Recent Settlement Illustrates Enforcement Risks Associated With Physician Roll-Ups
On December 2, 2021, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) issued a press release announcing that Flower Mound Hospital Partners (“Flower Mound”), a partially physician-owned hospital, agreed to pay just over $18 million to resolve allegations that it had violated the False Claims Act by submitting claims that violated the Stark Law and the Anti-Kickback Statute. (more…)
District Court Rejects Anti-Kickback Statute Claim Due to “Conclusory” Assertions of Unlawful Intent
A court in the District of Maryland recently dismissed a declined qui tam action in which the relator, a bariatric surgeon, alleged that two medical device companies violated the AKS by providing surgeons with free advertising in exchange for physicians using the companies’ LAP-BAND medical devices in bariatric surgeries. See United States ex rel. Fitzer v. Allergan, Inc., et al., 1:17-cv-00668-SAG (D. Md. Sept. 10, 2021). The court’s decision granting defendants’ motions to dismiss is notable in its refusal to allow relator to proceed based on conclusory allegations that the defendants knew they were acting in violation of the AKS. (more…)
Fifth Circuit Affirms DOJ’s Broad Authority to Dismiss Qui Tams Over Relators’ Objections, but Adds Teeth to “Hearing” Requirement
On July 7, 2021, the Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court’s grant of the United States’ motion to dismiss—over the relator’s objection—two qui tams that challenged pharmaceutical patient support programs. While the court’s decision is consistent with those of other courts of appeal that have confirmed DOJ’s broad authority to dismiss qui tams over relators’ objections, the Fifth Circuit appears to add some teeth to the requirement that the relator be provided with a “hearing” before such a dismissal may be granted.
Sunshine Act Enforcement No Longer Just on the Horizon
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.
Eleventh Circuit Rejects Argument That Mathematical Probability Suffices To Allege The Existence of False Claims, Affirming Dismissal For Failure To Satisfy Rule 9(b)
On April 26, 2021, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal with prejudice of a qui tam action brought by two former employees of a Georgia hospice provider and associated medical providers. The Court held that the relators did not plead with sufficient particularity under Rule 9(b) that the defendant had submitted a false claim to the government. Estate of Debbie Helmly, et al. v. Bethany Hospice and Palliative Care of Coastal Georgia, LLC, et al., No. 20-11624 (11th Cir. Apr. 26, 2021).
District Court Concludes Accurate PDE Data Can be “False Claims” Under the FCA
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).
District Court Issues Rare Rebuke Denying DOJ’s Belated Motion to Intervene
A federal district court recently issued a rare order denying the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) motion to intervene in a qui tam suit after the government’s initial declination months earlier. See United States ex rel. Odom v. Southeast Eye Specialists, PLLC, 3:17-cv-00689 (M.D. Tenn. Feb. 24, 2021). The False Claims Act allows the government to intervene in a case in which it previously declined to intervene upon “a showing of good cause.” Although DOJ does so not frequently seek to intervene after previously declining to do so, courts are generally deferential to the government’s shift in position. This decision provides important precedent for defendants in the position of arguing that a late intervention by DOJ is not appropriate.
Court Permits Qui Tam Focused on Late-90s Conduct to Go Forward, Adopting a Broad Reading of Remuneration and FCA Causation
The Eastern District of Pennsylvania recently ruled on a summary judgment motion in a case that has been pending in the federal courts since 2002, involving alleged conduct by the defendant drug manufacturer from 1996-2004, when the pharmaceutical industry and compliance programs were vastly different than they are in 2020. U.S. ex rel. Gohil v. Sanofi U.S. Services Inc’s, No. 02-cv-02964 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 12, 2020). In its ruling, the court adopted an expansive definition of remuneration and a low bar to satisfy the causation element of FCA claims premised on underlying alleged violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute. On this basis, the court is allowing the relator to proceed to trial on allegations that his former employer caused the submission of false claims by paying kickbacks in the form of fees to physicians to participate in advisory boards and speaker programs, educational grants, and meals and gift baskets, while granting summary judgment for the defendant based on allegations related to preceptorships and other alleged kickbacks.
Court Sanctions DOJ and Defendants For Discovery Violations In False Claims Act Case
On July 10, 2020, a federal magistrate judge in the District of Minnesota issued a 39-page decision sanctioning DOJ (and the defendants) for various discovery violations in an FCA case based on alleged violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute.
As previously reported here, the Defendants Paul Ehlen (“Ehlen”), the majority owner of Precision Lens, and Cameron-Ehlen Group (conducting business as Precision Lens) (collectively, the “defendants”) are involved in the distribution of intraocular lenses and other products for ophthalmic surgeries. DOJ alleges that the defendants provided physicians with expensive trips, meals, and other in-kind remunerations at no cost or below fair market value. DOJ further alleges that, in exchange, these physicians purchased the Defendants’ products and used them during surgeries, which were subsequently billed to Medicare, in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute and the False Claims Act. DOJ and the defendants filed motions seeking sanctions against the other in connection with inadequate preparation of 30(b)(6) designees and potential spoliation of information, documents, and electronically stored information. DOJ also filed a motion to compel the production of additional potentially relevant documents.
DME Supplier Pays $37.5M to Settle AKS-Based FCA Claims Across Five Qui Tam Suits
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.”