6 Michigan physicians charged in $464M billing fraud scheme

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/legal-regulatory-issues/6-michigan-physicians-charged-in-464m-billing-fraud-scheme.html?origin=rcme&utm_source=rcme

Image result for healthcare fraud and abuse

A grand jury in Michigan returned a 56-count indictment Dec. 4 that charges six physicians in a $464 million healthcare fraud scheme, according to the Department of Justice.

Rajendra Bothra, MD, owner and operator of a pain clinic in Warren, Mich., and five physicians who worked at the clinic are accused of prescribing patients opioid pain medication to get them to come in for office visits. During the office visits, the physicians allegedly subjected the patients to unnecessary treatment, including facet joint injections. The physicians “sought to bill insurance companies for the maximum number of services and procedures possible with no regard to the patients’ needs,” the Justice Department said in a press release.

The fraud scheme, which occurred between 2013 and November 2018, allegedly involved more than 13 million unlawfully prescribed opioid prescription drugs.

“The damage that opioid distribution has done to our community and to the United States as a whole has been devastating,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider. “Healthcare professionals who prey on patients who are addicted to opioids in order to line their pockets is particularly egregious. We will continue to prosecute such individuals who choose to violate federal law and their ethical oaths.

 

Trump Administration Invites Health Care Industry to Help Rewrite Ban on Kickbacks

The Trump administration has labored zealously to cut federal regulations, but its latest move has still astonished some experts on health care: It has asked for recommendations to relax rules that prohibit kickbacks and other payments intended to influence care for people on Medicare or Medicaid.

The goal is to open pathways for doctors and hospitals to work together to improve care and save money. The challenge will be to accomplish that without also increasing the risk of fraud.

With its request for advice, the administration has touched off a lobbying frenzy. Health care providers of all types are urging officials to waive or roll back the requirements of federal fraud and abuse laws so they can join forces and coordinate care, sharing cost reductions and profits in ways that would not otherwise be allowed.

From hundreds of letters sent to the government by health care executives and lobbyists in the last few weeks, some themes emerge: Federal laws prevent insurers from rewarding Medicare patients who lose weight or take medicines as prescribed. And they create legal risks for any arrangement in which a hospital pays a bonus to doctors for cutting costs or achieving clinical goals.

The existing rules are aimed at preventing improper influence over choices of doctors, hospitals and prescription drugs for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. The two programs cover more than 100 million Americans and account for more than one-third of all health spending, so even small changes in law enforcement priorities can have big implications.

Federal health officials are reviewing the proposals for what they call a “regulatory sprint to coordinated care” even as the Justice Department and other law enforcement agencies crack down on health care fraud, continually exposing schemes to bilk government health programs.

“The administration is inviting companies in the health care industry to write a ‘get out of jail free card’ for themselves, which they can use if they are investigated or prosecuted,” said James J. Pepper, a lawyer outside Philadelphia who has represented many whistle-blowers in the industry.

Federal laws make it a crime to offer or pay any “remuneration” in return for the referral of Medicare or Medicaid patients, and they limit doctors’ ability to refer patients to medical businesses in which the doctors have a financial interest, a practice known as self-referral.

These laws “impose undue burdens on physicians and serve as obstacles to coordinated care,” said Dr. James L. Madara, the chief executive of the American Medical Association. The laws, he said, were enacted decades ago “in a fee-for-service world that paid for services on a piecemeal basis.”

Melinda R. Hatton, senior vice president and general counsel of the American Hospital Association, said the laws stifle “many innocuous or beneficial arrangements” that could provide patients with better care at lower cost.

Hospitals often say they want to reward doctors who meet certain goals for improving the health of patients, reducing the length of hospital stays and preventing readmissions. But federal courts have held that the anti-kickback statute can be violated if even one purpose of the remuneration is to induce referrals or generate business for the hospital.

