CVS long-term care pharmacy sued by DOJ over fraudulent prescribing practices

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/cvs-long-term-pharmacy-sued-by-doj-over-fraudulent-prescribing-practices/569268/

Dive Brief:

  • CVS Health and its Omnicare business are being sued by the Department of Justice over alleged fraudulent billing of Medicare and other government programs for outdated prescriptions for elderly and disabled people.
  • The DOJ suit, filed Tuesday in New York, joins whistleblower ligitation accusing Omnicare of billing federal healthcare programs for hundreds of thousands of drugs based on out-of-date prescriptions for individuals in assisted living facilities, group homes, independent living communities and other long-term care facilities between 2010 and 2018. The lawsuit seeks civil penalties and other damages.
  • “We do not believe there is merit to these claims and we intend to vigorously defend the matter in court,” CVS spokesperson Joe Goode told Healthcare Dive. “We are confident that Omnicare’s dispensing practices will be found to be consistent with state requirements and industry-accepted practices.”

Dive Insight:

The suit alleges Omnicare, the nation’s largest long-term care pharmacy, kept dispensing antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, antidepressants and other drugs based off invalid prescriptions for months, and sometimes years, without obtaining fresh scripts from patients’ doctors.

Managers at the long-term care business allegedly ignored prescription refill limitations and expiration dates and forced staff to fill prescriptions quickly, pressuring some facilities to process and dispense thousands of orders daily. When prescriptions expired, Omnicare “rolled over” the scripts, assigning them a new number, allowing the pharmacy to dispense the drug indefinitely without need for doctor involvement.

This practice allowed Omnicare to continually dispenses drugs for seniors and disabled occupants in more than 3,000 residential long-term care facilities, at an ongoing risk to their health, according to DOJ. Many of the prescription drugs were meant to treat serious conditions like dementia, depression or heart disease and have side effects when not closely monitored by a physician — particularly when taken in tandem with other medications.

The pharmacy then submitted knowingly false claims to Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE, which serves military personnel, for the illegally dispensed drugs over an eight-year period; and lied to the government about the status of the prescriptions. CVS Health senior management was also aware of the scheme, according to DOJ.

“A pharmacy’s fundamental obligation is to ensure that drugs are dispensed only under the supervision of treating doctors who monitor patients’ drug therapies,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement. “Omnicare blatantly ignored this obligation in favor drugs out the door as quickly as possible to make more money.”

The government joined the lawsuit originally brought by Uri Bassan, an Albuquerque, New Mexico pharmacist for Omnicare, filed in June 2015. The original whistleblower suit said Omnicare’s compliance department was aware of the “rolling over” process, but did nothing to stop it.

This is by no means the first time the CVS subsidiary, established in 1981 and acquired in 2015 for about $12.7 billion, has been under the federal microscope for fraud.

Omnicare has a history of friction with the DOJ
  • 2006Omnicare pays almost $50 million over improper Medicaid claims

  • 2009Omnicare shells out $98 million to settle kickback allegations

  • 2012Omnicare enters into a $50 million settlement following a DOJ investigation finding its pharmacies dispensed drugs to long-term care facility residents without valid prescriptions

  • Feb. 2014Omnicare pays the government more than $4 million to settle kickback allegations

In the May 16, 2017 suit, the government accused Omnicare of designing an automated label verification system that purposefully inflated profits by submitting claims for generic drugs different than those given to patients. CVS said that all happened before it acquired Omnicare.

​Omnicare provides pharmacy benefits for post-acute care and senior living care, including in skilled nursing facilities, hospitals and health systems and assisted living communities.

Despite the lucrative market in an aging U.S. population with complicated drug needs, Omnicare is an underperforming business in otherwise healthy times for CVS. The unit triggered a $2.2 billion goodwill impairment charge following a late 2018 test, according to CVS’ fourth quarter filing last year.

Omnicare operates 160 pharmacies in 47 states. During the eight years under investigation, Omnicare submitted more than 35 million claims for drugs dispensed to Medicare beneficiaries in assisted living facilities alone, DOJ says.

