A federal court has dismissed a lawsuit Kaiser Foundation Health Plan filed against Honolulu-based Queen’s Health Systems after a contract between the parties expired May 30, according to The Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Queen’s Health Systems, which includes four hospitals, provides emergency services to hundreds of Kaiser members each year. After the contract expired, and the parties were unable to reach a new agreement, Kaiser said it would pay the “reasonable value of Queen’s emergency services,” but “not necessarily 100% of billed charges,” according to the report.
In response, QHS said Kaiser members would be billed for the balance of charges not paid by Kaiser. Kaiser subsequently sued to prevent the billing practice and QHS asked the court to dismiss the suit.
In dismissing the lawsuit with prejudice Oct. 31, Judge Derrick Watson, a U.S. District judge in Hawaii, said there are “no real winners,” according to the report.
“Should QMC [Queen’s Medical Center] choose to balance bill Kaiser’s members for emergency services, QMC is unlikely to receive glowing attention from interested observers. In terms of dollars and cents, eventually someone or some entity will need to pay (or be ordered to pay) for the services QMC has rendered to Kaiser’s members.”
Kaiser told The Honolulu Star-Advertiser it intends to appeal the court’s ruling.
The defendants ordered unnecessary tests that were reimbursed by Medicare, with laboratories sharing the profit, DOJ says.
The U.S. Department of Justice has charged 35 people with unlawfully charging Medicare $2.1 billion in what it said is one of the largest healthcare fraud schemes in history.
The 35 alleged offenders were charged in five separate federal districts, and were linked to dozens of telemedicine firms and laboratories focused on genetic testing for cancer. The people charged, including nine doctors and one other medical professional, cumulatively billed Medicare billions for cancer genetic tests, the DOJ said in a press release.
The charges were a culmination of coordinated law enforcement activities over the past month that were led by the Criminal Division’s Health Care Fraud Unit, resulting in charges against more than 380 individuals who allegedly billed federal healthcare programs for more than $3 billion, and allegedly prescribed and dispensed approximately 50 million controlled substance pills in Houston, across Texas, the West Coast, the Gulf Coast, the Northeast, Florida and Georgia, and the Midwest.
These include charges against 105 defendants for opioid-related offenses, and charges against 178 medical professionals.
The investigation targeted an alleged scheme involving the payment of illegal kickbacks and bribes by CGx laboratories in exchange for the referral of Medicare beneficiaries by medical professionals working with fraudulent telemedicine companies for expensive, and medically unnecessary, cancer genetic tests.
According to the DOJ, the targets of the scheme were primarily seniors, who were approached at health fairs, at their homes during door-to-door visits, or through telemarketing calls. The “recruiters,” as they were called, would approach seniors about supposedly free cancer screenings or generic cheek swab tests, and the recruiters would then obtain the seniors’ Medicare information for the purposes of fraudulent billing or identify theft.
The recruiter would then get a doctor to sign off on a genetic so a lab would process it, and then pay a kickback in exchange for ordering the test. The lab would process the test and bill Medicare, and once it was reimbursed, would share the proceeds with the recruiter, according to the charges.
Often, the test results were not provided to the beneficiaries, or were worthless to their actual doctors. Some of the defendants allegedly controlled a telemarketing network that lured hundreds of thousands of elderly and/or disabled patients into a criminal scheme that affected victims across the U.S.
The defendants allegedly paid doctors to prescribe CGx testing, either without any patient interaction or with only a brief phone conversation with patients they had never met or seen.
WHAT’S THE IMPACT
In addition to the DOJ charges, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Center for Program Integrity said it took adverse administrative action against cancer genetic testing companies and medical professionals who submitted more than $1.7 billion in claims to the Medicare program.
The DOJ Criminal Division, along with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General and the FBI, spearheaded the investigation.
The DOJ calls the scheme one of the largest it has ever handled.
THE LARGER TREND
Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 15 strike forces operating in 24 districts, has charged nearly 4,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $16 billion.
In addition, CMS, working in conjunction with the Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.
The newest Medicare fraud scheme is the second to be uncovered in the last month. Earlier in September, a telemedicine CEO pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and pay and receive healthcare kickbacks and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in a scheme estimated at $424 million.
ON THE RECORD
“Unfortunately, audacious schemes such as those alleged in the indictments are pervasive and exploit the promise of new medical technologies such as genetic testing and telemedicine for financial gain, not patient care,” said Deputy Inspector General for Investigations Gary L. Cantrell of HHS-OIG. “Instead of receiving quality care, Medicare beneficiaries may be victimized in the form of scare tactics, identity theft, and in some cases, left to pay out of pocket. We will continue working with our law enforcement partners to investigate those who steal from federal healthcare programs and protect the millions of Americans who rely on them.”
