Category Archives: Preliminary Injunctions

Warning: Medicare/caid Billing Confusion May Lead to Jail Time

All health care providers are under serious scrutiny, that is, if they take Medicaid. In Atlanta, GA, a dentist, Dr. Oluwatoyin Solarin was sentenced to a year and six months for filing false claims worth nearly $1 million. She pled guilty, and, I would assume, she had an attorney who recommended that she plead guilty. But were her claims actually false? Did she hire a criminal attorney or a Medicaid attorney? Because the answers could be the difference between being behind bars and freedom.

Dr. Solarin was accused of billing for and receiving payments for dental claims while she was not at the office. U.S. Attorney John Horn stated that “Solarin cheated the Medicaid program by submitting fraudulent claims, even billing the government for procedures she allegedly performed at the same time she was out of the country.”

I receive phone calls all the time from people who are under investigation for Medicare/caid fraud. What spurred on this particular blog was a phone call from (let’s call him) Dr. Jake, a dentist. He, similar to Dr. Solarin, was under investigation for Medicaid fraud by the federal government. By the time Dr. Jake called me, his investigation was well on its way, and his Medicaid reimbursements had been suspended due to credible allegations of fraud for almost a year. He was accused of billing for and receiving payments for dental services while he was on vacation…or sick…or otherwise indisposed. He hired one of the top criminal attorneys, who advised him to take a plea deal for a suspended jail sentence and monetary recompense.

But, wait, he says to me. I didn’t do anything wrong. Why should I have to admit to a felony charge and be punished for doing nothing wrong?

I said, let me guess, Jake. You were the rendering dentist – as in, your NPI number was on the billed claim – but you hired a temporary dentist to stand in your place while you were on vacation, sick, or otherwise indisposed?

How did you know? Jake asks.

Because I understand Medicaid billing.

When my car breaks down, I go to a mechanic, not a podiatrist. The same is true for health care providers undergoing investigation for Medicare/caid fraud – you need a Medicare/caid expert. A criminal attorney,most likely, will not understand the Medicare/caid policy on locum tenens. Or the legal limitations of Medicaid suspensions and the administrative route to get the suspension lifted. Or the good cause exception to suspensions.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating that, when under criminal, health care fraud investigation, you should not hire a criminal attorney. Absolutely, you will want a criminal attorney. But you will also want a Medicare/caid attorney.

What is Locum tenens? It is a Latin phrase that means temporary substitute. Physicians and dentists hire locum tenens when they go on vacation or if they fall ill. It is similar to a substitute teacher. Some days I would love to hire a locum tenens for me. When a doctor or dentist hires a temporary substitute, usually that substitute is paid by the hour or by the services rendered. If the payor is Medicare or Medicaid, the substitute is not expected to submit the billing and wait to be reimbursed. The substitute is paid for the day(s) work, and the practice/physician/dentist bills Medicare/caid, which is reimbursed. For billing purposes, this could create a claim with the rendering NPI number as Dr. Jake, while Dr. Sub Sally actually rendered the service, because Dr. Jake was in the Bahamas. It would almost look like Dr. Jake were billing for services billing the government for procedures he allegedly performed at the same time he was out of the country.

Going back to Dr. Jake…had Dr. Jake hired a Medicare/caid attorney a year ago, when his suspension was first implemented, he may have be getting reimbursed by Medicaid this whole past year – just by asking for a good cause exception or by filing an injunction lifting the suspension. His Medicaid/care attorney could have enlightened the investigators on locum tenens, and, perhaps, the charges would have been dropped, once the billing was understood.

Going back to Dr. Solarin who pled guilty to accusations of billing for services while out of the country…what if it were just a locum tenens problem?

Another Win for the Good Guys! Federal Preliminary Injunction Granted!!

I do not believe that I have been more excited to post a blog than I am right now. For the past two weeks, an associate DeeDee Murphy and I have been in trial in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For those of you who do not know about the Draconian, governmental upheaval of the 15 behavioral health care companies in New Mexico, see blog. And blog. And documentary.

Going back to what it is that I am so excited to share…

A federal preliminary injunction is rare. It is about as rare as rocking horse poo. But when I met Dr. B, I knew I had to try. Poo or not. Dr. B is a geneticist, who accepts Medicaid. Her services are essential to her patients, who receive ongoing, genetic counseling from her. 70% of her practice comprised of Medicaid recipients.

You see, when Dr. B came to me, she had been represented by legal counsel for over two years but had received no recourse at all. For two years she had retained counsel to fight for her Medicaid contract with the State of Indiana, and for two years, she had no Medicaid contract to render services. For the previous 2 years, Dr. B had been subject to prepayment review and paid nothing – or next to nothing…certainly not enough to pay expenses.

When I met Dr. B, she had not been paid for two years. She continued to render medically necessary services, but she received no reimbursement. She had exhausted all her loans, her credit limit, and even borrowed money from family. She had been forced to terminate staff. Dr. B was on the brink of financial and career ruin. She was about to lose the company and work that she had put over 40 years into. Since her company’s revenue consisted of over 70% Medicaid without Medicaid reimbursements, her company could not survive.