 

 

 

 

Health Care in 2019: Year in Review

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2019/health-care-2019-year-review

Health care was front and center for policymakers and the American public in 2019. An appeals court delivered a decision on the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) individual mandate. In the Democratic primaries, almost all the presidential candidates talked about health reform — some seeking to build on the ACA, others proposing to radically transform the health system. While the ACA remains the law of the land, the current administration continues to take executive actions that erode coverage and other gains. In Congress, we witnessed much legislative activity around surprise bills and drug costs. Meanwhile, far from Washington, D.C., the tech giants in Silicon Valley are crashing the health care party with promised digital transformations. If you missed any of these big developments, here’s a short overview.

 

1. A decision from appeals court on the future of the ACA: On December 18, an appeals court struck down the ACA’s individual mandate in Texas v. United States, a suit brought by Texas and 17 other states. The court did not rule on the constitutionality of the ACA in its entirety, but sent it back to a lower court. Last December, that court ruled the ACA unconstitutional based on Congress repealing the financial penalty associated with the mandate. The case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the timing of the SCOTUS ruling is uncertain, leaving the future of the ACA hanging in the balance once again.

 

2. Democratic candidates propose health reform options: From a set of incremental improvements to the ACA to a single-payer plan like Medicare for All, every Democratic candidate who is serious about running for president has something to say about health care. Although these plans vary widely, they all expand the number of Americans with health insurance, and some manage to reduce health spending at the same time.

 

3. Rise in uninsured: Gains in coverage under the ACA appear to be stalling. In 2018, an estimated 30.4 million people were uninsured, up from a low of 28.6 million in 2016, according to a recent Commonwealth Fund survey. Nearly half of uninsured adults may have been eligible for subsidized insurance through ACA marketplaces or their state’s expanded Medicaid programs.

 

4. Changes to Medicaid: States continue to look for ways to alter their Medicaid programs, some seeking to impose requirements for people to work or participate in other qualifying activities to receive coverage. In Arkansas, the only state to implement work requirements, more than 17,000 people lost their Medicaid coverage in just three months. A federal judge has halted the program in Arkansas. Other states are still applying for waivers; none are currently implementing work requirements.

 

5. Public charge rule: The administration’s public charge rule, which deems legal immigrants who are not yet citizens as “public charges” if they receive government assistance, is discouraging some legal immigrants from using public services like Medicaid. The rule impacts not only immigrants, but their children or other family members who may be citizens. DHS estimated that 77,000 could lose Medicaid or choose not to enroll. The public charge rule may be contributing to a dramatic recent increase in the number of uninsured children in the U.S.

 

6. Open enrollment numbers: As of the seventh week of open enrollment, 8.3 million people bought health insurance for 2020 on HealthCare.gov, the federal marketplace. Taking into account that Nevada transitioned to a state-based exchange, and Maine and Virginia expanded Medicaid, this is roughly equivalent to 2019 enrollment. In spite of the Trump administration’s support of alternative health plans, like short-term plans with limited coverage, more new people signed up for coverage in 2020 than in the previous year. As we await final numbers — which will be released in March — it is also worth noting that enrollment was extended until December 18 because consumers experienced issues on the website. In addition, state-based marketplaces have not yet reported; many have longer enrollment periods than the federal marketplace.

 

7. Outrage over surprise bills: Public outrage swelled this year over unexpected medical bills, which may occur when a patient is treated by an out-of-network provider at an in-network facility. These bills can run into tens of thousands of dollars, causing crippling financial problems. Congress is searching for a bipartisan solution but negotiations have been complicated by fierce lobbying from stakeholders, including private equity companies. These firms have bought up undersupplied specialty physician practices and come to rely on surprise bills to swell their revenues.

 

8. Employer health care coverage becomes more expensive: Roughly half the U.S. population gets health coverage through their employers. While employers and employees share the cost of this coverage, the average annual growth in the combined cost of employees’ contributions to premiums and their deductibles outpaced growth in U.S. median income between 2008 and 2018 in every state. This is because employers are passing along a larger proportion to employees, which means that people are incurring higher out-of-pocket expenses. Sluggish wage growth has also exacerbated the problem.

