Blog Archives

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?

Knicole Emanuel Interviewed on Recent Success: Behavioral Health Care Service Still Locked in Overbilling Dispute with State

Last Thursday, I was interviewed by a reporter from New Mexico regarding our Teambuilders win, in which an administrative judge has found that Teambuilders owes only $896 for billing errors. Here is a copy of an article published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, written by Justin Horwath:

Source: Behavioral health care service still locked in overbilling dispute with state

The true tragedy is that these companies, including Teambuilders, should not have been put out of business based on false allegations of fraud. Not only was Teambuilders cleared of fraud, but, even the ALJ agreed with us that Teambuilders does not owe $12 million – but a small, nominal amount ($896.35). Instead of having the opportunity to pay the $896.35 and without due process of law, Teambuilders was destroyed – because of allegations.

Former mental health providers take fight over Medicaid funds to lawmakers

Loyal followers will remember the behavioral health care debacle that happened in New Mexico in June 2013. See blog and blog and blog. Basically, the State of New Mexico accused 15 behavioral health care companies of credible allegations of fraud and immediately froze all the companies’ Medicaid reimbursements. These 15 companies comprised 87.5% of New Mexico’s behavioral health providers. The companies were forced to close their doors. Hundreds of people lost their jobs. Hundreds of thousands of Medicaid recipients no longer received their medically necessary mental health and substance abuse services. It really was and is such a sad tragedy.

Now, more than 3 years later, the consequences of that payment suspension still haunts those providers. Once they were exonerated of fraud by the Attorney General, the single state entity, Human Services Department (HSD), is now accusing them – one by one – of alleged overpayments. These alleged overpayments are extrapolated. So 10 claims for $600 turns into $2 million. See blog.

I will leave Saturday the 30th of July to fly to Albuquerque, NM, to defend one of those behavioral health care providers in administrative court. The trial is scheduled to last two weeks.

Below is a great article from today’s The Santa Fe New Mexican about this:

By: Justin Horwath
ALBUQUERQUE — Executives of three former mental health agencies told state lawmakers Wednesday that they are still fighting the state’s determination that they overbilled Medicaid, and they are expected to repay millions of dollars, even after they have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

“Three years after the fact, and we are still plodding through this,” Shannon Freedle, who was an executive with the now-defunct Teambuilders Counseling Services in Santa Fe, told lawmakers on the Health and Human Services Committee during a hearing in Albuquerque. He was referring to allegations in June 2013 against 15 mental health providers that led to a statewide Medicaid service shake-up.

Along with Freedle, executives of the Santa Fe-based Easter Seals El Mirador and Albuquerque-based Hogares Inc. testified about the New Mexico Human Services Department’s continued claims of Medicaid overpayments long after the state Attorney General’s Office announced it found no evidence that any of the providers had committed fraud and many of the firms have shut down.

Some of the providers, meanwhile, say the state’s former Medicaid claims contractor, OptumHealth New Mexico, still owes them millions of dollars in back payments for treating patients before the shake-up. A group of behavioral health providers, including Teambuilders, Easter Seals and Hogares, filed a lawsuit against OptumHealth in state District Court in June. OptumHealth also faces at least three other lawsuits filed this year, accusing it of Medicaid fraud.

State Rep. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, called the Human Services Department’s actions “outrageous on so many levels.”

Rep. Christine Trujillo, also an Albuquerque Democrat, called for the resignation of Human Services Department Cabinet Secretary Brent Earnest and for “criminal charges to be pressed because this isn’t human error anymore — this is actually criminal behavior.” She is the second member of the committee to call for Earnest to step down.

No Republicans on the bipartisan committee were at the presentation.

Earlier Wednesday — at a news conference in Albuquerque promoting the Martinez administration’s efforts to tackle New Mexico’s drug abuse epidemic — Gov. Susana Martinez made a rare public comment about the decision in June 2013 to freeze Medicaid payments to the 15 mental health providers on allegations they had defrauded Medicaid, the state and federal program that provides health care to low-income residents. The state brought in five Arizona firms to replace the New Mexico providers, but three of them have since left the state, citing financial losses

Martinez said the decision to freeze the Medicaid payments “was recommended by the federal government.”