The premise of the kickback and self-referral laws is that health care providers should make medical decisions based on the needs of patients, not on the financial interests of doctors or other providers.

The Trump administration is calling its effort a “regulatory sprint to coordinated care.”CreditSarah Silbiger/The New York Times.

Health care providers can be fined if they offer financial incentives to Medicare or Medicaid patients to use their services or products. Drug companies have been found to violate the law when they give kickbacks to pharmacies in return for recommending their drugs to patients. Hospitals can also be fined if they make payments to a doctor “as an inducement to reduce or limit services” provided to a Medicare or Medicaid beneficiary.

Doctors, hospitals and drug companies are urging the Trump administration to provide broad legal protection — a “safe harbor” — for arrangements that promote coordinated, “value-based care.” In soliciting advice, the Trump administration said it wanted to hear about the possible need for “a new exception to the physician self-referral law” and “exceptions to the definition of remuneration.”

Almost every week the Justice Department files another case against health care providers. Many of the cases were brought to the government’s attention by people who say they saw the bad behavior while working in the industry.

“Good providers can work within the existing rules,” said Joel M. Androphy, a Houston lawyer who has handled many health care fraud cases. “The only people I ever hear complaining are people who got caught cheating or are trying to take advantage of the system. It would be disgraceful to change the rules to appease the violators.”

But the laws are complex, and the stakes are high. A health care provider who violates the anti-kickback or self-referral law may face business-crippling fines under the False Claims Act and can be excluded from Medicare and Medicaid, a penalty tantamount to a professional death sentence for some providers.

Federal law generally prevents insurers and health care providers from offering free or discounted goods and services to Medicare and Medicaid patients if the gifts are likely to influence a patient’s choice of a particular provider. Hospital executives say the law creates potential problems when they want to offer social services, free meals, transportation vouchers or housing assistance to patients in the community.

Likewise, drug companies say they want to provide financial assistance to Medicare patients who cannot afford their share of the bill for expensive medicines.

AstraZeneca, the drug company, said that older Americans with drug coverage under Part D of Medicare “often face prohibitively high cost-sharing amounts for their medicines,” but that drug manufacturers cannot help them pay these costs. For this reason, it said, the government should provide legal protection for arrangements that link the cost of a drug to its value for patients.

Even as health care providers complain about the broad reach of the anti-kickback statute, the Justice Department is aggressively pursuing violations.

A Texas hospital administrator was convicted in October for his role in submitting false claims to Medicare for the treatment of people with severe mental illness. Evidence at the trial showed that he and others had paid kickbacks to “patient recruiters” who sent Medicare patients to the hospital.

The owner of a Florida pharmacy pleaded guilty last month for his role in a scheme to pay kickbacks to Medicare beneficiaries in exchange for their promise to fill prescriptions at his pharmacy.

The Justice Department in April accused Insys Therapeutics of paying kickbacks to induce doctors to prescribe its powerful opioid painkiller for their patients. The company said in August that it had reached an agreement in principle to settle the case by paying the government $150 million.

The line between patient assistance and marketing tactics is sometimes vague.

This month, the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services refused to approve a proposal by a drug company to give hospitals free vials of an expensive drug to treat a disorder that causes seizures in young children. The inspector general said this arrangement could encourage doctors to continue prescribing the drug for patients outside the hospital, driving up costs for consumers, Medicare, Medicaid and commercial insurance.

 

 

 

Healthcare Triage: A Lyft to the Hospital: Can Ride Sharing Replace Ambulances?

https://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/healthcare-triage-a-lyft-to-the-hospital-can-ride-sharing-replace-ambulances/

Image result for Healthcare Triage: A Lyft to the Hospital: Can Ride Sharing Replace Ambulances?

An ambulance ride of just a few miles can cost thousands of dollars, and a lot of it may not be covered by insurance. With ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft far cheaper and now available within minutes in many areas, would using one instead be a good idea?

Perhaps surprisingly, the answer in many cases is yes. That’s the topic of this week’s HCT.