 

9. Tech companies continue inroads into health care: We are at the dawn of a new era in which technology companies may become critical players in the health care system. The management and use of health data to add value to common health care services is a prime example. Recently, Ascension, a huge national health system, reached an agreement with Google to store clinical data on 50 million patients in the tech giant’s cloud. But the devil is in the details, and tech companies and their provider clients are finding themselves enmeshed in a fierce debate over privacy, ownership, and control of health data.

 

10. House passes drug-cost legislation: For the first time, the U.S. House of Representatives passed comprehensive drug-cost-control legislation, H.R. 3. Reflecting the public’s distress over high drug prices, the legislation would require that the government negotiate the price of up to 250 prescription drugs in Medicare, limit drug manufacturers’ ability to annually hike prices in Medicare, and place the first-ever cap on out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries. This development is historic but unlikely to result in immediate change. Its prospects in the Republican–controlled Senate are dim.

 

 

 

Sutter Health to pay $575M to settle antitrust case

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/legal-regulatory-issues/sutter-health-to-pay-575m-to-settle-antitrust-case.html?origin=CFOE&utm_source=CFOE&utm_medium=email

Image result for Sutter Health to pay $575M to settle antitrust case

Sutter Health, a 24-hospital system based in Sacramento, Calif., has agreed to pay $575 million to settle an antitrust case brought by employers and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

The settlement resolves allegations that Sutter Health violated California’s antitrust laws by using its market power to overcharge patients and employer-funded health plans. The class members alleged Sutter Health’s inflated prices led to $756 million in overcharges, according to Bloomberg Law.

Under the terms of the settlement, Sutter will pay $575 million to employers, unions and others covered under the class action. The health system will also be required to make several other changes, including limiting what it charges patients for out-of-network services, halting measurers that deny patients access to lower-cost health plans, and improving access to pricing, quality and cost information, according to a Dec. 20 release from Mr. Becerra.

To ensure Sutter is complying with the terms of the settlement, the health system will be required to cooperate with a court-approved compliance monitor for at least 10 years.

Mr. Becerra said the settlement, which he called “a game changer for restoring competition,” is a warning to other organizations.

This first-in-the-nation comprehensive settlement should send a clear message to the markets: if you’re looking to consolidate for any reason other than efficiency that delivers better quality for a lower price, think again. The California Department of Justice is prepared to protect consumers and competition, especially when it comes to healthcare,” he said.

A Sutter spokesperson told The New York Times that the settlement did not acknowledge wrongdoing. “We were able to resolve this matter in a way that enables Sutter Health to maintain our integrated network and ability to provide patients with access to affordable, high-quality care,” said Flo Di Benedetto, Sutter’s senior vice president and general counsel, in a statement to The Times.

The settlement must be approved by the court. A hearing on the settlement is scheduled for Feb. 25, 2020.

 

Hospitals vs. the world

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-3635dfb2-f6b2-4986-b8f0-15acd9436ea4.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

A hospital sign with the 'H' replaced with a dollar sign

Hospitals sued the Trump administration yesterday over its requirement that they disclose their negotiated rates, the latest of the industry’s moves to protect itself from policy changes that could hurt its revenues.

Why it matters: Hospitals account for the largest portion of U.S. health costs — which patients are finding increasingly unaffordable.

The big picture: Hospitals are going to war against Trump’s price transparency push while simultaneously trying to kill Democrats’ effort to expand government-run health coverage.

  • The industry is one of the main forces behind the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, the group that’s gone on offense against “Medicare for All” and every other proposal that would extend the government’s hand in the health system, as Politico recently reported.
  • It’s also emerging victorious from blue states’ health reforms so far, which all started as proposals much more threatening to hospitals than the watered-down versions that eventually replaced them.

Between the lines: The industry has a lot to lose; even non-for-profit systems are, as my colleague Bob Herman put it, “swimming in cash.”

  • The Trump administration’s transparency measure could lead to either more pricing competition or further regulation, if it exposes egregious pricing practices.
  • And Democrats’ proposals often feature government plans that pay much lower rates than private insurance does.

Hospitals argue that the transparency measure could end up raising prices if providers with lower negotiated rates see what their competitors are getting. They also warn that Democrats’ plans could put hospitals and doctors out of business and threaten patients’ access to care.

