Tag Archives: medicare

Duke University Health System Pays $1 Million to Settle Allegations of False Claims in Whistleblower Lawsuit

1 Indest-2008-1By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On March 21, 2014, Duke University Health System in Raleigh, North Carolina, settled a whistleblower/qui tam lawsuit, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The lawsuit, filed in 2012, stated that the three-hospital academic medical center is alleged to have fraudulently inflated its Medicare bills by unbundling a number of cardiac services and billing for physician assistants’ (PAs) time illegally. Duke University Health System agreed to pay $1 million to resolve these allegations.

Click here to read the press release from the DOJ.

Duke University Health System Accused of Submitting False Claims to Federal Health Care Programs.

According to the complaint, the lawsuit was originally filed by a former health care bill coder and quality-control auditor for Duke’s revenue-cycle subsidiary, Duke Patient Revenue Management Organization. The former employee accused Duke University Health System of allegedly making false claims to Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE by billing the government for services provided by PAs during coronary artery bypass surgeries when the PAs were acting as surgical assistants, which is not allowed. The whistleblower also alleged the medical center increased billing by unbundling claims when the unbundling was not appropriate. These unbundled claims were associated with cardiac and anesthesia services, according to the complaint.

To read the whistleblower’s complaint filed in December of 2012, click here.

According to the DOJ, the claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

Whistleblowers Who Report Fraud and False Claims Against the Government Are Usually Employees.

Doctors, nurses or staff employees working for hospitals, nursing homes, medical groups, home health agencies or others, often become aware of questionable activities. They are sometimes even asked to participate in it. In many cases the activity may amount to health care fraud.

It does not matter who you are. You may even be actively involved in the wrongdoing. This does not disqualify you from reporting the false claims activity or receiving a reward for doing so. In order to encourage employees with knowledge of fraudulent activity to come forward, the government will usually not seek to prosecute or punish that person in any way.

Normally the government will want to see some actual documentation of the claims submitted by the hospital or other institution. Usually physicians, nurses or staff employees have access to such documentation. Whistleblowers are urged to come forward as soon as possible. In many circumstances, documentation that shows the fraud “disappears” or cannot be located once it is known that a company is under investigation.

Of course, the larger the amount of money the government has been defrauded the more likely it will be that the government will be interested in pursuing the case and the larger the reward the whistleblower will receive if there is a recovery.

To read more on whistleblower cases, read my previous blogs. Click here for part one, and click here for part two.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Qui Tam or Whistleblower Cases.

Attorneys with The Health Law Firm also represent health care professionals and health facilities in qui tam or whistleblower cases both in defending such claims and in bringing such claims. We have developed relationships with recognized experts in health care accounting, health care financing, utilization review, medical review, filling, coding, and other services that assist us in such matters. We have represented doctors, nurses and others as relators in bringing qui tam or whistleblower cases, as well.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think of this settlement? Do you think whistleblower lawsuits are becoming more common? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Carlson, Joe. “Duke Pays $1 Million to Settle Whistle-Blower Case.” Modern Healthcare. (March 25, 2014). From: http://bit.ly/1g3W7yw

Department of Justice. “Duke University Health System, Inc. Agrees to Pay $1 Million For Alleged False Claims Submitted to Federal Health Care Programs.” Department of Justice. (March 21, 2014). From: http://www.justice.gov/usao/nce/press/2014/2014-mar-21.html

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Puts Recovery Audit Contractor Program on Hold

4 Indest-2009-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On February 18, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced it is in the procurement process for the next round of Recovery Audit Program contracts. This means the program is, for the time being, on hold while CMS awards new contracts. According to CMS, it will select new vendors to continue the Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) program, which is responsible for detecting improper Medicare payments. It is expected that this pause will also be used to refine and improve the RAC program. In the announcement it was not disclosed how long the program would be on hold.

Click here to read the announcement from CMS.

This news comes months after CMS revealed an enormous backlog of RAC appeals. The backup is so bad, providers are not able to submit new cases until the existing backlog clears, which could take two years or more.

Current Contracts Extended to Conclude Appeals.

According to Modern Healthcare, CMS extended its contracts with the four current vendors until December 31, 2015, for administrative and transition activities. These contracts were to end on February 7, 2014. The purpose of the extension is to allow the RACs to handle and wind down appeals. To read the entire article from Modern Healthcare, click here.

For providers this means a lull in additional documentation requests (ADRs), however it is important to remember RAC audits are not going away.

