CHRISTUS St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and CHRISTUS Health to Pay $12.24 Million to Settle Medicaid False Claims Act Allegations

Friday, September 1, 2017

CHRISTUS St. Vincent Regional Medical Center (St. Vincent) and its partner, CHRISTUS Health (CHRISTUS), have agreed to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by making illegal donations to county governments, which were used to fund the state share of Medicaid payments to the hospital, the Department of Justice announced today. Under the settlement agreement, St. Vincent and CHRISTUS have agreed to pay $12.24 million, plus interest. St. Vincent is located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. CHRISTUS is based in Irving, Texas.

“Congress expressly intended that states and counties use their own money when seeking federal matching funds,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Using local funds provides an incentive for the counties and states to, among other things, hold down costs rather than rely on non bona-fide donations by private providers.”

New Mexico’s Sole Community Provider (SCP) program, which was discontinued in 2014, provided supplemental Medicaid funds to hospitals in mostly rural communities. The federal government reimbursed the state of New Mexico for approximately 75 percent of its health care expenditures under the SCP program. Under federal law, New Mexico’s 25 percent “matching” share of SCP program payments had to consist of state or county funds, and not impermissible “donations” from private hospitals. This restriction on the use of private hospital funds to satisfy state Medicaid obligations was enacted by Congress to curb possible abuses and ensure that states have sufficient incentive to curb rising Medicaid costs.

Between 2001 and 2009, St. Vincent and CHRISTUS allegedly made non-bona fide donations and thus caused the presentment of false claims by the state of New Mexico to the federal government under the Medicaid program.

“Protecting the integrity of the Medicaid program is crucial because millions of Americans, including hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans, depend on the program for medical care and related services,” said Acting U.S. Attorney James D. Tierney for the District of New Mexico. “This case illustrates our commitment to ensuring that government funds are legally obtained and used for their intended purposes. We will use all available civil remedies to recover the ill-gotten gains obtained by those who defraud government health care programs.”

The settlement resolves allegations originally brought in a lawsuit filed by a former Los Alamos County, New Mexico Indigent Healthcare Administrator under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, which allow private parties to bring suit on behalf of the government and to share in any recovery. The whistleblower will receive $2.249 million as her share of the recovery in this case.

The case was handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico with assistance from the Justice Department’s Civil Division and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.

The lawsuit is captioned U.S. ex rel. Stepan v. Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center Corp. et al., Civil Action No. 11-cv-572 (D.N.M.). The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.

Former Janesville Pharmacy Owner Sentenced for Health Care Fraud

Friday, September 1, 2017

Madison, Wis. – Jeffrey M. Anderson, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, announced that Mark Johnson, 55, Janesville, Wis., was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge James Peterson to 24 months in federal prison for health care fraud.  Johnson will begin serving his sentence in October.

On August 4, 2016, Johnson’s arrest was announced in conjunction with the unsealing of a 46-count indictment returned by the grand jury, charging him with health care fraud, making false statements in a health care fraud audit, and identity theft.

On May 24, 2017, Johnson entered a guilty plea to Count 1 of the indictment. Pursuant to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, all the charged conduct was considered by the court at sentencing. Johnson defrauded Medicare and Medicaid from approximately January 2008 to March 2014. During this time-period, he was a licensed pharmacist, and the owner and president of Kealey Pharmacy and Home Care, Inc., a pharmacy located in Janesville, Wisconsin. Kealey Pharmacy was a retail pharmacy providing, among other things, prescription drugs to customers. Kealey was reimbursed for these prescriptions in a number of ways, including reimbursement payments under Medicare and Medicaid.

Johnson submitted false and fraudulent claims to Medicare and Medicaid obtaining reimbursement for medication that was not, in fact, provided to beneficiaries. On occasion, also created false prescription orders using the identities of physicians and then submitted claims for reimbursement for medication pursuant to these false prescription orders. also lied in his responses to an audit being conducted by the State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services of paid Medicaid claims in 2013. obtained approximately $740,000 in fraudulent prescription reimbursements during his fraud scheme.

