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Federal Agencies Scrutinizing Home Healthcare Fraud & Kickbacks

October 11th, 2019 by
home healthcare, HHS, heathcare

checking mans blood pressure

By Karina P. Gonzalez

Federal agencies are continuing to target home healthcare industry fraud in “hot zone areas.”

Recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS) released its report. It identified Florida, Texas and select areas in Southern California and the Midwest as areas where home healthcare fraud is more likely to occur. It is obvious that the watch dog agencies will continue to monitor home healthcare spending in these hot zones.

HHS found that a home health agency incorrectly billed Medicare and did not comply with Medicare Billing requirements for beneficiaries that were not homebound and for others that did not require skilled services at all.

In August and September 2018, physicians and the owner of a home health agency were each sentenced on multiple counts of conspiracy and healthcare fraud and ordered to pay $6.5 million in restitution. One physician was sentenced to 132 months in prison following trial. A physician who pled guilty was sentenced to 27 months in prison following a guilty plea. The home health agency owner was sentenced to 42 months in prison.   The defendants paid and received kickbacks in exchange for patients and billed Medicare more than $8.9 million for services that were medically unnecessary, never provided, and/or not otherwise reimbursable. Additionally, certain defendants provided prescriptions for opioid medications to induce patient participation in the scheme.

In September 2018, the co-owner and administrator of a home health agency was sentenced to 24 months in prison, ordered to pay over $2.2 million in restitution, and ordered to forfeit over $1.1 million. The co-owners participated in a home healthcare fraud conspiracy that resulted in Medicare paying at least $2.2 million on false and fraudulent claims. The owners and their co-conspirators paid kickbacks to doctors and patient recruiters in exchange for patient referrals, billed Medicare for services that were medically unnecessary, and caused patient files to be falsified to justify the fraudulent billing.

Back in February 2018, the owner of more than twenty home health agencies was sentenced to 240 months in prison and ordered to pay $66.4 million in restitution, jointly and severally with his co-defendants, after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud. A patient recruiter for the home health agencies, who also owned a medical clinic and two home health agencies of her own, was sentenced to 180 months in prison. Another patient recruiter, who also was the owner of two home health agencies, was sentenced to 115 months in prison. These conspirators paid illegal bribes and kickbacks to patient recruiters in return for the referral of Medicare beneficiaries many of whom did not need or qualify for home health services.  Medicare paid approximately $66 million on those claims.

Illegal kickbacks in exchange for referrals of Medicare beneficiaries, lack of medical necessity for home health services, failing to meet the guidelines, fraudulent billing, billing for services beneficiaries did not receive and fraudulent documentation continues to plague the home healthcare industry.

 

Two Big Changes to Florida’s Patient Brokering Act Affect All Healthcare Facilities and Providers

August 14th, 2019 by

patient brokering act anti kickback healthcare law health lawHas your attorney ever told you to do your best to comply with certain safe harbors to the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute, and you’ll be likely to survive scrutiny under the Florida Patient Brokering Act (the PBA)? If you’ve heard that, it’s time to re-examine that relationship. In the last month, the Patient Brokering Act has been amended, and then interpreted by a court of law in a way that affects all healthcare providers.

The Patient Brokering Act has been used in recent years to prosecute abuses in the addiction treatment industry. Other healthcare providers subject to the act have largely been uninvolved in these prosecutions. However, the PBA has been remolded 4 times in the past 5 years as a means to tailor it to allow for prosecutions of bad actors in healthcare, including addiction treatment. One item should be made clear: the PBA applies to any facility at all that is licensed by the Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) or practitioner licensed by the Department of Health (DOH), including physicians, surgery centers, home health agencies, skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, DME providers, diagnostic imaging facilities, clinical laboratories, pharmacies and many other. During the legislative process, barely any healthcare industry representatives (from any provider group) showed up to any legislative workshops or produced counterbalancing input or language proposals that reflected a broader perspective. read more

EKRA Affects Marketing Relationships with Labs and Addiction Treatment Businesses

January 15th, 2019 by

By: Jeff Cohen

For those following the federal legislative developments on the issue of compensating marketing people who market the services of labs and addiction treatment facilities there is a new update to take note of. Congress passed on October 24, 2018 the “Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act.”  Yes, that’s a real name!  Part of the law is the Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act of 2018 (“EKRA”).

The core aspect of EKRA has to do with how to properly compensate marketing personnel who market the services of labs, addiction treatment facilities and recovery homes.   For those of you already familiar with existing federal law pertaining to compensation arrangements (e.g. the bona fide employee exception (the “BFE”) and the personal services arrangement and management contract safe harbor (the “PSA”)), the EKRA provisions will look familiar!  Key aspects of this law (which has to be read together with similar existing laws) include— read more

State Patient Brokering Act Cases to Throw out Legal Advice as Defense

October 9th, 2018 by

palm beach county task forceBy: Jeff Cohen

There are two criminal cases pending in Palm Beach County that threaten to put a bullet in the heart of healthcare professionals and businesses and also the law practices that advise them.  Both State v. Simeone and State v. Kigar have a motion from the State pending before them to block any testimony that the defendants received legal advice concerning a contract entered into by an addiction treatment facility and a sober home.  The State alleges that the contract violates the state Patient Brokering Act (PBA) because it was essentially a ruse whereby the addiction treatment facility was just paying for the sober home to refer patients.  Now the State wants to make sure that the entire issue of the defendants being advised by counsel never sees the light of day.