Yet, she continued to provide services to her patients. She is a saint. But she was about to be an unemployed, financially-ruined saint, whose sainthood could not continue.

On December 10, 2015, we filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction in the Northern District of Indiana requesting that the Court enjoin the Indiana Medicaid agency (“FSSA”) from terminating Dr. B from the Medicaid program and from continuing to suspend the money owed to her for the past two year period that she had been subject to prepayment review.

Senior counsel, Josh Urquhart, from our Denver office, and I attended and argued on behalf of Dr. B in a 5-day trial from January 19-25, 2016.

On April 14, 2016, in a 63-page opinion, our preliminary injunction enjoining Indiana from terminating Dr. B from Medicaid was GRANTED. Dr. B is back in the Medicaid program!!!!!

The rocking horse poo is rampant!

This is not just a win for Dr. B. This is a win for all her Medicaid patients, as well. Two mothers with children-patients of Dr. B testified as to the fact that their children rely heavily on Dr. B. Both testified that without Dr. B their children would be irreparably harmed.

When Dr. B informed her former attorneys that she was hiring me, an attorney from North Carolina, those attorneys told Dr. B that “anyone who tells that they can get a federal preliminary injunction is blowing smoke up your ass.” [Pardon the cuss word – their words, not mine]. To which I would like to say, “[insert raspberry], here’s your smoke!”
A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary and drastic remedy, which is why it is rare. However, rare objects exist. The plaintiff must show the court that he/she has a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits, no adequate remedy at law, and irreparable harm absent the injunction. I felt that we had these criteria covered in Dr. B’s case.

The Court agreed with our contention that FSSA’s without cause termination violates her patients’ freedom to choose their provider. This is a big deal!

In our arguments to the Court, we relied heavily on Planned Parenthood of Indiana. We argued that Indiana’s without cause termination was merely a “business decision” and was not germane to Dr. B’s qualifications. As her qualifications remained intact, to disallow Dr. B from providing medically necessary services violates the patients’ freedom to choose their providers.

The Court held that FSSA “must rescind its without cause termination of Dr. B and reinstate her Medicaid provider agreement until this Court reaches a final decision.”

Even rocking horses poo every now and then.

There Is Only One Head Chef in the Medicaid Kitchen, Part Deux!

In a groundbreaking decision published today by the Court of Appeals (COA), the Court smacked down Public Consulting Group’s (PCG), as well as any other  contracted entity’s, authority to wield an “adverse decision” against a health care provider. This solidifies my legal argument that I have been arguing on this blog and in court for years!

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is the “single state agency” charged with managing Medicaid. Federal law requires that that one agency manage Medicaid with no ability to delegate discretionary decisions. Case law in K.C. v. Shipman upheld the federal law. See blog.

Yet, despite K.C. v. Shipman, decided in 2013, in Court, DHHS continued to argue that it should be dismissed from cases in which a contracted vendor rendered the adverse decision to recoup, terminate, or suspend a health care provider. DHHS would argue that it had no part of the decision to recoup, terminate, or suspend, that K.C. Shipman is irrelevant to health care provider cases, and that K.C. v. Shipman is only pertinent to Medicaid recipient cases, to which I countered until I was “blue in the face” is a pile of horse manure.

DHHS would argue that my interpretation would break down the Medicaid system because DHHS cannot possibly review and discern whether every recoupment, termination, and/or suspension made by a contracted vendor was valid (my words, not theirs). DHHS argued that it simply does not have the manpower, plus if it has the authority to contract with a company, surely that company can determine the amount of an alleged overpayment…WRONG!!

In fact, in DHHS v. Parker Home Care, LLC, the COA delineates the exact process for the State determining an overpayment with its contracted agent PCG.

  1. DHHS may enter into a contract with a company, such as PCG.
  2. A private company, like PCG, may perform preliminary and full investigations to collect facts and data.
  3. PCG must submit its findings to DHHS, and DHHS must exercise its own discretion to reach a tentative decision from six options (enumerated in the NC Administrative Code).
  4. DHHS, after its decision, will notify the provider of its tentative decision.
  5. The health care provider may request a reconsideration of the tentative decision within 15 days.
  6. Failure to do so will transform the tentative decision into a final determination.
  7. Time to appeal to OAH begins upon notification of the final determination by DHHS (60 days).

Another interesting part of this decision is that the provider, Parker Home Care, received the Tentative Notice of Overpayment (TNO) in 2012 and did nothing. The provider did not appeal the TNO.

However, because PCG’s TNO did not constitute a final adverse decision by DHHS (because PCG does not have the authority to render a final adverse decision), the provider did not miss any appeal deadline. The final adverse decision was determined to be DHHS’ action of suspending funds to collect the recoupment, which did not occur until 2014…and THAT action was timely appealed.

