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being sued by the Department of Justice over alleged fraudulent billing of Medicare and other government programs for outdated prescriptions for elderly and disabled people.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ligitation accusing Omnicare of billing federal healthcare programs for hundreds of thousands of drugs based on out-of-date prescriptions for individuals in assisted living facilities, group homes, independent living communities and other long-term care facilities between 2010 and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.

 

 

 

 

NEW COVENANT HEALTH CFO AIMS TO LEAD ORGANIZATION’S FINANCIAL TURNAROUND

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/finance/new-covenant-health-cfo-aims-lead-organizations-financial-turnaround

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The Tewksbury, Massachusetts–based health system strives to post its first positive balance sheet in more than five years.

Stephen Forney, MBA, CPA, FACHE, excels in fixing “broken” organizations and he has built a track record of achieving financial turnarounds at seven healthcare facilities, he tells HealthLeaders in a recent interview.

Forney has over three decades of experience as a healthcare executive, with a primary focus on problem-solving. He began his career fixing problems in areas such as information technology and supply chain, an approach and skill he has carried over into financial operations in the C-suite.

“In finance, it wound up being the same thing. Pretty much every organization I’ve gone to has been broken in some way, shape, or form,” Forney says. “I’ve developed a specialty doing turnarounds and this will be my eighth.”

Forney speaks about his new CFO role at the Tewksbury, Massachusetts–based Catholic nonprofit health system Covenant Health, which he joined in mid-September, and how driving revenue and reducing expenses must go hand-in-hand to achieve financial balance.

This transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

HealthLeaders: Covenant is coming off its fifth straight year of operating losses. What is contributing to those losses and how do you plan to address those financial challenges?

Forney: The thing is, most turnarounds—to a greater or lesser extent—look a lot alike. With organizations that have [financial] issues, there are obviously always unique aspects to every situation, but virtually every healthcare organization that’s not doing well is because of the same relatively small handful of issues.

[For example,] revenue cycle is probably No. 1. Productivity has not been well attended to; expenses haven’t had a lot of discipline around them in a broad sense. That’s not to say that all decisions are bad, but in a systematic fashion, things haven’t been looked at. Frequently, driving volume and growing the business needs a better focus. 

In the case of Covenant … there has been a plan developed to address all those areas and we are addressing them already, even though we will be posting another operating loss in fiscal [year] 2019. But the trajectory is good and some of the things that we’re now looking at are what I would consider to be phase two–type initiatives. How do we accelerate and move them to the next level?

On October 1, we outsourced our revenue cycle. I’m pleased that we were able to get that accomplished. Obviously, it’s early but, at least anecdotally, initial trends look good.

HL: Where do you fall on the dynamic between focusing on expense control measures or revenue generation?

Forney: I always feel like you need to do both. Expense management and working towards expense strategies is easier, quicker, and more straightforward.

[Revenue growth strategies] take time, take effort, and tend to [have] a much higher degree of uncertainty around the volume projection. Those are necessary and they’re things that we need to invest in because, at some point, you can’t cut any more from your organization, you’ve got to grow the top line. To me, it’s sort of like step one is stabilize your revenue cycle and stabilize your expenses. Then while you’re doing that, work on growth that’s going to take place 12 to 18 months down the road.

HL: Are you optimistic about the federal government’s efforts to move the industry toward value-based care?

Forney: Going back about a decade, I thought the ACE program, which was [the federal government’s] bundled payment program, was a solid step in the right direction. It gave organizations a chance to collaborate in compliant fashion with physicians to bend the cost curve and have beneficiaries participate in the bending of the cost curve as well. I was with one of the pilot health systems that [participated], and it was a remarkable success.

Everybody got to win; CMS, patients, physicians, and systems won by creating value. Yes, I think that the government has a good role to play in [value-based care] because they have such a large group of patients that they’re willing to experiment like that. [The federal government] can come up with potentially novel ways to get people to buy into this.

