The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently allowed a previously dismissed qui tam case to proceed against Molina Healthcare of Illinois (“Molina”). The suit, brought by a relator who founded Molina subcontractor GenMed, alleges that Molina fraudulently billed Illinois’ Medicaid program for skilled nursing facility (“SNF”) services that were not actually provided. The district court previously dismissed the case at the pleading stage in June 2020, finding that the relator’s complaint insufficiently alleged that Molina knew its alleged false claims were material. The Seventh Circuit, in a split decision, reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings. (more…)
A divided panel of the Ninth Circuit recently reversed a district court decision that held that local coverage determinations (“LCDs”) are valid only when issued through a 60-day notice-and-comment rulemaking process. Agendia, Inc. v. Becerra, No. 19-56516 (9th Cir. July 16, 2021). The impact of the district court’s ruling—and a spirited dissent from the Ninth Circuit majority opinion—would have been significant for healthcare enforcement actions, including under the False Claims Act. LCDs have never gone through notice-and-comment rulemaking. A decision that all LCDs are accordingly invalid would have undermined a number of False Claims Act cases premised on the use of LCDs to apply the “reasonable and necessary” standard for Medicare reimbursement. The Ninth Circuit is the first court of appeals to weigh in on this issue, however, and others may yet reach a different conclusion.
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.
On May 28, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal with prejudice of a False Claims Act suit brought against Baylor Scott & White Health (“Baylor”), a network of acute care hospitals. The suit, brought by Integra Med Analytics, alleged that Baylor submitted $61.8 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare by using unsupported “higher-value” diagnosis codes to inflate Medicare reimbursements. The U.S. government previously declined to intervene in the suit.
On August 20, 2015, the District of New Jersey granted in part and denied in part defendants’ motion to dismiss allegations that by making comparative claims regarding an on-label use of a drug, the defendant prevented physicians from making informed decisions about whether resulting prescriptions were eligible for Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement. See United States ex rel. Dickson v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., No. 13-1039 (D.N.J. Aug. 20, 2015). The case highlights relators’ ever-broader use of the FCA to target sales and marketing activities of pharmaceutical manufacturers.
Posted by Kristin Graham Koehler and Monica Groat
On November 20, Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery and Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda announced that the Department of Justice recovered a record $5.69 billion in settlements and judgments from civil cases involving alleged fraud against the Government in fiscal year 2014. This figure represents the highest annual total recovery and an increase of nearly $2 billion over the Government’s recovery in fiscal year 2013.
Recoveries from the financial industry accounted for the most significant proportion of fraud-related recoveries, representing $3.1 billion of the total $5.69 billion. This amount was more than double the previous record for recoveries from banks and other financial institutions, which paid $1.4 billion in fiscal year 2012. Healthcare fraud represented the second largest area of recovery; DOJ recovered $2.3 billion from pharmaceutical and device manufacturers, hospitals, and other healthcare providers. Fiscal year 2014 was the fifth straight year during which the Government has recovered more than $2 billion in cases involving false claims against federal healthcare programs, including Medicare and Medicaid.
Of the $5.69 billion recovered this year, nearly $3 billion related to lawsuits filed under the FCA’s qui tam provisions, and relators recovered $435 million. The number of FCA qui tam suits filed in 2014 decreased slightly: 713 suits were filed in 2014, compared with 754 in 2013. These numbers indicate that both DOJ and private relators are continuing to bring FCA cases; although the volume of cases did not increase, recoveries by both the Government and relators increased. The announcement also confirms that DOJ is continuing to aggressively pursue fraud cases, with a continuing interest in healthcare fraud and an increasing focus on the financial industry.
An April 14 article on Reuters.com titled “Lawyers start mining the Medicare data for clues to fraud” explains how plaintiffs’ lawyers are eagerly mining newly-released Medicare data showing provider-specific billings to support existing FCA claims and identify new ones. The article describes one example of how the data is being used to support healthcare cases based on violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute:
For example, if a lawyer were representing a pharmaceutical sales manager accusing his company of paying kickbacks to certain doctors, the data could point to other providers using the company’s products who could serve as witnesses or be added as defendants if the billings suggest wrongdoing.
