Monday, June 9, 2014
Last week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a district court's rejection of a proposed Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) settlement for $285 million -- because of the absence of any admissions by defendant Citigroup -- was improper. In SEC v. Citigroup Global Markets, a case that arose from investigations into fraud following the financial industries meltdown, the Second Circuit observed that while the court has an obligation to review consent degrees to determine generally the "legality" of the terms and may consider whether the settlement is "fair and reasonable, to demand admissions as a condition of settlement goes too far.
The Second Circuit said, "It is an abuse of discretion to require, as the district court did here, that the S.E.C. establish the 'truth' of the allegations against a settling party as a condition for approving the consent decrees.... Trials are primarily about the truth. Consent decrees are primarily about pragmatism.... Consent decrees provide parties with a means to manage risk."
In cases where injunctive relief is part of the settlement, the Second Circuit said the trial court is permitted to analyze the enforceability of the terms, as a matter of "public interest."
The Wall Street Journal, in reporting on the June 4 decision, observed that the decision "eases pressure" on prosecutors and regulators "to exact admissions of wrongdoing in settlements with companies."
After reading the SEC-related decision, it would seem the same reasoning would govern settlements of federal Medicare and Medicaid fraud suits, including whistleblower cases, such as the multi-million dollar settlements in recent months involving nursing home care, pharmaceutical sales, and hospice, thus explaining how millions in de facto fines often involve no admissions of wrongdoing.
Or as I sometimes describe such agreements to settle, defendants must decide whether they can live with the financial effect of the monetary terms, and must promise merely to never do again what they say they never did before.
But I worry, will customers -- which in Medicare and Medicaid cases, usually means seniors and disabled persons -- be the ones who pay the downstream price of the settlement, especially without clear admissions of wrongdoing in the past?
Friday, June 6, 2014
Is Community Spouse's IRA Countable in Determining Medicaid Eligibility? Arkansas Supreme Court Says "Yes"
In Arkansas Department of Human Services v. Pierce, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled on May 29 that individual retirement accounts owned by a wife were "countable" in determining her husband's eligibility for Medicaid as a resident in a nursing home in Arkansas. In so ruling, and treating the issue as a matter of first impression in Arkansas, the Court rejected the analysis of a Wisconsin court, and aligned itself with the analysis of a New Jersey Court in determining that the state's decision -- to include IRAs owned by either spouse in the "snapshot" of resources subject to spend-down -- did not violate federal law.
In this case, the community spouse may be significantly affected, depending on her own lifespan. Hoping that her husband of 46 years would improve and not need to stay in a nursing home, it appears she had already paid "privately" for nursing home care for 18 months. With the ruling, if her husband continues to need nursing care, she will be allowed to keep $109,560, and thereby will likely spend much of her IRA savings (totaling about $350,000) towards his care.
This fact pattern arguably explains one of the reasons why Elder Law professionals have turned to Medicaid-qualified annuities and other permitted planning tools, to convert countable "resources" into uncountable "income," thereby better assisting the community spouse in financing his or her own final years, particularly if the community spouse hopes to stay at home as long as possible. Will community spouses get timely, qualified assistance with such planning?
The Center for Medicare Advocacy’s 'Rubber Stamp' suit highlights the fact that 98% of Medicare appeals are denied at the first two levels of review
June 5, 2014 – The Center for Medicare Advocacy filed a complaint in United States District Court in Connecticut yesterday against Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, on behalf of plaintiffs who have been denied a meaningful review of their Medicare claims at the first two levels of appeal. The case was brought as a class action, and the four named plaintiffs represent thousands of Medicare beneficiaries in Connecticut who cannot get a meaningful review of their case, and instead, receive an initial denial of coverage that is essentially “rubber stamped” at both the Redetermination and Reconsideration levels. The problem persists throughout the country.
Available information indicates that the combined denial rate for home health care coverage (that the plaintiffs in this case were denied) at the first two levels of review is about 98%. However, beneficiaries must complete those levels before they can get a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which provides the first real opportunity for a meaningful evaluation of a claim.
