In a long-awaited opinion, on September 9, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in United States v. Aseracare, Inc., et al, unanimously vacated AseraCare’s False Claims Act (FCA) victory and remanded the case for further proceedings.[1] While this might seem a victory only for the Government at first blush, the opinion contains key takeaways for defendants that will likely reach far beyond just this case.

Importantly, even though the Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court’s grant of summary judgment to AseraCare, it affirmed the district court’s conclusion that a clinical judgment of terminal illness warranting hospice benefits under Medicare cannot be deemed false, for purposes of the FCA, when there is only a reasonable disagreement between medical experts as to the accuracy of that conclusion, with no other evidence to prove the falsity of the assessment. The Eleventh Circuit also concluded, however, that the Government should have been allowed to rely on the entire record, not just the trial record, to prove otherwise. The Government was precluded from doing so, the Court found, due to an earlier decision by the district court to bifurcate proceedings into two phases: one on falsity, and the other on the remaining elements of the FCA.

In affirming the district court’s holding regarding clinical judgment, the Eleventh Circuit remarked that it appears to be the “first circuit court to consider the precise question at issue here,”[2] and is an extraordinary move that provides hospice facilities, hospitals, and providers more generally with a degree of assurance that a reasonable disagreement between clinicians in a courtroom, without other evidence of objective falsehood, does not create a jury question and cannot serve as the basis for an action under the FCA: “While there is no question that clinical judgments must be tethered to a patient’s valid medical records, it is equally clear that the law is designed to give physicians meaningful latitude to make informed judgments without fear that those judgments will be second-guessed after the fact by laymen in a liability proceeding.”[3]


Continue Reading 11th Circuit Issues Long-Awaited Opinion in AseraCare Affirming that Mere Differences in Reasonable Clinical Judgement Cannot Be False Under the FCA and Remanding for New Trial and Consideration of Full Record

On Nov. 29, 2018, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced several amendments to policies on individual accountability set forth in the 2015 Yates Memo. As a result, companies facing FCA actions—especially defendants in health care cases—should consider following three strategy tips:  (1) Establish clear benchmarks for cooperation.  (2) Advocate for individual releases.  And (3)

On August 24, 2016, Judge Edgardo Ramos of the Southern District of New York approved a settlement in which Mount Sinai Health System (Mount Sinai) will pay $2.95 million to New York and the federal government to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act (FCA) by withholding Medicare and Medicaid overpayments in contravention

On Tuesday July 12, 2016, the Senate Finance Committee (“Committee”) will hold a hearing on “Examining the Stark Law: Current Issues and Opportunities.” Crowell & Moring Partner Troy Barsky will be testifying before the Committee as a Stark Law subject matter authority.

In advance of this hearing, the Committee released last week the white paper “Why Stark, Why Now? Suggestions to Improve the Stark Law to Encourage Innovative Payment Models.”  Amid growing support for Stark law reform, the white paper deems the Stark law, as currently drafted, both an impediment to implementing health care reform, e.g., the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (“MACRA”), and of limited value given shifts from fee-for-service to alternative payment models that reward quality health care rather than the volume of services.

The white paper focuses predominantly on modifications to the Stark law that would remove obstacles to implementing health care reform. After a roundtable held in December, 2015, that was co-moderated by Troy Barsky, the Committee had solicited and received a range of stakeholder comments that proposed various Stark law reform solutions: repeal the law in its entirety; repeal the compensation arrangement prohibitions; implement new exceptions and modify existing exceptions; implement new or expand existing waivers; and expand CMS’s regulatory authority pertaining to waivers, exceptions, and advisory opinions. These comments are catalogued and discussed throughout the white paper. The white paper also examined the need to distinguish between technical, e.g. documentation requirements, and substantive violations of the Stark law.  Commenters generally agreed that a separate set of sanctions should apply to technical violations and that such violations should not give rise to False Claims Act exposure.


Continue Reading In Advance of Senate Finance Committee Hearing on Stark Law Next Week, the Committee Releases Stark Law White Paper

In a unanimous decision last week that impacts healthcare providers, vendors and health plans that receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements or contract with federal health care programs, the United States Supreme Court in Universal Health Services v. United States ex rel. Escobar held that a defendant may be liable under the implied certification theory under

The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services (OIG) last week replaced a 20-year old policy statement, and issued guidance on the criteria the agency will use to evaluate whether to exclude certain individuals and entities from billing or “participation in” Federal health programs under its permissive exclusion authority. The new guidelines supersede and replace the OIG’s December 24, 1997 policy statement and set forth “non-binding” criteria that the OIG may consider in exercising this authority under circumstances involving fraud, kickbacks and other prohibited conduct. The newly-memorialized policy is yet another effort by the agency to encourage healthcare providers to implement robust compliance mechanisms that can timely identify and voluntarily self-disclose to the government any unlawful conduct.

Under Sections 1128(b)(1)-(b)(15) of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), the Secretary, by delegation to the OIG, has discretion to exclude individuals and entities based on a number of grounds. This so-called “permissive exclusion” authority grants significant discretion to the OIG.  The new policy provides guidelines for permissive exclusions that are based on Section 1128(b)(7) of the Act, which permits the OIG to exclude persons from participation in any Federal health care program if the OIG determines that the individual or the entity has engages in fraud, kickbacks and other prohibited activities.


Continue Reading OIG Updates Policy on Permissive Exclusions Based On Fraud and Kickbacks

Our Health Care Group attorneys have authored a new alert explaining the implications of the final rule on the reporting and return of overpayments (the “Overpayment Rule”) the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued earlier this month.  CMS promulgated the Overpayment Rule nearly two years after the agency issued its final rules governing

On February 8, 2016, the United States District Court in the Southern District of Georgia approved the settlement agreement ending a whistleblower lawsuit initiated on March 9, 2011 against Memorial Health University Medical Center (“Memorial Medical Center”) and three affiliated entities in a case that highlights the Department of Justice’s (“DOJ”) vigorous scrutiny of physician compensation arrangements. The non-profit hospital, based in Savannah, Georgia, agreed to pay $9.89 million with $2.29 million going to the relator, the hospital’s former president and CEO, who initiated the action under the qui tam provision of the False Claims Act (“FCA”).  The settlement is the largest civil healthcare fraud recovery recorded by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia.

The underlying lawsuit alleged that Memorial Medical Center acquired a physician practice for compensation in excess of fair market value (“FMV”), and that the acquisition resulted in a projected financial loss of approximately $670,000 per year over a five-year period.  According to the complaint, the defendant hospital engaged in a complex scheme to compensate its employed and contracted physicians at rates above FMV in return for the promise of patient referrals–thereby violating both the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”) and the physician self-referral law (“Stark Law”), and tainting Medicare and Medicaid payments.


Continue Reading $9.9 Million Settlement To Resolve Allegations That Hospital System Overpaid Physicians Approved by Georgia Federal Court

Last week, in a case that will have a significant impact on future False Claims Act (FCA) suits against health care entities, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar.  By agreeing to hear the case, the Court will resolve the circuit split over the so-called