Dates to Remember.

Providers should note the important dates below:

- February 21, 2014, was the last day a Recovery Auditor could send a postpayment ADR;
- February 28, 2014, is the last day a Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) may send prepayment ADRs for the Recovery Auditor Prepayment Review Demonstration; and
- June 1, 2014, is the last day a Recovery Auditor may send improper payment files to the MACs for adjustment.

Backlog of RAC Appeals Worse Than Ever.

The RAC appeals process has become so overloaded that in December 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA) notified hospitals, doctors, nursing homes and other health care providers that the agency would be suspending acting on new requests for hearings. Health care providers were told they would not be able to submit any new appeals until the existing backlog clears, which could take two or more years. To read more on the backlog of RAC appeals, click here for my previous blog.

RAC Audits Will Be Back.

In the first three months of the fiscal year 2013, RACs recouped more than $2.2 billion from providers due to what the RACs deemed were overpayments. With money coming in, RAC audits are not going away. It has become common for state and federal regulators to enforce even the smallest violations, resulting in investigations, monetary fines and penalties. If found in violation, you will not only have to pay fines and face disciplinary action, you will also lose revenue because you will have to spend time dealing with the investigation, instead of practicing medicine. Whether you are trying to prevent Medicare and Medicaid audits, Zone Program Integrity Contractor (ZPIC) audits, or any other kind of healthcare audits, there are steps you can implement in your practice today that may save you down the line. Click here to read more on self audits.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late; Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Medicare and Medicaid Issues Now.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S. They also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.

For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Comments?

What do you think about the RAC program being put on hold? What do you think CMS should do to improve the program? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Kutscher, Beth. “CMS Recovery Audits on Hold as Contractors Wrestle Big Backlog.” Modern Healthcare. (February 20, 2014). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20140220/NEWS/302209968/cms-recovery-audits-on-hold-as-contractors-deal-with-big-backlog

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Recent Updates.” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (February 18, 2014). From: http://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Monitoring-Programs/Medicare-FFS-Compliance-Programs/Recovery-Audit-Program/Recent_Updates.html

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

 

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Doctors’ Medicare Payment Data to be Released Spring 2014

6 Indest-2008-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

For years, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has kept private its records on Medicare claims payments made to individual physicians. However, beginning March 18, 2014, the government may disclose the payment data on a case-by-case basis. According to CMS, this directive is a push by the Obama Administration to crack down on doctors who are making a habit out of repeatedly overcharging Medicare. On January 15, 2014, CMS stated that recalcitrant providers could face civil fines and exclusion from Medicare and other federal health care programs. According to CMS, a recalcitrant provider is defined as one who is abusing the program and not changing inappropriate behavior even after extensive education to address these behaviors.

Data Made Public to Fight Healthcare Fraud.

According to The New York Times, federal officials estimate that 10 percent (10%) of payments in the fee-for-service Medical program are improper. Supporters of releasing the data say it could help identify patterns of waste and fraud. The Medicare payment data, combined with data from other sources, could be enormously useful to consumers, researchers and whistleblowers analyzing patterns of health spending.

Physician groups express caution in Medicare releasing individual payment information, saying it could lead to public misunderstanding and unintended consequences, according to The New York Times.

Click here to read the entire article from The New York Times.

Data Prohibited From Being Release for Past Thirty Years.

In 1979, a federal district judge in Jacksonville, Florida, issued an injunction that prohibited Medicare officials from releasing what Medicare pays individual doctors. The ruling, in a lawsuit filed by doctors, said such disclosure would violate the Privacy Act and constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. In May 2013, the judge lifted the injunction.

According to a MedPage Today article, the decision does not require the wholesale release of Medicare payment data but allows Medicare officials and courts to consider the merits of each request.

To read the entire article from MedPage Today, click here.

Healthcare Providers Should Prepare for Possible Public Scrutiny.

Although it remains to be seen how CMS will implement its new policy, health care providers should be prepared for the possibility that their coding, billing and reimbursement patterns will become the subject of public scrutiny, particularly those providers in specialized areas including internal medicine, radiation oncology and ophthalmology.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Healthcare Fraud Cases.

Attorneys with The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program. We also handle Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S.