“But the patients were continued to be serviced and their services were not interrupted,” she said, “unless they decided on their own that they wanted to not continue.”

Asked to clarify Martinez’s statement about the federal government’s role in the Medicaid payment freeze, Michael Lonergan, the governor’s spokesman, said in an email that Martinez was “referencing federal law, which calls for the state to suspend payments and investigate any credible allegations of fraud.”

Federal law gave the state the option to freeze Medicaid payments but didn’t require it.

Kyler Nerison, a spokesman for the Human Services Department, defended the agency’s efforts to pursue the return of funds allegedly overpaid to the former Medicaid providers, saying in an email that the “Attorney General’s limited review of the agencies that had their payments suspended found thousands of cases of billing errors and other regulatory violations.

“Medicaid dollars should be used to help the people who need it most, and if these politicians want to turn a blind-eye to that kind of waste and abuse, that’s solely on them,” Nerison said. “The Human Services Department will continue working to recoup the misspent and overbilled Medicaid dollars as we continue to help more New Mexicans than ever before in both Medicaid and behavioral health services.”

Freedle said he will attend a Human Services Department hearing next week to contest the agency’s claim that Teambuilders owes the state $2.2 million. At issue is the agency’s use of extrapolation to determine the figure of the alleged overbilling. The agency pointed to 12 allegedly errant claims Teambuilders had made to OptumHealth requesting Medicaid reimbursements worth a total of $728.

But Freedle said the Human Services Department used overpayments found in a small sample of claims and multiplied the amount by 3,000 to determine overbilling over a longer period of time, without proving such billing errors occurred. An investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, which found no evidence of criminal fraud, also found a smaller error rate.

Patsy Romero, CEO of Easter Seals El Mirador, and Nancy Jo Archer, who was the CEO of Hogares, broke down in tears as they described the Human Services Department’s “fair hearing process.”

“That’s really and truly an oxymoron,” Archer said.

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!!

The Feds Criminally Investigating DHHS! Is Its Scope Too Narrow and What Are Possible Consequences?

DHHS is under criminal investigation by the federal government for allegedly overpaying employees without a bid process, and, simply, mismanaging and overspending our Medicaid tax dollars. See blog.

When I first started writing this blog, I opined that the federal investigation should be broadened. While I still believe so, the results of broadening the scope of a federal investigation could be catastrophic for our Medicaid providers and recipients. So I am metaphorically torn between wanting to shine light on tax payer waste and wanting to shield NC Medicaid providers and recipients from the consequences of penalties and sanctions on NC DHHS. Because, think about it, who would be harmed if NC lost federal funding for Medicaid?

[BTW, of note: These subpoenas were received July 28, 2015. Aldona Wos announced her resignation on August 5, 2015, after receipt of subpoenas. The Subpoenas demand an appearance on August 18, 2015, which, obviously, has already passed, yet we have no intel as to the occurrences on August 18, 2015. If anyone has information, let me know.]

Let’s explore:

Does this criminal investigation go far enough? Should the feds investigate more Medicaid mismanagement over and above the salaries of DHHS employees? What are the potential consequences if NC is sanctioned for violating Medicaid regulations? How could a sanction affect providers and recipients?

DHHS’ employees are not the only highly compensated parties when it comes to our Medicaid dollars! It is without question that the contracts with vendors with whom DHHS contracts contain astronomically high figures. For example, DHHS hired Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) to implement the NCTracks software for $265 million. Furthermore, there is no mention of the lack of supervision of the managed care organizations (MCOs) and the compensation for executives of MCOs being equal to that of the President of the United States in the Subpoenas.

The subpoenas are limited in scope as to documents related to hiring and the employment terms surrounding DHHS employees. As I just said, there is no mention of violations of bid processes for vendors or contractors, except as to Alvarez & Marsal, and nothing as to the MCOs.