At sentencing, Judge Peterson noted that Johnson’s criminal conduct caused a considerable financial loss to the Medicare and Medicaid programs, which are designed to protect the sick and the vulnerable.

The charges against Johnson were the result of a lengthy investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Federal investigators began investigating Johnson after being alerted to the possible fraud by two employees who worked at the pharmacy.

Acting U.S. Attorney Anderson commended the outstanding work of the investigators in the case and praised the two former employees who came forward with concerns about possible fraud. Anderson said, “Johnson’s case is an example of this U.S. Attorney’s Office’s commitment to prosecuting those in the health care profession who abuse the public trust by defrauding the Medicare and Medicaid programs.”

The prosecution of this case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Meredith P. Duchemin.

National Dental Clinic Chain to Pay $1.3 Million to Resolve Allegations of Overbilling Medicaid

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

BOSTON – The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office announced today that Dental Dreams, LLC, a national dental chain with locations in Massachusetts, has agreed to pay $1.375 million to resolve allegations that it improperly billed the Massachusetts Medicaid program (MassHealth) for unnecessary and unjustifiable dental procedures.

“Dental Dreams enriched itself at taxpayer expense by improperly billing Medicaid,” said Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to ensure that federal and state health care dollars are spent properly.”

“This dental chain’s extensive improper billing violated state regulations and cost our state’s Medicaid program more than a million dollars,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. “As a result of this joint investigation, today’s settlement provides restitution to MassHealth and ensures that these funds are properly used to benefit its members.”

“Medicaid is designed to provide health care services to some of the most vulnerable members of our society and it’s our agency’s mission to ensure government health funds are spent properly,” said Special Agent in Charge Phillip M. Coyne of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. “Working with our Federal and State partners, we will continue to hold accountable any medical professional who, just to enrich themselves, bills Medicaid for more intensive and expensive services than those actually provided.”

“The company took advantage of a vulnerable patient population when it submitted claims to MassHealth for medically unnecessary and unreasonable dental procedures,” said Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division. “Today’s settlement underscores the FBI’s commitment to investigate health care providers who overbill federal and private health insurance programs to maximize profits. We urge anyone with information regarding overbilling practices to contact us.”

The settlement resolves allegations that Dental Dreams overbilled the Massachusetts Medicaid program for surgical extractions of teeth and for a specific kind of oral examination.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed by a former employee under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which permits private parties to sue on behalf of the government for false claims for government funds and to receive a share of any recovery.

Acting U.S. Attorney Weinreb, Massachusetts Attorney General Healey, HHS-OIG SAC Coyne and FBI SAC Shaw made the announcement today. The case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michelle Leung, Sonya Rao, and Kriss Basil of Weinreb’s Civil Division and Assistant Attorney General Stephany Collamore of Healey’s Medicaid Fraud Division.

Novo Nordisk Agrees to Pay $58 Million for Failure to Comply with FDA-Mandated Risk Program

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Payments Resolve Allegations Highlighted in DOJ Civil Complaint and Recently Unsealed Whistleblower Actions

Pharmaceutical Manufacturer Novo Nordisk Inc. will pay $58.65 million to resolve allegations that the company failed to comply with the FDA-mandated Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) for its Type II diabetes medication Victoza, the Justice Department announced today. The resolution includes disgorgement of $12.15 million for alleged violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) from 2010 to 2012 and a payment of $46.5 million for alleged violations of the False Claims Act (FCA) from 2010 to 2014. Novo Nordisk is a subsidiary of Novo Nordisk U.S. Holdings Inc., which is a subsidiary of Novo Nordisk A/S of Denmark. Novo Nordisk’s U.S. headquarters is in Plainsboro, New Jersey.

“Today’s resolution demonstrates the Department of Justice’s continued commitment to ensuring that drug manufacturers comply with the law,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “When a drug manufacturer fails to share accurate risk information with doctors and patients, it deprives physicians of information vital to medical decision-making.”

