Banner Health settles whistleblower case for $18 million

https://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/health/2018/04/12/banner-health-settles-whistleblower-case-18-million/511848002/

Image result for Banner Health settles whistleblower case for $18 million

 

Banner Health has agreed to pay more than $18 million to settle whistleblower claims that the Phoenix-based health system admitted patients who could have been treated less expensively at outpatient facilities.

The settlement resolves a whistleblower case brought by a former Banner Health employee who claimed one dozen hospitals in Arizona and Colorado overcharged Medicare for brief, inpatient procedures that should have been billed on a less costly outpatient basis, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona said.

The settlement resolves allegations that Arizona’s largest health provider “inflated in reports to Medicare the number of hours for which patients received outpatient observation care during this time period,” according to a statement from the federal prosecutors.

The settlement involved Medicare billing at one dozen hospitals from November 2007 through December 2016.

The case was brought by former Banner Health employee Cecilia Guardiola under the federal False Claims Act, which allows individuals to bring lawsuits on behalf of the government and collect a portion of any settlement. Under terms of the settlement, Guardiola will be paid $3.3 million.

Banner Health said in a statement that the settlement does not include any findings of wrongdoing and allows the system to avoid the costs and disruption of ongoing litigation.

“Banner Health is fully committed to adhering to all legal and regulatory requirements and providing patients with the highest quality of care,” the statement read. “Although the rules that dictate when a hospital can accommodate a physician’s request to admit a Medicare patient are complex and evolving, our policy has always been to make those decisions in accordance with government guidelines.”

Guardiola, a registered nurse and a law school graduate, was hired by Banner Health in October 2012 as a director overseeing clinical documentation. She resigned three months later after she determined her efforts to bring “ethical compliance” would be ineffective, according to a statement issued by Kreindler & Associates, a law firm representing Guardiola.

During her brief stint at Banner, Guardiola evaluated Banner’s clinical documentation as well as short-stay inpatient claims.

She discovered that Banner hospitals billed an “inordinate and improper number of short-stay claims, particularly those for expensive cardiac procedures,” according to the statement.

In all, she discovered more than 650 examples of Banner billing Medicare for an inpatient claim even though the patient was admitted and discharged the same day, the statement said.

She also discovered that two hospitals, Banner Boswell and Banner Del Webb, identified some cardiac procedures as urgent rather than elective to prevent claims from being denied, the statement said.

Theranos, founder Elizabeth Holmes and former president charged with ‘massive fraud’

https://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2018/03/14/theranos-elizabeth-holmes-sunny-balwani-fraud.html?ana=e_sfbt_bn_breakingnews&u=FAuoHGaGEPdmk4X6khnaiw045b16af&t=1521046882&j=80495961

Image result for elizabeth holmes

Theranos Inc., founder Elizabeth Holmes and former President Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani were charged Wednesday by the Securities and Exchange Commission with conducting “an elaborate, years-long fraud” that raised $700 million around their needles-less blood diagnostics company.

Theranos and Holmes have agreed to “resolve” the charges against them, the agency said in a statement, which includes Holmes giving up a majority of voting control and a reduced equity stake in the company. That latter part is significant since critics of the company said change couldn’t come to the company until Holmes gave up control.

 

10 thoughts from discussion on 2018 Anti-Kickback and Stark Law issues

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/legal-regulatory-issues/10-thoughts-from-discussion-on-2018-anti-kickback-and-stark-law-issues.html

Image result for fraud and abuse

 

We had a chance to moderate and participate in a webinar with leading colleagues John Harig, Tim Fry, David Pivnick and Brett Barnett regarding key Anti-Kickback Statute and Stark Law issues facing health systems, surgery centers, dialysis providers and other healthcare providers and investors. Below are 10 key thoughts discussed during the webinar as to fraud and abuse issues in play in 2018.

1. The reading and implementation of the “Yates Memo” issued by the U.S. Department of Justice will influence how the government aims to prosecute individuals in addition to companies.

2. The reading of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Escobar decision will influence whether defendants in false claims cases will receive some relief from technical billing violations that are not fundamental or material to the government’s paying of a claim.

3. Regulators and potential buyers are focused on “creative marketing arrangements” by physician practices, often related to laboratory and/or pharmacy arrangements.

4. Government enforcement agencies and potential buyers are focused on physician compensation arrangements, particularly their compliance with the Stark Law.

5. Potential buyers face a challenge in determining how deeply to examine targets’ past practices through billing and coding audits, as well as how to handle the results of billing and coding audits in negotiation of transactions.

6. Private equity buyers face challenges in their evaluation of risk posed by regulatory issues and how to address regulatory risks in a seller’s market.

7. Sellers present the historical legal analysis of fraud and abuse issues during the due diligence process, particularly when the legal analysis is positive, but assumptions underlying the legal analysis do not align with the sellers’ actual operations.

8. The turnover in the U.S. Department of Justice may impact the timing of fraud and abuse prosecutions and settlements.

9. Recoveries by the government resulting from fraud and abuse prosecutions have increased in magnitude. Furthermore, there are more recoveries coming from cases in which the government has not joined in the case with the relator.