Specifically, the subpoena is requesting documents germane to the following:

  • Les Merritt, a former state auditor who stepped down from the North Carolina State Ethics Commission after WRAL News raised questions about potential conflicts of interest created by his service contract with DHHS;
  • Thomas Adams, a former chief of staff who received more than $37,000 as “severance” after he served just one month on the job;
  • Angie Sligh, the former director of the state’s upgraded Medicaid payment system who faced allegations of nepotism and the waste of $1.6 million in payments to under-qualified workers for wages, unjustified overtime and holiday pay in a 2015 state audit;
  • Joe Hauck, an employee of Wos’ husband who landed a lucrative contract that put him among the highest-paid workers at DHHS;
  • Alvarez & Marsal, a consulting firm overseeing agency budget forecasting under a no-bid contract that has nearly tripled in value, to at least $8 million;

See WRAL.com.

Possible penalties:

Most likely, the penalties imposed would be more civil in nature and encompass suspensions, recoupments, and/or reductions to the federal matching. Possibly a complete termination of all federal matching funds, at the worst.

42 CFR Part 430, Subpart C – of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) covers “Grants; Reviews and Audits; Withholding for Failure To Comply; Deferral and Disallowance of Claims; Reduction of Federal Medicaid Payments”

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is charged with the oversight of all 50 states’ management of Medicaid, which makes CMS very busy and with solid job security.

“The Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) periodically audits State operations in order to determine whether—(1) The program is being operated in a cost-efficient manner; and
(2) Funds are being properly expended for the purposes for which they were appropriated under Federal and State law and regulations.” 42 CFR 430.33.

CMS may withhold federal funding, although reasonable notice and opportunity for a hearing is required (unlike the reimbursement suspensions from providers upon “credible” (or not) allegations of fraud).

If the Administrator of a hearing finds North Carolina non compliant with federal regulations, CMS may withhold, in whole or in part, our reimbursements until we remedy such deficiency. Similar to health care providers’ appeals, if the State of North Carolina is dissatisfied with the result of the hearing, NC may file for Judicial Review. Theoretically, NC could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Other penalties could include reductions of (1) the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage; (2) the amount of State expenditures subject to FFP; (3) the rates of FFP; and/or (4) the amount otherwise payable to the state.

As a reminder, the penalties listed above are civil penalties, and NC is under criminal investigation; however, I could not fathom that the criminal penalties would differ far from the civil allowable penalties. What are the feds going to do? Throw Wos in jail? Highly unlikely.

The subpoena was addressed to:

subpoena

NC DHHS, attention the Custodian of Records. In NC, public records requests go to Kevin V. Howell, Legal Communications Coordinator, DHHS.

But is the federal government’s criminal investigation of DHHS too narrow in scope?

If we are investigating DHHS employees’ salaries and bid processes, should we not also look into the salaries of DHHS’ agents, such as the salaries for employees of MCOs? And the contracts’ price tags for DHHS vendors?

Turning to the MCOs, who are the managers of a fire hose of Medicaid funds with little to no supervision, I liken the MCOs’ current stance on the tax dollars provided to the MCOs as the Lion, who hunted with the Fox and the Jackal from Aesop’s Fables.

The Lion went once a-hunting along with the Fox, the Jackal, and the Wolf. They hunted and they hunted till at last they surprised a Stag, and soon took its life. Then came the question how the spoil should be divided. “Quarter me this Stag,” roared the Lion; so the other animals skinned it and cut it into four parts. Then the Lion took his stand in front of the carcass and pronounced judgment: The first quarter is for me in my capacity as King of Beasts; the second is mine as arbiter; another share comes to me for my part in the chase; and as for the fourth quarter, well, as for that, I should like to see which of you will dare to lay a paw upon it.”

“Humph,” grumbled the Fox as he walked away with his tail between his legs; but he spoke in a low growl:

Moral of Aesop’s Fable: “You may share the labours of the great, but you will not share the spoil.”

At least as to DHHS employees’ salaries, the federal government is investigating any potential mismanagement of Medicaid funds due to exorbitant salaries, which were compensated with tax dollars.