"Older people and people with disabilities are going without necessary care because they’re being wrongly denied coverage and either drop out of the years-long appeals process, waiting for a hearing, or impoverish themselves to pay for care,” said Gill Deford, Litigation Director at the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “The sheer number of beneficiaries who are forced to deal with this time-consuming, meaningless appeals structure compelled us to take action to seek meaningful reviews earlier in the appeals process."
The denial rate at Redetermination and Reconsideration has been increasing in recent years, coinciding with the implementation of a new administrative review process for "traditional" Medicare (Parts A and B). While the new system was intended to make the process more efficient and user-friendly, the actual effect has been to deny beneficiaries an efficient and meaningful review of their claims, requiring them to take claims to the third level of review, an ALJ hearing.
"Most beneficiaries don’t have the resources, time or support to take their claims all the way to an Administrative Law Judge, making the first two levels of review vitally important,” said Judith Stein, Executive Director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. "'Rubber-stamping' appeals deprives a huge number of people a legitimate review process and harms those who depend on Medicare coverage for critical health care and to maintain their quality of life."
To speak with a representative of the Center for Medicare Advocacy about this case, please contact Lauren Weybrew at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Does a resident have a private right of action for violation of key provisions of the federal Nursing Home Reform Act?
For example, federal Medicare/Medicaid Law specifies residents have certain "Transfer and Discharge Rights." A certified nursing facility must permit each resident to "remain in the facility" and must "not transfer or discharge the resident" except for certain specified reasons, usually requiring 30 days advance notice. But what happens if a facility ignores the limitations on acceptable grounds for transfer or discharge, including the 30 day notice requirement?
In its decision on May 12, 2014 in Schwerdtfeger v. Alden Long Grove Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, the federal district court in the Northern District of Illinois ruled that a discharge improper under federal law does not trigger a private statutory remedy. As described in the clearly written decision, an abrupt transfer of the resident from the nursing home into a hospital followed the resident's "verbal dispute with a nurse" and another resident. While federal law permits transfers where there someone's safety or health is endangered, it does not appear from the decision that the nursing home claimed the verbal dispute created such a danger.
Nonetheless, the court dismissed the resident's federal claim, concluding that the statutory language regarding discharge and transfer rights in Medicare and Medicaid law "does not manifest a 'clear and unambiguous' Congressional intention to create private rights in favor of individual nursing facility residents.... The NHRA [Nursing Home Reform Act] provides an administrative process in the state courts rather than a private remedy in federal court."
In so ruling, the federal district court declined to follow the analysis of the Third Circuit in Grammer v. John J. Kane Regional Centers-Glen Hazel, 570 3d 520 (3d Cir. 2008), which as a "matter of first impression" ruled that the NHRA was sufficiently "rights creating" that it could trigger a cause of action regarding quality of care under Section 1983.
My question, reflecting my teaching interests no doubt, is whether the nursing home's discharge was a breach of contract? Most nursing home contracts I've reviewed either directly or indirectly "adopt" the protections of the NHRA as specific rights of their residents. (Indeed, I would be leery of any nursing home that did not do that.) So, even if not a violation of federal law, wouldn't such a discharge breach the contract? I suspect there is probably a court decision or law review article on this topic -- perhaps our readers have a citation?
Of course, in seeking a right to sue directly under the NHRA, the resident was probably also seeking a right to claim attorneys' fees under the civil rights law; breach of contract claims, even if successful, may not make a claimant "whole" because of the likelihood of small consequential damages and no contractual right to seek attorneys' fees. It is not clear from the Schwerdtfeger decision whether a breach of contract claim was alleged, although the federal court did "decline" to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's "state law claims."
Saturday, May 31, 2014
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Led by Momotazur Rahman, Department of Health Services Policy and Practice at Brown University, researchers at Brown and Harvard have analyzed placements in nursing homes for Medicare-only and "dual-eligible" Medicare/Medicaid individuals. In their May 2014 study published (and linked here) in Medical Research and Review, they conclude that the low-income patients are more likely to be sent to lower quality (as measured by staffing radios) nursing homes. Their abstract outlines their call for reform for referral processes:
"Medicare and Medicaid dual-eligible beneficiaries use more medical care and experience worse health outcomes than Medicare-only beneficiaries. This article points to a possible inefficiency in the skilled nursing facility (SNF) admission process, specifically that patients and SNFs are partially matched based on dual-eligibility status, and investigates its influence on patients’ SNF length of stay. Using a set of fee-for-service beneficiaries newly admitted for Medicare-paid SNF care, we document two findings: (1) compared with Medicare-only patients, dual-eligibles are more likely to be discharged to SNFs with low nurse-to-patient ratios and (2) dual-eligibles are more likely to become long-stay nursing home residents than Medicare-only beneficiaries if treated in SNFs with low nurse-to-patient ratios. We conclude that changes in the current SNF care referral process have the potential to reduce excess SNF utilization by dual-eligible beneficiaries and could help reduce spending by both Medicare and Medicaid."
One would hope that a corollary to reforming referral processes to "save money" would be improvements in the quality of life and care for dual-eligibles. Additional analysis of the study is available at McKnights News.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
It occurs to me that what I'm about to write here is a mini-review of a mini-book. Slightly complicating this little task is the fact that I count both authors as friends and mentors.
The latest edition of Elder Law in a Nutshell by Professors Lawrence Frolik (University of Pittsburgh) and Richard Kaplan (University of Illinois) arrived on my desk earlier this month. (As Becky might remind us, both are definitely Elder Law's "rock stars.") And as with fine wine, this book, now its 6th edition, becomes more valuable with age. This is true even though achieving the right balance of simplicity and detail cannot be an easy task for authors in the intentionally brief "Nutshell" series. Presented in the book are introductions to the following core topics:
- Ethical Considerations in Dealing with Older Clients
- Health Care Decision Making
- Medicare and Medigap
- Long-Term Care Insurance
- Nursing Homes, Board and Care Homes, and Assisted Living Facilities
- Housing Alternatives & Options (including Reverse Mortgages)
- Alternatives to Guardianship (including Powers of Attorneys, Joint Accounts and Revocable Trusts)
- Social Security Benefits
- Supplemental Security Income
- Veterans' Benefits
- Pension Plans
- Age Discrimination in Employment
- Elder Abuse and Neglect
The authors describe their anticipated audience, including "lawyers and law students needing an overview of some particular subject, social workers, certain medical personnel, gerontologists, retirement planners and the like." Curiously, they don't mention potential clients, including family members of older persons. I suspect the book can and does assist prospective clients in thinking about when and why an "elder law specialist" would be an appropriate choice for consultation. This book is a very good starting place.
What's missing from the overview? Not a lot, although I find it interesting that despite solid coverage of the basics of Medicaid, and even though it is unrealistic to expect exhaustive coverage in a mini-book, the authors do not hint at the bread and butter of many elder law specialists, i.e., Medicaid Planning. Thus, there's little mention of some of the more cutting edge (and therefore potentially controversial) planning techniques used to create Medicaid eligibility for an individual's long-term care while also preserving assets that otherwise would have to be spent down.
Modern approaches, depending on the state, may range from the simple, such as permitted use of assets to purchase a better replacement auto, to more complex planning, as in states that permit purchase of spousal annuities or use of promissory notes, allow modest half-a-loaf gifting, or recognize spousal refusal. Even though the federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 succeeded in restricting assets transfers to non-spouse family members, families, especially if there is a community spouse, may still have viable options. Without appropriate planning the community spouse, particularly a younger spouse, may be in a tough spot if forced to spend down to the "maximum" permitted to be retained, currently less than $120,000 (in, for example, Pennsylvania). See, for example, a thoughtful discussion of planning options, written by Elder Law practitioners Julian Gray and Frank Petrich.
Perhaps the Nutshell omission is a reflection of the unease some who teach Elder Law may feel about the public impact of private Medicaid planning?
May 14, 2014 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Books, Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, Property Management, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, May 2, 2014
Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) and Chris Smith (NJ-04) introduced HR 4543, the PACE Pilot Act, a bipartisan and budget neutral bill that would allow The Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) programs greater flexibilities to expand their successful model to care for people under age 55 who have special health risks.
PACE integrates Medicare and Medicaid benefits for members of our society who have some of the most serious and costly health care problems. The program seeks to keep people living in the community rather than in long-term care institutions. Currently, PACE is only available to individuals age 55 or older and who are certified by their state as being eligible for a nursing home level of care. Expansion of these programs will offer younger individuals with disabilities this same integrated, community-based option that supports their independence and quality of life.
“PACE has been a huge success,” said Blumenauer. “What we have realized is that there is a group of people out there who currently don’t qualify for PACE because of the age requirement, but would otherwise greatly benefit from the program due to serious medical conditions. This bill allows us to see how we can bring them into the fold efficiently and affordably.”
“PACE continues to provide patient centric care to many of the frailest members in our society, while enabling them to live in their homes and stay in their communities,” said Smith. “We know that all PACE participants are eligible for nursing home care, yet 90 percent continue to live at home. By removing the nursing home level of care requirement, we can help ensure that people have greater access to preventative services and treatments, thereby helping them maintain their quality of life.”
Currently, a total of 103 PACE sites in 31 states serve about 56,000 enrollees nationwide. A number of research studies show that beneficiaries enrolled in PACE had fewer hospitalizations and nursing home admissions, and lower mortality than similar beneficiaries who were not enrolled in PACE.
Monday, April 28, 2014
National Senior Citizens Law Center's Executive Director Kevin Prindiville analyzes Paul Ryan's Congressional budget numbers for the Huffington Post, highlighting the effect of proposed deep cuts on federal aid programs, cuts that would dramatically impact the nation's poorest seniors. Kevin writes:
"The U.S. House of Representatives' recent approval of the Ryan budget resolution threatens programs that help poor seniors. In a disappointing vote, 219 House members gave their blessing to a budget that leaves country's older adults to struggle with less food, income, housing and care. The Ryan budget's path to poverty must not be allowed to happen. . . . By cutting essential programs that often make life manageable for those with limited means or resources, the Ryan budget will lead to poverty numbers among seniors the nation hasn't seen since the Depression."
Kevin then outlines specific terms of the House plan to cut $5 billion from SSI, $732 billion from Medicaid, as well as additional cuts to Meals on Wheels and food benefit programs.
The NSCLC, a nonprofit law firm with offices on both sides of the country, is a watchdog for the nation's low income elderly, succeeding with tough-to-win cases where the nation's most at-risk seniors are adversely affected by often-hidden changes or procedural traps in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs. Additional information on NCSLC's advocacy is available on their website, along with a calendar of events including the April 29 free webinar on "Understanding and Impacting Implementation of New Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services Rules."
Saturday, April 26, 2014
Male doctors on average make 88 percent more in Medicare reimbursements than female physicians, according to an analysis of recently released government data, which suggests that the gender of a medical provider could play a role in the number of services they provide patients. NerdWallet research found that male physicians on average were paid $118,782 in Medicare reimbursements by the federal government in 2012, compared with $63,346 for women doctors. The difference is particularly striking because Medicare—the government's health insurance program for people 65 and older—pays men and women doctors the same amount for the individual services they perform on patients in the same geographic area. But the reasons for that very wide gap in total reimbursements included the fact that male doctors on average saw 60 percent more Medicare patients than their female counterparts. Men saw 512 patients on average, versus 319 for women.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
On March 4, 2014, the Office of Management and Budget released President Obama’s budget for fiscal year (FY) 2015, which includes provisions related to federal spending and revenues, including Medicare savings. The President’s budget would use federal savings and revenues to reduce the deficit and replace sequestration of Medicare and other federal programs for 2015 through 2024. This brief summarizes the Medicare provisions included in the President’s budget proposal for FY2015.
The President’s FY2015 budget would reduce Medicare spending by more than $400 billion between 2015 and 2024, accounting for about 25 percent of all reductions in federal spending included in the budget. Most of the Medicare provisions in the FY2015 budget are similar to provisions that were included in the Administration’s FY2014 budget proposal. The proposed Medicare spending reductions are projected to extend the solvency of the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund by approximately five years.
- More than one-third (34%) of the proposed Medicare savings are due to reductions in payments for prescription drugs under Medicare Part B and Part D. The single largest source of Medicare savings would require drug manufacturers to provide Medicaid rebates on prescriptions for Part D Low Income Subsidy enrollees, a proposal which was also included in the President’s FY2014 proposed budget.
- One-third (33%) of the proposed Medicare savings are due to reductions in Medicare payments to providers, most of which are reduced payments to post-acute care providers (Figure 1). The baseline of the proposed budget assumes no reduction in Medicare payments for physician services, relative to current levels, from 2015 through 2024, in contrast to the sustainable growth rate formula (SGR) under current law, which calls for significantly lower physician payments during this 10-year period. The projected cost for adjusting the baseline for this period is $110 billion, plus additional amounts associated with eliminating cuts in 2014.
- About 16 percent of the proposed Medicare savings are due to increases in beneficiary premiums, deductibles and cost-sharing.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
HHS OIG says that Less Than Half of Part D Sponsors Voluntarily Reported Data on Potential Fraud and Abuse
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General
Report (OEI-03-13-00030) 03-03-2014
Less Than Half of Part D Sponsors Voluntarily Reported Data on Potential Fraud and Abuse
Summary: In 2011, total expenditures for the Medicare Part D prescription drug program were $67.1 billion. CMS contracts with plan sponsors to provide Part D coverage to beneficiaries. The Office of Inspector General has recommended that CMS require sponsors to report data on potential fraud and abuse related to Part D to CMS. Rather than requiring these data, CMS encouraged sponsors to voluntarily report them beginning in 2010. This study provides information on the fraud and abuse data reported by sponsors and on whether CMS used these data to monitor or oversee the Part D program.
OIG accessed CMS's Healthcare Plan Management System to download data on potential fraud and abuse reported by Part D plan sponsors from 2010 through 2012. It also accessed CMS's public files of Part D enrollment to determine the number of beneficiaries enrolled in Part D plans from 2010 through 2012. OIG reviewed the sponsors' aggregate data to determine the number and percentage of sponsors that reported data on potential fraud and abuse each year. In addition, it surveyed CMS about its review and use of these reported data.
More than half of Part D plan sponsors did not report data on potential fraud and abuse between 2010 and 2012. Of those sponsors that did report data, more than one-third did not identify any incidents for at least one of their reporting years. In total, sponsors reported identifying 64,135 incidents of potential fraud and abuse between 2010 and 2012. Sponsors' identification of such incidents varied significantly, from 0 to almost 14,000 incidents a year. CMS requires sponsors to conduct inquiries and implement corrective actions in response to incidents of potential fraud and abuse; however, 28 percent of Part D plan sponsors reported performing none of these actions between 2010 and 2012. Although CMS reported that it conducted basic summary analyses of the data on potential fraud and abuse, it did not perform quality assurance checks on the data or use them to monitor or oversee the Part D program.
OIG recommends that CMS (1) amend regulations to require sponsors to report to CMS their identification of and response to potential fraud and abuse; (2) provide sponsors with specific guidelines on how to define and count incidents, related inquiries, and corrective actions; (3) review data to determine why certain sponsors treported especially high or low numbers of incidents, related inquiries, and corrective actions; and (4) share sponsors' data on potential fraud and abuse with all sponsors and law enforcement. CMS did not concur with the first recommendation, partially concurred with the second and fourth recommendations, and concurred with the third recommendation.
Download the complete report.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Upcoming Webinar on Medicare Observation Status and Improvement Standard in Skilled Nursing Facilities: What Advocates and Consumers Need to Know
When: Thursday, March 13, 2014 • 3:00pm - 4:30pm EST
Speaker: Toby S. Edelman, Senior Policy Attorney, Center for Medicare Advocacy, Inc.
After briefly reviewing requirements for Medicare coverage of a stay in a skilled nursing facility, this webinar will discuss in depth how to overcome two obstacles to coverage – observation status and the myth of medical improvement. Observation status occurs when hospitals label patients as “outpatient” when they are hospitalized, often for multiple days, depriving them of the three-day inpatient status that is necessary for Medicare coverage in a SNF. Regarding the improvement standard, the settlement in the Vermont lawsuit Jimmo v. Sebelius confirms that Medicare pays for “maintenance” nursing and therapy for nursing home residents, dispelling the myth that Medicare pays for care only when a resident will “improve.” Learn how to advocate effectively for Medicare beneficiaries, and where advocates and consumers can get help.
This webinar is open to all!
Cost: $50.00 Registration for Live Webinar (includes mp3 recording) • $15.00 Webinar recording only (mp3, by email).
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Following up on Becky's post of Feb. 25 regarding some recent CRS Reports--I'm using a number of CRS reports in a class I am designing for Valparaiso's new health management and policy master's program. These include:
Medicare, A Primer Download Medicare Primer CRS
Medigap: A Primer Download Medigap CRS
Medicaid, An Overview (referenced by Becky) Download CRS Medicaid an Overview
Medicaid Coverage of Long Term Services and Supports Download Medicaid LTC CRS
Health Care Fraud and Abuse Laws AffectingMedicare and Medicaid: An Overview Download Fraud and Abuse CRS
Medicare Secondary Payer:Coordination of Benefits Download Fraud and Abuse CRS
Overview of Private Health Insurance Provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) Download Private Health Insurance ACA CRS
CRS reports aren't generally made available to the public, but I have had great luck over the years in obtaining them simply by contactiing one of the authors and requesting a copy.
Friday, February 21, 2014
As introduced in an earlier post, Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs, also sometimes operating as Life Care Communities or LCCs) are frequently organized and operated as 501(c)(3) entities, exempt from federal income taxes. However, in several states, authorities have opposed exemption from state or local taxes, especially real estate taxes. The campuses of high-end CCRCs can be tempting targets for revenue-hungry local governing units.
Pennsylvania has been a hotbed of such challenges, with the latest ruling issued in Albright Care Services v. Union County Board of Assessment, decided by the Commonwealth Court, an intermediate court of appeals, on January 29, 2014. In Pennsylvania, the question of exemptions from real estate taxes depends on at least two sets of criteria, including (A) proof of operation as an "Institution of Purely Public Charity" or IPPC, and (B) "parcel reviews," to determine whether individual components of property are "actually and regularly used for the identified charitable purposes."
The irony is an operation can be sufficiently "charitable" in nature to qualify for exemption from federal income taxes (and thus usually state income taxes) but not so "charitable" as to qualify for state exemptions that demand more rigorous proof of allegiance to mission.
In Albright, the Commonwealth Court affirmed findings that the company, operating two CCRCs, qualified as an IPPC, thus distinguishing recent rulings that denied real estate exemptions for two other nonprofit continuing care operations, Dunwood Village (2012) and Menno Haven (2007). The Court credited testimony by Albright's accountant on the question of whether the company donated a substantial portion of its services to residents, rejecting the county's argument the CCRCs were reaping a Medicaid "windfall."
The Court also affirmed the finding that several of Albright's real estate parcels was used to support the charitable mission. It called the independent living facilities a "closer question," but ultimately concluded such units were operated as part of a "comprehensive care scheme" that advanced a unified charitable purpose, citing a 2007 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in Alliance Home of Carlisle v. Board of Assessment Appeals. It remanded for further findings on whether parcels containing a museum and flood plain properties were used to advance the CCRC's charitable purpose.
The Albright decision was released as an "unreported panel decision" that may be "cited for its persuasive value, but not as binding precedent." The Albright decision on CCRCs follows a series of Pennsylvania cases arguing state constitutional implications of exemptions for real property, affecting everything from summer camps to hospitals and universities, including the 4-3 ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Mesivtah Eitz Chaim of Bobov v. Pike County Board of Assessments (2012). In some counties, nonprofits may feel under pressure to enter into "PILOTS," or negotiated agreements for "Payments in Lieu of Taxes," to avoid litigation over exemptions.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
In a previous post, I reported on a senior care whistleblower case, where a court ruled that a former corporate officer, who was also the in-house counsel, cannot participate in a False Claims Act suit, if the information supporting the claim comes from privileged communications received in his role as an attorney. The two other former executives of the company, non-lawyers, could have participated as qui tam plaintiffs; however the entire case was dismissed by the court as a sanction for improper disclosure of attorney-client privileged information.
Most whistleblowers are insiders, either current or former employees; however, that is not always true. The "relator" (that's False-Claim-Act-speak for whistleblower) in a suit brought against RehabCare, Rehab Systems, and Health Systems, Inc. was the CEO of a competitor, Health Dimensions Rehabilitation, Inc., who first heard about a successful use of "referral fees" during a public conference call hosted by RehabCare.
"Pride goeth before a fall," as our mothers might say. In this case, the CEO's research into the referral fees resulted in allegations the fees were intended to generate referrals of clients covered by Medicare and Medicaid, thus giving rise to alleged violations of the federal Anti-Kickback Act. The defendants denied all allegations.
In the RehabCare case, which settled earlier this year for a reported $30 million, the whistleblower, Health Dimensions Rehabilitation, Inc. is in line to receive about $5.7 million from the settlement, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
Penn State Dickinson School of Law is hosting a half-day program examining "Whistleblower Laws in the 21st Century," on March 20, 2014. Speakers include both academic scholars and experienced attorneys who have advised or represented parties in False Claims Act cases in health care, including "senior care."
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Via Kaiser Health News and sources referenced therein:
After years of trying, Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., says he is optimistic that Congress will change the Medicare policy that has left thousands of patients without coverage for nursing home care after leaving the hospital.
The CT Mirror: After years of trying, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said Tuesday he’s optimistic that Congress will take action to address a technicality that has left thousands of Medicare patients without coverage for nursing home care after leaving the hospital. At issue is how Medicare treats patients designated by hospitals as being on “observation status.” Medicare’s hospitalization benefit covers nursing home care for patients recovering from a hospital stay, if they have spent at least three consecutive days as inpatients in a hospital. But increasingly, hospitals have been designating patients as being on observation status, even if they receive inpatient care and spend several nights in the hospital (Becker, 2/11).
CQ HealthBeat: As Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., sees it, more of his colleagues are becoming aware of the ill effects that can occur when hospitals tell Medicare that a person who spent days being treated within their walls was not an “inpatient.” Courtney and many advocacy groups say that when hospitals instead slot patients as receiving “observation” services, that can deprive them of needed follow-up skilled nursing care. Or, it can cost them dearly if they use these services as after a hospital stay (Young, 2/11).
For lots of great information on the observation status issue, visit the Center for Medicare Advocacy's observation status resource area.
Friday, February 7, 2014
In United States ex rel. Fair Laboratory Practices Associates v. Quest Diagnostics Inc., decided by the Second Circuit on October 25 2013, we see another qui tam suit, where former employees allege the company's participation in a scheme to defraud Medicare and Medicaid, this time by allegedly underpricing certain services in order to stimulate referrals of clients who qualified for higher rates under Medicare or Medicaid coverage. That allegation triggered the federal Anti-Kickback Statute that applies to federal health care programs.
If anyone is interested in -- or skeptical about -- making a whistleblower claim part of a "business plan," just read this decision. The plaintiff, Fair Laboratory Practices Associates, was formed as a partnership by three former employees, who combined their knowledge in an attempt to confront what they believed were fraudulent sales practices. The federal False Claims Act permits successful whistleblowers to share in any financial recovery for the U.S.
Just one little problem. One of the members of the partnership was a former vice president and general counsel for the defendant corporation, and he was disclosing information received in his role as the only in-house lawyer for the company. Indeed, as reported in the opinion, that is exactly why the other two whistleblowers invited him to join their partnership, because his status as a lawyer "would improve our credibility with the government."
Unfortunately for the plaintiffs' group, it also triggered Rule 1.9 of New York's ethical rules, prohibiting a lawyer from disclosing confidential information of former clients. While the 2d Circuit credited the attorney's contention that he reasonably believed his employer intended to commit a crime, the court concluded the level of disclosure was "greater than reasonably necessary to prevent any alleged ongoing fraudulent scheme." The Court rejected the argument that the policies underlying the False Claims Act trumped the state's ethical rules for legal counsel.
More importantly, the court concluded that although the other two non-lawyer partners could have filed the qui tam action based on the information they alone possessed as former executives for the company, once their knowledge became entwined with the attorney's unauthorized disclosures, the partnership as a group was disqualified. Case dismissed (although the Court does leave the door open for a new relator as plaintiff, or the U.S. on its own).
Here's more on the case by Joseph Callanan, an associate editor for the American Bar Association's Litigation News.
Here is useful background on the federal Anti-Kickback law, courtesy of the American Health Care Association.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
On January 30, 2014, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a ruling in favor of a nursing home, concluding that a daughter who signed the nursing home admission agreement on the line for "responsible party/agent" was not liable for breach of contract where she held no Power of Attorney or other authority to handle her mother's finances.
In Hutchinson v. Trilogy Health Services LLC, the mother, suffering from cancer and needing constant care after a hospitalization, was admitted to the skilled care facility from November 11, 2011 until February 5, 2012. She passed away in February 2013. During the interim, Trilogy sued both the mother and the daughter for breach of contract. Following a trial, the small claims court entered judgment against the daughter in favor of Trilogy for $2,610 plus court costs. The amount of the judgment covered costs for "bed hold fees, beauty shop services and respiratory equipment."
In reversing the trial court judgment, the Indiana Court of Appeals cited the lack of any evidence the daughter held power of attorney or that daughter misused her mother's resources, as well as the son-in-law's testimony that a nursing home representative reassured his wife at the time of signing that she was not incurring personal liability for her mother's costs of care. The Court of Appeals distinguished the facts from those in cases such as Sunrise Healthcare Corp. v. Azarigian, a Connecticut appellate case decided in 2003, where the daughter held Power of Attorney and used it to make transfers that created ineligibility for Medicaid.
I hope readers will forgive me for a moment of immodesty for mentioning that the Indiana Court of Appeals also cited my law review article analyzing "responsible party" liability issues. When I wrote that article for the University of Michigan's Journal of Law Reform, it was exactly this set of facts I was pointing to with concern, where an "innocent" family member or other person signs a nursing home's document believing that doing so is necessary to authorize admission, with no intent (and sometimes no personal ability to afford) to pay privately, only later to be sued for "breach of contract" or on statutory theories such as "filial support."
Monday, February 3, 2014
As readers of this blog will recognize, whistleblower-triggered suits alleging fraud in Medicare and Medicaid are big business.
The February 2014 issue of The Washington Lawyer, published by the D.C. Bar, has a fascinating article written by Joshua Berman, Glen Donath, and Christopher Jackson, two of whom are former federal prosecutors. In "A Casualty of War: Reasonable Statute of Limitation Periods in Fraud Cases," they outline modern use -- perhaps misuse -- of the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act (WSLA), originally enacted in the 1940s.
Beginning in 2008, the statute, and a more recent tweak under the Wartime Enforcement of Fraud Act (WEFA), has become a key tool of the Department of Justice in pursuing arguably "stale" claims of fraud. The original provision "tolls" the statute of limitation for such claims until three years after the termination of hostilities for "virtually any kind of fraud in which the United States has been the victim." The 2008 provision, changing the three-year extension to five-years, also "simultaneously broadened the circumstances in which the WSLA's tolling provision is triggered and narrowed the circumstances in which the 'war' can be said to have ended." The result is potentially unlimited periods within which to file suit. The authors explain:
"Now, under the post-amendment WSLA, virtually any congressional authorization for the use of military force -- such as that which was approved by Congress prior to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and also recently contemplated with regard to Syria -- will trigger the statute. But only a formal proclamation by the president, with notice to Congress, or a concurrent resolution of Congress will suffice to end the 'war' and resume the running of the five-year clock under the original limitations period."
The authors point out that during World War II, it was "understandable and desirable that the government be given flexibility to bring cases that would otherwise become stale." But the effect of the WLSA is not limited to fraud claims against war-related industries such as defense contractors. The authors critique application beyond the original justification of wartime, to Social Security fraud or False Claims Act violations, the latter the basis for most qui tam claims in senior care and health care industries.