Our attorneys also represent health care professionals and health facilities in qui tam or whistleblower cases both in defending such claims and in bringing such claims. We have developed relationships with recognized experts in health care accounting, health care financing, utilization review, medical review, filling, coding, and other services that assist us in such matters. We have represented doctors, nurses and others as relators in bringing qui tam or whistleblower cases, as well.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think about the decision to release payment data for physicians? How will this effect health care providers? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Pear, Robert. “Doctors Abusing Medicare Face Fines and Expulsion.” The New York Times. (January 25, 2014). From: http://nyti.ms/1cpIaOg

Pittman, David. “Medicare to Release Doc Pay Data This Spring.” MedPage Today. (January 14, 2014). From: http://bit.ly/1ndaCHu

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

 

 

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Miami Medical Clinic Owner Pleads Guilty to $20 Million in Medicare Fraud

6 Indest-2008-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The owner of a Miami-based medical clinic pleaded guilty on January 8, 2014, for her involvement in several health care fraud schemes that allegedly cost the Medicare program around $20 million. The schemes allegedly involved fraudulent billing for home health care services and therapy prescriptions to patients that may not have required them, according to the Associated Press. The owner operated Merfi Corp., a medical clinic that employed physicians, physician assistants and other medical professionals authorized to dispense prescriptions for home health care services.

Click here to read the Associated Press article.

The medical clinic owner faces up to 10 years in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced in March 2014.

Medicare Fraud Scheme Involved Kickbacks and Brides.

According to an article on Home Health Care News, through Merfi, the owner and her co-conspirators were allegedly given kickbacks and brides for providing fraudulent home health and therapy prescriptions and other medical documentation to owners and operators of other home health agencies and patient recruiters. The fraudulent documents were then used to bill Medicare.

To read the entire article from Home Health Care News, click here.

Case Investigated by Medicare Fraud Strike Task Force.

This case was investigated by the Medicare Fraud Strike Task Force. This task force has charged more than 1,700 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $5.5 billion since the agency’s inception in March 2007. To learn more about the Medicare Fraud Strike Force’s anti-fraud efforts, click here to read a previous blog.

What You Need to Know about Medicare and Medicaid Audits.

I previously wrote a two-part blog on the increased number of Medicare and Medicaid audits being initiated against health professionals who treat home health care, assisted living facility (ALF) and skilled nursing facility (SNF) residents. This area of medical practice has been identified as one fraught with fraud and abuse. To learn more on the areas being targeted and how to respond to different types of audits click here for the first blog, and click here for the second.

Physicians, Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants Must Check Out Their Employers.

I have previously written blogs warning licensed health practitioners about illegal health care clinics. Often the individuals involved in fraudulent acts will use an unlicensed health clinic as a vehicle to process false claims. Licensed health professionals should jealously protect their Medicare and Medicaid provider numbers and make sure that they do not allow their name or numbers to be used in false billing activities. Check out any company or corporation that employs you to be sure it is properly licensed, as necessary. To read a previous blog I wrote on unlicensed health clinics, click here.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late; Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Medicare and Medicaid Issues Now.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S. They also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.

For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Comments?

Do you think similar schemes are fairly common? Do you think we will see more news stories like this with the increased anti-fraud efforts of the Medicare Fraud Strike Task Force? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Associated Press. “South Florida Woman Guilty in $20M Medicare Fraud Scheme.” Miami Herald. (January 8, 2014.) From: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/08/3858269/fla-woman-guilty-in-20m-medicare.html

Oliva, Jason. “Miami Clinic Owner Pleads Guilty to $20 Million Home Health Fraud.” Home Health Care News. (January 8, 2013). From: http://bit.ly/1h87Xv4

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

CMS Delays Stage 3 Meaningful Use for Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs

MLS Blog Label 2By Michael L. Smith, R.R.T., J.D., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law, and George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On December 6, 2013, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a revised timeline for the implementation of Stage 3 meaningful use measures for the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs.

According to CMS, Stage 2 will be extended through 2016, and Stage 3 will begin in 2017 for those hospitals, physicians and other eligible providers that have completed at least two years of Stage 2 meaningful use. These changes affect two groups of eligible providers: providers who started Stage 1 in 2011, and who are currently scheduled to start Stage 3 in 2016, and those providers who started Stage 1 in 2012, and who are scheduled to start Stage 3 in 2016.

This announcement does not change when providers must start Stage 2, nor does it affect the requirement for hospitals and critical access hospitals to upgrade to EHR technology to receive incentive payments. The Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive programs are staged in three steps with increasing requirements for participation. Eligible providers who do not meet meaningful use requirements will still be penalized with reduced Medicare reimbursement starting January 1, 2015.