Maybe this investigation is only the beginning of more forced accountability as to mismanaging tax dollars with Medicaid administrative costs.

One can hope…(but you do not always want what you wish for…because the consequences to our state could be dire if the investigation were broadened and non compliance found).

Possible Ramifications:

Let us quickly contemplate the possible consequences of any of the above-mentioned penalties, whether civil or criminal in nature, on Medicaid recipients.

To the extent that you believe that the reimbursement rates are already too low, that medically necessary services are not being authorized, that limitations to the amount services are being unduly enforced…Imagine that NC lost our federal funding completely. We would lose approximately 60% of our Medicaid budget.

All our “voluntary” Medicaid-covered services would, most likely, be terminated. Personal care services (PCS) is an optional Medicaid-covered service.

With only 40% of our Medicaid budget, I could not imagine that we would have much money left to pay providers for services rendered to Medicaid recipients after paying our hefty administrative costs, including overhead,payroll, vendor contracts, MCO disbursements, etc. We may even be forced to breach our contracts with our vendors for lack of funds, which would cause us to incur additional expenses.

All Medicaid providers could not be paid. Without payments to providers, Medicaid recipients would not receive medically necessary services.

Basically, it would be the next episode of “Fear the Walking Dead.”

Hopefully, because the ramifications of such penalties would be so drastic, the federal government will not impose such sanctions lightly. Sanctions of such magnitude would be a last resort if we simply refused to remedy whatever deficiencies are found.

Otherwise, it could be the zombie apocalypse, but the Lion’s would be forced to share.

New Mexico AG clears third agency of Medicaid billing fraud!!!

BREAKING NEWS

Here is the article (my opinions will be forthcoming):

SANTA FE – The Attorney General’s Office has cleared a third behavioral health agency of Medicaid fraud, and it’s reaching out to audit firms for help in investigating the remaining dozen referred by the Human Services Department two years ago.

Attorney General Hector Balderas said Wednesday that he has issued requests for proposals from audit firms to help with the investigations, to speed up the process.

A spokesman for Balderas, meanwhile, said the AG’s Office has completed its investigation into Raton-based Service Organization for Youth and found no Medicaid fraud on the part of the agency, although there was overbilling.

The AG’s Office referred the case back to the Human Services Department to pursue the overbilling, according to spokesman James Hallinan. The alleged amount was not immediately available.

As an outgrowth of the SOY investigation, a former therapist for the agency was charged six weeks ago by the AG’s Office with Medicaid fraud. She allegedly provided false billing information to SOY.

The Human Services Department in 2013 referred to the attorney general 15 nonprofits that provided services to the mentally ill and addicted, saying an audit it commissioned had found $36 million in overbilling, mismanagement and possible fraud.

Two of the providers – The Counseling Center of Alamogordo and Santa Fe-based Easter Seals El Mirador – had previously been cleared of fraud by the AG’s Office and are in disputes with HSD about what, if anything, they owe for alleged overbilling.

Former Attorney General Gary King, who left office at the end of December, had said it could take up to six years to complete the probes. Balderas said that was too long and got approval from the Legislature during the regular session to shift $1.8 million out of a consumer protection fund to hire extra help.

The request for proposals “is a critical infusion of resources to expedite the behavioral health Medicaid fraud investigations,” Balderas said Wednesday in a statement. He said expanding the pool of experts to work with his staff “will allow our investigation to proceed even more quickly and efficiently, which has always been my priority.”

The request for proposals, issued last week, requires that bidders respond by June 30.

After the Human Services Department cut off Medicaid funding to the providers and referred them to the AG’s Office, it brought in five Arizona companies to take over a dozen of them. SOY, however, had its Medicaid funding restored by HSD and continued to operate, with technical assistance from one of the Arizona firms.

The report on the SOY investigation was not immediately available from Balderas’ office. Hallinan said it was being reviewed before release to ensure that it didn’t affect the criminal proceedings against the former SOY therapist.

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.

Source: [New Mexico] Human Services Secretary Squier Resigns!