How is this possible?  How can it be that a client can seek legal counsel, get advise (and presumably follow it), and then be blocked from presenting that evidence?  The State argues that the PBA has no wording that requires them to prove intent.  And if intent isn’t an element to be proven, the argument goes, then evidence of the client intending not to violate the law by getting advice beforehand is inadmissible!   read more

The Latest Healthcare Fraud Enforcement Tool: The Travel Act

October 9th, 2018 by

healthcare fraudBy: Matt Fischer

Federal law enforcement has traditionally prosecuted individuals utilizing healthcare fraud and abuse laws such as the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute, the False Claims Act, the Physician Self-Referral Law also known as the Stark Law as well as other administrative tools including exclusions and civil monetary penalties.  In addition to these laws, federal law enforcement also has at their disposal other fraudulent act statutes such as mail and wire fraud.  The facts of a case, however, may not provide for federal standing.  For example, when individuals take out federal government payors out of the picture or from an arrangement as a way of avoiding federal jurisdiction.  The new solution to this issue…a law enacted in 1961, the Travel Act. read more

A New Perspective from CMS? Medicare, Stark Law and Whistleblower Changes on Deck

October 2nd, 2018 by

medicare stark lawBy: Dave Davidson

Over the past several months, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has taken a number of steps that show an awareness of the regulatory burden placed upon participants in the government’s health care programs, and even some willingness to consider reducing those burdens.  While it remains to be seen whether the recent proposals will have measurable results, the following actions can still be viewed with guarded optimism.

Proposed Changes to Medicare

In July, 2018, CMS proposed significant changes to Medicare, to be included in rules that take effect in 2019.  These changes cover physician fee schedules, streamlining Evaluation & Management (E&M) billing, advancing “virtual care,” decreasing drug costs, revising the MIPS program and establishing the MAQI demonstration project.  The agency also asked for comments on price transparency issues. read more

Anti-Kickback Statute and Healthcare Marketing: 3 Legal Considerations

September 6th, 2018 by

healthcare marketingBy: Matt Fischer

Healthcare marketing arrangements that violate the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) can lead to serious financial and criminal consequences.  Understanding the types of marketing arrangements that courts have found to be in violation of the statute and the potential implications are critical for marketers to know in order to operate in the healthcare industry.

Under the AKS, it is a criminal offense to knowingly and willfully offer, pay, solicit, or receive any remuneration to induce referrals of items or services reimbursable by the Federal health care programs.  Where remuneration is paid purposefully to induce referrals of items or services paid for by a Federal health care program, the AKS is violated.  By its terms, the AKS ascribes criminal liability to parties on both sides of an impermissible transaction.  An example of a highly scrutinized arrangement involves percentage compensation.  For regulators, percentage compensation arrangements provide financial incentives that may encourage overutilization and increase program costs.

Here are 3 important things to know: read more

False Claims Act Case Beaten by Bona Fide Employee Arrangement

August 23rd, 2018 by

false claims actBy: Jeff Cohen     

One healthcare employer’s compensation arrangement with its employees just got much needed support from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.  The employer there, which provided AIDS patients certain healthcare related services, paid its employees a bonus of $100 per patient.  The case was brought on the argument that the compensation arrangement constituted an illegal kickback under the federal Anti- Kickback Statute.  The court, however, disagreed because the employees who received the bonuses were “bona fide employees.”

The court’s focus on the plain language of the safe harbor for bona fide employees was refreshingly clear, notably that “any amount paid by an employer to an employee (who has a bona fide employment relationship with such an employer) for employment in the furnishing or any item or service.”  Essentially, any amount paid by an employer to a bona fide employee is not considered to be “remuneration” under the Anti-Kickback Statute. read more

State Court Ruling on Patient Brokering Act Threatens Healthcare Facilities and Providers

July 25th, 2018 by

patient brokering actA recent ruling by a state trial court handling the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force prosecutions against providers of addiction treatment and sober home services is creating lots of confusion and alarm around the state and could have very far reaching consequences for the entire healthcare industry well beyond addiction treatment.

The issue presented by the prosecution focuses on whether a person charged with violating the state’s Patient Brokering Act (PBA) can be found guilty even if he/she didn’t know what he was doing was unlawful. The PBA broadly prohibits paying someone for patient referrals, very much like the federal Anti-Kickback statute.  If allowed, the client would have gotten legal advice, paid for it, followed it, and still not be able to show a judge or jury that, despite all their best efforts, they simply followed the law as instructed.

Can a healthcare facility or provider be guilty of violating a criminal law [the PBA] if they’d gotten legal advice and followed it?  Traditionally, the answer would be a clear “no.”  The argument against the State’s position would be something like “How can someone intend to violate a criminal law if they got legal advice regarding how to comply with it and then followed that advice?”  The argument of the state might look something like “We don’t even think the judge or jury ought to be able to hear that the person got legal advice and followed it.”  The court punted the issue to the appellate court. read more

Behavioral Analysis Medicaid Providers: Florida’s Latest Enforcement Target

July 20th, 2018 by

behavioral analysis medicaidBy: Matt Fischer

Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (“AHCA”) is the state’s chief health policy and planning organization.  AHCA is also responsible for the state’s Medicaid program.  One of the agency’s latest targets are behavioral analysis providers who treat children with autism.  Recently, AHCA imposed a temporary six-month moratorium on enrollment of new providers due to newly discovered fraud and abuse.  AHCA states that the temporary moratorium will allow the agency the time to complete a full assessment of the current provider population.  In other words, all behavioral analysis providers will experience heightened scrutiny in the coming months if not already.  This can include in-person interviews and requests for records.  Given this increased regulatory action, it is important for behavioral analysis business owners to be aware of the audit process and to prepare for likely future reviews.

Here are a few of the notable findings cited by AHCA regarding the identified fraud and abuse: read more