The COA’s message to private vendors contracted with DHHS is crystal clear: “There is only one head chef in the Medicaid kitchen.”

Medicare/caid Contracts Terminatations: “With” or “Without Cause. You May Need an Injunction

How is it already the second month of 2016? My how the time flies. As you can see below, I have started 2016 with my “best foot forward.”

image

Here’s the story (and why it’s been so long since I’ve blogged):

Santa Claus, whom I love, brought our 10-year-old daughter a zip line for Christmas. (She’s wanted one forever). My wonderful, exceedingly brilliant husband Scott miscalculated the amount of brakes needed for an adult of my weight for a 300-foot zip line. The brakes stopped, albeit suddenly, but adequately, for our 10-year-old.

However, for me…well…I went a bit faster than my 45-pound daughter. The two spring brakes were not adequate to stop my zip line experience and my out-thrown feet broke my crash…into the tree. (It was a miscalculation of basic physics).

On the bright side, apparently, my right leg is longer than my left, so only my right foot was injured.  Or my right foot is overly dominate than my left, which could also be the case.

Also, on the bright side, the zip line ride was AWESOME until the end.

On the down side, I tore the tendon on the bottom of my foot which, according to the ER doctor, is very difficult to tear. Embarrassingly, I had to undergo a psych evaluation because my ER doctor said that the only time he had seen someone tear that bottom tendon on their foot was by jumping off a building. So I have that going for me. I informed him that one could tear such tendon by going on zip line with inadequate brakes. (I passed the psych evaluation, BTW).

Then, while on crutches, I had a 5-day, federal trial in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the week of Martin Luther King, Jr., Tuesday through the next Monday. Thankfully, the judge did not make me stand to conduct direct and cross examinations.

But, up there, in the beautiful State of Indiana, I thought of my next blog (and lamented that I had not blogged in so long…still on crutches; I had not graduated to the gorgeous boot you saw in the picture above).

As I was up in Indiana, I thought, what if someone at the State Medicaid agency doesn’t like you, personally, and terminates your Medicaid contract “without cause?” Or refuses to contract with you? Or refuses to renew your contract?

Maybe you wouldn’t find it important whether your termination is “for cause” or “without cause,” but, in Indiana, and a lot of other states, if your termination is for “without cause,” you have no substantive appeal right, only a procedural appeal right. As in, if you are terminated “without cause,” the government never has to explain the reason for termination to you or a judge. If the government gave you the legally, proper amount of notice, the government can simply say, “I just do not want to do business with you.”

Many jurisdictions have opined that a Medicaid provider has a property right to their Medicaid contract. A health care provider does not have a property right to a Medicaid contract, but, once the state has approved that provider as a Medicaid provider, that provider has a reasonable expectation to continue to provide services to the Medicaid population. While we all know that providing services to the Medicaid population is not going to make you Richy Rich, in some jurisdictions, accepting Medicaid is necessary to stay solvent (despite the awful reimbursement rates).

Here in NC, our Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) have held a property right in maintaining a Medicaid contract once issued and relied upon, which, BTW, is the correct determination, in my opinion. Other jurisdictions concur with our NC ALJs, including the 7th Circuit.

Many times, when a provider is terminated (or not re-credentialed) “without cause,” there is an underlying and hidden cause, which makes a difference on the appeal of such purported “without cause” termination.

Because as I stated above, a “without cause” termination may not allow a substantive appeal, only procedural. In normal-day-speak, for a “without cause,” you cannot argue that the termination or refusal to credential isn’t “fair” or is based on an incorrect assumption that there is a quality of care concern that really does not exist. You can only argue that the agency did not provide the proper procedure, i.e., you didn’t get 60 days notice. Juxtapose, a “for cause” termination, you can argue that the basis for which the termination relies is incorrect, i.e., you are accusing me that my staff member is not credentialed, but you are wrong; she/he is actually credentialed.

So, what do you do if you are terminated “without cause?” What do you do if you are terminated “for cause?”

For both scenarios, you need an injunction.

But how do you prove your case for an injunction?

Proving you need an injunction entails you proving to a judge that: (a) likelihood of success on the merits; (b) irreparable harm; (c) balance of equities; and (d) impact on the community.

The hardest prongs to meet are the first two. Usually, in my experience, irreparable harm is the hardest prong to meet. Most clients, if they are willing to hire my team and me, can prove likelihood of success.  Think about it, if a client knows he/she has horrible documentation, he/she will not spring for an expensive attorney to defend themselves against a termination.

Irreparable harm, however, is difficult to demonstrate and the circumstances surrounding proving irreparable harm creates quite a quandary.

Irreparable, according to case law, cannot only be monetary damages. If you are just out of money and your company is in financial distress, it will not equate to irreparable harm.

Irreparable harm differs slightly from state to state.

