility to states as to how they will use the money, offer the best solution to state-specific problems. She referred to PPACA’s changes as a “broken system that further ties our hands.”

Lt. Governor Tate Reeves of Mississippi “is not inclined to drastically expand Medicaid” as called for by PPACA. He explained that such an expansion, which would add nearly 400,000 residents to the program, would cost the state nearly $1.7 billion over ten years. He maintained that “(t)rue health care reform should look at reducing costs for services not increasing the burden on taxpayers.”

New Jersey, Maine to Pay Back Millions in Federal Medicaid Payments

A series of improper payments have left New Jersey’s and Maine’s Medicaid programs with sizeable bills from the federal government, which splits the cost of the programs with the states. Maine is estimated to owe $3.8 million for its mistake, while New Jersey’s debt comes to a hefty $61 million.

MaineCare’s $7.7 Million Computer Malfunction

Mary Mayhew, Maine’s Health and Human Services (DHHS) Commissioner, came forward with the information that MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, paid $7.7 million for medical services for people who were ineligible for the program. An error in the DHHS’s computer system resulted in 7,730 people remaining on MaineCare’s rolls that should have been removed due to a change in eligibility status.

DHHS and Mayhew have faced a great deal of criticism for waiting to disclose the computer problem until the state’s legislature passed a budget that helped patch DHHS’s budget to avoid the reduction of benefits to MaineCare beneficiaries. Many state legislators have called for an official investigation into the whether DHHS could have disclosed the improper payments at an earlier date.

Representative Peggy Rotundo addressed Mayhew at a meeting of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, raising concerns that “[w]e did not get this information in a timely way when we were putting together the budget. We were having public discussions about figures and wanting to get accurate figures, and someone out there was not tuned in to the fact that numbers were relevant to what we were doing.”

Mayhew responded that it was difficult for the department to ascertain which computer system problems required reporting to legislators because the problems were so numerous. She also cast doubt on whether the portion of the improper payments made by the state could be recovered, saying, “These health care providers that provided services had a card” and properly provided services to residents they saw as eligible for MaineCare services. “I don’t see an opportunity to recover,” she concluded.

New Jersey’s Undocumented Services

During a 2 year period, from 2005 to 2007, New Jersey’s Medicaid program received $1.4 billion for a home care program, which aims to keep mentally and physically disabled beneficiaries out of institutions. In addition to frequently failing to follow federal procedures, the state neglected to document many services that it billed for, such as respite care. Often, patients’ disabilities were not regularly assessed, as required for federal reimbursement.

In October, Valerie Harr, the director of the state’s Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services, sent a letter to federal government auditors, supplying them with supplementary documents and requesting a recalculation of the Medicaid program’s debt. Auditors responded with a bill of $61 million, less than the originally estimated $90 million.

Geographic Markets Selected for Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative

Market selections have been made for certain areas to become some of the first participating payers in the Comprehensive Primary Care (CPC) initiative. On April 11, the CMS Innovation Center announced seven areas from a pool of applicants to represent their selected markets as part of this CPC demonstration, which is a public-private partnership to enhance access to primary care services by establishing medical homes supported by multiple payers.

CMS directed the solicitation for the Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative to public and private health care payers to respond individually to the Innovation Center and the markets were selected in places where there is sufficient interest from a number of payers to support a comprehensive model of primary care. Individual payer applications were collected by CMS to evaluate the degree to which they align with CMS’ approach in the initiative. High scoring payer applications proposing overlapping market areas were aggregated to assess the expected market share of enhanced support for comprehensive primary care. No more than two markets in an HHS region were eligible to participate, and CMS aimed to include at least two markets with significant rural areas.

These markets are multi-payer and may include private health plans, state Medicaid agencies, and employers and include: Arkansas, statewide; Colorado, statewide; New Jersey, statewide; New York, Capital District-Hudson Valley Region; Ohio, Cincinnati-Dayton Region; Oklahoma, Greater Tulsa Region; and Oregon, statewide.

These selected participating payers in each market will be entering into a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) with CMS. Once the participating payers in each market have agreed to the terms and conditions of this MOU, the Innovation Center will then release a solicitation to primary care practices in these geographic areas wishing to participate in providing comprehensive primary care as part of this initiative. The Innovation Center will also invite local practitioner representatives and local patient and consumer representatives to participate in these discussions with Medicare.

The White House has indicated that funding of up to $322 million is available to support 75 practices in seven states beginning this year with plans to serve up to 330,750 Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries over the course of this four-year initiative. The practices involved will receive a new care management fee on behalf of Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries to support enhanced primary care services for their patients. The enhanced services will include: improved care coordination; increasing patients’ access to care; delivering preventive care; engaging patients and caregivers in managing their own care, and providing individualized, enhanced care for patients living with multiple chronic diseases and higher needs.

Two models will be tested simultaneously: a service delivery model and a payment model. The service delivery model will test comprehensive primary care, which is characterized as having the following five functions:

  • risk-stratified care management;
  • access and continuity;
  • planned care for chronic conditions and preventative care;
  • patient and caregiver engagement; and
  • coordination of care across the medical neighborhood.

The second type, known as the “payment model” includes a monthly care management fee paid to the selected primary care practices on behalf of their fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries and, in years 2-4 of the initiative, the potential to share in any savings to the Medicare program. Practices will also receive compensation from other payers participating in the initiative, including private insurance companies and other health plans, which will allow them to integrate multi-payer funding streams to strengthen their capacity to implement practice-wide quality improvement.

The Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative was developed under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) (P.L. 111-148) and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act), as a multi-payer initiative fostering collaboration between public and private health care payers to strengthen primary care and is one of the ways the Obama Administration has made the recruitment, training and retention of primary care professionals a top priority.