 

 

 

Feds claim Kansas physician involved in $30M billing fraud scheme

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/legal-regulatory-issues/feds-claim-kansas-physician-involved-in-30m-billing-fraud-scheme.html

Image result for whistleblower

A Kansas physician and Hutchinson (Kan.) Clinic are defendants in a False Claims Act case the federal government recently intervened in, according to the Great Bend Tribune.

The government alleges Mark Fesen, MD, and Hutchinson Clinic billed Medicare and Tricare for more than $30 million for medically unnecessary medications and treatments, including chemotherapy.

The 45-page federal complaint provides nine examples of patients who received unnecessary treatments.

“These patient examples are not isolated examples, but instead representative examples of the medically unnecessary services Fesen and Hutchinson Clinic repeatedly billed to Medicare and Tricare,” states the complaint. “This is supported by the clinic’s own internal audits that found widespread problems with Fesen’s chemotherapy regimens, and particularly his use of Rituxan.”

A clinical pharmacist who worked in Hutchinson Clinic’s oncology department from 2007-14 originally brought the allegations against Dr. Fesen and the clinic under the qui tam, or whistle-blower, provisions of the False Claims Act.

 

 

DOJ Indicts 4 Florida Men in $1B Telemedicine Fraud Conspiracy

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/doj-indicts-4-florida-men-1b-telemedicine-fraud-conspiracy

Private payers, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, were bilked out of about $174 million in the compounding pharmacy scam, which inflated prices for invalidly prescribed pain creams and other drugs.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Seven compounding pharmacies were indicted along with their owners in the scheme.

The scam affected tens of thousands of patients around the country.

The alleged scammers billed private payers for about $931 million in fraudulent claims.

Four Florida men were charged in a multistate telemedicine scheme that billed at least $931 million in fraudulent claims to private insurance companies, the Department of Justice said Monday.

According to a 32-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Greeneville, Tennessee, the four defendants, owners of seven compounding pharmacies in Florida and Texas, set up an elaborate telemedicine scheme that solicited insurance and prescription drug information from consumers across the country.

Physicians unwittingly approved the prescriptions for pain creams and other drugs without knowing that the defendants were jacking up the prices of the invalidly prescribed drugs, which were billed to private payers.


Tens of thousands of patients and more than 100 physicians in East Tennessee bore the brunt of the scam, which ran from mid-2015 through April 2018. Private payers in the region, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, were bilked out of about $174 million, prosecutors said.  

BCBS Tennessee issued a statement on Tuesday noting that it was “only one of hundreds of insurers impacted by this case.”

“We remain committed to partnering with our customers, providers and law enforcement to fight fraud, waste, and abuse in the healthcare system,” BCBST said.

All totaled, the indictment alleges that the defendants submitted not less than $931 million in fraudulent claims for payment. It’s not clear how much was paid out.

The four Florida defendants were identified as Andrew Assad, 33, of Palm Harbor, Peter Bolos, 41, of Lutz, and Michael Palso, 44, of Odessa, and Larry Everett Smith, 48, of Pinellas Park.

The companies were identified as: Germaine Pharmacy in Tampa; Synergy Pharmacy Services, in Palm Harbor; Precision Pharmacy Management, Tanith Enterprises, ULD Wholesale Group, and Alpha-Omega Pharmacy, all in Clearwater; and Zoetic Pharmacy in Houston, Texas.

The four defendants were each charged with conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, mail fraud, and introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce.

If convicted, the four men face prison terms of up to 20 years for each mail fraud charge, up to 10 years for conspiracy, and up to three years in prison for introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce.

The indictment also seeks forfeiture of approximately $154 million.

The indictments come on the heels of the related Sept. 26 guilty plea by Scott Roix, 52, the CEO of HealthRight LLC, a telemedicine company in Pennsylvania and Florida, for his role in the scheme. Roix and HealthRight also pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges in a separate scheme that fraudulently telemarketed dietary supplements, skin creams, and testosterone.

