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.
Yet again, the fraud enforcement arm of the DOJ strikes out against fraud in the pharmacy industry. Two new cases shed continuing light on the ongoing fraud.
Announced last week by the DOJ, the owner/operator of five pharmacies in New York pled guilty to charges stemming from a scheme to defraud Medicare and Medicaid by billing for prescription drugs that were not dispensed, not prescribed, not medically necessary or dispensed when the pharmacy had no authority to dispense the prescription drugs. This blatant disregard for the law was magnified when the owner/operator used the ill-gotten gains of her scheme to purchase luxury items like cars and jewelry. Nothing screams “come and get me” like openly flaunting the money taken from the government. read more
Healthcare fraud continues to be a significant priority for the U.S. Department of Justice. On February 24, 2021, the DOJ’s Criminal Division Fraud Section published its annual “Fraud Section Year in Review 2020.” While the Fraud Section has three separate enforcement units, the Health Care Fraud (HCF) Unit is responsible for all enforcement activities in the health care industry. The Unit’s focus is to protect against fraud and abuse in federal health care programs and recoup illicit gains.
During 2020, the HCF Unit operated 15 strike forces in 24 federal judicial districts throughout the U.S. The efforts of these strike forces led to charges against 167 individuals alleging $3.77 billion in fraudulent charges for health care paid for by federal and state programs. This should cause any health care provider to stand up and take notice. And enforcement in the health care industry is not likely to go away soon with so many schemes ripe for the government’s picking and generating recoupment on behalf of the federal health care programs.
Here are couple of the latest schemes that have landed pharmacies, pharmacists and other health care professionals squarely in the crosshairs of federal enforcement:
You do everything right. You’re careful to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. Compliance is hard-wired because you’re in an industry that’s highly regulated and you’ve built into your operations a series of compliance checks and balances. However, even with strong controls in place, compliance efforts sometimes fall short– and whether you’re a physician group, a pharmacy, a durable medical equipment company, a home health agency, or any other health care provider, someday you might find yourself face-to-face with law enforcement officials or regulatory enforcement authorities. What do you do? How do you assure the most successful outcome with minimal business disruption?
Compliance is the foundation to mitigating the risks inherent in any health care operation. Compliance can reduce the likelihood that regulators or law enforcement suddenly appear on your doorstep. But preparation for emergencies and uncertainties is the key to reducing the risk that non-compliance leads to lengthy business interruption. Although you may be saying “if”, you really should be thinking and acting more like “when”. It costs everything to be ill-prepared and it costs very little to be well-prepared. The following preparation can prevent much of the uncertainty that arises in these cases.
POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
First and foremost, make sure you have well-developed policies and procedures for what to do in such instances. You should review these policies and procedures with your employees regularly, focusing on the importance of compliance. Out of fear and uncertainty, employees can do things that create unnecessary challenges. Educating them as to what their rights and responsibilities are will mitigate those risks. Make sure your policies and procedures include the designation of who is in charge (“person in charge”) when the government does show up. read more
On November 3, 2020, Gilead Sciences Inc. filed suite in the Southern District of Florida Federal Court seeking damages from and injunctions against 58 defendants in South Florida for their part in an alleged scheme to defraud Gilead for millions of dollars. The defendants are comprised of medical clinics, laboratories, pharmacies and their owners, officers and employees.
Gilead is a pharmaceutical company that develops and manufactures drugs for the prevention and treatment of HIV, AIDS, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Gilead has created a medication assistance program that provides eligible uninsured persons with free medication to help protect them from becoming infected with HIV. Gilead alleges that the defendants are exploiting the program’s charitable purpose for their own financial gain, endangering patients in the process.
The alleged scheme is complex and involves a lot of people participating in a wide-spread conspiracy, yet is exactly the type of convoluted scheme that regulators and insurance companies target. If the allegations are true, nearly 60 fraudulent operators will have to find another line of business. The OIG is likely to be following this very closely to determine if federal charges should follow. 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