On November 3, 2020, a Massachusetts Federal District Court issued a notable decision on the applicability of the state’s medical peer review privilege in a federal proceeding, determining that the privilege does not apply to documents requested in discovery as part of a qui tam False Claims Act (FCA) case. In United States ex rel. Wollman v. Massachusetts General Hospital, Inc. et al., Case Number 1:15-cv-11890-ADB, the court reviewed the purpose of the peer review privilege and precedent addressing the applicability of state privileges under the Federal Rules of Evidence, and concluded that the privilege should not apply because the “goal of the peer review privilege would not be thwarted if it was not applied” in a case predicated on alleged billing fraud. The court’s decision is instructive for health care providers and whistleblowers in connection with discovery and the applicability of medical peer review privileges to FCA cases.
Continue Reading Massachusetts Federal Court Declines to Apply State Medical Peer Review Privilege in Federal Whistleblower Case

On January 27, 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a $145 million settlement with Practice Fusion Inc., an electronic health records (EHR) software company that resolves parallel criminal and civil investigations involving allegations of kickbacks, false claims, and non-compliance with federal EHR program requirements. We previously discussed a preliminary settlement in this case here, and in announcing the finalizing of that settlement the DOJ has shed more light on the allegedly improper conduct at issue. According to the DOJ, this is the first criminal action ever brought against an EHR company, and the “unique” deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) imposed by the DOJ against Practice Fusion that seeks “to ensure acceptance of responsibility and transparency as to” underlying conduct may reflect a new approach to settlements with corporate health care defendants.
Continue Reading DOJ Announces Settlement with EHR Company to Resolve Criminal and Civil Kickback Investigations Tied to Opioid Prescribing

On November 26, 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a $26.67 million settlement with a laboratory testing corporation, Boston Heart Diagnostics Corporation (Boston Heart). The settlement resolves allegations of False Claims Act (FCA) violations related to alleged payments for patient referrals in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and the Physician Self-Referral Law (PSR Law) – commonly known as the Stark Law – and other improper billing.
Continue Reading DOJ Announces $26.67 Million Settlement with Laboratory to Resolve FCA Allegations

On November 15, 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it had reached a settlement with Sutter Health (Sutter) and Sacramento Cardiovascular Surgeons Medical Group Inc. (Sac Cardio) to resolve alleged violations of the Physician Self-Referral Law (PSR Law), commonly known as the Stark Law. Sutter is a California-based health services provider; Sac Cardio is a Sacramento-based practice group of three cardiovascular surgeons. The total settlement in excess of $46 million includes $30.5 million from Sutter to resolve allegations of an improper financial relationship specific to compensation arrangements with Sac Cardio. Sac Cardio has agreed to pay $506,000 to resolve allegations of duplicative billing associated with one of these compensation arrangements. Separately, the settlement includes another $15,117,516 from Sutter to resolve self-disclosed conduct principally concerning the PSR Law.
Continue Reading DOJ Announces Physician Self-Referral (Stark) Law Settlement in Excess of $46 Million with California Health System and Surgical Group

On November 7, 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it had settled a False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit against Life Spine, a spinal device manufacturer, and two of Life Spine’s senior executives. The settlement totaled $5.99 million and included various admissions of responsibility to settle allegations of kickbacks paid by Life Spine that the DOJ claimed were designed to induce surgeons to utilize Life Spine devices and submit claims to federal health programs for these improperly-induced utilizations in violation of the federal anti-kickback statute (AKS) and FCA. The settlement includes $5.5 million to be paid by Life Spine and $490,000 to be paid by its CEO and VP of business development.

Continue Reading DOJ Announces FCA Lawsuit Settlement with Spinal Device Manufacturer and Senior Executives for Alleged Kickbacks Paid to Surgeons

On September 18, 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a $21.36 million settlement with compounding pharmacy Patient Care America (PCA), as well as PCA’s Chief Executive, PCA’s former Vice President of Operations, and a private equity firm (PE Firm) that managed PCA on behalf of investors. The settlement resolves a False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit alleging involvement in a kickback scheme designed to generate unnecessary referrals for prescription pain creams, scar creams, and vitamins reimbursed by TRICARE, the federal health care program for military members and their families. No determination of liability was made as part of the settlement. See our prior analysis of DOJ’s intervention in this case here.
Continue Reading DOJ Reaches $21.36 Million Agreement with Compounding Pharmacy, Two of its Executives, and Managing Private Equity Firm to Resolve FCA Allegations

On September 4, 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a $15.4 million settlement with pharmaceutical company Mallinckrodt ARD LLC (Mallinckrodt) to resolve alleged violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) in two whistleblower suits filed under the False Claims Act (FCA). The settlement addresses allegations of AKS violations between 2009-2013 by sales representatives of a company later acquired by Mallinckrodt via the “wining and dining” of physicians to induce Medicare prescriptions of that company’s drug. Interestingly, the settlements do not cover related allegations within those FCA suits that Mallinckrodt improperly used a patient assistance foundation to “pay illegal kickbacks in the form of copay subsidies” for the same drug.
Continue Reading Government Continues to Closely Scrutinize Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices

“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

In a complaint filed on July 22, 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (DOJ) intervened in a qui tam False Claims Act (FCA) suit against Life Spine Inc. (Life Spine), and senior executives of Life Spine. DOJ alleges that the company – a maker of spinal implants, devices and equipment – offered and paid kickbacks in the form of consulting fees, royalties, and intellectual property acquisition fees to surgeons to induce the use of its products in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS). DOJ further alleges that Life Spine’s President and Chief Executive Officer (who is also its founder and majority shareholder), as well as its Vice President of Business Development, had knowledge of and participated in the alleged kickback arrangements, and named the individuals as co-defendants. DOJ claims that by paying the alleged kickbacks to physicians in order to induce the use of Life Spine products, Life Spine “caused false claims to be submitted to Medicare and Medicaid.”
Continue Reading DOJ Intervenes in FCA Suit Against Spinal Device Manufacturer and Senior Executives that Allegedly Paid Kickbacks to Surgeons

On June 5, 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a global settlement with Insys Therapeutics (Insys) that preliminarily resolves criminal and civil cases against the opioid manufacturer in a number of jurisdictions. Under the terms of the settlement, Insys agreed to pay a total of $225 million – $195 million in civil remedies and $30 million in criminal restitution (comprising a $2 million fine and $28 million in forfeiture). In addition to the monetary penalties, Insys entered into a five year deferred prosecution agreement with DOJ, as well as a five year Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) and Conditional Exclusion Release with the Office of Inspector General (OIG). Additionally, an operating subsidiary of Insys pleaded guilty to mail fraud.
Continue Reading DOJ Enters into $225 Million Settlement with Opioid Manufacturer to Resolve Criminal and Civil Investigations