Although, most jurisdictions agree that irreparable harm does equate to an imminent threat of your business closing, terminating staff, loss of goodwill, harm to reputation, patients not receiving medically necessary services, unfathamable emotional distress, the weights of loans and credit, understanding that you’ve depleting all savings and checkings, and understanding that you’ve exhausted all possible assets or loans.

The Catch-22 of it all is by the time you meet the prongs of irreparable harm, generally, you do not have the cash to hire an attorney. I suggest to all Medicare and Medicaid health care providers that you need to maintain an emergency fund account for unforeseen situations, such as audits, suspensions, terminations, etc. Put aside money every week, as much as you can. Hope that you never need to use it.

But you will be covered, just in case.

Accusations of Medicaid/care Fraud Run Rampant in SC: There Are Legal Remedies!

As if South Carolina didn’t have enough issues with the recent flooding, let’s throw in some allegations of Medicaid fraud against the health care providers. I’m imagining a provider under water, trying to defend themselves against fraud allegations, while treading water. It’s not a pretty picture.

Flash floods happen fast, as those in SC can attest.

So, too, do the consequences of allegations.

Shakespeare is no stranger to false accusations. In Othello, Othello is convinced that his wife is unfaithful, yet she was virtuous. In Much Ado About Nothing, Claudio believes Hero to be unfaithful and slanders her until her death. Interestingly, neither Othello and Claudio came to their respective opinions on their own. Both had a persuader. Both had a tempter. Both had someone else whisper the allegations of unfaithfulness in their ears and both chose to believe the accusation with no independent investigation. So too are accusations of Medicaid/care fraud so easily accepted without independent investigation.

With the inception of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), We have seen a sharp uptick on accusations of credible allegations of fraud.  See blog for the definition of credible allegation of fraud.

The threshold for credible allegation of fraud incredibly low. A mere accusation from a disgruntled employee, a mere indicia of credibility, and/or even a computer data mining program can incite an allegation of fraud. Hero was, most likely, committing Medicare/acid fraud too.

The consequences of being accused of fraud is catastrophic for a  health care provider regardless whether the accusation is accurate. You are guilty before proving your innocence! Your reimbursements are immediately suspended! Your entire livelihood is immediately crumbled! You are forced to terminate staff! Assets can be seized, preventing you even the ability to hire an attorney to defend yourself!

I have seen providers be accused of credible allegations of fraud and the devastation that follows. In New Mexico. In North Carolina. See documentary. Many NC providers serve SC’s population as well. The Medicaid reimbursement rates are higher in SC.

Obviously, The ACA is nationwide, federal law. Hence, the increase in allegations/accusations of health care fraud is nationwide.

Recently, South Carolina health care providers have been on the chopping block. Othello and Claudio are in the house of Gamecocks!

South Carolina’s single state agency, DHHS, required Medicaid recipients to get a 2nd prior approval before receiving health care services for “rehabilitative behavioral health” services, such as behavioral health care services for substance abuse and mental illness (could you imagine the burden if this were required here in NC?).

Then, last year, SC DHHS eliminated such 2nd prior approval requirement.

With fewer regulations and red tape in which to maneuver, SC saw a drastic uptick of behavioral health care services. Othello and Claudio said, “Fraud! More services with only one prior approval must be prima fracie fraud!”

Hence, behavioral health care providers in SC are getting investigated. But, mind you, during investigations reimbursements are suspended. You say, “Well, Knicole, how will these health care provider agencies afford to defend themselves without getting paid?” “Good question,” I say. “They cannot unless they have a stack of cash on hand for this exact reason.”

“What should these providers do?” You ask.

Hire an attorney and seek an injunction lifting the suspension of payments during the investigation.

Turn a Shakespearean tragedy into a comedy! Toss in a dingy!

Judges have lifted the suspensions. Read the case excerpt below:

order

As you can read in the above-referenced case, despite 42 455.23(a) mandating a suspension of payments upon credible allegations of fraud, this Judge found that the state failed to carefully weigh the evidence before suspending all payments.

There are legal remedies!!

Another Win for the Good Guys! Gordon & Rees Succeeds in Overturning Yet Another Medicaid Contract Termination!

Getting placed on prepayment review is normally a death sentence for most health care providers. However, our health care team here at Gordon Rees has been successful at overturning the consequences of prepayment review. Special Counsel, Robert Shaw, and team recently won another case for a health care provider, we will call her Provider A. She had been placed on prepayment review for 17 months, informed that her accuracy ratings were all in the single digits, and had her Medicaid contract terminated.

We got her termination overturned!! Provider A is still in business!

(The first thing we did was request the judge to immediately remove her off prepayment review; thereby releasing some funds to her during litigation.  The state is only allowed to maintain a provider on prepayment review for 12 months).

Prepayment review is allowed per N.C. Gen. Stat. 108C-7.  See my past blogs on my opinion as to prepayment review. “NC Medicaid: CCME’s Comedy of Errors of Prepayment Review“NC Medicaid and Constitutional Due Process.