“Healthcare fraud and related illegal kickbacks and bribes impact the entire nation,” said Assistant Director Terry Wade of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “Fraudulently using genetic testing laboratories for unnecessary tests erodes the confidence of patients and costs taxpayers millions of dollars. These investigations revealed some medical professionals placing their greed before the needs of the patients and communities they serve. Today’s law enforcement actions reinforce that the FBI, along with its partners, will continue to pursue and stop this type of illegal activity.”
In a huge win for hospitals, a federal judge has tossed the Trump administration’s rule instituting site-neutral payments.
District of Columbia Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled Tuesday that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) overstepped its authority when it finalized a plan to extend a site-neutral payment policy to clinic visits with the goal of paying the same in Medicare for evaluation and management services at physician offices and hospitals.
Hospital groups immediately rebelled against the plan. Within hours of the rule’s finalization in November, the American Hospital Association (AHA) vowed to challenge the change, as it would cut payment rates to hospitals significantly. AHA and the Association of American Medical Colleges formally did so about a month later.
CMS argues that the payment change would save Medicare beneficiaries $150 million per year, lowering average copays from $23 to $9. Those savings, however, are coupled with significant payment cuts to hospitals; the AHA estimated losses of $380 million in 2019 and $760 million in 2020.
In her order, Collyer said that the rule did not meet the standard of a method to control unneeded hospital use, as CMS argued in court filings.
“CMS believes it is paying millions of taxpayer dollars for patient services in hospital outpatient departments that could be provided at less expense in physician offices. CMS may be correct,” the judge wrote. “But CMS was not authorized to ignore the statutory process for setting payment rates in the Outpatient Prospective Payment System and to lower payments only for certain services performed by certain providers.”
Collyner did not require CMS to pay funds lost under policy change so far this year and instead requested a status report by Oct.1 from both parties to determine whether additional briefings are required to decide a suitable resolution.
In a statement, the AHA and AAMC praised the judge’s decision.
“The ruling, which will allow hospitals to maintain access to important services for patients and communities, affirmed that the cuts directly undercut the clear intent of Congress to protect hospital outpatient departments because of the many real and crucial differences between them and other sites of care,” the hospital groups said. “Now that the court has ruled, it is up to the agency to put forth remedies for impacted hospitals and the patients they serve.”
Created in 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has units operating in 23 districts, and has charged nearly 4,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $14 billion. It’s a joint effort between DOJ and HHS to deter healthcare fraud.
According to the most recent statistics, from January, the strike force has brought 2,117 criminal actions, secured 2,754 indictments and recovered $3.3 billion in connection with its investigations.
HHS declared the opioid crisis a national emergency in 2017. And the DOJ is increasingly focusing on fraud related to opioids, including going after medical professionals allegedly involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics.
“Sadly, opioid proliferation is nothing new to Americans,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas said in a statement announcing the charges. “What is new is the reinforced fight being taken to dirty doctors and shady pharmacists,” he said.
The coordinated healthcare fraud enforcement operation across Texas resulted in charges involving networks of “pill mill” clinics that led to $66 million in losses and the distribution of 6.2 million pills, the government said. Sixteen doctors and pharmacists were among those charged.
And that’s on top of last month, when the Health Care Fraud Unit’s Houston Strike Force charged dozens of people in a trafficking network that diverted more than 23 million oxycodone, hydrocodone and carisoprodol pills.
The Texas actions also involved healthcare fraud other than opioid diversion, including fraudulent physician orders for durable medical equipment, fraudulent claims for ambulance services and stealing protected healthcare information.
The separate actions in California, Arizona and Oregon involved schemes that ran the gamut from billing for medically unnecessary compounded drugs, unnecessary cardiac treatments and testing, billing for chiropractic services never provided and a hospice kickback scheme.
Recent moves from President Donald Trump to raise tariffs on Chinese goods are leading the global economy closer to the brink of recession, according to a Morgan Stanley note cited by Newsweek.
In a recent research note, Morgan Stanley said if President Trump goes through with proposals to raise existing tariffs and China responds, the global economy would fall into recession in the next six to nine months. Specifically, Morgan Stanley’s U.S. public policy lead, Michael Zezas, said the tariffs would be what pushes the global economy into recession.
“Friday’s escalation of tariffs between the U.S. and China suggests they’ve not moved any closer on the key negotiation points that have separated them since May 5,” he said, according to Newsweek. “Neither side sees the benefit to cooperating as better than hanging tough. … We expect that tensions will continue to escalate at least until the costs of doing so are too big to ignore.”
The president said Aug. 23 that he plans to raise existing tariffs to 30 percent from 25 percent on $250 billion of Chinese goods starting Oct. 1. Additionally, he proposed tariffs on another $300 billion of Chinese imports to increase from 10 percent to 15 percent over the coming months. The president’s proposals come after China said it will impose tariffs on another $75 billion of U.S. imports, and that it would reinstate tariffs on auto products that were previously suspended.
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