In a civil complaint filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asserting claims under the FDCA, the government alleged that, at the time of Victoza’s approval in 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required a REMS to mitigate the potential risk in humans of a rare form of cancer called Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma (MTC) associated with the drug. The REMS required Novo Nordisk to provide information regarding Victoza’s potential risk of MTC to physicians. A manufacturer that fails to comply with the requirements of the REMS, including requirements to communicate accurate risk information, renders the drug misbranded under the law.

As alleged in the complaint, some Novo Nordisk sales representatives gave information to physicians that created the false or misleading impression that the Victoza REMS-required message was erroneous, irrelevant, or unimportant. The complaint further alleges that Novo Nordisk failed to comply with the REMS by creating the false or misleading impression about the Victoza REMS-required risk message that violated provisions of the FDCA and led some physicians to be unaware of the potential risks when prescribing Victoza.

As alleged in the government’s complaint, after a survey in 2011 showed that half of primary care doctors polled were unaware of the potential risk of MTC associated with the drug, the FDA required a modification to the REMS to increase awareness of the potential risk. Rather than appropriately implementing the modification, the complaint alleges that Novo Nordisk instructed its sales force to provide statements to doctors that obscured the risk information and failed to comply with the REMS modification. Novo Nordisk has agreed to disgorge $12.15 million in profits derived from its unlawful conduct in violation of the FDCA.

“Novo Nordisk’s actions unnecessarily put vulnerable patients at risk,” said U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips for the District of Columbia. “We are committed to holding companies accountable for violating the integrity of the FDA’s efforts to ensure that doctors and patients have accurate information that allows them to make appropriate decisions about which drugs to use in their care. Working with the FDA and other law enforcement partners, we have sent a strong signal to the drug industry today.”

“Novo Nordisk Inc. sales representatives misled physicians by failing to accurately disclose a potential life threatening side effect of a prescription drug, and needlessly increased risks to patients being treated with this drug,” said Assistant Director in Charge Andrew W. Vale of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “The FBI is committed to ensuring that the private industry provides honest and accurate risk information to the public and will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to investigate companies who do not comply with FDA-mandated policies.”

“We need to trust that pharmaceutical companies truthfully represent their products’ potential risks,” said Special Agent in Charge Nick DiGiulio for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “We will continue to work with our partners to ensure federal health care dollars are spent only on drugs that are marketed honestly.”

Novo Nordisk will pay an additional $46.5 million to the federal government and the states to resolve claims under the FCA and state false claims acts. This portion of the settlement resolves allegations that Novo Nordisk caused the submission of false claims from 2010 to 2014 to federal health care programs for Victoza by arming its sales force with messages that could create a false or misleading impression with physicians that the Victoza REMS-required message about the potential risk of MTC associated with Victoza was erroneous, irrelevant, or unimportant and by encouraging the sale to and use of Victoza by adult patients who did not have Type II diabetes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved Victoza as safe and effective for use by adult patients who do not have Type II diabetes.

As a result of today’s FCA settlement, the federal government will receive $43,129,026 and state Medicaid programs will receive $3,320,963. The Medicaid program is funded jointly by the state and federal governments.

The FCA settlement resolves seven lawsuits filed under the whistleblower provision of the federal FCA, which permits private parties to file suit on behalf of the United States for false claims and share in a portion of the government’s recovery. The civil lawsuits are captioned as follows: United States, et al. ex rel. Kennedy, v. Novo A/S, et al., No. 13-cv-01529 (D.D.C.), United States, et al. ex rel. Dastous, et al. v. Novo Nordisk, No. 11-cv-01662 (D.D.C), United States, et al., ex rel. Ferrara and Kelling v Novo Nordisk, Inc., et al., No. 1:11-cv-00074 (D.D.C.), United States, et al., ex rel. Myers v. Novo Nordisk, Inc., No. 11-cv-1596 (D.D.C.), United States, et al. ex rel Stepe v. Novo Nordisk, Inc., No. 13-cv-221 (D.D.C.), United States et al. ex rel Doe, et al. v. Novo Nordisk, Inc., et al., No. 1:17-00791 (D.D.C.), and United States ex rel. Smith, et al. v. Novo Nordisk, Inc., Civ. Action No. 16-1605 (D.D.C.). The amount to be recovered by the private parties has not been determined.