108C-7 states, “a provider may be required to undergo prepayment claims review by the Department. Grounds for being placed on prepayment claims review shall include, but shall not be limited to, receipt by the Department of credible allegations of fraud, identification of aberrant billing practices as a result of investigations or data analysis performed by the Department or other grounds as defined by the Department in rule.”

Being placed on prepayment review results in the immediate withhold of all Medicaid reimbursements pending the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) contracted entity’s review of all submitted claims and its determination that the claims meet criteria for all rules and regulations.

In Provider A’s situation, the Carolinas Center for Medical Excellence (CCME) conducted her prepayment review. Throughout the prepayment process, CCME found Provider A almost wholly noncompliant. Her monthly accuracy ratings were 1.5%, 7%, and 3%. In order to get off prepayment review, a provider must demonstrate 70% accuracy ratings for 3 consecutive months. Obviously, according to CCME, Provider A was not even close.

We reviewed the same records that CCME reviewed and came to a much different conclusion. Not only did we believe that Provider A met the 70% accuracy ratings for 3 consecutive months, we opined that the records were well over 70% accurate.

Provider A is an in-home care provider agency for adults. Her aides provide personal care services (PCS). Here are a few examples of what CCME claimed were inaccurate:

1. Provider A serves two double amputees. The independent assessments state that the pateint needs help in putting on and taking off shoes. CCME found that there was no indication on the service note that the in-home aide put on or took off the patients’ shoes, so CCME found the dates of service (DOS) noncompliant. But the consumers were double amputees! They did not require shoes!

2. Provider A has a number of consumers who require 6 days of services per week based on the independent assessments. However, many of the consumers do not wish for an in-home aide to come to their homes on days on which their families are visiting. Many patients inform the aides that “if you come on Tuesday, I will not let you in the house.” Therefore, there no service note would be present for Tuesday. CCME found claims inaccurate because the assessment stated services were needed 6 days a week, but the aide only provided services on 5 days.  CCME never inquired as to the reason for the discrepancy.

3. CCME found every claim noncompliant because the files did not contain the service authorizations. Provider A had service authorizations for every client and could view the service authorizations on her computer queue. But, because the service authorization was not physically in the file, CCME found noncompliance.

Oh, and here is the best part about #3…CCME was the entity that was authorizing the PCS (providing the service authorizations) and, then, subsequently, finding the claim noncompliant based on no service authorization.

Judge Craig Croom at the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) found in our favor that DHHS via CCME terminated Provider A’s Medicaid contract arbitrarily, capriciously, erroneously, exceeded its authority or jurisdiction, and failed to act as accordingly to the law. He ruled that DHHS’ placement of Provider A on prepayment review was random

Because of Judge Croom’s Order, Provider A remains in business. Plus, she can retroactively bill all the unpaid claims over the course of the last year.

Great job, Robert!!! Congratulations, Provider A!!!

Knicole Emanuel Interviewed by ABC: SOME MEDICAID PROVIDERS OWE DHHS BIG BUCKS

pic of my interview

Jon Camp, journalist for ABC11, interviewed me yesterday about a durable medical equipment client.  In case you missed it, here is the link:

http://abc11.com/video/embed/?pid=773639

NCTracks

Is Health Care Fraud on the Rise? Or Just the Accusations??

Recent stories in the news seem to suggest that health care fraud is running rampant.  We’ve got stories about Eric Leak‘s Medicaid agency, Nature’s Reflections, funneling money to pay athletes, a seizure of property in Greensboro for alleged Medicaid fraud, and, in Charlotte, a man was charged with Medicaid fraud and sentenced to three years under court supervision and ordered to pay $3,153,074. And these examples are local.

Health care fraud with even larger amounts of money at stake has been prosecuted in other states.  A nonprofit up in NY is accused of defrauding the Medicaid system for over $27 million.  Overall, the federal government opened 924 criminal health care fraud investigations last year.

What is going on? Are more people getting into the health care fraud business? Has the government become better at detecting possible health care fraud?

I believe that the answer is that the federal and state governments have determined that it “pays” high dividends to invest in health care fraud investigations.  More and more money is being allocated to the fraud investigative divisions.  More money, in turn, yields more health care fraud allegations…which yields more convictions….and more money to the government.

Believe me, I understand the importance of detecting fraud.  It sickens me that those who actually defraud our Medicaid and Medicare systems are taking medically necessary services away from those who need the services.  However, sometimes the net is cast so wide…so far…that innocent providers get caught in the net.  And being accused of health care fraud when you innocent is a gruesome, harrowing experience that (1) you hope never happens; and (2) you have to be prepared in case it does.  I have seen it happen.

As previously stated, in fiscal year (FY) 2014, the federal government opened 924 new criminal health care fraud  investigations.  That’s 77 new fraud investigations a month!!  This number does not include civil investigations.

In FY 2012, the Department of Justice (DOJ) opened 2,016 new health care fraud investigations (1,131 criminal, 885 civil).

