Fraud and Abuse Developments

The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) recently published a Special Fraud Alert warning health care providers (e.g., prescribers, pharmacies, durable medical equipment providers, clinical laboratories) to steer clear of certain telemedicine arrangements and outlining seven “suspect” characteristics that may present heightened risk of fraud and abuse.

The alert coincides with a third round of criminal “telemedicine takedowns” announced by the Department of Justice (DOJ)  in the last several years, reflecting DOJ’s continued focus on identifying and dismantling fraudulent arrangements that exploit telemedicine technologies and related regulatory flexibilities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Telemedicine technologies have created a multitude of opportunities for growth and innovation within the health care industry and are well-positioned to become an ongoing cornerstone of our health care delivery system. However, given the increased level of regulatory scrutiny of telemedicine arrangements, providers and telehealth technology companies, including drug and device manufacturers that offer telemedicine technologies (e.g., platforms, mobile applications) for prescribers and patients that facilitate virtual care,  should carefully plan and closely evaluate existing arrangements to ensure compliance with applicable state and federal laws and avoid implication amongst the recent uptick in enforcement.

Continue Reading Telehealth Under Scrutiny: OIG Special Fraud Alert and DOJ Enforcement Highlights Suspect Characteristics Associated with High-Risk Telemedicine Arrangements

After a long line of opinions scrutinizing the use of rewards programs offered by providers, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) issued Advisory Opinion 22-16 on August 19, 2022– a favorable opinion for the provision of gift cards to Medicare Advantage (“MA’) plan enrollees who complete educational modules as part of an online surgical treatment learning tool.

The opinion adds flexibility to existing opinions on gift cards and patient engagement programs and, while binding only on the requestor, provides insight into the OIG’s evolving view of these programs.

Continue Reading OIG Approves Rewards Program for Medicare Advantage Organizations

Supreme Court review of Rule 9(b)’s application in False Claims Act cases may finally be coming whether the Executive Branch likes it or not.

In January, the Supreme Court, which is considering a certiorari petition in Johnson v. Bethany Hospice and Palliative Care, LLC, asked the Solicitor General to weigh in on whether the Court should accept the case. The case presents the question of what Rule 9(b) requires in cases arising under the False Claims Act, which is an important threshold question in many False Claims Act cases resulting in significant motions practice.

As past Solicitors General have done before her, the current Solicitor General’s brief filed late on May 24 argued that the Supreme Court should not grant plenary review because there really isn’t a meaningful circuit split on the issue. The brief also argues that the case is not a good vehicle for Supreme Court review because the district court dismissed the relator’s case on the alternative ground that the relator had not adequately pleaded violations of the federal anti-kickback statute, an issue the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit did not reach on appeal.

Continue Reading SCOTUS Review of Rule 9(b) in False Claims Act cases may be on the way

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) recently issued a favorable advisory opinion to a digital health company that offers direct monetary incentives to patients as part of a technology-enabled contingency management program for patients with substance use disorders.

Contingency management, also known as motivational incentives, is a treatment approach that utilizes tangible rewards to reinforce positive behaviors (e.g., abstinence from opioids) and to motivate and sustain behavioral health efforts (e.g., treatment adherence) in patients who suffer from substance use disorders. Because these monetary incentives are an integral part of the protocol-driven and evidenced-based program, the OIG concluded that it would not impose sanctions under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”) or the Beneficiary Inducements Civil Monetary Penalty (“CMP”) provision, notwithstanding the involvement of federal health care program beneficiaries, providers/suppliers, and reimbursable services.

Nevertheless, the mitigating facts that motivated the OIG’s favorable treatment of the program here—namely, the clinical nature and independence of the program—could likely trigger compliance with other federal and state regulatory frameworks.
Continue Reading OIG blesses digital health substance use disorder treatment program paid for by providers and suppliers

In its February 14, 2022 advisory opinion the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) allowed a Home Health Agency (HHA), that predominantly serves Medicaid eligible children, to pay the nurse certification program tuition costs for new employees seeking to work as certified nurse aides (CNAs). According to OIG, the tuition payments are permissible under the bona fide employee safe harbor.

The Anti-Kickback statute prohibits a person from knowingly and willfully offering, soliciting or receiving any remuneration, directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly, in cash or in kind, in exchange for or to induce the referral of any item or services covered by a federal health care program. However, the statute includes exemptions for certain situations, one of which involves certain payments to bona fide employees.