10. The wide array of laboratory arrangements and businesses hold implications for fraud and abuse laws.

 

Arrests made in alleged $66 million military medical insurance fraud

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/courts/sd-me-medical-fraud-20180126-story.html

Image result for medical kickbacks

 

A Utah pharmacy and the husband-and-wife owners of a Tennessee medical practice have been indicted on allegations that they used Marines and sailors in San Diego County as pawns in a nearly $66 million medical insurance scheme, according to an indictment unsealed Friday.

Jimmy and Ashley Collins, who own Choice MD in Cleveland, Tenn., made their first court appearance Friday in Chattanooga, a precursor to an upcoming San Diego hearing.

The charges accuse the couple, as well as CFK Inc., owners of a pharmacy in Bountiful, Utah, of defrauding the military’s health insurance system TRICARE.

At the center of the alleged scheme are compound medications — drugs that are custom-made by pharmacists to tailor to a patient’s unique needs and are significantly more expensive than typical prescription drugs. The ingredients are not FDA approved.

Military members in San Diego would be paid to recruit other service members to participate in a fake medical study, according to the allegations. The participants were paid $100 to $300 to speak with a doctor in a telemedicine session and would be prescribed compound medication — some in cream form, according to details in a search warrant affidavit obtained last year by the Union-Tribune.

Many of the compound drugs came from the pharmacy in Utah, which was then known as The Medicine Shoppe but has since changed its name to Bountiful Drug under new ownership, according to the indictment.

The number of compound medications to TRICARE patients from the pharmacy skyrocketed, from 218 such medications in all of 2013 to 4,637 in the first four months of 2015, records say. The batch in 2015 elicited $67.3 million in reimbursement claims, according to court records.

Many of the prescriptions were authorized by physicians working for Choice MD.

Investigators tracked millions of dollars flowing among the office, the pharmacy and alleged recruiters. The Collinses were paid $45 million in kickbacks, according to the indictment. They bought up property around Tennessee, a yacht and luxury cars, including two Aston-Martins, prosecutors said.

The compound prescriptions stopped after a government audit in May 2015 looked into the sudden rise in claims and payment was denied.

 

Ex-director of finance accused of embezzling $3M from North Carolina hospital

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/legal-regulatory-issues/ex-director-of-finance-accused-of-embezzling-3m-from-north-carolina-hospital.html

Image result for federal indictment

 

High Point (N.C.) Regional Hospital’s former director of finance is accused of stealing more than $3 million from the hospital between Jan. 1, 2003, and Aug. 15, 2017, according to WXII 12 News.

According to a federal indictment, Kimberly Russell Hobson defrauded the hospital by issuing unauthorized and forged checks payable to herself and relatives. She’s also accused of using the hospital’s credit cards for personal expenses.

Ms. Hobson used money embezzled from the hospital to purchase luxury vehicles, a motorcycle and other items for personal use, according to court documents.

Ms. Hobson is charged with seven counts of wire fraud, two counts of bank fraud, five counts of aggravated identity theft, and one count of possessing and uttering counterfeit securities, according to the report.

A spokesperson for High Point Regional Hospital told WXII 12 News Ms. Hobson was removed from her position at the hospital last summer.

 

Association health plan proposal: Experts wary of weak consumer protections, oversight issues

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/regulatory/association-health-plans-consumer-protections-tim-jost?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTjJRNU5qUXlZVEJqWmpjNCIsInQiOiJOR2V2bEp4NkdoeVB3VndhZE43TVBjZXdaTGJcLzk1Z3hBd1wvZ05teDMrcjZ5UzJhb0tzUkpQbWlaSmVvUmJFazVDcERmajBTREhCTXJxR3BBaGtoY1MrZlVtQW5xeXRSbFwvYVhPOE44VE9uYUhNZWNnbGtoR3c3S0xHUlp5SlwvS2kifQ%3D%3D&mrkid=959610

stethoscope, coins and calculator

The new proposal to expand association health plans promises to provide more affordable insurance options for small-business owners and employees. But some experts aren’t convinced that this is the right solution.

For one, the proposal’s promises of consumer protections aren’t as strong as they seem, said Timothy Jost, a Washington and Lee University professor emeritus who closely follows the ACA.

Association health plans can’t charge higher premiums or deny coverage based on health status, according to the Department of Labor (DOL). But because AHPs would be subject to large-employer market rules, they wouldn’t have to cover the list of essential health benefits that the Affordable Care Act mandates.

The upshot, Jost told FierceHealthcare, is that insurers could legally weed out those with costly conditions while still complying with regulations that bar them from denying those individuals coverage or hiking their premiums.

“If you can’t exclude someone because they have cancer, it’s easy to just not cover chemotherapy,” he said. “Or if you can’t exclude people who have mental illness, it’s easy to just not cover mental health care.”

And Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, pointed out in a Twitter post that insurers could still hike premiums based on factors other than health status:

 The association health plan regulation prohibits variation in premiums based on health. It does not prohibit premium variation based on any other factor, such as gender, age, industry or occupation, or business size.
 Cherry-picking enrollees

Association health plans are also likely to be marketed toward the healthiest, youngest individuals, Jost noted.

“I doubt anybody is going to be out there writing association coverage for occupations that are predominantly people who are older or have chronic health problems,” he said.

The problem, then, is that AHPs would siphon more low-risk consumers out of the individual marketplaces—thus skewing that risk pool and likely causing insurers to raise premiums.

“I think everybody understands that this is going to undermine the market for ACA-compliant plans,” Jost said.

Andy Slavitt, the former Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services acting administrator, laid out his own criticisms in a Twitter thread—including pointing out that breaking up risk pools goes against the proposal’s stated purpose of giving small businesses more clout:

 The regulation aims to push the idea of what can be considered an association.

Someone I talked to today referred to it as being able to create an “air breathers association.” Essentially, making it as rude-less as possible.

 Many of the premises of AHPs have been shown not to work in the past.

For example, the rule says AHPs will create “increased buying power”. Breaking up pools does exactly the opposite.

Instead, a “Runners’ Association” just sends a clear signal that these are healthy people.

Limited impact

Merrill Matthews, Ph.D., a resident scholar at the right-leaning Institute for Policy Innovation, praised the new proposed rule, noting that it allows small businesses to do what large employers have long been able to: self-insure.

“Self-insured employers have been able to avoid many of the state and federal mandates imposed on the small group and individual markets, which helped employers keep down the cost of coverage,” he said.

But even Matthews acknowledged that the impact of the proposed policy changes is likely to be limited, as it will only apply to small employers and possibly some self-employed individuals. Since the proposed changes are “unlikely to provide much relief” for those affected by high premiums in the individual market, he said, “Congress still needs to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”

Questions about oversight

Perhaps the biggest issue that Jost saw with the new proposal was the fact that AHPs have had past issues with insolvency, bankruptcy and even fraud.

“There’s just a long history of association health plans being formed that are thinly capitalized, that pay large salaries and expenses for their owners, and disappear when the going gets rough,” he said.

For its part, the DOL said it will “closely monitor these plans to protect consumers.” But Jost pointed out that the agency has experienced staff and budget cuts that might undermine that goal.

Even the DOL itself said in the proposed rule that “the flexibility afforded AHPs under this proposal could introduce more opportunities for mismanagement or abuse, increasing potential oversight demands on the department and state regulators.”

Ultimately, what plays out will largely be decided by how states respond to the new regulations once they are implemented, Jost added.

“In states that try to take an aggressive approach to regulating them, there won’t be that much activity,” he said. “And in states that take a hands-off approach and let anything go, there will be probably quite a bit of activity until [AHPs] start going belly up.”

 

DOJ recovers $2.4B in healthcare fraud cases: 4 things to know

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/legal-regulatory-issues/doj-recovers-2-4b-in-healthcare-fraud-cases-4-things-to-know.html

Image result for false claims act

The Department of Justice obtained $2.4 billion in fraud and false claims settlements and judgments in fiscal year 2017, marking the eighth consecutive year recoveries in the healthcare sector exceeded $2 billion.

Here are four things to know about the DOJ’s false claims and fraud recoveries.

1. The DOJ recovered more than $900 million from the drug and medical device industry in fiscal year 2017. That total includes Shire Pharmaceuticals’ $350 million settlement. The settlement resolved allegations Shire, a multinational pharmaceutical company with its U.S. headquarters in Lexington, Mass., and one of its subsidiaries paid kickbacks and used other unlawful means to induce physicians and clinics to use or overuse Dermagraft, a bioengineered human skin substitute approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers. The settlement was the largest False Claims Act recovery by the federal government in a kickback case involving a medical device.

2. The DOJ also reported substantial recoveries from healthcare providers, including Cleveland, Tenn.-based Life Care Centers of America, which agreed to pay $145 million to settle allegations it caused skilled nursing facilities to submit fraudulent claims to Medicare for unnecessary rehabilitation services.

3. In another substantial settlement this year, Westborough, Mass.-based eClinicalWorks, an EHR vendor, and some of its executives and employees agreed to pay $155 million to resolve false claims allegations. The government alleged eClinicalWorks falsely obtained certification for its EHR software by withholding information from its certifying entity. Due to eClinicalWorks’ alleged misrepresentations, healthcare organizations using the company’s software submitted false claims for federal incentive payments, according to the DOJ.

4. In 2017, the DOJ continued to pursue physicians and healthcare executives involved in fraud cases to hold them personally responsible. For example, in 2015, Fort Myers, Fla.-based 21st Century Oncology paid $19.75 million to settle allegations it violated the False Claims Act by billing for medically unnecessary laboratory urine tests and paid bonuses to physicians based on the number of tests they referred to its laboratory. This year, the DOJ secured separate settlements with various urologists who allegedly referred unnecessary tests to one of 21st Century Oncology’s labs.