The settlements were the result of a coordinated effort among the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and Commercial Litigation Branch, with assistance from the FDA’s Office of Chief Counsel. The investigation was conducted by the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, the FBI, HHS-OIG, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the Office of Personnel Management, Office of the Inspector General.

For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts, visit its website at http://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. For more information on the Commercial Litigation Branch’s Fraud Section, visit https://www.justice.gov/civil/fraud-section. For more information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc.

Connecticut Substance Abuse Treatment Provider Pays $627K to Settle False Claims Act Allegations

Thursday, September 7, 2017

United States Attorney Deirdre M. Daly and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen today announced that a Connecticut substance abuse treatment provider and its former CEO will pay $627,000 to resolve allegations that they violated the federal and state False Claims Acts.

THE HARTFORD DISPENSARY and THE HARTFORD DISPENSARY ENDOWMENT CORPORATION (collectively, “Hartford Dispensary”) is a healthcare organization that provides behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment services. It operates various outpatient treatment programs through its nine clinics located in Connecticut. PAUL McLAUGHLIN is the former President and Chief Executive Officer of Hartford Dispensary.

To be certified as an opioid treatment provider (OTP), the OTP must formally designate a medical director, who assumes responsibility for administering all medical services performed by the OTP. The medical director is also responsible for ensuring that the OTP is in compliance with all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations.

The government alleges that Hartford Dispensary and McLaughlin made repeated false representations and false certifications to federal and state authorities that Hartford Dispensary had a medical director, as defined by relevant regulations, who was performing the duties and responsibilities required by federal and state law. The government further alleges that these false representations and certifications were material to false or fraudulent claims submitted to the Medicaid program.

To resolve the government’s allegations under the federal and state False Claims Acts, Hartford Dispensary and McLaughlin have agreed to pay $627,000, which covers conduct occurring from January 1, 2009 through November 20, 2015.

A complaint against Hartford Dispensary was filed in the U.S. District Court in Connecticut under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the both the federal and state False Claims Acts. The relators (whistleblowers), Russell Buchner and Charles Hatheway, former employees of Hartford Dispensary, will receive a share of the proceeds of the settlement in the amount of $112,860. The whistleblower provisions of both the federal and state False Claims Acts provide that the whistleblower is entitled to receive a percentage of the proceeds of any judgment or settlement recovered by the government.

“Health care providers must be completely honest when certifying information to the government, and the failure to do so will have serious consequences,” stated U.S. Attorney Daly. “The U.S. Attorney’s office is committed to vigorously pursuing health care providers who make false representations to federal health care programs.”

“Medicaid providers are required to comply with the applicable rules of the program and to certify honestly their compliance,” said Attorney General Jepsen. “I’m grateful to our state and federal partners for their continued cooperation and coordination as we work to protect our taxpayer-funded healthcare programs.”

This matter was investigated by the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard M. Molot and Auditor Kevin Saunders, and by Assistant Attorneys General Michael Cole and Gregory O’Connell of the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General.

People who suspect health care fraud are encouraged to report it by calling 1-800-HHS-TIPS or the Health Care Fraud Task Force at (203) 777-6311.

Galena Biopharma Inc. to Pay More Than $7.55 Million to Resolve Alleged False Claims Related to Opioid Drug

Friday, September 8, 2017

Galena Biopharma Inc. (Galena) will pay more than $7.55 million to resolve allegations under the civil False Claims Act that it paid kickbacks to doctors to induce them to prescribe its fentanyl-based drug Abstral, the Department of Justice announced today.

“Given the dangers associated with opioids such as Abstral, it is imperative that prescriptions be based on a patient’s medical need rather than a doctor’s financial interests,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice intends to vigorously pursue those who offer and receive illegal inducements that undermine the integrity of government health care programs.”

The conduct alleged by the government and resolved by today’s settlement was egregious because it incentivized doctors to over-prescribe highly addictive opioids,” said Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick for the District of New Jersey. “This settlement constitutes another example of the Department of Justice’s ongoing efforts to battle the opioid epidemic on every front.