In this case, the OIG stated that it would not seek enforcement under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute or the Beneficiary Inducements Civil Monetary Penalty Statute as the arrangement to pay the tuition costs would not be deemed prohibited remuneration under either law. However, the advisory opinion was warranted as the tuition program had the added wrinkle of potentially being a benefit to the relatives of medically fragile children using the HHA’s services and charging those services to Medicaid.
Continue Reading OIG permits home health agency to pay nurse aide certification tuition costs

On February 23, 2022, the Federal Bar Association (FBA) kicked off its fifth annual Qui Tam Conference to highlight key areas for False Claims Act (FCA) enforcement in the coming year. The conference opened with a keynote address by Gregory E. Demske, Chief Counsel to the Inspector General, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Inspector General (OIG). Then, a series of panels analyzed the FCA-related developments from the prior year, recent efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to combat cybersecurity fraud, and some of the schemes promoting alleged telehealth fraud during the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency. Based on the comments of government speakers, all speaking in their individual capacities, below are key takeaways of what we expect the government to prioritize in 2022:

Pandemic-related fraud and telehealth fraud are key targets

Reinforcing the DOJ’s current enforcement priorities, we expect the DOJ to continue to focus its resources and enforcement activity on where it stands to recover the most dollars swiftly: pandemic-related fraud (e.g., misuse of CARES Act relief funds) and telehealth fraud.

During his keynote address, Demske similarly acknowledged these two areas of focus and added Medicare Advantage, the opioid epidemic, and nursing homes as ongoing priorities for OIG enforcement. Notably, Demske cited OIG’s Data Analytics Group as a robust resource for the agency to identify anomalies in large data sets (e.g., outlier distributions of CARES Act provider relief funds) that may lead to targeted enforcement.

For more information about the fraud and abuse implications of CARES Act provider relief funds, as well as practical tips for navigating the evolving CARES Act regulatory environment, please check this Reed Smith client alert.
Continue Reading FBA’s 2022 Qui Tam Conference Puts Annual Spotlight on FCA Enforcement Trends and Developments

In the first advisory opinion of 2022, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (OIG) allowed Medicaid beneficiaries to qualify for a benefit available to low-income individuals, even though the arrangement would not qualify as a “retailer reward.”

The OIG stated it would not seek enforcement of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute or the Beneficiary Inducements Civil Monetary Penalty Statute (CMP Law) for an arrangement proposed by a web-based retailer that that sells a wide variety of consumer goods and services, and that offers fee-based membership programs with a number of benefits, including pharmacy-related benefits.

The retailer requested an advisory opinion from OIG to allow individuals to use Medicaid enrollment to qualify as eligible for participation in the discount programs that provided certain expedited free shipping, and discounts on food and grocery items. In issuing a favorable advisory opinion, OIG determined that allowing individuals to use their Medicaid enrollment status as a qualification presented a minimal risk of fraud and abuse to federal health programs.

Continue Reading OIG permits retailer to use Medicaid enrollment as qualification for discount program

Andrew and Quynh are law clerks at the firm and their work is supervised by licensed attorneys. Their admission to – respectively – the Washington, D.C. and California bar is pending.

On October 4, 2021, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a favorable advisory opinion on a proposal by a chiropractic clinic operator to extend an existing discount program to federal health plan beneficiaries.

The requesting clinics initially offered various discount programs to their privately insured or self-paid patients, but not to Federal health care program beneficiaries. Many healthcare providers are hesitant to give federal beneficiaries access to certain discount programs because of concern that doing so would run afoul Federal anti-kickback and beneficiary inducement statutes. Specifically, the concern is that if the beneficiaries receive discounts, clinics would provide patients with something of value—a discount on self-paid services—in exchange for the option to seek federally reimbursed services through a specific provider.

To address these concerns, the chiropractic clinic operator requested an advisory opinion from OIG on a new discount model that would extend discount programs to Federal health care program beneficiaries. While OIG found that the proposed discount program could result in prohibited compensation to patients, it also stated that it would not pursue an enforcement action based on the nature of the requesting clinics’ specific discount model.

Although only the requesting chiropractic clinic operator may rely on this opinion, OIG’s analysis implies that equalizing discount rates across federally reimbursable and non-reimbursable chiropractic services reduces legal risk under anti-kickback and beneficiary inducement statutes. Providers offering similar discount programs should take note to inform their compliance strategies.
Continue Reading HHS-OIG approves uniform chiropractic discount program for federal beneficiaries

On August 12, 2021, the Seventh Circuit joined the Third, Eighth, Ninth, and D.C. Circuits in holding that the “objective reasonableness” standard for determinations of scienter, as set forth by the Supreme Court in Safeco Insurance Co. of America v. Burr, 551 U.S. 47, 70 (2007), applies in the context of False Claims Act (FCA) litigation.  In doing so, the Seventh Circuit observed that, under Safeco, a defendant cannot possess the requisite scienter under the FCA if: (1) it has an objectively reasonable reading of the statute or regulation; and (2) there was no authoritative guidance warning against its view.  This case has significant implications for defendants in FCA litigation by finding that an objectively reasonable interpretation of the law will defeat allegations of false claims.