The Justice Department launched 903 new health-care fraud prosecutions in the first eight months of FY 2011, more than all of FY 2010.

These numbers show:

  • an 85% increase over FY 2010,
  • a 157% increase over FY 2006
  • and 822% over FY 1991.

And the 924  investigations opened in fiscal 2014 only represent federal investigations.  Concurrently, all 50 states are conducting similar investigations.

What is being recovered? Are the increased efforts to detect health care fraud worth the effort and expenditures?

Heck, yes, it is worth it to both the state and federal governments!

Government teams recovered $4.3 billion in FY 2013 and $19.2 billion over the last five years.  While still astronomically high, the numbers dropped slightly for FY 2014.  In FY 2014, according to the Annual Report of the Departments of Health and Human Services and Justice, the federal government won or negotiated over $2.3 billion in health care fraud judgments and settlements.  Due to these efforts, as well as efforts from preceding years, the federal government retrieved $3.3 billion from health care fraud investigations.

So the federal and state governments are putting more money into investigating health care fraud.  Why?

The Affordable Care Act.

Obviously, the federal and state governments conducted health care fraud investigations prior to the ACA.  But the implementation of the ACA set new mandates to increase fraud investigations. (Mandates, which were suggestions prior to the ACA).

In 2009, Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13520, which was targeted to reduce improper payments and to eliminate waste in federal programs.

On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the ACA into law.  A major part of the ACA is focused on cost containment methods. Theoretically, the ACA is supposed to be self-funding.  Detecting fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare/Medicaid system helps to fund the ACA.

Unlike many of the other ACA provisions, most of the fraud and abuse provisions went into effect in 2010 or 2011. The ACA increases funding to the Healthcare Fraud and Abuse Control Program by $350 million over the next decade. These funds can be used for fraud and abuse control and for the Medicare Integrity Program.

The ACA mandates states to conduct post payment and prepayment reviews, screen and audit providers, terminate certain providers, and create provider categories of risk.

While recent articles and media seem to indicate that health care fraud is running rampant, the substantial increase in accusations of health care fraud really may be caused by factors other than more fraud is occurring.

The ACA mandates have an impact.

And, quite frankly, the investigation units may be a bit overzealous to recover funds.

What will happen if you are a target of a criminal health care fraud investigation?

It depends whether the federal or state government is conducting the investigation.

If the federal government is investigating you, most likely, you will be unaware of the investigation.  Then, one day, agents of the federal government will come to your office and seize all property deemed related to the alleged fraud.  Your accounts will be frozen.  Whether you are guilty or not will not matter.  What will matter is you will need an experienced, knowledgeable health fraud attorney and the funds with which to compensate said attorney with frozen accounts.

If the state government is conducting the investigation, it is a little less hostile and CSI-ish.  Your reimbursements will be suspended with or without your notice (obviously, you would notice the suspension once the suspension occurred).  But the whole “raid on your office thing” is less likely.

There are legal remedies available, and the “defense” should begin immediately.

Most importantly, if you are a health care provider and you are not committing fraud, you are not safe from accusations of fraud.

Your insurance, most likely, will not cover attorneys’ fees for alleged intention fraud.

The attorney of your choice will not be able to accept funds that are “tainted” by alleged fraud, even if no fraud occurred.

Be aware that if, for whatever reason, you are accused, you will need to be prepared…for what you hope never happens.

Mass Medicare and Medicaid Payment Suspensions Increase Based on “Credible Allegations of Fraud”

One way in which President Obama pushed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through Congress was the promise that the ACA would, basically, fund itself by the increase in recoupments from providers for fraud, waste, and abuse…hence, the dramatic increase in audits and payments suspensions for both Medicare and Medicaid providers.

Herein lies the problem, by relying on you, who accept Medicare and Medicaid to fund, even a portion, of the ACA, we are de-incentivizing you, as a health care providers, to accept Medicare and Medicaid. Think about this logically, we are placing MORE people in a system (by expanding Medicaid), more people will rely on Medicare and Medicaid as their health insurance, but we are incentivizing FEWER providers to accept Medicaid and Medicare. It is as though we don’t care what happens to the people once we give them insurance. The goal of the ACA seems to be: get more people insured; instead of having the goal to allow everyone to get health care.

But I digress…

Section 6402(h) of the ACA requires suspension of Medicare and/or Medicaid payments when there is a credible allegation of fraud. Before the ACA, the suspension was not mandatory.

So, what constitutes a credible allegation of fraud?

Let me give you a real life example. One of my clients, we will call it Company Good Health, had its Medicare and Medicaid payments suspended based on an anonymous letter claiming Good Health commits Medicaid fraud and sent to the Division of Health and Human Services (DHHS) with no name of the author or return address. Therefore, DHHS had no way to contact the anonymous author to verify whether any sentence within the letter had an ounce of veracity. In fact, the author of the letter may very well have been an ex-girlfriend of the CEO or a bitter competitor for business. There is no way to know.