“Gov. Susana Martinez’s controversial Human Services Department Secretary Sidonie Squier resigned on Thursday, sources inside the department confirmed,” according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Patsy Romero, COO of Easter Seals El Mirador wrote to me, “post on your blog and say thank God that this woman is out after she falsely accused innocent people of being criminal and specifically targeted individuals without any evidence to support her allegations.”

According to a member of legislature, Squier had stated to the member that she was “after Patsy and Roque.” (Roque is the CEO of the Rio Grande Behavioral Health).

See the documentary about the events in New Mexico leading up to the accusations of fraud against 15 behavioral healthcare providers here.

Obviously, I cannot comment or have an opinion, so here is the rest of the article from the Santa Fe New Mexican:

“In a state that ranks at or near the bottom of the nation in childhood hunger, poverty and unemployment, Squier has been a target of criticisms from groups that advocate for the poor, beginning with a statement in an email last year from her office that no evidence of hunger in the state exists in New Mexico.

Squier later backed off the statement, but came under fire again last year over the sudden removal of 15 behavioral health providers accused of fraud and their replacement with Arizona companies. The Human Services Department’s suspicions have yet to be proven.  See my blog: “Because of PCG Audit, New Mexico Freezes Mental Health Services!

Democrats in the New Mexico Senate this year targeted Squier with a “no confidence” resolution over her remarks about hunger in the state and the behavioral health shakeup.

Since then, a federal judge chided the Human Services Department when he ordered it to immediately eliminate a backlog of thousands of applications for food and health benefits from poor New Mexicans that were months overdue for processing. The department has since satisfied the court that the backlog for those most desperately in need of food assistance has been eliminated, but advocates for impoverished residents of the state say problems in other areas continue to deny eligible applicants much needed benefits.

While working to satisfy the court order over the benefit delays, Squier announced plans to restore a requirement that some food benefit recipients work, receive job training or perform community service in order to keep receiving assistance. A state district judge in Santa Fe delayed the launch of the regulatory change last week in a lawsuit that challenged whether the Human Services Department fully disclosed all the relevant details of the requirement before adopting it.

On Wednesday, the department announced it will start the hearing process for the work requirement anew, further delaying its implementation.

As election results came in Tuesday night and Martinez was swept into office for a second term by a large margin, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-New Mexico, said she planned to apply pressure on the governor to dump Squier based on the volume of complaints Lujan Grisham’s office has received about human services in the state.

“I don’t think that Sidonie Squier is the right leadership for the Human Services Department,” Lujan Grisham told The New Mexican.”

NC Medicaid Providers: “Credible Allegations of Fraud?” YOU ARE GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT!!

“Credible allegations of fraud.”  What does that mean???

As it pertains to Medicaid, “credible allegations of fraud” was first introduced into law by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010.  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) issued its Final Rule February, 2, 2011, and the Informational Bulletin in March 2011.

As you can see, “credible allegations of fraud,” as pertaining to Medicaid, is a relatively new concept.  But what does it mean?  The ACA does not define “credible allegations of fraud.”

I know what “allegation” means.  I also know allegations are not always true.  I also know allegations can change your life. 

When I was a senior in high school, I had been dating my high school sweetheart for 2 years.  An acquaintance, and an apparently, mean-spirited girl, alleged that my boyfriend cheated on me with another girl.  I was so angered and so hurt that I called up my boyfriend immediately and broke up with him.  For weeks, my boyfriend hounded me, professing his innocence.  But I was not to be swayed.  I refused phone calls, avoided seeing him, and publicly disparaged him to my friends.  20 years later I saw him.  I asked him whether he had really cheated on me, knowing that he had no reason to lie now (he is married with 4 children; I am happily married with one child).  But I was just curious because that allegation that he had cheated changed both our lives.  I am not saying that had it not been for the allegation that he and I would be together…not at all…in fact, I am sure we would have eventually broken up.  The point is that the allegation that he cheated, for good or for bad, changed our lives.  And, to me, he was guilty based on the allegation.

