“A mere difference of opinion between physicians, without more, is not enough to show falsity.”
In a 3-0 decision issued September 9, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a three-year-old district court ruling in United States v. AseraCare, Inc. that a Medicare claim for hospice services cannot be deemed false under the False Claims Act (FCA) based on a difference in clinical judgment. This decision – apparently the first circuit-level determination of the “standard for falsity [under the FCA] in the context of the Medicare hospice benefit” – will affect all hospice providers, as the Department of Justice (DOJ) and whistleblowers will not be able to rely on disagreements between physician opinions as the basis for establishing falsity under the FCA. Instead, the Eleventh Circuit instructs that a claim for hospice reimbursement “cannot be “false” – and thus cannot trigger FCA liability – if the underlying clinical judgment does not reflect an objective falsehood.” The Eleventh Circuit’s decision emphasizes that reasonable differences of opinion between physician reviewers of medical documentation are not sufficient to suggest that the judgments concerning a particular patient’s eligibility for Medicare’s hospice benefit, or any claims submitted based on such judgments, are false for purposes of the FCA.
Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Endorses Objective Falsehood Standard for False Claims Cases Concerning Physician Judgment of Hospice Eligibility