The Stark Law has caused angst for many a physician and many a health care lawyer over the years. The Stark Law has also troubled hospital and health system CEOs looking for ways to align incentives with physicians. Some stakeholders say Congress should do away with the myriad statutes and regulations that comprise the strict liability federal law banning physician self-referral. Those stakeholders suggest either repealing it altogether and letting other fraud and abuse laws do the work, or – as its namesake former-Representative Pete Stark has suggested – replace it with a much simpler prohibition on soliciting referrals for kickbacks or other special treatment.

My colleague, Tom Crane, suggests another approach – revamp the Stark Law’s advisory opinion process so the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) can protect arrangements from sanctions, similar to the Office of the Attorney General’s (“OIG’s)  Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”) advisory opinion process. Continue Reading Changes Needed to Stark Law Advisory Opinion Process

The President has released a “budget blueprint” for fiscal year 2018. Although there are many aspects of the budget blueprint to digest, several budget items signal that government health care fraud enforcement remains a priority under the new administration.

  • Overall, the President’s 2018 budget requests $69.0 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”). According to the blueprint, this a $15.1 billion or 17.9% decrease from the FY 2017 annualized level.
  • However, the budget blueprint increases funding for the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control (HCFAC) program, which is designed to coordinate federal, state and local health care fraud and abuse enforcement efforts.
  • Specifically, the blueprint proposes $751 million of discretionary funding for the HCFAC program, which exceeds FY 2017 funding by $70 million, according to the budget blueprint.
  • The budget blueprint explains that additional funding for the HCFAC program “has allowed the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in recent years to shift away from a ‘pay-and-chase’ model toward identifying and preventing fraudulent or improper payments from being paid in the first place.”

In a proposed budget that cuts HHS funding by nearly 18%, the increase in HCFAC funding stands out. The President’s budget affirms a trend that we have observed away from “pay-and-chase” toward proactive data analysis. As discussed in a prior post, recent False Claims Act cases strongly suggest that growing experience with data mining has given enforcers greater confidence in their ability to identify potential fraud and abuse. As a result, proactive data analysis could lead to a greater number of FCA cases originating with government investigators instead of through qui tam FCA actions.

Earlier this month, Mintz Levin’s Health Care Enforcement Defense Group published its most recent Health Care Qui Tam Update that looks at 18 health care-related qui tam cases unsealed in October and November of 2016.

The Update presents two unique cases in-depth and covers some of the trends revealed in these recently unsealed cases:

  • The cases identified were filed in federal district courts in 12 states, including California (5), New York (3), Alabama (1), Arkansas (1), Florida (1), Hawaii (1), Kansas (1), New Jersey (1), New Mexico (1), North Carolina (1), Oklahoma (1), and Pennsylvania (1).
  • The federal government declined to intervene in nine of the 18 cases. Five more cases were voluntarily dismissed before any action was taken by the government. The federal government intervened, in whole or in part, in three cases. In the two remaining cases, the government’s intervention status could not be discerned from the unsealed filings.
  • Nature of the Claims
    • Nine of the recently unsealed cases included both state and federal claims.
    • Four involved allegations of unlawful kickbacks. Of these, two also alleged violations of the Stark Law (42 U.S.C. § 1395nn).
    • Claims for relief under state or federal anti-whistleblower retaliation provisions appeared in nine of the 18 recently unsealed cases.
    • The cases remained under seal for an average of just over two years (774 days). The median number of days cases remained under seal was 573.5. United States ex rel. DiBenedetto v. Vahedi, which was heard in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, was under seal for the shortest amount of time, at 104 days. United States ex rel. Harmsen v. Moore County Dental Care Center, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, was under seal the longest, at 2,075 days (over five and a half years)
  • In nearly three-quarters of the unsealed cases (13 of 18), relators were current or former employees of the defendant.

See HERE for the full Update and to find our key takeaways from the cases discussed.

 

As the healthcare industry moves towards value-based purchasing, pay-for-performance, and other payment reform models, industry leaders have identified federal fraud and abuse laws as a barrier to full implementation of such models.  Last month, the Health Care Leadership Council released a White Paper entitled “Health System Transformation: Revisiting the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute and Physician Self-Referral (“Stark”) Law to Foster Integrated Care Delivery and Payment Models” (“HCL White Paper”), identifying current fraud and abuse laws as impeding transformation of the healthcare system.  Pharmaceutical and device manufacturers have also taken advantage of the OIG’s Solicitation of New Safe Harbors and Special Fraud Alerts (“OIG Solicitation”) to advocate for more flexible fraud and abuse laws with respect to value-based arrangements. Continue Reading Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Healthcare Leaders cite Fraud and Abuse Laws as Obstacle to Value-Based Arrangements

Earlier this week, the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services (“OIG”) posted its fiscal year (“FY”) 2016 data about Medicaid Fraud Control Units (“MFCUs”) across the country.

