Welcome to Original Source: The Sidley Austin False Claims Act Blog

The False Claims Act (FCA) has long been a key enforcement tool for the federal government in matters involving government contracts or other expenditures of government funds. FCA enforcement has traditionally focused primarily on two industries receiving a substantial amount of government funds: healthcare and defense and other government contractors. Recently, however, FCA enforcement has expanded to other industries, including financial services. Through the False Claims Act Blog, lawyers in Sidley’s White Collar, Healthcare, FDA, Government Contracting, Financial Services, Appellate, and other practices will provide timely updates on new and interesting developments relating to FCA enforcement and litigation.

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.

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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.

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HHS Memo Announces Violations of Sub-Regulatory Payment Rules and Guidance Cannot Form the Basis of Enforcement Actions

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).

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District Court Determines That CMS Requirements That Have Not Been Established Through Rulemaking Cannot Be Enforced in a False Claims Act Case

In a landmark decision that could have significance for any False Claims Act case in the Medicare context, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania recently held that Medicare reimbursement criteria must be established through notice-and-comment rulemaking if they are to be the basis of a viable FCA suit.  Polansky v. Executive Health Resources, Inc., No. 12-4239, 2019 WL 5790061 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 5, 2019).  Because the relator was relying on a reimbursement policy that was found solely in a CMS manual, the Eastern District held that the relator’s claims failed “as a matter of law.”

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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.

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Ninth Circuit Invited To Weigh In On Public Disclosure Bar, Falsity

On October 8, 2019, a judge in the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted a stay and certified two questions for interlocutory appeal in relator Integra Med Analytics’ FCA suit against Providence Health & Services (“Providence”), its affiliates, and J.A. Thomas and Associates, Inc. (“JATA”), a clinical documentation consultant.  The case, on which we have previously reported here, involves allegations 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.

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Court Grants DOJ’s Motion, Consistent with the Granston Memo, to Dismiss Patient Support Services FCA Litigation

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.

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