What the heck is the False Claims Act and why is it important to you?
When it comes to Medicaid and Medicare, the ghoulish phrase “False Claims Act” is frequently thrown around. If you google False Claims Act (FCA) under the “news” option, you will see some chilling news article titles.
- Pediatric Services of America, units to pay $6.88 in False Claims
- NuVasive, Inc. Agrees to Pay $13.5 Million to Resolve False Claims
- California Oncologist Pays $736k to Settle False Claims Allegations
False claims cases tend to be high dollar cases for health care providers; many times the amounts are at issue that could potentially put the provider out of business. FCA is spine-chilling, and many health care providers would rather play the hiding child rather than the curious investigator in a horror story. Come on, let’s face it, the curious characters usually get killed. But, this is not a horror story, and it is imperative that providers are informed of the FCA and potential penalties.
I have blogged about post payment reviews that use extrapolation, which result in astronomical alleged overpayments. See blog and blog. Interestingly, these alleged overpayments could also be false claims. It is just a matter of which governmental agency is pursuing it (or person in the case of qui tem cases).
But the ramifications of false claims allegations are even more bloodcurdling than the astronomical alleged overpayments. It is important for you to understand what false claims are and how to prevent yourself from ever participating in a false claim, knowingly or unknowingly.
First, what is a false claim?
A false claims occurs when you knowingly present, or cause to be presented, to the US Government a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval. (abridged version).
The false claim does not have to be billed with actual knowledge that it is false or fraudulent. The false claim does not even have to be fraudulent; it can be merely false. The distinction lies in that a fraudulent claim is one that you intentionally alter. A false claim could merely be incorrect information. Saying it another way, the false claim can be a false or incorrect claim that you had no actual knowledge was false. That is hair-raising.
What is the penalty? It is:
A civil penalty of not less than $5,500 and not more than $11,000 per claim, plus 3 times the amount of the claim. You can see why these are high dollar cases.
The federal government recovered a jaw-dropping $5.7 billion in 2014 under the False Claims Act (FCA). In 2013, the feds recovered $5 billion under the FCA. Expect 2015 to be even higher. Since the inception of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), FCA investigations have increased.
Overwhelmingly, the recoveries are from the health care industry.
Everyone knows that the Medicare Claims Processing Manual is esoteric, verbose, and vague. Let’s face it: just Chapter 1 “General Billing Requirements” alone is 313 pages! Besides me, who reads the Medicare Claims Processing Manual cover to cover? Who, besides me, needs to know that Medicare does not cover deported beneficiaries or the exceptions to the Anti-markup Payment Limitation?
Not to mention, the Manual is not law. The Manual does not get approved by Congress. The Manual is guidance or policy.
However, in FCA cases, you can be held liable for items in the Medicare Claims Processing Manual of which you were not aware. In other words, in FCA cases, you can be found liable for what you should have known.
Real life hypotheticals:
Hospital submits claims to Medicare and received payment for services rendered in a clinical trial involving devices to improve organ transplants. Unbeknownst to the hospital, the Manual prohibits Medicare reimbursements for non-FDA approved services.
Physician A has reciprocal arrangement with Physician B. A undergoes personal surgery and B serves A’s Medicare Part B patients while A is recovering. A returns and bills Medicare and is paid for services rendered by B 61 days+ after A left the office.
A physician accepts assignment of a bill of $300 for covered Medicare services and collects $80 from the enrollee. Physician neglects to depict on the claim form that he/she collected anything from the patient. Medicare’s allowable amount is $250, and since the deductible had previously been met, makes payment of $200 to the physician.
These are just a few examples of situations which could result in a FCA allegation.
But do not fret! There are legal defenses written into the Social Security Act that provides protection for health care providers!
1. Check whether you have insurance coverage for FCA.
2. Have an attorney on hand with FCA experience.
3. Read portions of the Medicare Claims Billing Manual which are pertinent to you.
Most importantly, if you are accused of billing false claims, get your advocate sooner rather than later! Do not engage in any conversations or interviews without counsel!
Appeal all findings!