Health law is the federal, state, and local law, rules, regulations and other jurisprudence among providers, payers and vendors to the healthcare industry and its patient and delivery of health care services; all with an emphasis on operations, regulatory and transactional legal issues.
Today’s Topic: Did you know the DOJ never tires of chasing the bad guys?
If a pharmacy is going to engage in nefarious activities, it should expect to get caught. Fraud in these cases is generally easy to prove. Simply verifying inventory, orders and dispensing records yields incredible data that when combined with comparative data from peer pharmacies can be used by law enforcement to establish that fraud has been committed.
Latest Enforcement Activity
On April 13, 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a 78-month prison sentence imposed against a 37-year-old owner/operator of several pharmacies in New York, Aleah Mohammed (Mohammed). The sentence was as a result of guilty plea entered by Mohammed in April 2021 for charges of mail fraud, health care fraud and conspiracy to commit health care fraud. As part of her guilty plea, Mohammed agreed to forfeit $5.1 million and pay $6.5 in restitution.
During the course of her criminal conduct, Mohammed engaged in multiple schemes to defraud health care programs, including obtaining more than $6.5 million from Medicare Part D Plans and Medicaid drug plans. Over a five-year period, Mohammed submitted fraudulent claims to Medicare and Medicaid for prescription drugs that were:
not prescribed as claimed;
not medically necessary;
dispensed during a time when one or more of the pharmacies she operated was no longer registered with the State of New York; and
often for expensive prescription drugs to treat HIV.
Adding to the mounting evidence against her, Mohammed led a lavish lifestyle and purchased luxury items such a Porsche and jewelry.
It seems that criminals never learn. They think that they are smarter than law enforcement and will never get caught. But rarely do those criminals win in the end. It is basic accounting and law enforcement knows how to do that. Law enforcement mines each pharmacy’s data and looks for outlier information as compared to peer pharmacies as well as inventory data. So what information did the DOJ have at its disposal in this case?
On hand inventory. As with any payer audit, the payer (and law enforcement) can obtain information concerning inventory on hand. If the pharmacy never had the inventory, it could not sell the drug.
Drug purchasing records. Again, unless a pharmacy had the drug in inventory or purchased the drug through one of its wholesalers, it is hard for the pharmacy to defend against fraud charges when it is filing a claim for drugs never in its inventory.
Dispensing records. Dispensing records also reveal information essential to determining what was in inventory, what was purchased and what was dispensed.
Comparative data concerning dispensing of high-cost drugs as a proportion of other drugs sold.
Comparative data looking at peer pharmacies for dispensing trends.
Collectively, the data and these records make it easy for law enforcement to identify and prosecute fraudulent claims. Even so, criminals seemingly are undeterred, and schemes like this one are repeated time and again.
Simply put, crime does not pay. It does not matter whether it is in the pharmacy industry or elsewhere, when government funds are involved, law enforcement will surely be looking for wrongdoers. This probably is not the last case of its kind this year, so expect to see more news of pharmacies/pharmacists behaving badly.
As I’ve said in earlier articles, controlled substances are a big part of the business and create significant risks faced by retail pharmacies. But many of those risks can be mitigated through written policies and procedures and consistent adherence to those policies and procedures. These are the first line of defense and one of the most important strategies to identify and mitigate the risk of regulatory enforcement action before the DEA comes knocking.
Regardless of the size of your pharmacy, you should have written policies and procedures addressing the core requirements of both federal and state law. Below is a list of essential controlled substances policies relating to inventory controls, dispensing and destruction/reverse distribution. Although not an exhaustive list, these are key to decreasing the myriad risks inherent in stocking and dispensing controlled substance prescriptions. read more
Telemedicine pharmacy arrangements continue to be of significant interest to fraud enforcement. A 2018 case in which four individuals and seven companies were indicted ended in a month-long jury trial of one of the individuals, a Florida pharmacy owner. The federal jury trial in the billion-dollar telehealth pharmacy fraud scheme resulted in conviction on 22 counts of mail fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud and introduction of misbranded drugs into interstate commerce. Sentencing in the case is set for May of 2022. Other co-conspirators entered plea agreements along the way, pleading guilty to various charges including felony conspiracy to commit health care fraud, felony misbranding, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and fraudulent telemarketing of dietary supplements, skin creams and testosterone. Many of these are still awaiting sentencing, also expected to be scheduled sometime in 2022.
The scheme involved several individuals, compounding pharmacies and telemarketers engaged in a conspiracy to commit health care fraud, mail fraud and introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce. Peter Bolos, along with two other co-conspirators, owned and operated Synergy Pharmacy in Palm Harbor, Florida. Working with HealthRight, a telemarketer, the co-conspirators generated prescriptions for drugs such as pain creams, scar creams, and vitamins. Using the HealthRight telemarketing platform, they would call consumers and deceive them into providing their personal insurance information and accept the drugs. HealthRight then communicated the prescription requests to physicians who authorized the prescriptions without ever interacting with the patients, and paid those physicians for issuance of the prescriptions. Through this scheme, the co-conspirators were able to solicitate insurance coverage information from consumers across the county for prescription pain creams, fraudulently obtain prescriptions, mark up the prices of the drugs and bill private insurance carriers. read more
The 340B Discount Drug Program allows manufacturers participating in Medicaid to agree to provide outpatient drugs to certain designated clinics and hospitals at significantly reduced prices. The typical discount ranges from 30% to 50% off the drug’s list price. In turn those clinics/hospitals are able to reach more high-risk, high-need patients and provide more comprehensive services. Each designated clinic/hospital involved in the program is called a “covered entity.”
Covered entities may provide drugs purchased through the 340B Discount Drug Program to all eligible patients of that covered entity, regardless of a patient’s payer status. In order to be a “patient” of a specific covered entity, an individual (1) must have an established relationship with the covered entity such that the covered entity maintains records of the individual’s care; and (2) must receive care from a professional employed by or contracted with the covered entity such that responsibility for the care remains with the covered entity. Under the guidelines, an individual is not considered a patient of the covered entity if the individual only is dispensed a drug for the patient to take at home. read more