Articles Posted in Health Care Fraud

Hidden schemes to defraud Medicare and state Medicaid programs of scarce taxpayer dollars are at the heart of many whistleblower cases under the federal and state False Claims Acts.

This morning, Wisconsin Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen announced that a Dane County, Wisconsin jury has just declared that a pharmaceutical manufacturer defrauded the Wisconsin Medicaid program by reporting grossly inflated and fraudulent prices.

Pfizer was on the receiving end of the health care fraud verdict, which may result in more than $153 million in damages based on alleged practices by Pharmacia (which Pfizer had acquired). The AG reportedly cited a 1993 internal memo in which a pharma employee wrote that “three decades of gaming the present reimbursement scheme has provided a lucrative avenue of profit.”

Some recent significant recoveries under the False Claims Act–the nation’s primary tool for fighting fraud and false claims–are summarized below. This summary is part of a paper I submitted in connection with serving on the faculty (with some excellent attorneys) of the “Southeastern Health Care Fraud Institute” on December 18, 2008.

Health care attorneys will gather at the Institute to discuss developments under the qui tam provisions of the nation’s major whistleblower statute, the False Claims Act, as well as other issues relating to fraud in the health care industry.

Recent Significant False Claims Act Recoveries
(as reported by

Merck ($650 million settlement in February 2008, arising from allegations of nominal pricing fraud, and kickback and best price violations for the arthritis drug Vioxx, the cholesterol drug Zocor, the acid-reflux drug Pepcid, the hypertensive medication Cozaar, the bone loss drug Fosamax, the migraine medication Maxalt, and the asthma medication Singulair.)

Cephalon ($375 million settlement in November 2007 arising from alleged off-label marketing of narcotic lollipop Actiq (Afentanyl citrate@) as well as Gabitril (an epilepsy medication) and Provigil (a narcolepsy medication.)

Amerigroup ($225 million settlement in July 2008, which was the final settlement after jury trial over allegations that the defendant was Acherry-picking@ the healthiest patients to reduce Medicaid HMO liability/spending.)

Staten Island University Hospital ($88 million settlement in September 2008, based on allegations that the hospital fraudulently billed Medicaid and Medicare for inpatient alcohol and substance abuse detoxification treatment beds for which it did not have verification, fraudulently inflated its patient count, and fraudulently billed Medicare for stereotactic body radiosurgery treatment that was provided on an out-patient basis to cancer patients.)
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The country’s ongoing economic distress has produced layoffs in many industries, and pharma appears to be feeling the pain as well.

Recent layoffs reported in the drug industry include Sanofi (650 sales reps);Novartis (550 U.S. salespersons);Merck (8,000); Wyeth (2,440); GSK (1,000); Schering-Plough (5,500);and Boehringer Ingelheim (200).

Will Wall Street Bailout Produce the Next Round of Whistleblowers Reporting Fraud?

The U.S. Department of Justice this week announced its FY 2008 recoveries in fraud and False Claims Act cases, with more than $1 billion in health care fraud recoveries alone, and a total of more than $1.3 billion. (As explained below, we believe the $1.3 billion figure is low and understates the actual fraud recoveries this year.)

Cases brought by “relators” or whistleblowers under the nation’s primary whistleblower statute, the False Claims Act, accounted for 78% of the money recovered. Since the False Claims Act took its current form in 1986, this law has recovered more than $21 billion of taxpayer funds from those who defraud the government.

As health care costs have grown as a percentage of the federal budget, so have recoveries for health care fraud. Recoveries of federal dollars were made because of fraud not only in Medicare and Medicaid, but also other federal programs such as Tricare and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

The largest recoveries were from pharmaceutical companies–Cephalon Inc., Merck & Co. and CVS Caremark Corp. paid more than $640 million. Pharmaceutical fraud cases also repaid $430 million to state Medicaid programs.

DOJ also cited recoveries in cases of fraud affecting defense procurement contracts, disaster assistance loans and agricultural subsidies.

The actual recoveries were greater if you compare DOJ’s announcements of its settlements, as well as include dollars recovered under the various State False Claims Acts. (We have written extensively about why states are enacting their own State False Claims Acts to mirror the federal False Claims Act, given the federal law’s successes.)