The United States contends that Galena paid multiple types of kickbacks to induce doctors to prescribe Abstral, including providing more than 85 free meals to doctors and staff from a single, high-prescribing practice; paying doctors $5,000, and speakers $6,000, plus expenses, to attend an “advisory board” that was partly planned, and attended, by Galena sales team members and paying approximately $92,000 to a physician-owned pharmacy under a performance-based rebate agreement to induce the owners to prescribe Abstral. The United States also contends that Galena paid doctors to refer patients to the company’s RELIEF patient registry study, which was nominally designed to collect data on patient experiences with Abstral, but acted as a means to induce the doctors to prescribe Abstral. Galena has not marketed any pharmaceutical drug since the end of 2015.

Two of the doctors who received remuneration from Galena were tried, convicted and later sentenced to prison in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama following a jury trial of, among other counts, offenses relating to their prescriptions of Abstral. Galena cooperated in that prosecution.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed by relator Lynne Dougherty under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to file suit on behalf of the United States and obtain a portion of the government’s recovery. As part of today’s resolution, Ms. Dougherty will receive more than $1.2 million. The matter remains under seal as to allegations against entities other than Galena.

The settlement is the result of a coordinated effort by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, with assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Counsel to the Inspector General, and the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations’ Metro Washington Field Office.

The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only; there have been no admissions of liability by Galena.

South Carolina Family Practice Chain, Its Co-Owner, and Its Laboratory Director Agree to Pay the United States $2 Million to Settle Alleged False Claims Act Violations for Illegal Medicare Referrals and Billing for Unnecessary Medical Services

Monday, September 11, 2017

Family Medicine Centers of South Carolina LLC (FMC), has agreed to pay the United States $1.56 million, and FMC’s principal owner and former chief executive officer, Dr. Stephen F. Serbin, and its former Laboratory Director, Victoria Serbin, have agreed to pay $443,000 to resolve a False Claims Act lawsuit alleging that they submitted and caused the submission of false claims to the Medicare and TRICARE programs. FMC is a physician-owned chain of family medicine clinics located in and around Columbia, South Carolina, whose practices include Springwood Lake Family Practice, Woodhill Family Practice, Midtown Family Medicine, Saluda Pointe Family Medicine, Lake Murray Family Medicine, and the now closed Rice Creek Family Medicine.

The settlements announced today resolve allegations that FMC, as directed by Dr. Serbin, submitted claims to the Medicare Program that violated the physician self-referral prohibition, commonly known as the Stark Law, which is intended to ensure that a physician’s medical judgment is not compromised by improper financial incentives. The Stark Law forbids a clinic from billing Medicare for certain services ordered by physicians who have a financial relationship with the entity. In this case, the government alleged that the Stark Law was violated by FMC’s incentive compensation plan that paid FMC’s physicians a percentage of the value of laboratory and other diagnostic tests that they personally ordered through FMC, which FMC then billed to Medicare. Dr. Serbin, FMC’s co-owner and chief executive, allegedly initiated this program and reminded FMC’s physicians that they needed to order tests and other services through FMC in order to increase FMC’s profits and to ensure that their take-home pay remained in the upper level nationwide for family practice doctors.

“Financial arrangements that compensate physicians for referrals can sometimes encourage physicians to make decisions based on financial gain rather than patient needs,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice is committed to preventing illegal financial relationships that undermine the integrity of our public health programs and drive up the cost of healthcare for taxpayers.”

The settlements also resolve allegations that FMC, Dr. Serbin, and Victoria Serbin submitted and caused the submission of false claims to Medicare and TRICARE for medically unnecessary laboratory services by creating custom laboratory panels comprised of diagnostic tests not appropriate for routine measurement, performing these tests without an order from the treating physician, implementing standing orders to assure these custom panels were performed with defined frequency and not in reaction to clinical need, and programming FMC’s billing software to systematically change certain billing codes for laboratory tests to ensure payment by Medicare.

