Florida Woman Lands Herself 6.5 Years in Prison, Owes $45 Million for Medicare Fraud Scheme

6 Indest-2008-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On November 22, 2017, a Florida woman who was accused of a $45 million Medicare fraud, received a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence, following a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision in her case holding that the government could not freeze untainted assets.

Sila Luis received an 80-month prison sentence in addition to being ordered to pay $45 million in restitution.  This came after a 2016 guilty plea to a charge of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Her case continued in 2017 following a 5-3 ruling by the Supreme Court holding that the government could not freeze assets belonging to her that were not tied to the alleged fraud scheme.  This decision has the effect of making it more difficult for law enforcement authorities to swoop in and seize all assets of a suspect, effectively depriving them of the resources to even hire an attorney (which is a common tactic in such cases).

“Innocent” Property Can’t Be Seized.

In the 2016 Supreme Court decision, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, voted to overturn the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision that the government could freeze Luis’ “innocent” assets as well as the ones directly traceable to the Medicaid fraud funds.  Justice Clarence Thomas concurred in a separate opinion.

“We conclude that the defendant in this case has a Sixth Amendment right to use her own ‘innocent’ property to pay a reasonable fee for the assistance of counsel,” Justice Breyer wrote for the plurality. “On the assumptions made here, the district court’s order prevents Luis from exercising that right.”

Under federal statute, the government is allowed to freeze some assets before trial in criminal cases alleging federal health care or banking violations, according to the ruling. However, the Justices agreed with the defendant that the freeze o f all her assets kept her from paying her attorney.  This by itself will usually force a guilty plea even from someone who may be innocent.

Prior to her guilty plea, she was accused of Medicare fraud and Anti-Kickback Statute violations allegedly through paying patients.  She allegedly paid the patients to use one of her home health companies so that she could bill the government for unnecessary or unprovided services.  To read more on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, click here.

To read the judgement of the case in full, click here.

To read about another case of Medicare fraud in Florida, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

My Observations on this Case.

The power of pretrial seizure of assets is a very heavy handed tactic that I have seen used a number of times by law enforcement authorities, often, in my opinion, completely wrongfully.  In some cases it is used as a hammer to try to bludgeon the suspect to death.  In others it may be motivated by something as simple as a sheriff’s deputy deciding he really liked the defendant’s car and wanted to seize it.  I have seen the bank accounts of minor children sized when all they contained was what the child had worked for at a part time job to help pay for college.  I have seen an annuity fund seized which had been paid for ten years before any of the criminal activity allegedly took place.  I have seen cash taken from a mother (the wife of the alleged suspect) going into the delivery room at a hospital to give birth, when the cash had just been given to her by her mother to pay the hospital bill. I have seen law enforcement hold out in negotiations to return wrongfully seized property because what they really wanted was the suspect’s new Cadillac to use. Pre-trial seizure is an extremely powerful tool that can be easily misused.

So I can understand the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in this case. On a slightly different topic however, I never cease to wonder at the small (relatively speaking) sentences that are given to the largest crooks.  I have seen poor people who could not feed their families sentenced to similar prison terms for merely a few thousand dollars in Medicaid or food stamp fraud.  Yet here someone bilks us, the taxpayers, out of $45 million and only gets only 80 months?  Let’s see.  That’s getting paid $562,500 per month for every month in jail.  Gosh, I bet there are some pretty rich people around who don’t make $562,500 a month. Typically, we find out that these people have their millions stashed overseas in secret foreign bank accounts.  Do several years in prison, get out, and then vanish overseas to Cuba or elsewhere and live like a king (or queen) for the rest of their lives.  The story seems to happen over and over again.

Maybe the key should be to make the sentencing guidelines give one month of prison times for every one hundred thousand dollars stolen.  Then reduce that prison time by one month for every one hundred thousand dollars that is paid back in restitution.  This promotes prompt restitution while ensuring that the convicted defendant does not get out only to flee somewhere to enjoy their stash of hidden funds.  This means, of course, that the Bernie Maddofs never get out (as should be the case), but at least the smaller offenders are nor being punished disproportionately to the larger ones.

Health Care Fraud Should Not Be Taken Lightly.

We have been consulted by many individuals, both before and after criminal convictions for fraud or related offenses.  In many cases, those subject to Medicare fraud audits and investigations refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the matter.  Some may even decide not to spend the money required for a highly experienced health attorney to defend them.

Click here to read one of my previous blog posts regarding Medicare audits.

The government is serious about combating health care fraud.  It created a Medicare Fraud Strike Force in March of 2007, in an effort to further prevent and eliminate fraud and abuse of government health care programs.  False claims are a growing problem in the program, costing the government billions of dollars each year.  Accordingly, punishments for defrauding the system can be quite severe.

If you have assets seized by state or federal law enforcement authorities, you must act immediately to start the proceedings to have them released or you may forfeit them.  There are often a number of valid defenses to have your property released.  The Health Law Firm represents individuals, spouses and families in obtaining the release of “forfeitures” and seized property and funds.

If you are accused of Medicare or Medicaid fraud, realize that you are in a fight for your life.  Your liberty, property/possessions and profession are all at stake.  Often it is possible to settle allegations of Medicare fraud by agreeing to pay civil monetary penalties and fines.  If given such an opportunity, the Medicare provider should consider whether it is worth the risk of facing decades in prison.  Be prepared to give up whatever you need to in order to avoid a conviction and preserve your liberty.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late; Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Medicare Issues Now.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S.  They also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.
For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Sources:

Macagnone, Michael. “Fla. Woman Gets 6.5 Years, Owes $45M For Medicare Fraud.” Law360. (November 22, 2017). Web.

Koenig, Bryan. “High Court Determines ‘Untainted’ Assets Can’t Be Frozen.” Law360. (March 30, 2016). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

Keywords: Legal representation for Medicare fraud, legal representation for health care fraud, legal representation for Medicare audits, Medicare audit defense, legal representation for Medicare billing, health care clinic fraud audit, Medicare fraud defense attorney, health care fraud defense lawyer, health care fraud scheme, Medicare fraud scheme, civil forfeiture defense attorney, The Health Law Firm, legal representation for Medicare fraud investigation, civil forfeiture defense lawyer, legal representation for fraudulent billing, legal representation for improper billing, restitution for health care fraud offense, Medicare reimbursement claims, improper Medicare billing claims, false claims defense attorney, legal representation for Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS), AKS defense attorney, legal representation for accepting kickbacks, The Health Law firm attorney reviews, reviews of The Health Law Firm

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.Copyright © 2017 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Responding to a Medicaid Audit: Important Tips You Should Know

6 Indest-2008-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), Office of Inspector General (OIG), Bureau of Medicaid Program Integrity, is the Florida agency responsible for routine audits of Medicaid health care providers. Each state has a similar state agency, though it may have a different name.  The agency’s job is to ensure that the Medicaid Program was properly billed for services. Health care professionals receiving large payments from Medicaid or who practice in areas that typically see the most abuse or fraudulent billings, are the ones most likely to be audited.  These include pediatricians, Ob/Gyns, family practice physicians and pediatric dentists.

A different state agency that may also conduct Medicaid audits is the state Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU).  However, by definition, the MFCU is investigating allegations that there is substantial fraud going on.  You should know that if you are contacted by the MFCU, this is a very serious matter.  This is not a routine audit.
However, on the “routine” audits conducted by the Medica agency, the Medicaid audit usually requests information in a questionnaire that the medical practice is required to complete. Additionally, copies of medical records (including x-rays and other diagnostic studies) on the list of Medicaid patients selected for the audit.

If AHCA (or the state Medicaid agency) determines that Medicaid overpaid for services, it will use a complex mathematical extrapolation formula to determine the repayment amount. The amount of the repayment to the Medicaid Program can be considerably greater than (30 to 100 times as much as) the actual amount of overpayment disclosed by the sample of records audited. Additionally, fines and penalties can be added by the Medicaid Program. However, you can eliminate or reduce the amount of any such repayment by actions taken both before and during the Medicaid audit.

 

General Practice Tips:
There are various ways to manage your practice that will help you in the event that you are selected for a Medicaid Audit.

1. Every patient record entry should be clearly dated and signed or initialed by the provider. Make sure this is always done.

2. When documenting in the patient’s record, make sure that you document exactly what services were needed and completed in order to support what was billed to Medicaid.

3. Communicate with the person responsible for your billing so that the actual services provided are billed for. Do not bill in advance for anticipated services needed as indicated in the appointment calendar or on a treatment plan.

4. Keep the patient records organized and ready for copying if necessary. Use only one sided documents and securely fasten small forms (prescriptions, telephone memos, small sticky notes) onto 8-1/2″ by 11″ paper. Scan all such documents into the patient record if using an electronic health record (EHR).

5. Services provided by a physician who is not enrolled in the Medicaid Program to a Medicaid patient may not be billed to or paid by the Medicaid Program. Therefore, never allow any other physician associated with your practice who is not enrolled as a Medicaid provider to provide services to Medicaid patients. Do not allow a new physician coming into your practice to treat Medicaid patients until he or she actually has received his or her Medicaid provider number. The group may not bill for the services nor may another physician bill for the services.

6. Ensure that all health care professionals’ licenses and permits are kept up to date. Ensure that all x-ray, clinical, lab and diagnostic equipment is permitted and kept up to date. Ensure that any CLIA license or exemption certificate is correct and kept up to date. Services billed by unlicensed personnel or services provided by improperly licensed facilities may not be paid by the Medicaid Program.

7. Use only standard abbreviations in your medical records, documentation, orders, and reports. While an abbreviation may seem common to you or your practice, if it is not a universally accepted abbreviation, the auditors may not recognize it.

8. Make sure all records are timely made, accurate and legible. Safeguard them and never let the original leave your office. Illegible records are treated as a non-record, and payment completely disallowed for an illegible note or order. A missing record, x-ray or chart entry will result in a complete repayment being directed for those services.

The Medicaid Audit:

If you are being audited, AHCA will send you a letter notifying you of the audit. AHCA will also supply you with a list of patients to be sampled a standard sample will include a list of anywhere from 30 to 150 patient names, depending on the size of the practice. Regular audits routinely request 30 to 50 patient records. The audit letter will also include a questionnaire to be completed (Medicaid Provider Questionnaire) and a “Certification of Completeness of Records” form to complete and return with the copies of the patient records. (Please note: this will be used against you in the future if you attempt to add to or supplement the copies of the records you provided).

It is crucial that you retain the services of an expert consultant or experienced health care attorney in correctly and accurately completing the questionnaire. The letter will also request that you provide copies of the patient records for the list of patients included with the letter. You will only be given a short time to provide these documents.

1. When receiving a notice of a Medicaid audit, time is of the essence. Be sure to calendar the date that the records need to be in the AHCA office and have the records there by that date. Note: the due date is not the last date on which you can mail the records but rather is the date that the records must be received at AHCA.

2. Obtain and review a copy of the claims you submitted and what Medicaid has paid on each of the patients being audited. This information can be found in the Medicaid portal, in your billing system, or in the Explanation of Benefits. Compare this information to the medical records to see if any issues may arise when AHCA reviews the records. (Keep this for your use, do not provide it as part of the audit records).

3. Provide a complete copy of the entire record, not just the parts from the period of time covered by the audit. Remember that other physician records obtained as history, including reports and consultations should be included. Consent forms, medical history questionnaires, histories, physicals, and other physicians’ orders, may be a crucial part of the record.

4. If you suspect that an issue may arise with a particular patient, prepare a separate explanation to submit with the patient’s file. AHCA will have an expert review the records, so an explanation in advance will help the expert to assess if there is in fact an issue. Any explanatory notes or other explanations should be clearly labeled as such and dated as of the date actually prepared, so there is no confusion as to whether or not it was part of the original record.

5. If your practice involves taking x-rays or using other diagnostic studies, these procedures are part of the patient’s record. If the x-rays are digital, they can be submitted on a compact disc. Be sure to include the number of x-rays on the compact discs in the Certification of Completeness of Records.
6. Complete the Medicaid Provider Questionnaire in its entirety to send with the patient records. Do not leave any section blank. Use “not applicable” or “none” if necessary. Attach all required documents. Consult with an experienced health law attorney to assist in completing the form.

To learn more about the Medicaid audit process and how The Health Law Firm can assist you, click here to watch our short video blog.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late, Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Medicaid and Medicare Audits.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent physicians, medical groups, clinics, pharmacies, durable medical equipment (DME) suppliers, home health agencies, nursing homes and other healthcare providers in Medicaid and Medicare investigations, audits and recovery actions.
If you or your practice has been sent notice of a Medicaid or Medicare audit, please contact us at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 or visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com for more information.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

KeyWords: Legal representation for Medicaid audits, Medicaid audit defense attorney, health care fraud defense attorney, health care fraud investigation defense attorney, legal representation for health care fraud investigation, legal representation for health care fraud, Medicaid fraud defense attorney, legal representation for Medicaid fraud, legal representation for fraudulent billing, legal representation for submitting false claims to the government, legal representation for overbilling, health care fraud attorney, The Health Law Firm, reviews of The Health Law Firm attorneys, reviews of The Health Law Firm
“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.Copyright © 2017 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

3 Sentenced in Florida for $175 Million Drug Compounding Fraud Scheme

11 Indest-2008-8By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On March 24, 2017, three participants were sentenced in Florida federal court, for a scheme that used call centers and kickbacks to generate fake prescriptions for compounding pharmacies. The scheme was able to scam the government and private insurers for $175 million.

U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley, sentenced one of the defendants, Todd Stephens, to ten years. He sentenced Todd Hanson to eight years and one month. He sentenced Christopher Mucha to 30 months in prison. Each defendant also received three years of supervised release (probation) after they are released from prison.

Illegal Enterprise.

Stephens, Hanson and Mucha were among 16 defendants the federal government charged in September 2016. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) described an extensive enterprise that operated from 2013 to 2015. According to the DOJ, the enterprise controlled numerous stops along the supply chain, including the selection of ingredients for compounded drugs, solicitation of patients for unnecessary prescriptions, and funneling of kickbacks to “corrupt physicians.”

To learn more about the defendants being charged, click here.

According to prosecutors, the participants purchased pharmacies that functioned as fronts for the illegal conduct and held licenses that made the operation possible. Specific drugs were chosen and produced by the pharmacies based on the amount of money reimbursed by the military health care program TriCare, as well as other private insurers. More than $175 million was eventually paid out in false claims, prosecutors alleged.

Key Component of the Scheme.

The defendants used call centers as a major part of the scheme to generate bogus prescriptions. The call center staff obtained information on potential patients, including military veterans, who had previously been prescribed medications. They then proceeded to contact the patients to convince them to authorize the faxing of the medically unnecessary prescriptions to doctors’ offices.

A group of “corrupt” physicians would then issue prescriptions for compounded medications for the patients regardless of the absence of medical necessity. It was alleged that this was done in exchange for illegal compensation to the doctors such as cash, gift cards and free consulting. The defendants disguised the illegal payments as reimbursement for “data collection.” These were allegedly distributed through a phony software company called ClinicalCorp LLC, prosecutors said.

To read the sentencing memorandum in full, click here.

To read about a similar health care fraud case involving TRICARE, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Pharmacists, Pharmacies, and Other Health Care Providers.

At the Health Law Firm we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, Durable Medical Equipment suppliers, medical students and interns, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. We represent facilities, individuals, groups and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers and acquisitions.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Hale, Nathan. “3 Sentenced In Fla. For $175M Health Care Fraud Scheme.” Law360. (March 24, 2017). Web.

McMahon, Paula. “Feds charge 16 in massive $175M prescription cream fraud based in South Florida.” Sun-Sentinel. (September 1, 2016). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

KeyWords: Legal representation for allegations of violating Anti-Kickback Statute, TRICARE false claims legal defense attorney, TRICARE physician representation, pharmaceutical fraud lawyer, compounding pharmacy attorney, legal representation for military physicians, fraudulent practices of pharmaceutical companies, financial interest in physician referrals, TRICARE fraud attorney, compounding pharmacy lawyer, legal defense of military physicians, legal defense of TRICARE providers, attorney reviews of The Health Law Firm, Veterans Administration (VA) physician defense attorney, The Health Law Firm attorney reviews, Health care fraud defense attorney, legal representation for health care fraud, legal counsel for allegations of health care fraud, AKS defense attorney, False Claims Act (FCA) defense attorney, legal representation for FCA claims, legal representation for illegal kickback schemes, health care fraud defense lawyer, health care fraud scheme, legal representation for DOJ investigations, DOJ investigation defense attorney

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2017 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.