Yesterday DOJ announced another round of coordinated law enforcement actions to combat healthcare fraud related to COVID-19. One of these indictments features “first in the nation charges for allegedly exploiting the expanded” opportunities to receive Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
DOJ recently announced its second FCA settlement within the past half year that resolves alleged Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”) violations and corollary failures to satisfy Sunshine Act reporting obligations. Before this pair of settlements, neither DOJ nor CMS has publicly announced any targeted efforts to enforce the Sunshine Act, and these settlements seem to be on the cutting edge of an emerging government enforcement priority.
Late last week, Judge Patti Saris (D. Mass.) issued an opinion on cross-motions for summary judgment filed by a qui tam relator and Massachusetts and a group of defendants that includes South Bay Mental Health Center (“South Bay”) and its private equity fund owner, permitting the vast majority of plaintiffs’ claims to proceed to the jury. The opinion addresses important questions of law as to each of the elements of the FCA related to claims to Medicaid for services allegedly provided in violation of various state regulatory requirements. However, the opinion is most notable for being the first to hold at the dispositive motion stage that a private equity fund and its principals can act with the requisite scienter and cause the submission of false claims, and thus be exposed directly to the treble damages and statutory penalties of the FCA as a result of conduct by a healthcare provider portfolio company. As such, we may expect it to add momentum to DOJ’s stated intent to pursue FCA claims against PE investors in the industry, as we previously reported here.
This week DOJ announced the formation of a COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force “to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance enforcement efforts against COVID-19 related fraud.” In addition to components of DOJ, key agencies overseeing pandemic relief programs will participate, as well as the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Relief and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.
Sidley lawyers Jaime L.M. Jones, Brenna E. Jenny, and Jack Pirozzolo recently published an article in Bloomberg Law entitled How Life Sciences Firms Can Reduce DOJ Enforcement Risks. Scrutiny of life sciences companies, from their relationships with physicians to their promotional practices, has become one of the few constants in the evolving government enforcement landscape. But life sciences companies can mitigate this risk by making targeted updates to their compliance programs to address areas of particular interest to the Department of Justice.
A copy of the article is available here.
A district court in the District of New Jersey recently amended its dismissal of a qui tam suit to allow the relator to file a fourth amended complaint against a pharmacy asserting a new theory of liability that prescription drug event (“PDE”) data are “claims” under the FCA and accurate PDE data can be “false claims” under the FCA where a pharmacy pays kickbacks to its customers. United States ex rel. Silver v. Omnicare Inc., No. 11-cv-01326, (D.N.J. Apr. 13, 2021).
In a recent Statement of Interest, DOJ articulated a problematic, and incorrect, theory of materiality in an apparent effort to make it virtually impossible for defendants to defeat bare allegations of materiality at the motion to dismiss stage in cases that involve allegedly false claims for prescription drugs.
Sidley lawyers Jaime L.M. Jones, Brenna E. Jenny, and Catherine D. Stewart recently published an article in Bloomberg Law entitled Tips for Responding to a DOJ Inquiry Into Pandemic Billing. The Department of Health and Human Services extended significant billing flexibility to providers during the COVID-19 public health emergency, and law enforcement can be expected to closely examine how providers have exercised those more relaxed rules. The article offers tips for the in-house legal and compliance functions of healthcare providers as to how they can best position their organizations for successfully engaging with DOJ and state attorneys general on False Claims Act investigations relating to the use of pandemic billing flexibilities.
A copy of the article is available here.
A recent settlement reinforces the potential liability facing private equity investors in the life sciences industry. As we previously reported, late last year The Gores Group (“Gores”) entered into a $1.5 million settlement agreement with the United States to resolve claims that the alleged off-label promotion by its portfolio company of combination drug-medical device systems for pediatric patients resulted in the submission of false claims to federal healthcare programs. Last month, Gores entered into a separate $1.5 million settlement agreement with certain states to resolve claims that the same alleged conduct resulted in the submission of false claims to state Medicaid programs. See U.S. ex rel. Johnson v. Therakos, Inc., Case No. 12-cv-1454 (E.D. Pa., filed Mar. 22, 2012). The participating states in the more recent settlement have sixty days to agree to the terms of that agreement; thus far at least California has joined. The claims resolved in these settlements arose from a qui tam suit.
During the Federal Bar Association’s 2021 Qui Tam Conference, two senior government lawyers—Neeli Ben-David, the Civil Division Deputy Chief and Health Care Fraud Coordinator for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia and Karen Glassman, Senior Counsel at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (“HHS-OIG”)—provided insights into how defendants can position themselves for successful engagement with the government and how DOJ and HHS-OIG coordinate behind the scenes to investigate and resolve FCA cases.