“Healthcare decisions should be made by physicians based on medical science and not with regard to maximizing the doctor’s own income,” said U.S. Attorney Beth Drake for the District of South Carolina. “Our goal in bringing this case was not only to recover money for improper healthcare claims, but also to deter similar conduct and promote health care affordability.”

The allegations settled today arose from a lawsuit filed by a physician formerly employed by FMC, Dr. Catherine A. Schaefer, under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act. Under the act, private citizens can bring suit on behalf of the government for false claims and share in any recovery. Dr. Schaefer will receive $340,510.

As part of the settlement announced today, FMC and the Serbins have also agreed to enter into a Corporate Integrity Agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), which ensures the Serbins will have no management role in FMC for five years and obligates FMC to undertake other substantial internal compliance reforms, including hiring an independent review organization to conduct annual claims reviews.

“Patients and taxpayers should expect that doctors’ best medical judgement is not clouded by what amount to thinly-veiled bribes,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson for HHS-OIG. “We will work tirelessly with our law enforcement partners to preserve government health funds by bringing violators to justice.”

“We applaud the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina for holding this provider accountable for its actions,” said Deputy Director Guy Kiyokawa of the Defense Health Agency. “The provider’s actions targeted American service members, veterans and their families, diverting valuable resources through unnecessary tests. The Defense Health Agency continues to work closely with the Justice Department and other state and federal agencies to investigate all those who participated in these nefarious, fraudulent practices.”

This case was handled by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina, HHS-OIG and the Defense Health Agency.

The litigation and settlement of this matter illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud. One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act. Tips and complaints from all sources about potential fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement can be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services, at 800-HHS-TIPS (800-447-8477).

The claims resolved by this settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability. The case is captioned United States ex rel. Schaefer v. Family Medicine Centers of South Carolina, LLC, Stephen F. Serbin, M.D. and Victoria Serbin, No. 3:14-cv-342-MBS (D.S.C.).

United States Recovers More Than $12 Million In False Claims Act Settlements For Alleged Kickback Scheme

Monday, August 21, 2017

United States will also pursue claims against Precision Lens, Paul Ehlen and Dr. Jitendra Swarup

Acting United States Attorney Gregory G. Brooker today announced that Sightpath Medical, Inc. (n/k/a Sightpath Medical, LLC) (“Sightpath”), TLC Vision Corporation (n/k/a TLC Vision (USA, LLC)) (“TLC”) (collectively the “Sightpath Entities”) and their former CEO, JAMES TIFFANY, have agreed to pay more than $12 million to the United States to resolve kickback allegations under the False Claims Act (“FCA”). The United States also intervened in an underlying lawsuit against the Cameron-Ehlen Group, Inc. d/b/a Precision Lens (“Precision Lens”), Precision Lens’ owner PAUL EHLEN, and JITENDRA SWARUP.

“Medicare beneficiaries depend on their physicians to make decisions based on sound medical judgment,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Blumenfield. “Our office will take decisive action to address allegations that medical providers are receiving improper financial benefits that could influence medical decision making. We are grateful to our law enforcement partners for their excellent work in investigating this matter.”

“This settlement is an outstanding result and represents the third major False Claims Act case successfully handled by this Office in the last three months. These types of cases remain a top priority of our Office, I applaud the hard work and dedication of the Civil Frauds Unit and the agencies involved in the case,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Gregory Brooker.

“The FBI together with our law enforcement partners aggressively investigate companies and individuals who engage in kickback schemes at the expense of Medicare and other federal health care programs,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard T. Thornton of the Minneapolis Division. “Those who seek to exploit the nation’s health care system through fraud will be held accountable.”

According to the complaint, brought by a whistleblower, Sightpath and Precision Lens supply intraocular lenses, as well as ophthalmic surgical equipment and services to medical facilities. These products and services are used by ophthalmologists in connection with eye surgeries, including cataract surgeries performed in Ambulatory Surgical Centers and hospitals for which federal payers, such as Medicare, provide reimbursements. The complaint alleges that Precision Lens, EHLEN and the Sightpath Entities paid kickbacks to physicians in various forms, including travel, entertainment and improper consulting agreements. The complaint identifies multiple examples of trips including luxury skiing vacations and high-end fishing, golfing and hunting trips. The complaint also alleges that these various items of value were provided in order to induce the physicians to use Precision Lens’ and the Sightpath Entities’ products and services.