HL: What is it like to be at the helm of a Catholic nonprofit system and how does it affect your leadership style?

Forney: From a philosophical standpoint, the principle of creating shareholder wealth and good stewardship are not significantly different. You’ve got an end goal in mind, which is, you’re taking care of the patients and a community. In one case, whatever excess is left goes to a private equity fund or shareholders. In the other case, [the excess] stays in your balance sheet and gets reinvested in the community.

HL: Given your three decades of healthcare experience, do you have advice for your fellow provider CFOs, especially some of the younger ones?

Forney: Focus on being that strategic right-hand person to the CEO. In my experience, that has been one of the things that marks a successful CFO from one that isn’t as successful.

CEOs are going to get ideas from everywhere. They’re outward and inward facing. They deal with the doctors and the community, and they’re going to get all sorts of great ideas.

The CFO needs to be that person [who is] grounded and says, ‘Well, what about this?’ That doesn’t mean saying no. The whole idea is how do you make it [sound] like a yes. To me, the CFO role just grounds all the discussions, from working with physicians to working with the community. 

CFOs over the last couple of decades have been operationally oriented. Now they need to start becoming clinically oriented.

There’s a real benefit in being able to sit down and talk with a physician and understand [what] they’re doing. … It winds up becoming a way to help ground the clinicians in the hospital operations because now you’re having a dialogue with them instead of them just saying, ‘You don’t understand. You’re not a clinician.’ That would be something that I would have a young CFO try to stay focused on, even though it’s dramatically outside the comfort zone for people that typically go into accounting.

 

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

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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.

 

Healthcare joins Black Friday frenzy

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/consumerism/healthcare-joins-black-friday-frenzy.html

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Black Friday arrives Nov. 29, and it could be a good time to save on medical supplies or healthcare services.

GE Healthcare Life Sciences has a webpage dedicated to its Black Friday offers. The company has cut prices on hundreds of items, including protein analysis equipment supplies and chromatography products. Though the discounts are promoted as Black Friday deals, the offers are available until Dec. 8.

A hospital in Mississippi is also offering holiday discounts for accounts paid in full. Corinth, Miss.-based Magnolia Regional Medical Center is offering a 20 percent discount on balances of up to $1,000, and the discounts increase with the balances. Patients who pay off balances of $6,001 and more will receive a 50 percent discount. The hospital’s website says the discounts are available “for a limited time, and just in time for the holidays.”

Magnolia Regional Medical Center isn’t the first hospital to offer these types of discounts. Last year, Gooding, Idaho-based North Canyon Medical Center offered Black-Friday-style deals on some outpatient services to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

 

California surgeon gets prison time for role in $580M billing fraud scheme

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/legal-regulatory-issues/california-surgeon-gets-prison-time-for-role-in-580m-billing-fraud-scheme.html?origin=cfoe&utm_source=cfoe

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An orthopedic surgeon was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison Nov. 22 for his role in a healthcare fraud scheme that resulted in the submission of more than $580 million in fraudulent claims, mostly to California’s worker compensation system, according to the Department of Justice.

Daniel Capen, MD, was sentenced more than a year after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and soliciting and receiving kickbacks for healthcare referrals. He was one of 17 defendants charged in relation to the government’s investigation into kickbacks physicians received for patient referrals for spinal surgeries performed at Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, Calif.

Dr. Capen received at least $5 million in kickbacks for referring surgeries to Pacific Hospital and for referring services to organizations affiliated with the hospital. He allegedly accounted for $142 million of Pacific Hospital’s claims to insurers between 1998 and 2013, according to the Justice Department.

In addition to the prison term, Dr. Capen was ordered to forfeit $5 million to the federal government and pay a $500,000 fine.

 

 

 

 

Kaiser can’t stop Hawaii health system from balance billing

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/kaiser-can-t-stop-hawaii-health-system-from-balance-billing.html

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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.