“It could expand the case beyond a certain institution or provider to multiple institutions or providers,” said Chris Coffin, a Louisiana lawyer who represents whistleblowers.
Other lawyers said the data could produce leads for new lawsuits. When red flags emerge – a doctor bills Medicare an unusually high amount for a particular drug, say – lawyers could investigate what might explain the aberrant figure. That could turn up a possible fraud.
While the data may help relators add details to their pleadings, a strong argument can be made that claims based on the new Medicare data implicate the public disclosure bar. Thus, whether the release of this data ultimately helps or harms defendants remains to be seen, and is likely to depend on the stage of a particular case and the manner in which the information is being used.
Last week, the Supreme Court of Louisiana reversed a $330 million judgment ($258 million in penalties, $70 million in attorney fees, and $3 million in costs) against Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceutical, because there was no evidence that “any defendant made or attempted to make a fraudulent claim for payment against any Louisiana medical assistance program within the scope of [the Louisiana Medical Assistance Programs Integrity Law (‘MAPIL’)]”—a state statute based on the federal False Claims Act. Caldwell ex rel. State v. Janssen Pharmaceutical, Inc., Nos. 2012-C-2447, 2012-C-2466, 2014 WL 341038, slip op. at 1-2, 19-20 (La. Jan. 28, 2014)
The case centers on a narrow set of facts related to defendants’ antipsychotic drug Risperdal. In September 2003, the FDA told all manufacturers of so-called atypical antipsychotics to amend their labels to warn about potential adverse side effects associated with the drugs, and to issue letters about the change to healthcare providers around the country. Defendants did so, but their letter also reported that Risperdal had been associated with lower risks than other atypical antipsychotics. The FDA took issue with those statements and directed defendants to issue a “corrective” letter, which they did in July 2004. Just a couple of months later, the Louisiana Attorney General brought suit, alleging that the original letter contained off-label statements misrepresenting Risperdal’s safety and efficacy and that defendants were subject to civil penalties under Louisiana law as a result. In 2010, a jury returned a verdict for the state, finding that the defendants had violated Louisiana’s MAPIL 35,146 times (based on the number of letters mailed and sales calls made) and assessed a civil penalty of $7,250 per violation. The verdict was affirmed by the intermediate appellate court.
The Louisiana Supreme Court found no evidence to support that judgment based on its reading of the state’s false-claims act. Proceeding through each of the statute’s three subsections one-by-one, the court explained the law’s scope and why the conduct at issue did not fall within it. First was subsection (A), which provides that “[n]o person shall knowingly present or cause to be presented a false or fraudulent claim.” La. Rev. Stat. § 43:438.3(A). Because the statute elsewhere defined a “false or fraudulent claim” as one that a provider submits “knowing” it to be false or misleading, the court focused the responsibility for policing falsity on the person or entity actually making the claim for payment. The AG was thus required to “show that a Louisiana doctor who prescribed Risperdal for his patient, or a healthcare provider who dispensed the drug to the patient, knew that the defendants had made misleading statements about their product, but nonetheless prescribed or dispensed the drug to the patient knowing that there may be drugs that are equally safe, and less expensive, or safer than Risperdal, and notwithstanding that knowledge, prescribed or dispensed Risperdal.” Put another way, the “doctor or healthcare provider would have had to have knowingly committed malpractice, prescribing or dispensing Risperdal despite knowing there were better, cheaper, or safer, more efficacious drugs available, for the defendants to be liable under this provision.” No evidence supported such a finding.
Next, the court turned to subsection (B), which provides that “[n]o person shall knowingly engage in misrepresentation to obtain, or attempt to obtain, payment from medical assistance programs funds.” Again requiring a tight nexus between the claim for payment and the allegations, the court found “no showing the defendants knowingly attempted to obtain payment from the medical assistance programs pursuant to a claim.” In addition, the court read the “misrepresentation” requirement to “logically place the obligation of truthful and full disclosure on the healthcare provider or any person seeking to obtain payment through a claim made against medical assistance program funds or entering into a provider agreement,” in light of the “absurd consequences” that would arise if “potentially any information required by any federal or state agency or source, which is not fully disclosed by any person who ultimately receives Medicaid funds, directly or indirectly, could, if not truthfully or fully disclosed, subject that person to civil penalties under MAPIL.”