Yet, according to the ACA, an allegation of fraud is credible if it has an “indicia of reliability.” Look up “indicia.” I did. I found “from Latin plural of indicium (“a notice, information, discovery, sign, mark, token”).” I thought, that’s an unhelpful definition, so I looked up indicia in my legal dictionary, Black’s Law Dictionary. I found, in part, “[t]he term is much used in Civil Law in a sense nearly or entirely synonymous with Circumstantial Evidence. It denotes facts that give rise to inferences, rather than the inferences themselves.” Facts that give rise to inferences. Circumstantial evidence is evidence which may allow a judge or jury to deduce a certain fact from other facts which can be proven. In some cases, there can be some evidence that cannot be proven directly, such as with an eye-witness. (Think of the Scott Peterson trial).

Under the ACA, if there is a fact that gives rise to an inference of an allegation of fraud, the your Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements must be suspended. I underlined the words in the preceding sentence “inference,” “allegation,” and “must” to emphasize the slight and without any factual verification circumstance may be that causes suspension of payments. For many of you, this suspension is financially debilitating and will cause you to go out of business…or, at the very least, never accept Medicare or Medicaid again. Suspensions of payments do not only affect you, if affects your recipients as well.

An example of a mass suspension can be found in our nation’s capital. Recently, in D.C., the Medicaid agency suspended payments to 52% of the city’s home health agencies for personal care services (PCS). The companies hired an attorney and got a temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing the city from withholding funds, but lost at the preliminary injunction.

In an Order denying the preliminary injunction, the Judge stated that “in contrast to a provider’s right to participate in the Medicaid program, there is no constitutional right to receive Medicaid payments.” (To which I disagree, because there is a right to Medicaid payments for services rendered. National case law from multiple jurisdictions illustrates this, but maybe it was not argued before or accepted by this judge).

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) has also suspended Medicare payments on a large-scale. CMS suspended Medicare payments to 78 Dallas area home health providers. Last year’s “Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control report” stated that 297 providers were under “active suspension” from Medicare and 105 more suspensions were approved.

Another example of a mass suspension is the behavioral health providers in New Mexico. In June 2013, the Health Services Division (HSD) suspended all reimbursements for 15 behavioral health care providers, all of whom accounted for 87% of New Mexico’s behavioral health care, based on credible allegations of fraud. Most accused providers went out of business.

While both Medicare and Medicaid require the suspension of reimbursements upon a credible allegation of fraud, you are slightly more protected. Medicare suspensions end after 18 months and can only be extended from 6 months in special circumstances.

There is no such protection for you when it comes to Medicaid; the states make the rules. There is a good cause exception that allows the state NOT to suspend payments, but, to date, I have yet to witness one good cause exception being recognized by the state. Instead, relief for the accused providers only comes from filing a lawsuit, most likely, an injunctive lawsuit. The downside of filing a lawsuit is that you have to pay attorney’s fees, which can be daunting, and you must find an attorney that specializes in Medicare and Medicaid. I have seen too many inexperienced, but well-intended, attorneys create bad law for providers due to self-imposed, legal stumbles.

The enigma within the language of the ACA, in this particular section, is the complete disregard for due process. See my blog on “How the ACA Has Redefined the Threshold for “Credible Allegations of Fraud” and Does It Violate Due Process?”  By suspending Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements due to “indicia of reliability of an allegation of fraud,” the government is usurping your right to payment for services rendered without notice and an opportunity to be heard, which is one of the bedrocks of our Constitution.

So what are you to do if you are caught up in this web of mass suspensions based on “indicia of reliability of an allegation of fraud?”

Contact your Medicare and Medicaid litigation attorney!  And do NOT forget to fill out the “good cause” exception…just in case…

Preliminary Injunctions: In NC Medicaid, Extraordinary Circumstances Call for Extraordinary Measures

Preliminary injunctions…Prior to law school, had you asked me what a preliminary injunction was I probably would have said, generally, that an injunction is a legal remedy to stop someone from doing something.

Now, post-law school and after approximately 13-years of legal experience, I know now that I would have been only partially right prior to law school.

First, I understand that preliminary injunctions are extraordinary measures.  But don’t extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures?

There are 2 types of injunctions: preventive and mandatory.

How could an injunction help you, as a Medicaid provider? (And, believe me, it can!!)

I have used injunctions in many different ways to help Medicaid providers.  Here are some examples:

  • A provider’s Medicaid contract is terminated…a preventive injunction can be put in place to stay the termination until a determination of the termination’s validity (Secret: If any entity other than the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) terminated the Medicaid contract, most likely, the termination is not valid).
  • A provider’s Medicaid reimbursements are suspended…a preventive injunction can be put into place to stay the suspension of payments until a determination of the suspension’s validity.
  • A provider, who has provided Medicaid services for years and has had a Medicaid contract with DHHS for years, is denied enrollment by a Managed Care Organization (MCO)…a mandatory injunction could force the MCO to contract with the provider.