According to the settlement agreements, the United States contends that between January 1, 2006 and January 1, 2015, the Sightpath Entities provided physicians items of value to induce the use of Sightpath Entities’ products and services, which resulted in the submission of false claims to the United States for ophthalmological products and services. These items of value included hunting, skiing, fishing, and golf trips. Additionally, the Sightpath Entities entered into consulting agreements with physicians and physician practices for services that were never performed or not properly tracked, resulting in payments in excess of fair market value.

According to the settlement agreements, the United States further alleged that TIFFANY directed much of the conduct at issue, particularly between 2010 and 2013 when he was CEO of Sightpath and TLC, and that TIFFANY was directly involved in setting up and participating in several of the trips with physicians who were either Sightpath customers or potential customers. In addition, TIFFANY directly participated in establishing and continuing the lucrative consulting agreements with physicians and physician practices. The United States contends that by providing these items of value, the Sightpath Entities and TIFFANY knowingly induced physicians to utilize the Sightpath Entities’ products and services and submit false claims to the federal government. The claims were false because they were tainted by illegal kickbacks to the physicians, in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute and the False Claims Act.

These settlements resolve allegations filed in a civil lawsuit originally brought by a whistleblower under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, which allow private parties to bring suit on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery. The government often relies on whistleblowers to bring fraud schemes to light that might otherwise go undetected. The whistleblower in this matter, Kipp Fesenmaier, will receive 19.5 percent of the amounts recovered in connection with the settlement agreements.

As part of the FCA Agreement and in exchange for a release of OIG’s permissive exclusion authority, Sightpath has agreed to enter into a 5-year corporate integrity agreement (CIA) with OIG. Although not a signatory to the CIA, TLC is participating in the CIA as a “covered person.”

The United States has declined to intervene in the case against the other defendants named in the complaint. The claims resolved by these settlements are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability or wrongdoing.

The case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad A. Blumenfield of the Civil Frauds Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota with assistance from the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The case is United States ex rel. Fesenmaier v. Sightpath Medical, Inc. TLC Vision Corporation, The Cameron Ehlen Group, Inc. dba Precision Lens, et al., Civil No. 13-CV-3003 (RHK/FLN).

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Mylan Agrees to Pay $465 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Liability

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Mylan Underpaid Medicaid Rebates on EpiPen

BOSTON – The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced today that pharmaceutical companies Mylan Inc. and Mylan Specialty L.P. have agreed to pay $465 million to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by knowingly misclassifying EpiPen, a branded epinephrine auto-injector drug, as a generic drug to avoid paying rebates owed to Medicaid.  Mylan Inc. and Mylan Specialty L.P. are both wholly owned subsidiaries of Mylan N.V., a Dutch-registered entity headquartered in Canonsburg, Penn.

Congress enacted the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program to ensure that state Medicaid programs were not susceptible to price gouging by manufacturers of drugs that were available from only a single source.  It therefore subjected such single-source, or brand name drugs, to a higher rebate that includes any difference between the drug’s current price and the price the drug would have had if its price had increased only at the general rate of inflation.  In contrast, generic drugs originating from multiple manufacturers are subject to lower rebates that, at least until recently, did not include an inflationary component.

The government contends that Mylan improperly avoided paying state Medicaid programs the higher rebates for branded drugs by misclassifying EpiPen as a generic drug, even though EpiPen had no FDA-approved therapeutic equivalents and even though Mylan marketed and priced EpiPen as a brand name drug.  Mylan raised the price of EpiPen by approximately 400% between 2010 and 2016.

“Mylan misclassified its brand name drug, EpiPen, to profit at the expense of the Medicaid program,” said Acting United States Attorney William D. Weinreb.  “Taxpayers rightly expect companies like Mylan that receive payments from taxpayer-funded programs to scrupulously follow the rules.  We will continue to root out fraud and abuse to protect the integrity of Medicaid and ensure a level playing field for pharmaceutical companies. We commend Sanofi for bringing this matter to our attention.”