The third subsection states that “[n]o person shall conspire to defraud, or attempt to defraud, the medical assistance programs through misrepresentation or by obtaining, or attempting to obtain, payment for a false or fraudulent claim.” La. Rev. Stat. § 43:438.3(C). Here, too, the gap between the allegedly misleading statements and the claims for payment doomed the state’s case: “Even if the defendants were attempting to gain a competitive edge over other manufacturers of atypical anti-psychotics through the use of misleading off-label statements,” and “even if the defendants’ conduct was intended to influence the prescribing decisions of doctors treating schizophrenia patients,” there could be no liability because there was “no showing the defendants failed to truthfully or fully disclose or concealed any information required on a claim for payment made against the medical assistance programs” or that any such statements “were made to the department relative to the medical assistance programs,” and there was “no causal connection” between any such conduct and “any false or fraudulent claim for payment to a healthcare provider or other person.”
The thrust of the Louisiana court’s reasoning is straightforward but powerful: a statute designed to prevent false or fraudulent claims requires a close connection between the allegedly fraudulent conduct and the claim for payment from the state, and liability will not necessarily attach to any allegation of wrongdoing that ultimately winds its way to a Medicaid claim. Because the Louisiana statute bears similarities with false claims act statutes in other jurisdictions, this is a significant ruling for manufacturers defending false marketing claims elsewhere.
Posted by Jaime Jones and Brenna Jenny
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently reaffirmed that mere regulatory noncompliance, standing alone, is not sufficient to establish False Claims Act liability for claims submitted to Medicare. Rather, the court held, a relator must allege facts tying a defendant’s alleged conduct to Medicare’s expectations regarding material conditions of payment. See United States ex rel. Ketroser v. Mayo Found., No. 12-3206 (8th Cir. Sept. 4, 2013).
In the Ketroser case, relators alleged that the defendant violated the FCA when it submitted one written report, rather than two, as part of a pathology analysis incorporating a two-stage testing process. According to relators, because the CPT codes for the tests were both included in a section of the Medicare Codebook that required “reporting,” Medicare expected Mayo, to create two separate written reports. Mayo responded that it created a written report of the first test, and more broadly “reported” the results of the second test through oral communications between physicians and supplemental written comments as needed.
The court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the claim based on relators’ failure to submit any “specific evidence” that Medicare considered separate written reports to be a material condition of payment. In this regard, the court joined other Circuits, including the Second, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth, in holding that pleading a “claim of regulatory noncompliance” does not satisfy FCA pleading requirements.
Furthermore, the court suggested that even if Medicare had expected a separate written report as a condition of payment, the Codebook’s “reporting” requirement was ambiguous, and Mayo’s reasonable interpretation negated any inference that Mayo had “knowingly” submitted a false claim. As other courts have held (see related posts here and here), the Eighth Circuit reiterated that where a defendant’s “interpretation of the applicable law is a reasonable” one, relators fail to plead the requisite scienter under the FCA.
Posted by Ellyce Cooper and Patrick Kennell
In May of 2009, DOJ and HHS partnered to establish the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) to “focus efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid financial fraud through enhanced cooperation.” The latest settlement to come out of this partnership was for $26 million against a network of hospitals in Florida — Shands Healthcare. (United States of America and the State of Florida ex rel. Terry L. Myers v. Shands Healthcare, et al., No. 3:08-cv-441-J-16 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 30, 2008).
Six of Shands Healthcare’s Florida hospitals were defendants in a qui tam FCA lawsuit filed by the president of a healthcare consulting firm. The crux of Relator’s fraud based claims was that the hospitals billed Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE “for inpatient procedures that should have been billed as outpatient services.”
The settlement will be split between federal agencies and the State of Florida, with the vast majority going to federal agencies. The realtor’s portion of the recovery has yet to be determined.
DOJ and HHS took the opportunity to again emphasize their “tireless” effort to “seek justice” in healthcare fraud cases. The DOJ Press Release providing more details on the settlement is available here. Note that since January 2009, DOJ has recovered $10.8 billion from cases involving alleged fraud against federal health care programs.