20 years later I found out that the allegation was false.  He never cheated.  But his innocence did not change the consequences of the accusation.  He was guilty until proven innocent.

Similarly (and more importantly), a mere accusation that a Medicaid provider is undergoing abhorrent billing practices or committing Medicaid fraud, and without any proof, can change a provider’s life.  A mere allegation of fraud suspends a Medicaid provider’s reimbursements.  The consequence of which can be dire…You are guilty until proven innocent.  Just like my boyfriend.  The accusation alone made him guilty.

According to 42 C.F.R. 447.90, “This section implements section 1903(i)(2)(C) of the Act which prohibits payment of FFP with respect to items or services furnished by an individual or entity with respect to which there is pending an investigation of a credible allegation of fraud except under specified circumstances.”  FYI: FFP stands for Federal Financial Participation (or Medicaid reimbursements in the vernacular).

Section 1903(i)(2)(C) of the Social Security Act (SSA) states that no payments shall be paid to “any individual or entity to whom the State has failed to suspend payments under the plan during any period when there is pending an investigation of a credible allegation of fraud against the individual or entity, as determined by the State in accordance with regulations promulgated by the Secretary for purposes of section 1862(o) and this subparagraph, unless the State determines in accordance with such regulations there is good cause not to suspend such payment.”

But what does “credible allegation of fraud” mean? Where is the definition?  Not in the SSA.

On March 25, 2011, CMS issued an Informational Bulletin in which “credible allegations of fraud” is defined…sort of…

The Informational Bulletin states, “In the final rule, CMS provides certain bounds around the definition of “credible allegation of fraud” at 42 C.F.R. § 455.2. Generally, a “credible allegation of fraud” may be an allegation that has been verified by a State and that has indicia of reliability that comes from any source. Further, CMS recognizes that different States may have different considerations in determining what may be a “credible allegation of fraud.” Accordingly, CMS believes States should have the flexibility to determine what constitutes a “credible allegation of fraud” consistent with individual State law. However, a credible allegation of fraud, for example, could be a complaint made by an employee of a physician alleging that the physician is engaged in fraudulent billing practices,  i.e., the physician repeatedly bills for services at a higher level than is actually justified by the services rendered to beneficiaries. Upon State review of the physician’s billings, the State may determine that the allegation has indicia of reliability and is, in fact, credible. “

1. An allegation

An allegation by its very definition is “a claim or assertion that someone has done something illegal or wrong, typically one made without proof.” See Wikipedia.  Without proof!!!  Why without proof? Because an allegation is preliminary…an accusation…not a conclusion. Girl alleges my boyfriend cheated on me.

2. Verified by a State

Makes sense to need to be verified…

2. Indicia of reliability

Indicia? Indicia means “distinctive marks: indication.” See Dictionary.com.  Not quite sure what that means, but indicia of reliability does not sound like a very high threshold.  Nothing like preponderance of the evidence or beyond a reasonable doubt.  Could be as low a threshold as I applied when the girl alleged my boyfriend cheated on me.

3. Comes from any source

Are you kidding me?? So, if I were a Medicaid provider, my ex-husband, out of spite and hatred, could call up Patrick Piggott over at Program Integrity (PI) and accuse me of Medicaid fraud…or the disgruntled employee I fired….or my next door neighbor who is angry about the bush I planted on his property…you get the point.

Why is it important what the definition is of “credible allegation of fraud?”

As a Medicaid attorney, I represent Medicaid providers (duh).  The point is that I have seen the dire consequences, first-hand, to many, many a Medicaid provider accused of “credible allegations of fraud.”  Here are a few, real-life examples (names have been changed to protect the innocent):