“This settlement demonstrates the Department of Justice’s unwavering commitment to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for schemes to overbill Medicaid, a taxpayer-funded program whose purpose is to help the poor and disabled,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.  “Drug manufacturers must abide by their legal obligations to pay appropriate rebates to state Medicaid programs.”

As part of this settlement, Mylan has also entered into a corporate integrity agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) that requires, among other things, an independent review organization to annually review multiple aspects of Mylan’s practices relating to the Medicaid drug rebate program.

“Our five-year corporate integrity agreement requires intensive outside scrutiny to assess whether Mylan is complying with the rules of the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program,” said Gregory E. Demske, Chief Counsel to the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “In addition, the CIA requires individual accountability by Mylan board members and executives.”

A competing pharmaceutical manufacturer, Sanofi, raised this matter with the United States Attorney’s Office in 2014.  At the time, Sanofi was selling another epinephrine auto-injector drug called AUVI-Q and was reporting it to the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program as a brand name drug.  In 2016, Sanofi filed a complaint against Mylan under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, which permits private parties to sue on behalf of the government and to receive a share of any recovery.  See United States ex rel. sanofi-aventis US LLC v. Mylan Inc., et al., No. 16cv11572 (D. Mass.).  As a result of today’s settlement, Sanofi will receive $38.7 million as its share of the federal recovery, plus a share of the states’ recovery.

Acting U.S. Attorney Weinreb, Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Raab, and HHS OIG Chief Counsel Demske made the announcement today.  The matter was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gregg Shapiro and Kriss Basil of Weinreb’s Office, and by Trial Attorneys Augustine Ripa and Nicholas Perros of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.

St. Agnes Healthcare Agrees To Resolve False Claims Act Allegations Of Overbilling Medicare 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017                                        

Baltimore, Maryland – St. Agnes Healthcare has agreed to pay the United States $122,928 to resolve claims under the False Claims Act alleging that St. Agnes submitted false claims to Medicare by billing for evaluation and management (E&M) services at a higher reimbursement rate than the Federal health care programs allowed.

The settlement agreement was announced today by Acting United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Stephen M. Schenning and Special Agent in Charge Nick DiGuilio of the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services.

In June 2011, St. Agnes acquired a medical practice consisting of twelve cardiologists who were formerly members of MidAtlantic Cardiovascular Associates. The twelve cardiologists became employees of St. Agnes and continued to provide services to their patients through Maryland Cardiovascular Specialists, a specialty practice affiliated with St. Agnes. Medicare permits a higher rate of reimbursement for E&M services provided to new patients as opposed to E&M services provided to established patients. A new patient is defined as a patient who has not received any professional services from the physician or physician group practice within the previous three years.

According to the settlement agreement, the United States contends that for E&M services rendered from June 3, 2011 through June 3, 2014 by the twelve cardiologists who became St. Agnes’ employees, St. Agnes improperly submitted or caused to be submitted claims to Medicare using CPT codes 99201-99205 (new patient E&M codes) when CPT codes 99211-99215 (existing patient E&M codes) should have been used. By using the new patient codes as opposed to the existing patient codes, St. Agnes improperly received more reimbursement than it was entitled to under Medicare.

The civil settlement resolves a lawsuit filed under the whistleblower provision of the False Claims Act by Jonathan Safren, a former cardiologist employed by St. Agnes (United States ex rel Jonathan Safren v. St. Agnes Healthcare., Case No. ELH-16-2537 (D. Md.)). The False Claims Act permits private parties to file suit on behalf of the United States for false claims and obtain a portion of the government’s recovery. As part of today’s resolution, Dr. Safren will receive $20,000. The claims resolved by this settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

Acting United States Attorney Stephen M. Schenning commended the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services and thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Corcoran and Jane Andersen who handled the case.

Contact ELIZABETH MORSE at (410) 209-4885

www.justice.gov/usao/md