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.
On August 28, 2019, the United States filed a brief in opposition to Sutter’s June 14, 2019 motion to dismiss the Department of Justice’s Complaint-in-Intervention in a False Claims Act suit alleging Sutter knowingly submitted and caused the submission of unsupported diagnosis codes for Medicare Advantage Organization (MAO) patients in order to inflate Medicare reimbursements. On the same day, the Relator, Kathy Ormsby, also filed a similar brief in opposition to Sutter’s motion to dismiss. We previously discussed Sutter’s motion to dismiss here and the Department of Justice’s Complaint-in-Intervention here.
On August 8, 2019, Beaver Medical Group L.P. (“Beaver”) and a Beaver-affiliated physician, Dr. Sherif Khalil, agreed to pay a combined total of $5 million to resolve allegations that the providers knowingly submitted diagnosis codes that were not supported by the medical records in order to inflate reimbursements from Medicare. The qui tam action was brought by a former employee of Beaver, Dr. David Nutter, and DOJ intervened. The settlement reflects DOJ’s continuing efforts to use its enforcement power to pursue fraud in the Medicare Advantage space despite recent setbacks in the UnitedHealthcare Insurance Co. v. Azar, 330 F. Supp. 3d 173 (D.D.C. 2018), which vacated a portion of CMS’s 2014 Final Overpayment Rule applicable to the Medicare Advantage program, previously discussed here. Indeed, in its press release, DOJ emphasized that preventing Medicare Advantage fraud remains a top priority: “As enrollment in Medicare Advantage continues to grow, investigation into accuracy of diagnosis data becomes ever more important….Those who inflate bills sent to government health programs can except to pay a heavy price.” We will continue to monitor and provide updates on these issues as they develop.
DOJ’s press release can be found here.
On August 6, 2019, the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas granted a motion to dismiss filed by Baylor Scott & White Health (“Baylor”), a network of inpatient short-term acute care hospitals, in a False Claims Act suit alleging that Baylor submitted “more than $61.8 million in false claims” by upcoding certain diagnosis codes. The Court dismissed all claims with prejudice, finding that the Relator, Integra Med Analytics LLC, alleged only “naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement” that were “insufficient under Rule 8’s pleading standards.” The Department of Justice declined to intervene in the suit.
On July 16, 2019, the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted in part and denied in part motions to dismiss a declined FCA suit against defendants Providence Health & Services (“Providence”), its affiliates, and J.A. Thomas and Associates, Inc. (“JATA”), a clinical documentation consultant. The suit alleges that Providence perpetrated an upcoding scheme whereby it trained its doctors to describe medical conditions with language that would support increasing the severity levels of the DRGs that Providence reported to Medicare, leading to inflated Medicare reimbursements.
Last week, the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion holding that a Relator bringing an FCA claim premised on an AKS violation – at least when relating to lease arrangements – must show that the financial arrangements were not at fair market value. See Bingham v. HCA, Inc., Case No. 1:13-cv-23671 (11th Cir. 2019). Significantly, this ruling provides that proving fair market value (or lack thereof) is not a burden imposed solely on defendants as part of a safe harbor defense, but is instead an essential element to establishing the existence of remuneration in the first instance. In the same opinion, the court also held that a Relator cannot rely upon information gleaned in discovery to satisfy Rule 9(b)’s pleading requirements.