To read more from CMS, click here.

Reasons for the Timeline Change.

According to Modern Healthcare, CMS stated that the goal of the timeline change is two-fold. First, to allow CMS and the Office of National Coordinator (ONC) to focus on assisting providers to meet Stage 2 demands for patient engagement, interoperability and information exchange, as well as use data collected during the phase to inform policy decisions for Stage 3.

CMS expects that it will release a notice of proposed rulemaking for Stage 3 in the fall of 2014, and the corresponding ONC notice for proposed rulemaking for the 2017 Edition of the ONC Standards and Certification Criteria will also be released at that time. Click here to read the entire article from Modern Healthcare.

What this Means for You.

If you begin participation with your first year of Stage 1 for the Medicare EHR Incentive Program in 2014:

- You must begin your 90 days of Stage 1 of meaningful use no later than July 1, 2014 and submit attestation by October 1, 2014 in order to avoid the 2015 payment adjustment.

If you have completed one year of Stage 1 of meaningful use:

- You will demonstrate a second year of Stage 1 of meaningful use in 2014 for a three-month reporting period fixed to the quarter for Medicare or any 90 days for Medicaid.
- You will demonstrate Stage 2 of meaningful use for two years (2015 and 2016).
- You will begin Stage 3 of meaningful use in 2017.

If you have completed two or more years of Stage 1 of meaningful use:

- You will still demonstrate Stage 2 of meaningful use in 2014 for a three-month reporting period fixed to the quarter for Medicare or any 90 days for Medicaid.
- You will demonstrate Stage 2 of meaningful use for three years (2014, 2015 and 2016).
- You will begin Stage 3 of meaningful use in 2017.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physicians and medical groups on EHR issues. It also represents pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, nurses and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving the DEA, Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think of the revised timeline for the implementation of Stage 3 meaningful use? Will this affect you? If so, how? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Conn, Joseph. “Meaningful-Use Deadline Pushed Back One Year.” Modern Healthcare. (December 6, 2013). From: http://bit.ly/1kkAtsC

Tagalicod, Robert and Reider, Jacob. “Progress on Adoption of Electronic Health Records.” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (December 13, 2013). From: http://www.cms.gov/eHealth/ListServ_Stage3Implementation.html

About the Authors: Michael L. Smith, R.R.T., J.D., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Adventist Health System Settles Whistleblower Lawsuit

8 Indest-2008-5By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On December 18, 2013, Adventist Health System/Sunbelt Inc., the parent company of Orlando-based Florida Hospital, settled a whistleblower lawsuit, according to court documents. The whistleblower lawsuit, filed in 2010, stated that seven Adventist hospitals in Florida overbilled the federal government between 1995 and 2009, allegedly resulting in tens of millions of dollars in false claims, according to an article in the Orlando Sentinel and other sources.

Click here to read the Order of Dismissal.

Previous reports from the Orlando Sentinel stated that the lawsuit could have damages of more than $100 million, but the details of the settlement are not yet available.

Alleged Details in the Case Against Adventist Health System.

The lawsuit claims that seven Adventist hospitals in Florida allegedly used improper coding to overbill Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare. In addition, the lawsuit alleges the hospitals also overbilled for a drug used in MRI scans and billed for computer analyses that were never performed.

The plaintiffs are a bill-coding and compliance officer, and a radiologist that were either employed or affiliated with Florida Hospital Orlando between 1995 and 2009. They allege the discrepancies occurred during those years.

To read the entire False Claims Act complaint filed, click here.

Hospitals that allegedly partook in the overbilling include: Florida Hospital Orlando, Florida Hospital Altamonte, Florida Hospital East Orlando, Florida Hospital Apopka, Florida Hospital Celebration Health, Florida Hospital Kissimmee and Winter Park Memorial Hospital.

This case was scheduled to go to trial in December 2013.

Click here to read more on this case from my previous blog.

Most Qui Tam Claims Filed by Employees.

From our review of qui tam cases that have been unsealed by the government, it appears most of these are filed by physicians, nurses or hospital staff employees who have some knowledge of false billing or inappropriate coding taking place. Normally the government will want to see some actual documentation of the claims submitted by the hospital or other institution. Usually physicians, nurses or staff employees have access to such documentation. Whistleblowers are urged to come forward as soon as possible. In many circumstances, documentation that shows the fraud “disappears” or cannot be located once it is known that a company is under investigation.

To learn more on whistleblower/qui tam cases, read our two-part blog. Click here for part one, and click here for part two.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Qui Tam or Whistleblower Cases.

Attorneys with The Health Law Firm also represent health care professionals and health facilities in qui tam or whistleblower cases both in defending such claims and in bringing such claims. We have developed relationships with recognized experts in health care accounting, health care financing, utilization review, medical review, filling, coding, and other services that assist us in such matters. We have represented doctors, nurses and others as relators in bringing qui tam or whistleblower cases, as well.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

Individuals working in the health care industry often become aware of questionable activities. Often they are even asked to participate in it. In many cases the activity may amount to fraud on the government. Has this ever happened to you? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Aboraya, Abraham. “Adventist Health Whistleblower Lawsuit Settled.” Orlando Business Journal. (December 19, 2013). From: http://www.bizjournals.com/orlando/blog/2013/12/adventist-health-whistleblower-lawsuit.html

United States of America and State of Florida ex rel., Amanda Dittman and charlotte Elenberger, M.D. vs Adventist Health System/Sunbelt, Inc. Case No. 6:10-cv-1062-Orl-28GJK. Order of Dismissal. (December 18, 2013). From: http://assets.bizjournals.com/orlando/pdf/document.pdf

Jameson, Marni. “Whistleblower Lawsuit Alleges Florida Hospital Filed Millions in False Claims.” Orlando Sentinel. (August 8, 2012). From: http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-08-08/health/os-whistleblower-lawsuit-florida-hospital-20120808_1_adventist-health-suit-claims-whistleblower-lawsuit

Amanda Dittman and Charlotte Elenberger, M.D. v. Adventist Health Systems/Sunbelt, Inc. No. 6:10-cv-01062-JA-GJK. False Claims Act Complaint. (July 15, 2010). From: http://www.thehealthlawfirm.com/uploads/whistleblower-lawsuit-adventist.pdf

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

 

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

ZPICs Seek “Voluntary” Agreements from Physicians for Auto-Denial Edits for Home Health Services

MLS Blog Label 2By Michael L. Smith, R.R.T., J.D., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law, and George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the primary purpose of Zone Program Integrity Contractors (ZPICs) is to investigate instances of suspected fraud, waste, and abuse.  The specific actions employed by ZPICs to fulfil this mission include:

-  Investigating potential fraud and abuse for CMS administrative action or referral to law enforcement;
-  Conducting investigations in accordance with the priorities established by Center for Program Integrity’s (CPI) Fraud Prevention System;
-  Performing medical review, as appropriate;
-  Performing data analysis in coordination with CPI’s Fraud Prevention System;
-  Identifying the need for administrative actions such as payment suspensions and prepayment or auto-denial edits; and,
-  Referring cases to law enforcement for consideration and initiation of civil or criminal prosecution.

However, it appears that some of the ZPICs have been overly proactive in identifying the need for payments suspensions and are asking providers to voluntarily agree to payment suspensions for certain claims.

Click here to read more on ZPICs from CMS.

Physicians Being Targeted by ZPICs for Auto-Denial Edits.

Recently, physicians have been approached by ZPICs and asked to voluntarily agree to a payment edit on their National Provider Identifier (NPI) that would automatically deny any claim for payment for home health services that listed the physician as the ordering, attending, or referring physician.  A ZPIC requesting a specific physician to voluntarily cease ordering any home health services appears to go further than identifying the need for administrative action including a payment suspension.

The activities a ZPIC may use to fulfil its obligations to CMS are:

-  Request medical records and documentation;
-  Conduct interviews;
-  Conduct onsite visits;
-  Identify the need for a prepayment or auto-denial edits and refer these edits to the Medicare Administrative Contractors (MAC) for installation;
-  Withhold payments; and,
-  Refer cases to law enforcement.

The following functions are reserved for the MACs and not functions of the ZPICs.

-  Provider outreach and education;
-  Recouping monies lost to the Trust Fund (the ZPICs identify these         situations and refer them to the MACs for the recoupment);
-  Medical review not
-  Complaint screening; for benefit integrity purposes;
-  Claims appeals of ZPIC decisions;
-  Claim payment determination;
-  Claims pricing; and
-  Auditing provider cost reports.

While a ZPIC may refer a provider to the MAC for the imposition of an auto-denial edit, some ZPICs seem to have taken this process a step further and are attempting to have physicians voluntarily agree to the auto-denial edits.

Issues with Agreeing to an Auto-Denial Edit.

A physician who voluntarily agrees to an auto-denial edit could create significant problems for his or her patients and practice.  A physician agreeing to an auto-denial edit would need to cease ordering home health services and would need to refer the patients that need home health services to another physician.  Any physician that has been approached by a ZPIC seeking a voluntary auto-denial edit should consult competent legal counsel before agreeing to the auto-denial edit.

We have heard if ZPIC representatives allegedly intimidating or attempting to intimidate physicians who routinely order home health services for patients into agreeing to such auto-denial edits.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late; Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Medicare and Medicaid Issues Now.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S. They also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.

For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Comments?

Have you heard of these auto-denial edit requests from ZPICs? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

About the Authors: Michael L. Smith, R.R.T., J.D., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

MedPAC Wants to Hold Accountable Care Organizations More Accountable

Lance Leider headshotBy Lance O. Leider, J.D., The Health Law Firm

As the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) prepares to designate the next class of accountable care organizations (ACOs), the agency sought the advice and input of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) on how to proceed.  MedPAC is an independent Congressional Agency established to advise the U.S. Congress on issues affecting Medicare.

Click here to read our previous blog on the background and purpose of ACOs.

MedPAC Suggests All Medicare Shared Savings Program ACOs Join the Two-Sided Risk Model.

In response to the request from the CMS, MedPAC reiterated its previous position that it would like to see all Medicare ACOs take on greater financial risk.  As it presently stands, some Medicare-contracted ACOs do not share in the risks associated with the ACOs patients’ healthcare costs exceeding certain target ranges.  Even though those ACOs do not bear any financial risk if the goals are not met, they nevertheless stand to benefit if they are.

MedPAC found that the one-sided risk model being used by most Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) ACOs to be insufficient to reach the goals of the MSSP.

Specifically, MedPAC wants to see all MSSP ACOs in the two-sided risk model.  That model requires the ACO to reimburse Medicare for some of the costs which exceeded the target ranges. This pressure is important to note because only 13 of the 32 Pioneer ACOs generated enough savings to Medicare to qualify for MSSP savings payments.

Understand an ACO Agreement Before You Sign.

As we see more and more physicians being approached to join or form ACOs, it is crucial to understand exactly what type of arrangement you are getting into.

Many ACO contracts we see are simply for participation as a provider in the organization.  However, some of the contracts we see require that the physician make a financial investment in the ACO or otherwise require that the physician pay a “pro rata” share of any penalty assessed by CMS.

Current ACO participation and recruiting is something akin to the gold rush of the nineteenth century.  Everyone is rushing to stake a claim in fear of being left out.  Be careful about what kind of an agreement you sign and be sure that you understand the long-term consequences of tying your practice to an as-yet unproven model. To read our previous blog on the first year pioneer ACO results, click here.

If you are approached to join an ACO, or are considering signing a participation agreement/contract with one, make sure to read the contract carefully and consult with an experienced healthcare attorney.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced With Healthcare Business Practices.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physician groups and practices with issues involving establishing, licensing, selling, merging, and intergroup affiliation.  If you are considering establishing an ACO or have been approached to become a participant in one, you can contact The Health Law Firm at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 or you can visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think of MedPAC’s position on ACOs? Have you considered joining an ACO? Why or why not? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

About the Author: Lance O. Leider is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

The American Academy of Family Physicians Releases Third List for Choosing Wisely Campaign

IndestBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On September 24, 2013, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) released its third list of commonly prescribed tests and procedures that may not be necessary. This list is part of the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation’s Choosing Wisely campaign.

The Choosing Wisely Campaign was initiated to give patients a catalog of procedures, tests and treatments that have been overused, misused or have been identified as ineffective. Since its launch in April 2012, more than fifty (50) medical specialty societies have created lists of procedures, tests and drug treatments that deserve to be questioned before a physician orders them or patients accept them.

The purpose is to help patients become more discriminating about what care they receive. Physicians and health care providers also need to use this information to review the latest research and use that information to help avoid any litigation.

I’ve previously written about the Choosing Wisely campaign. Click here for part one and here for part two.

AAFP’s Updated List of Commonly Prescribed Tests and Procedures That May Not be Necessary.

1. Do not prescribe antibiotics for otitis media in children aged 2-12 years with non-severe symptoms where the observation option is reasonable.

2. Do not perform voiding cystourethrogram routinely in first febrile urinary tract infection in children aged 2-24 months.

3. Do not routinely screen for prostate cancer using a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test or digital rectal exam. Evidence suggests that PSA-based screening leads to an overdiagnosis of prostate tumors.

4. Do not screen adolescents for scoliosis. Potential harms include unnecessary follow-up visits resulting from false-positive test results.

5. Do not require a pelvic exam or other physical exam to prescribe oral contraceptive medications. Hormonal contraceptives are safe, effective, and well tolerated by most women.

Click here to read the AAFP’s previous recommendations.

Health Care Providers and Professionals’ Responsibility to Patients.

A doctor should have the knowledge, skill, training, and confidence to know when such tests and procedures are not warranted. Also, a health care professional or provider should not be swayed by increasing his/her personal bottom line. Specifically, physicians that work in a fee-for-service setting that rewards doctors for performing more procedures are at risk for ordering unnecessary tests or procedures. If a physician persists in ordering these tests solely for the means of increasing profits, he or she should be penalized. If not, the physician should be able to justify them.

Laws Protect Patients from Unnecessary Testing.

This situation may have the side effect of promoting additional litigation against doctors, healthcare clinics and hospitals that provide the unnecessary tests and procedures. Many states have laws that prohibit unnecessary tests and procedures and sanction those who provide them. For instance, Section 766.111, Florida Statutes, provides a private cause of action by a patient against a health provider who orders or furnishes such “unnecessary” diagnostic tests, but unlike other tort and medical malpractice statutes, it allows the prevailing party in such a case to recover attorney’s fees and costs. This law may by itself promote litigation in the face of the lists of tests produced by the specialty groups in the Choosing Wisely campaign.

Look for More Whistleblower/Qui Tam Cases.

As this list continues to grow, I believe that we will see more qui tam/whistleblower and false claims cases.

Qui tam cases have been brought under the federal False Claims Act for the recovery of Medicare payments from hospitals, physicians, nursing homes, diagnostic testing facilities, clinical laboratories, radiology facilities and many other types of healthcare providers. These cases allege that a false claim was submitted to the government. If the test or procedure was unnecessary, then it seems almost axiomatic that a claim for it is false. The plaintiff bringing such cases receives a percentage of the recovery, which often amounts to millions of dollars in successful cases.

Most states now have similar false claims act or qui tam laws providing similar causes of action and recoveries to individual plaintiffs in the case of state Medicaid payments as well.

Because medical necessity is a requirement for practically every Medicare and Medicaid service, as well as most services paid by private health insurers, the lists provided by the specialty may very well be exhibit one in future lawsuits.

We’ve recently written about a couple of whistleblower/qui tam cases stemming from unnecessary procedures. To read a blog on a group of Florida radiation oncology service providers accused of performing unnecessary and improperly supervised procedures, click here. To read a blog on Winter Park Urology’s settlement over allegations stemming from radiation therapy used to treat cancer patients, click here.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, nurses and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.
To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

As a health care professional or provider what do you think of the Choosing Wisely campaign? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Hand, Larry. “AAFP Releases Third Choosing Wisely List.” Medscape. (September 25, 2013). From: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/811638

Carman, Diane. “Useless, Costly Medical Procedures Targeted by Choosing Wisely Campaign.” Health Policy Solutions. (October 15, 2013). From: http://www.healthpolicysolutions.org/2013/10/15/useless-costly-medical-procedures-targeted-by-choosing-wisely-campaign/

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Tuomey Healthcare System Ordered to Pay a Reduced $238 Million in Damages for Allegedly Violating Stark Law and False Claims Act

LOL Blog Label 2Lance O. Leider, J.D., The Health Law Firm and George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On September 30, 2013, a federal judge ordered Tuomey Healthcare System in Sumter, South Carolina, to pay $238 million in penalties and fines. The hospital system is accused of paying doctors to refer Medicare patients for treatments at the hospital, according to a number of media sources. The judge granted the government’s request to impose Stark law penalties and False Claims Act fines. The lawsuit against Tuomey was initially filed in 2005, by a whistle-blowing physician.

This corrected fine actually lowers the amount originally ordered by the federal judge, reducing it by $39 million. The original judgement was for approximately $277 million. The reduction in the damages was an acknowledgment that there was an error in the calculation of damages by the judge in the case, who awarded more than the government asked for.

Click here to read the entire ruling from the federal judge.

After the judge announced the fines, Tuomey began preparing to file an appeal, according to an article on Modern Healthcare. It is alleged that the hospital may be looking to settle.

Judge Ordered Hospital System to Pay Fines for Violating Stark Law and False Claims Act.

In a 2005 federal whistleblower or qui tam lawsuit, a Tuomey physician stated that a series of 19 deal contracts with specialty physicians in the area violated the federal ban on compensating doctors based on the volume and value of patient business they refer, according to Modern Healthcare. This is considered to be a financial conflict, illegal under federal laws.

The hospital has twice lost its case in U.S. District Court. A 2010, jury came to a $45 million split verdict that was overturned on appeal. In May 2013, a second jury found the hospital responsible for more violations than in the first trial, deciding that the hospital violated the Stark law and the False Claims Act.

It’s alleged that between 2005 and 2009, Tuomey collected $39 million in fraudulent Medicare claims.

To read the Modern Healthcare article, click here.

Open to Settlement.

According to WLTX, the CBS affiliate in Sumter, South Carolina, Tuomey is filing a notice of appeal. It is expected the hospital system is open to settle. According to a former attorney with the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Inspector General’s Office (OIG), it will be up to the government if they will settle. The former attorney also stated that with most of the civil litigation division on furlough it might take some time.

Complying with Stark and Other Anti-Fraud Laws.

The federal government has several tools in its toolbox to combat Medicare fraud. Among those are the Stark Act, Anti-Kickback laws, and Civil Monetary Penalty Laws. Each of these typically focuses on a particular type of behavior that is prone to abuse by health care providers.

Primarily, the Stark laws exist to combat the problems that can arise from physician self-referrals. Self-referrals are cases in which a physician orders a test or service and refers the patient to a provider in which the referring physician has a financial interest. This second provider will then bill Medicare for the service, essentially allowing the referring physician to cash in twice. Click here to read our previous blog on compliance with the Stark law.

Paying Kickbacks or Providing Things of Value in Exchange for Patient Referral Now Recognized as Basis for False Claims Act Cases.

U.S. v. Tuomey is just one of several different cases that has recently been decided that allows qui tam or whistleblower recoveries based on providing kickbacks for patient referrals. “Kickbacks” can include any thing or service of value. It can include, for example, tickets to ball games, free meals, sets of surgical scrubs, gift cards, appliances and free medical supplies. A “referral” can include an actual referral of a patient, a consultation to another physician, an order for x-rays, labs or other diagnostic testing, a prescription for medication, medical equipment or other supplies or services, an order for home health or nursing home services or other medical services.

It is the giving of something of value in exchange for the referral that violates the Stark Act and, many times, state laws. The theory is that this unnecessarily increases the amount of medical services that the government pays for without there being any actual medical need for them.

Now, under the decision in Tuomey and other cases, the claims for medical services (and equipment) that were submitted when the services (and equipment) were based on kickbacks, are considered to be false claims. Whistleblowers (qui tam plaintiffs or “relators”) can now file False Claims Act suits based on these theories and share in the government’s recovery. For example, and by way of demonstration only, if the person who filed the qui tam case in Tuomey received only 20% of the amount awarded to the government, that individual would receive approximately $47.6 million as their share. This is still big money to some of us.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Stark Compliance.

If you are involved in referring or providing DHS it is crucial that your arrangements are reviewed for compliance with Stark and other anti-fraud laws.

Violations of these laws can carry severe financial and criminal penalties. One of the best ways to avoid these sanctions is to have your current or potential arrangement reviewed by an attorney who is experienced in these matters.

The Health Law Firm routinely advises healthcare providers on Stark compliance issues for practitioners and providers of all types of DHS. We can advise you on the legality of a particular arrangement and can assist with remedying any perceived compliance issues.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think of this ruling? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Calson, Joe. “Out-of-Court Settlement for Tuomey may be in te Works Following Ruling Against the System.” Modern Healthcare. (October 1, 2013). From: http://bit.ly/15Lj2uF

United State of America ex rel Michael L. Drakeford, M.D. vs. Tuomey d/b/a Tuomey Healthcare System, Inc. Case Number 3:05-cv-02858-MBS. Federal Judge Order and Opinion. September 30, 2013. From: http://www.thehealthlawfirm.com/uploads/Toumey%20Case.pdf

Santaella, Tony. “Tuomey Healthcare Ordered to Pay $276 Million.” WLTX. (October 1, 2013). From: http://www.wltx.com/news/story.aspx?storyid=251321

About the Authors: Lance O. Leider is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

 “The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.