Further, the decision is the latest victory in a spate of cases brought by the plaintiffs’ bar claiming that pharmacies are required to report special prices—such as membership club prices or matched competitor prices—as their usual and customary (U&C) prices. Virtually every pharmacy that has operated a membership club has faced scrutiny through actions under the FCA and consumer-class actions. The Seventh Circuit’s decision comes in the wake of the recent jury verdict in favor of CVS in the matter of Carl Washington (formerly known as Corcoran) et al. v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc., No. 15-cv-03504 (N.D. Ca. Jun. 24, 2021).   This victory will support pharmacies’ defenses in other similar litigation alleging the submission of false U&C prices, particularly when the alleged false conduct occurred before 2016, given that the Seventh Circuit found that reporting retail prices—as opposed to special prices such as price matches—was an objectively reasonable approach to U&C reporting.

The Lower Court’s Decision:
Continue Reading Seventh Circuit adopts Safeco objective reasonableness standard in the context of false claims act cases

In recent years, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has increasingly leveraged data analytics to combat fraud. Principal Deputy Chief of DOJ’s Fraud Section, Joe Beemsterboer, described the department’s data-mining capabilities as the “foundation of how [DOJ] investigate[s] and analyze[s] cases,” and explained that digital forensics equips the department with “powerful” tools for identifying “trends,”

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released complementary rules this past Friday, November 20, 2020, to modernize and clarify the regulations that interpret the Physician Self-Referral Law (the Stark Law) and the federal Anti-Kickback Statute.

As we wrote when the proposed rules were released last autumn (see client alerts here and here),

On August 4, 2020, the Ninth Circuit, in a decision authored by Judge Wardlaw, dismissed for lack of jurisdiction an atypical appeal filed by the Federal Government from a district court’s order denying the Government’s motion to dismiss a qui tam case filed under the False Claims Act (“FCA”).  See United States v. United States

The much-anticipated final rules modernizing the safe harbors under the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and the physician self-referral exceptions under the Stark Law are officially under review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) anticipates publishing the final rules in August 2020, although that target date is

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced on May 12, 2020, that his office is investigating several nursing homes in the Commonwealth for neglect of patients and residents: “We will hold nursing facilities and caretakers criminally accountable if they fail to properly provide care to our loved ones … we will not tolerate those who mistreat our seniors and break the law.” Shapiro has also launched a public portal for citizens to email reports of neglect in nursing home communities. As is the case in many states, nursing home patients make up the majority of the deaths associated with COVID-19 in Pennsylvania. Just over 2,611 nursing home residents and staff have died from COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, comprising nearly 70 percent of the 3,800 total deaths reported in the Commonwealth as of the date of the press release.

Attorney General Shapiro is not alone in his effort to take a closer look at nursing home facilities and caregivers, even while lobbying groups for health care providers and nursing homes push for broad immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits. In late April, New York Attorney General Letitia James released a statement saying that her office’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit continues to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect in nursing homes. James’ office similarly launched a nursing home abuse hotline for residents, families, and members of the public to report alleged complaints at the facilities. Specifically, Attorney General James is investigating a Queens adult care facility that allegedly failed to protect residents from COVID-19 and misled families about its spread. Residents of that same facility are now suing in federal court over similar allegations. State attorneys general are increasingly active on this issue and will be pursuing nursing homes and long-term care facilities through various angles including Medicaid fraud, consumer protection, and false advertising.

Continue Reading Nursing homes face increased scrutiny by attorneys general during COVID-19

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has published a final rule with comment period establishing sweeping disclosure and monitoring obligations for providers and suppliers enrolled or enrolling in federal health programs, and expanding CMS’s authority to deny or revoke enrollment status.  In particular, the rule establishes an expansive new “affiliations” disclosure requirement that

As part of its “Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care,” the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is seeking input on how it can address “unnecessary obstacles to coordinated care, real or perceived, caused by the physician self-referral law.” CMS Administrator Seema Verma acknowledged in a recent blog post that “[i]n its current form, the

Federal health fraud recoveries for FY 2017 totaled $2.6 billion, according to the latest HCFAC program annual report, compared to $3.3 billion in FY 2016. The Department of Justice (DOJ) opened 967 new criminal health care fraud investigations in FY 2017, filed criminal charges in 439 cases involving 720 defendants, obtained convictions of 639

The Department of Justice (DOJ) obtained $3.7 billion in False Claims Act (FCA) settlements and judgments in fiscal year (FY) 2017, with $2.4 billion coming from health care industry cases. The $2.4 billion amount includes only federal recoveries; additional funds were recovered for state Medicaid programs.  The largest health care industry recoveries in FY 2017–