The last example is an example of a mandatory injunction.  Mandatory injunctions, generally, are more difficult to convince a judge to order than a preventive injunction.  However, in the context of Medicaid, generally, the providers have compelling stories that will warrant any type of injunction…extraordinary circumstances.

But a preliminary injunctions is not the first step.

Normally when I draft a Motion for Preliminary Injunction, I use North Carolina Civil Procedure, Rule 65.

Rule 65. Injunctions.

(a)        Preliminary injunction; notice. – No preliminary injunction shall be issued without notice to the adverse party.

(b)        Temporary restraining order; notice; hearing; duration. – A temporary restraining order may be granted without written or oral notice to the adverse party or that party’s attorney only if (i) it clearly appears from specific facts shown by affidavit or by verified complaint that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result to the applicant before the adverse party or that party’s attorney can be heard in opposition, and (ii) the applicant’s attorney certifies to the court in writing the efforts, if any, that have been made to give the notice and the reasons supporting the claim that notice should not be required.

Temporary Restraining Order? I thought we were talking about injunctions!!! Now I am confused!!

Do not fret!

Notice that, according to Rule 65, a preliminary injunction may NOT be issued without notice to the adverse party.  However, a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) CAN be granted withOUT notice to the adverse party.

How this plays out in real life is that, when I want an injunction, I file a “Motion to Stay, Temporary Restraining Order, and Preliminary Injunction.”  I file the Motion in the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), which is great, because, generally, the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) have a deep understanding of Medicaid laws, rules and regulations.

According to Rule 65, the Judge, in his or her discretion may grant the TRO, then schedule the preliminary injunction within 7-10 days.

The fact that a Judge can grant a TRO quickly and without notice to the adverse party clearly shows how extraordinary a TRO is.

But extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures.  Or, in Latin, “extremis malis extrema remedia.”

Example:

Alice is a health care provider who accepts Medicaid.  Alice has a small practice; she only has 3 employees and maybe 40 clients.  She provides mental health care to needy adults in Mecklenburg county.  MeckLINK is her MCO.  On August 1, 2013, MeckLINK sends correspondence to Alice stating that as of August 5, 2013, Alice’s Medicaid contract will be terminated.  Alice panics.  Not only is her small practice her only source of revenue…her livelihood…her career, but she would have to close her practice immediately if MeckLINK failed to pay her even one time.

What are Alice’s choices?

A:   Cry. Give up;

B:   Cuss out MeckLINK, only to have MeckLINK provide her additional legal bases for the termination;

C:   Appeal through MeckLINK’s informal appeal, only to have the termination become effective August 5th, despite the appeal, schedule the informal appeal within 30 days, and go bankrupt prior to the informal appeal; or

D:   Get a TRO/preliminary injunction

Personally, I go with ‘D.’

If you do file a Motion to Stay, TRO and Preliminary Injunction and the Judge follows the legal protocol, the TRO should be granted within a few days.  Then a preliminary injunction (PI) should be scheduled within 7-10 days.  At the PI hearing, you must show: (1) likelihood of success on the merits; and (2) irreparable harm.

How do you show likelihood of success on the merits? Well, in my example, MeckLINK was the acting entity taking the action to terminate Alice’s Medicaid contract.  But federal law dictates that a single state entity manage Medicaid.  It is my position that MeckLINK does not have the authority to unilaterally and without DHHS’ express authorization to terminate a Medicaid contract. Make the argument…show likelihood of success on the merits.

How do you show irreparable harm? Damages must be more than just monetary. Damages must be irreparable…as in, not fixable with mere money.  Obviously, monetary damages are at issue.  But also, goodwill/reputation in the community, staff morale, fear of bankruptcy, effect of bankruptcy on Alice, Alice’s family, staff, effect on Medicaid recipients (not receiving the medically necessary services), impact on the community, etc.  Show irreparable harm…get the PI.

Once you meet your burden of proof for preliminary injunction, then the injunction is upheld until a full hearing on the merits.  Usually, the full hearing on the merits will not be scheduled for many months.  So the PI enables you to continue to do business as usual…as if no termination had ever been threatened.  Status quo. (The existing state of affairs).

Had Alice’s TRO and PI NOT been granted?

Alice would have lost her business.  Her 3 staff members would have been unemployed.  Alice’s family would have been without income.  Her 3 staff would have been without income, perhaps they would have applied for unemployment.  Her landlord would not have been paid.  The 40-ish  Medicaid recipients would not have received medically necessary services.  The Medicaid recipients would have decomposed…perhaps becoming hospitalized or incarcerated…or on the street.  Alice’s reputation in the community would have been that “MeckLINK shut Alice down! She must have been doing something wrong.”  Alice would have become depressed…convinced that she were a failure.  Alice, due to zero income, would have lost her home; her husband would have left her.  (No one can really comprehend the harm of closing a business. The consequences could be more dire than my description).

These are extraordinary circumstances. And extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures!