Court Orders DOJ to Articulate Factual Basis for Allegation that AKS Violations Caused the Submission of False Claims
Earlier this month, a federal judge in Minnesota held that DOJ was required to articulate the factual basis for its allegation that Defendants’ claims for payment resulted from kickbacks, rejecting the argument that such information was irrelevant based on a legal presumption of causation. The Government alleges that defendants Precision Lens and Paul Ehlen provided kickbacks to physicians, including “lavish hunting, fishing and golf trips, private plane flights, frequent-flyer miles and other items of value,” to induce them to use products that Defendants supplied. The Government further alleges that these kickbacks violated the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS), causing the submission of false claims to the Government.
Sutter and Physician Group Pay $46 Million to Resolve Kickback and Stark Law Allegations Brought by Former Compliance Officer Whistleblower
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.
Third Foundation Settles in Industry-Wide Charity Patient Assistance Program Investigation
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.
Court Dismisses DOJ Complaint Alleging Improper Auto-Refill and Co-Payment Waiver for Lack of Particularity
On September 30, 2019, a judge in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted a motion to dismiss in an intervened FCA qui tam suit, finding that the relators, the United States, and the state of Illinois failed to satisfy Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b)’s heightened pleading requirements for fraud claims. The suit targeted an entity referred to as C&M Specialty Pharmacy (“C&M”), which provides specialized medication for complex medical conditions.
Court Establishes a Test to Determine the Scope of the FCA’s “News Media” Provision
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.
Eleventh Circuit Holds That It Is Relator’s Burden To Prove Lack of Fair Market Value As An Essential Element of AKS-Based Claims
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.
District Court Held that Government Must Produce Factual Basis For Allegations of Below-Fair-Market-Value Transfers
Earlier this month, in a FCA case in which the Government intervened, the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota held that the Government was obligated to produce evidence that supported its allegation that amounts that physicians paid for social trips and other benefits provided by Defendants were below fair market value. In United States v. Cameron-Ehlen Grp., Inc., No. 13-CV-3003 (WMW/DTS), 2019 WL 1453063, at *1 (D. Minn. Apr. 2, 2019), the Government’s Complaint-In-Intervention alleged that Defendants, Precision Lens and Paul Ehlen, schemed to pay kickbacks—in the form of “lavish hunting, fishing and golf trips, private plane flights, frequent-flyer miles and other items of value”—to physicians to induce them to use products supplied by Defendants. The Complaint-In-Intervention includes several specific examples where physicians “were remunerated by not paying the full fair market value for trips and other benefits provided by Defendants.” (more…)
Recent Summary Judgment Decision Highlights Potential AKS Concerns Associated with Promotional Speakers Programs
A recent decision from the Southern District of New York denying defendants’ motion for summary judgment identified a number of characteristics of a pharmaceutical company’s promotional speakers program that may raise concerns under the Anti-Kickback Statute. The opinion highlights the features of the promotional speaker program at issue that persuaded the court that it ran afoul of the AKS.
Court Dismisses DOJ’s Complaint against Pharmacy and Private Equity Fund, But Permits Re-Pleading
As we previously reported here and here, DOJ is pursuing a compounding pharmacy and its private equity fund owner alleging the pharmacy filed claims with Tricare that were rendered false by alleged kickbacks.
In November, the Magistrate Judge filed an opinion recommending the FCA claims be dismissed for DOJ’s failure adequately to plead its claims on either an implied or express certification theory of liability. However, the Magistrate went on to hold that the allegations that the private equity fund and its principals knew of some of the alleged misconduct and caused the submission of false claims by the portfolio company were otherwise sufficient to state a claim against those defendants under the False Claims Act. (more…)
AKS Safe Harbor Defeats FCA Claim in Eleventh Circuit
In Carrel v. AIDS Healthcare Foundation, No. 17-13185 (August 7, 2018) the Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendant on Anti-Kickback Statute-based FCA claims, holding that incentives to employees for referring patients for its services were covered by the employee safe harbor to the Anti-Kickback Statute, and that these payments in particular served the congressional intent of the Ryan White Act to provide AIDS patients with ease of access to services. The Court also upheld the prior dismissal of all other allegations for a lack of particularity, noting that the only instances that relators alleged with particularity were actually covered “services” under the Ryan White Act and that they would not “infer fraud from instances of lawful conduct.” (more…)