On March 6, 2020, the United States District Court for the Central District of California unsealed a qui tam complaint filed in May 2018 against Mobile Medical Examination (“MedXM”) and a number of Medicare Advantage Organizations (“MAOs), including, United Healthcare, Wellpoint, Aetna, Health Net, and Molina Healthcare. The qui tam suit, which was brought by former employees of MedXM, alleged that the defendants engaged in a scheme to submit false claims for payment to the federal healthcare programs by inflating risk adjustment payments and providing kickbacks to MA enrollees. The Department of Justice declined to intervene in the suit. (more…)
In its May 4, 2020 Opposition to the Petition for Writ of Certiorari in United States ex rel. Schneider v. JPMorgan Chase NA, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) advocated a reading of the FCA that preserves the Executive Branch’s unfettered discretion to dismiss a qui tam, absent “extraordinary circumstances.” DOJ’s power to dismiss derives from FCA Section 3730(c)(2)(A), which provides that the Government “may dismiss” a relator’s action if the relator “has been notified by the Government of the filing of the motion and the court has provided the person with an opportunity for a hearing on the motion.” Since the revealing of the Granston Memo, which we have addressed here and here, DOJ has more frequently sought to use this statutory power. In hopes of doing so in an unrestricted manner, DOJ presented the Supreme Court with the following question in its Opposition: “Whether the United States’ decision to dismiss a relator’s FCA claim under Section 3730(c)(2) is subject to judicial review where the relator does not allege that the government’s dismissal decision was a fraud on the court.”
On January 27, 2020, Deputy Associate Attorney General Stephen Cox provided insight into current DOJ False Claims Act enforcement priorities and topics such as dismissals under the Granston Memo and reliance on subregulatory guidance as the basis of enforcement. A copy of his remarks can be found after clicking Read More.
DOJ has announced that ResMed Corp., a manufacturer of durable medical equipment (DME) that treats sleep apnea and other chronic respiratory diseases, has agreed to pay $37.5 million to settle claims under the False Claims Act based on allegations that ResMed paid kickbacks to DME suppliers, healthcare providers, and other entities in violation of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute. In particular, DOJ alleged that ResMed “(a) provided DME companies with free telephone call center services and other free patient outreach services that enabled these companies to order resupplies for their patients with sleep apnea, (b) provided sleep labs with free and below-cost positive airway pressure masks and diagnostic machines, as well as free installation of these machines, (c) arranged for, and fully guaranteed the payments due on, interest-free loans that DME suppliers acquired from third-party financial institutions for the purchase of ResMed equipment, and (d) provided non-sleep specialist physicians free home sleep testing devices.”
On December 10, 2019, HHS-OIG issued a report examining the extent to which Medicare Advantage Organizations (“MAOs”) leverage chart reviews to increase risk-adjusted payments. OIG undertook its review due to concerns that MAOs “may use chart reviews to increase risk adjusted payments inappropriately.” Based on its analysis, OIG estimated that MAOs received approximately $6.7 billion in additional payments based on codes added during chart reviews. While OIG did not conclude that these payments constituted overpayments, it raised concerns about “the completeness of payment data submitted to CMS, the validity of diagnoses on chart reviews, and the quality of care provided to beneficiaries.”
According to the statistics published by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) in December of 2018, fraud recoveries, including under the False Claims Act, declined in 2018 for the third straight year. While the majority of the dollars recovered by the government in these actions continues to come from the providers of healthcare services, technologies that enable those services, the manufacturers of the drugs, devices, and the private insurers who pay for healthcare, recoveries from the healthcare sector have also declined. While we await the official 2019 statistics from DOJ, we know that this year has continued this Administration’s trend of decreasing enforcement recoveries. That said, recoveries from the industry continue to be counted in the billions of dollars and outstrip levels seen a decade ago. While this Administration’s enforcement priorities have shifted from those of the last, and while DOJ is taking steps to exercise discretion and preserve its enforcement resources in some matters, both DOJ and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) continue to devote substantial resources aggressively to pursuing high priority enforcement issues, particularly those that potentially impact patient safety and substantially increase costs to the federal healthcare programs.
On November 15, 2019, Sutter Health (“Sutter”) and Sacramento Cardiovascular Surgeons Medical Group Inc. (“Sacramento”) agreed to pay a total of $46 million to resolve FCA claims based on whistleblower allegations made by a former Sutter compliance officer that Sutter provided kickbacks to Sacramento physicians in exchange for referring patients to Sutter. The settlement also resolved Stark Law allegations relating to above fair market value payments made by certain of Sutter’s hospitals to Sacramento physicians. The underlying FCA complaint was filed in 2014 by a former Sutter compliance officer. The settlement only resolves some of the fraud allegations included in the former compliance officer’s complaint.
On November 20, 2019, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts announced that The Assistance Fund (“TAF”), an independent charity patient assistance program (“PAP”), agreed to settle allegations that it violated the False Claims Act and agreed to pay $4 million to the government. That amount was calculated on an ability to pay basis. TAF is the third charity to settle in this ongoing, industry-wide investigation led by the District of Massachusetts. To date, the government has collected approximately $10 million from charity PAPs and over $800 million from eight drug manufacturers.
As we reported here, the Supreme Court in Azar v. Allina Health Services, 139 S. Ct. 1804 (2019) held that the Medicare Act expressly requires HHS to engage in notice-and-comment rulemaking prior to adopting any “substantive legal standard.” One court recently relied on Allina to conclude that FCA claims premised on a CMS rule articulated in payment manuals must fail because the rule constitutes a “substantive legal standard” that did not go through notice-and-comment rulemaking. Polansky v. Executive Health Resources, Inc., No. 12-4239, 2019 WL 5790061 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 5, 2019). (more…)
The District Court has ruled on motions filed by DOJ to dismiss FCA cases against certain drug manufacturers in declined qui tam suits, consistent with the principles articulated in the Granston Memo. We previously described DOJ’s motions here. On Friday, the District Court for the Eastern District of Texas adopted in part the recommendation of a Magistrate Judge that DOJ’s motion be granted. Specifically, the Court agreed that the government had satisfied the heightened standard for dismissal adopted by the Ninth and Tenth Circuits, as articulated by the former in Sequoia Orange; namely, that the government has a legitimate interest in preserving its resources, that dismissal was rationally related to that interest, and that there is no evidence that the government’s decision was “fraudulent, arbitrary and capricious, or illegal.” In particular, the Court found the government’s interest in controlling litigation costs to be legitimate and held that avoiding the need to make employees available for deposition is rationally related to that interest. As such, the Court found it unnecessary to address the Magistrate’s recommendation that it instead adopt the view, embraced by the D.C. Circuit in Swift and other courts (as reported here and here), that DOJ has “unfettered discretion” to dismiss FCA claims. The court’s opinion is here.
Friday’s ruling bolsters DOJ’s efforts to dismiss meritless qui tam suits but fails to sharpen the split of authority on the breadth of its right to do so. We will continue to monitor and report on updates on this important issue.