  • Provider Leroy is accused of “credible allegations of fraud.”  Leroy is placed on prepayment review and all Medicaid reimbursements are suspended.  Leroy provides residential services (the people he serves actually live in his home because of severe mental illnesses).  Without Medicaid reimbursements, Leroy cannot pay the mortgage, his staff’s hourly wages, or anything else.  He acquires a $200,000 loan to help him through, and the interest is high.  He truly thinks that he will get off prepayment review and save his company and his Medicaid recipients from not having a home or Medicaid mental health services.  After 6 months of barely sliding by, Leroy receives a Notice of Termination terminating his Medicaid contract with the State.  (It is important to note that the termination was based of a faulty audit by an inept contractor).  He declares bankruptcy and all the Medicaid recipients are discharged to the homes that could not care for them in the first place.  The “credible allegation of fraud?” It came from a disgruntled employee.
  • Provider Lacey receives a Tentative Notice of Overpayment (TNO) in the amount of over $2 million based on “credible allegations of fraud.”  Provider Lacey (after her initial heart attack) hires Attorney Clueless.  Clueless appeals the TNO and gets the overpayment amount reduced to $1.5 million.  Lacey does not have $1.5 million and asks Clueless to appeal again.  Clueless fails to appeal the overpayment by the appeal deadline, and Lacey gets a judgment entered against her and her company.  Lacey’s husband is sick and tired of hearing about the Medicaid audit and abandons her and her two children.  Lacey declares bankruptcy.  Lacey used to support herself and her family.  Now North Carolina does.  The “credible allegation of fraud?” Lacey’s husband (apparently he had issues WAY before he left).
  • Provider Larry receives notice from a managed care organization (MCO) terminating his Medicaid contract based on “credible allegations of fraud” and demanding a $700,000 recoupment.  Larry also hires Clueless.  Clueless files a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the MCO.  Clueless did some homework and actually makes a good argument in court.  But by the time Clueless gets to court, 4 months has passed and Larry racked up $50,000 in legal fees.  Larry can’t pay the attorney fees.  Clueless withdraws as counsel.  Larry goes bankrupt.  The 400 Medicaid recipients that his company serviced do not receive the health care needed.  The “credible allegation of fraud?” One of his own recipients receiving substance abuse services in a state of incoherence while on crack cocaine.
  • Provider Lucy receives notice from the Medicaid Investigative Department  (MID) that she is under criminal investigation based on a “credible allegation of fraud.”  Lucy does not have enough money to hire an attorney, so she opts for the public defender, who knows nothing about Medicaid and is also named Clueless.  The public defender did not even review Lucy documentation because she did not understand the complex system of Medicaid.  Clueless provided poor representation, and Lucy was sentenced to 5 years in prison.  Lucy said, “I was the first in my family to get a PhD and the first to go to jail.”  The “credible allegation of fraud?”  Her local competitor.
  • 15 providers in New Mexico, based on “credible allegations of fraud,” have their Medicaid reimbursements suspended.  The 15 providers cannot pay staff, rent on buildings, and other bills.  The State of New Mexico brings in Arizona providers to replace the 15 Medicaid providers.  The Arizona provider takes over the 15 providers’ buildings, most staff and all consumers.  The 15 providers are out of business.  Without a trial.  Without even reviewing the evidence against them.  Based on a mere allegation of fraud, 15 providers go bankrupt…lose their careers…are unemployed… The “credible allegation of fraud?” Unknown.

Remember “credible allegation of fraud” is preliminary, and, at times, without any proof, yet the consequences are dire. 

Innocent until proven guilty is a bedrock principle in the American justice system.  Yet, innocent until proven guilty does not apply to Medicaid providers.  Our founding fathers created the concept of innocent until proven guilty.  While innocent until proven guilty is not explicitly codified in the Bill of Rights, the presumption of innocence is widely held to follow from the 5th, 6th, and 14th amendments. See also Coffin v. United States and In re Winship.

Here’s the problem….presumption of innocence only applies to criminal law.  Even when the consequences of a civil action is so monumental, so dire, so irreparable, the presumption of innocence does not apply.

So “credible allegation of fraud?”  It does not matter what the definition is.  The fact is that if ANYBODY alleges a “credible allegation of fraud” against you, you are guilty.  You are my boyfriend who never cheated on me, but a girl alleged that he did cheat. 

No evidence…You are GUILTY based on the ALLEGATION of fraud!

Credible?