The bottom line: Politicians are reacting to patients’ complaints about their health care costs, but the industry has historically been excellent at getting its way.

Go deeper: Hospitals winning big state battles

 

 

 

Dignity Health’s class-action settlement actually worth $700M, workers say

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/dignity-health-s-class-action-settlement-actually-worth-700m-workers-say.html

Image result for pension funding

A California federal judge refused to approve a deal in October requiring Dignity Health to pay more than $100 million to settle a class-action lawsuit accusing the San Francisco-based health system of using a religious Employee Income Retirement Security Act exemption it wasn’t entitled to. Current and former Dignity workers argue the deal is actually worth more than $700 million in court documents filed Nov. 25, according to Law360.

Dignity Health allegedly used the religious exemption to underfund its pension plan by $1.5 billion. On Oct. 29, a federal judge in the Northern District of California refused to sign off on a proposed settlement because it contained a “kicker” clause. The clause would allow Dignity to keep the difference between the amount of attorneys’ fees awarded by the court and the more than $6 million in fees authorized by the settlement.

“Although the fact is not explicitly stated in the Settlement, if the Court awards less than $6.15 million in fees, Defendants keep the amount of the difference and those funds are not distributed to the class,” Judge Jon S. Tigar said, according to Bloomberg Law. “The Court concludes that this arrangement, which potentially denies the class money that Defendants were willing to pay in settlement — with no apparent countervailing benefit to the class — renders the Settlement unreasonable.”

Though the judge refused to sign off on the deal, he gave the parties an opportunity to revise the agreement and resubmit it for approval. Workers tweaked the proposed deal in a renewed motion for settlement filed Nov. 25.

According to the motion, the parties have agreed to eliminate the kicker clause.

“As provided in the new settlement, class counsel will apply to the court for approval of a total award of $6.15 million, for attorney fees, expenses and incentive awards,” the motion states. “If the court awards less than the requested amount, Dignity Health has agreed to pay the balance into the plan’s trust.”

The workers also argue that the attorney fee award is reasonable given the value of the settlement.

Under the proposed settlement, Dignity would add $50 million in retirement plan funding in 2020 and 2021.The settlement also requires Dignity to fund the pension plan until 2024 and prohibits the health system from reducing accrued benefits because of a plan merger or amendment for 10 years. For 2022 through 2024, Dignity Health’s cash contributions to the plan will be at least the “minimum contribution recommendation,” an amount calculated each year by independent actuaries.

“Under this settlement, Dignity Health will make substantial contributions to the plan for five years, in an amount we estimate to exceed $700 million,” the motion states.

The court previously noted that plaintiffs did not identify any settlement provisions governing how Dignity Health’s actuaries calculate the minimum contribution recommendation. The plaintiff’s actuary provided more information on the calculation in a supplemental declaration submitted Nov. 25.

The workers are seeking preliminary approval of the new settlement.

 

Physician staffing firm suing patients

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-bd00103b-e940-45bb-ad9a-a4576971fc39.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

Image result for team health billing lawsuits

An emergency room staffing firm owned by TeamHealth has filed thousands of lawsuits against patients in Memphis in the last few years, ProPublica and MLK50 report.

This is a collision of two storylines: the aggressive billing practices of private equity-backed health care companies, and providers’ decision to take patients to court to collect their medical debts.

  • Media reports have, until now, mostly focused on hospitals’ lawsuits, but ProPublica and MLK50’s reporting suggest the practice could be more widespread.

Between the lines: TeamHealth has already been in hot water for its role in surprise billing.

  • Emergency room physicians send patients surprise medical bills more often than other specialties, especially physicians employed by TeamHealth.
  • These doctors then have leverage to obtain higher in-network payment rates, making the practice lucrative.
  • The group is also one of the main funders of the dark-money group that has run millions in ads against what was Congress’ leading solution to surprise medical bills.
  • The company was acquired by the Blackstone Group in 2017.

By the numbers: The Memphis subsidiary Southeastern Emergency Physicians has filed more than 4,800 lawsuits against patients in Shelby County General Sessions Court since 2017, per ProPublica and MLK50.

  • TeamHealth said last week, after receiving questions from reporters, that it will no longer sue patients and won’t pursue the lawsuits it’s already filed.