 

 

Oxygen equipment provider Lincare pays $5.25M to settle Medicare Advantage fraud suit

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/payer/lincare-oxygen-durable-equipment-medicare-advantage-fraud-settlement?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTjJRMlpERTBObU0yWldOaiIsInQiOiJPMDVjRGNQVzcxMjIzOGt1ZTZva0R2YU1PXC9mYkczVEtYVHNHWmZzSHc1TjU1RGRZZ1o4VVprZStEV3R3VWdXWFwvQlRoYVg4cGpzakZIOFFkMkthRnVPbVwvNEUwQ3ptOVozRGQ0U3IyVDFENENmZTErMjc3TDhRYlwvaUlrT1oxSWgifQ%3D%3D&mrkid=959610

The word fraud framed by other words

One of the country’s largest suppliers of oxygen and respiratory equipment has agreed to pay $5.25 million to settle allegations that it violated anti-kickback laws by reducing copayments for certain Medicare Advantage members.

Lincare has also entered into a corporate integrity agreement with the Office of Inspector General, the Department of Justice announced last week.

The settlement resolves allegations filed by former billing supervisor Brian Thomas, who worked for nearly a decade at the Florida-based company. In his 2015 complaint, which was later joined by federal prosecutors, Thomas claimed Lincare waived copays for Humana’s Medicare Advantage members beginning in December 2011 after the insurer contracted with Apria Healthcare to be an exclusive in-network provider of medical equipment.

In his complaint, Thomas said Lincare matched network benefits by reducing copays from Humana beneficiaries from 30% to 13% to align with copays from Apria. Humana was left paying for a higher charge using government funds.

Lincare was purchased by The Linde Group, a German industrial gas company, for $3.8 billion in 2012. The government alleged Lincare continued the scheme through 2017.

It’s the second major settlement for Lincare, which operates about 1,000 locations across the country. In May, the company paid $875,000 to settle a class action lawsuit from employers who had their information stolen during a data breach.

 

 

 

Healthcare CEO gets prison time for role in $19.4M kickback scheme

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/legal-regulatory-issues/healthcare-ceo-gets-prison-time-for-role-in-19-4m-kickback-scheme.html

Image result for prison conviction

The former CEO of American Senior Communities, an Indianapolis-based skilled nursing and rehabilitation provider, was sentenced June 29 to nine and a half years in prison for his role in a fraud, kickback and money laundering conspiracy, according to the Department of Justice.

Federal agents began their investigation into James Burkhart three years ago. In September 2015, agents executed search warrants of his residence and ASC office. About a year later, Mr. Burkhart and three others — Daniel Benson, the former COO of American Senior Communities; Steven Ganote, an associate; and Joshua Burkhart, Mr. Burkhart’s younger brother — were indicted by a federal grand jury. All of the defendants, including Mr. Burkhart, had pleaded guilty to federal felony charges by January 2018.

Mr. Burkhart and his co-conspirators were accused of creating shell companies that would inflate vendors’ bills and submit them to ASC as if the shell companies were the real vendors. He also caused vendors or shell companies to submit false bills to ASC for fictitious services that were never provided, and, in some cases, demanded vendors pay him kickbacks in exchange for allowing them to service ASC’s large number of facilities.

In addition, Mr. Burkhart had vendors inflate their bills to ASC, which he would pay with money from Health & Hospital Corp. of Marion County, the public health department that operates several Indianapolis hospitals. The vendors would allegedly kick the overage back to Mr. Burkhart and his co-conspirators.

According to the DOJ, Mr. Burkhart and his co-conspirators funneled nearly $19.4 million to themselves through the scheme. The majority of the funds came from Health & Hospital Corp. of Marion County.

Mr. Burkhart was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to three felony offenses: conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to violate the healthcare Anti-Kickback Statute and money laundering.