Federal law requires each state to operate a MFCU separate and distinct from the state Medicaid Agency. MFCUs are charged with investigating and prosecuting fraud committed by Medicaid providers and in the state’s administration of the Medicaid Program, as well as patient abuse/neglect that occurs in a Medicaid-funded facility or at the hands of Medicaid providers.  MFCUs currently operate in 49 states and the District of Columbia (North Dakota presently has a waiver but proposals to create a MFCU have been introduced in the state legislature).  They are typically part of a state’s Attorney General’s office and are required to employ investigators, attorneys and auditors.  The OIG is responsible for overseeing MFCUs.  It annually recertifies MFCUs, assesses their performance and compliance with Federal requirements, and administers a Federal grant award that funds a portion of each MFCU’s operational costs. Continue Reading OIG Releases FY 2016 Statistical Data About Medicaid Fraud Control Units

6350-Pharma-Summit-blog-buttonThe pharmacy industry continues to be under scrutiny from all angles.  As legislative, agency, and enforcement priorities take shape under the new administration, the industry is faced with what seems like daily developments in terms of policy updates, legislation, and potential regulation.  Our 2017 Pharmacy Industry Summit will bring together stakeholders and thought leaders from across the industry to discuss legal and policy challenges facing manufacturers, PBMs, payors, pharmacies, and providers and to assess the various swirling initiatives and their potential impact on the industry.

The Summit will be held on April 5-6 at the Mintz Levin Washington, DC office.  Event details can be found here.

Session topics will include:

  • A Keynote Address from Mark Merritt, President and CEO of The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA)
  • An update on the current state of Affordable Care Act Reform
  • Drug Pricing Debate and the Evolving Role of Pharmacy Industry Players
  • State Issues Affecting the Pharmaceutical Industry
  • Congressional Staffer Panel
  • Value-Based and Innovative Contracting and Reimbursement
  • FDA’s Impact on the Supply Chain – Evolving Policies and Changing Priorities
  • Government Enforcement and the Pharmaceutical Industry

We hope you can join us! Please register by March 29, 2017.

In a closely watched False Claims Act (“FCA”) case, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has an unreviewable right to object to a proposed settlement agreement between a relator and a defendant when the Government has declined to intervene in the case. United States ex rel. Michaels v. Agape Senior Community, Inc., No. 15-2145 (4th Cir. Feb 14, 2017).  In addition, as most expected, the court declined to decide the legal issue whether FCA plaintiffs may rely on statistical sampling of claims to prove FCA liability and damages, concluding that it had “improvidently granted” an interlocutory appeal of the lower court’s ruling on the use of statistical sampling.  This decision thus leaves intact the district court’s decision that rejected the relator’s proposed use of statistical sampling to prove FCA liability and damages.  The Fourth Circuit’s decision not to address the use of sampling in FCA cases leaves many open questions. Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Permits DOJ to Reject an FCA Settlement, But Punts Decision on Statistical Sampling

For several years now, the public outcry over the issue of drug pricing and reimbursement has increased in frequency and fervor.   At least one government agency wants you to know that it has been listening and wants to help provide the information necessary to forge a solution.

On Friday February 17, 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued an Online Portfolio on Drug Pricing and Reimbursement, pulling together OIG’s body of work related to drug pricing and reimbursement in HHS programs, including Medicaid and Medicare, since 2010.  Continue Reading OIG Publishes Online Portfolio Highlighting its Body of Work on Drug Pricing and Reimbursement

Last month, the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah joined the AseraCare court and others in finding that a relator cannot successfully allege violations of the False Claims Act (“FCA”) based on a purported lack of medical necessity unless there is an objective standard articulated by Medicare.  In fact, District Judge Jill Parrish cited the AseraCare case and many federal appellate decisions when granting dismissal – with prejudice – in United States ex rel. Polukoff v. St. Mark’s et al., No. 16-cv-00304 (D. Utah 2017)Continue Reading Another Court Agrees That A Difference Of Opinion On Medical Necessity Is Insufficient to Show Falsity Under the False Claims Act

In this final installment of our Health Care Enforcement Review and 2017 Outlook series, we analyze health care enforcement trends gathered from 2016 civil settlements and criminal resolutions of health care fraud and abuse cases. Behind the headlines covering enormous recoveries in 2016, several themes are apparent.

The False Claims Act continued to generate large civil settlements.

Continuing the trend from recent years, the False Claims Act (“FCA”) remained the primary civil enforcement tool against health care providers as well as pharmaceutical, life sciences, and medical device companies, predominantly driven by qui tam FCA complaints filed by relators.  In fiscal year 2016, the Department of Justice obtained more than $4.7 billion in settlements and judgments from FCA cases, $2.5 billion of which it obtained from the health care industry.  Continue Reading Health Care Enforcement Review and 2017 Outlook: Significant Health Care Fraud and Abuse Civil Settlements and Criminal Resolutions