With whistleblowers reporting fraud infecting in the Wall Street bailout funds (because no federal program is immune), it will be interesting to see how these billions of federal dollars show up in future statistics of fraud recoveries.

We have reprinted below DOJ’s “fact sheet” about its FY 2008 significant recoveries. We congratulate Justice on another very successful year in fighting fraud and false claims.
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In our former life as lawyers defending False Claims Act cases, our defendant clients had to consider whether the payments made to settle qui tam cases under the False Claims Act were deductible for tax purposes, and to what extent.

The IRS recently issued a paper on the subject: whether a defendant’s payment to the Department of Justice to resolve False Claims Act allegations is “deductible in its entirety as a section 162(a) ordinary and necessary business expense, or includes non-deductible penalty amounts under section 162(f).”

This paper, LMSB-4-0908-045, is reproduced below:
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The Medicare program depends on the integrity of “trusted contractors” to process and pay Medicare claims. This past week, one of those “trusted contractors” operating in New Jersey, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, agreed to pay the federal government $2.1 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee operated as the primary Medicare Part A Fiscal Intermediary for New Jersey, under the name “Riverbend Government Benefit Administrators.”

The government had alleged that BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee “failed to adjust the cost-to-charge ratios for many New Jersey hospitals in a timely manner between 2000 and 2002 that resulted in the payment of excessive ‘outlier payments’ by Medicare program to those medical facilities.” The “outlier payments” are supplemental reimbursements to hospitals in situations when the cost of care is unusually high, which are paid “to ensure that hospitals possess the incentive to treat inpatients whose care requires unusually high costs,” as described in the government’s announcement.

The wave of new State False Claims Acts has generated a flurry of letters from the Office of Inspector General of HHS this past week. OIG has now “approved” the new State False Claims Acts of California, Georgia, Indiana, and Rhode Island, but has “disapproved” those of six other states: Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.

As this whistleblower lawyer blog has written about extensively, Congress has created financial incentives for states to enact their own versions of the highly successful qui tam whistleblower law, the False Claims Act, which is the government’s primary tool for combating fraud directed at taxpayer funds.

Under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, each state that has a False Claims Act that is at least as effective in facilitating and rewarding qui tam actions as the Federal False Claims Act in protecting state Medicaid funds is entitled to a greater share of fraud recoveries from those actions.

Having lunch this week with a public servant who investigates heath care fraud, I was struck once again by his descriptions of abuses that nursing home residents too often suffer, many of which our whistleblower attorneys had also encountered in past cases.

It is damnable enough to steal federal and state taxpayer funds that are supposed to pay for care of our elderly through Medicare and Medicaid. It is another level of depravity to ignore our elder citizens’ medical needs–and even to steal from patient accounts–for personal gain.

The Attorney General of Massachusetts this past week announced that two such persons–brothers who operated nursing homes–have pleaded guilty to charges based on stealing funds and neglecting nursing home patients.

The government’s announcement this week of a $60 million Medicare fraud settlement with a Missouri hospital system is yet another example of the need for ongoing deterrence of health care fraud.

According to the government, Lester E. Cox Medical Systems violated the False Claims Act, the nation’s primary tool for combating fraud against taxpayer funds. Dating back to 1995 and continuing to recent years, Cox allegedly committed various unlawful acts, including submitting fraudulent cost reports to obtain Medicare funds, entering into illegal arrangements with doctors that violated the Stark Law and the Anti-Kickback Statute, and other misconduct.

Cox reportedly will pay $35 million immediately, with five annual payments of $5 million (plus interest) to follow. Cox also has entered into a “comprehensive” Corporate Integrity Agreement with the Office of Inspector General of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, designed to cause compliance with federal requirements for receiving federal dollars.

“What motivates whistleblowers” is a question that our whistleblower attorneys are asked frequently. Basic honesty and integrity–trying to do the right thing–is what we see most.

It is deeply satisfying when a whistleblower’s courage in insisting on honesty and integrity is recognized and applauded. I just received this note that was sent to a client who had “taken a stand” for honesty and integrity in handling federal grant funds at an educational institution, and I am reprinting portions here. Its truth and eloquence speak for themselves:

You don’t know me, but we share a couple of things in common. I worked in the [same institution] from late 2002 to early 2004. . . .

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