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FTC Engages in First Enforcement Action under COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act

April 27, 2021 | Blog | By Joanne Hawana, Samantha Kingsbury

In its first exercise of a newly granted authority, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC or the Commission) on April 15, 2021 charged a St. Louis-based chiropractor and his company (the Defendants) with violating the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act (the COVID-19 Act) and the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act).  The Commission’s allegations focus on the deceptive marketing of products containing Vitamin D and Zinc as being scientifically proven to treat or prevent COVID-19 and as being equally as effective as or more effective than currently available COVID-19 vaccines.
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Health Care Enforcement Update:  Covid-19 Fraud Cases Brought By DOJ And Private Plaintiffs

March 31, 2021 | Blog | By Grady Campion, Jane Haviland, Karen Lovitch

On Friday, March 26, 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced an update on its efforts to combat COVID-19 related fraud.  Since Congress first responded to the coronavirus pandemic by passing $2.2 trillion in relief through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020, DOJ has pursued civil and criminal actions primarily targeting (1) fraudulent COVID-19 related tests or treatments, and (2) abuse of the CARES Act’s popular Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).  Friday’s announcement revealed that DOJ is also ramping up its efforts to prosecute fraud on the CARES Act’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and Unemployment Insurance (UI) initiatives. 
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Health Care Enforcement Kept the DOJ Fraud Section Busy in 2020

March 8, 2021 | Blog | By Eoin Beirne, Grady Campion

On February 24, 2021, DOJ’s Criminal Division Fraud Section published its annual year-end summary. The Fraud Section focuses on prosecuting white-collar crime. The report summarizes enforcement activity in the past year and discusses notable cases from the Fraud Section’s three litigation units: (1) the Health Care Fraud (HCF) Unit; (2) the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Unit; and (3) the Market Integrity and Major Frauds (MIMF) Unit. In summarizing the Fraud Section’s main achievements from 2020, the report also provides valuable insights on what lies ahead for the Fraud Section in 2021. This post focuses on the health care enforcement portion of the Fraud Section’s report.
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As our readers know, we have long been closely watching False Claims Act (FCA) cases across the country alleging the submission of false claims based on the lack of medical necessity, particularly as a possible circuit split seemed to be developing with respect to requiring “objective falsity” to allege such FCA violations.  And we have likewise been waiting to see if the issue will be decided by the Supreme Court.  On February 22, 2021, we got an answer – at least for now – when the Supreme Court denied a petition for certiorari in RollinsNelson LTC Corp. et al v. U.S. ex rel. Winters, a FCA case out of the Ninth Circuit in which the defendant was accused of submitting claims to Medicare for medically unnecessary hospital admissions (which we have been following since last year).
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Webinar Recording: Health Care Enforcement Year in Review & 2021 Outlook

February 24, 2021 | | By Eoin Beirne, Brian Dunphy, Hope Foster, Karen Lovitch

In our annual webinar, Mintz’s Health Care Enforcement Defense team reviewed the key policy developments, settlements, and court decisions from 2020 and assessed their likely impact in 2021 and beyond.
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Health Care Enforcement Year in Review & 2021 Outlook

February 18, 2021 | | By Eoin Beirne, Brian Dunphy, Karen Lovitch, Kevin McGinty, Samantha Kingsbury, Keshav Ahuja, Grady Campion, Jane Haviland, Caitie Hill, Rebecca Zeidel

Despite the threat of COVID-19 paralyzing much of the country in 2020, government health care fraud enforcement continued even though the Department of Justice (DOJ) had the added burden of pursuing COVID-19 related fraud. Mintz’s Health Care Enforcement Defense team has reviewed the key policy issues, statistics, settlements, and court decisions from 2020, and in this report we reflect on those developments and also predict the trends in health care enforcement in 2021 and beyond.
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With a notably sharply worded opinion, the Fifth Circuit recently vacated over $4.3 million in penalties levied against the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (M.D. Anderson) by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for a series of alleged HIPAA violations. The case stems from three separate incidents that occurred between 2012 and 2013. In two instances, M.D. Anderson workforce members lost unencrypted protected health information (PHI), while the third incident involved the theft of a faculty member’s laptop also containing unencrypted PHI. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit concluded that HHS’s civil monetary penalties order against M.D. Anderson was arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law, vacating the penalties and pointedly criticizing the agency’s actions and arguments in this matter.

Beyond its harsh words for HHS, this opinion is notable for calling into question some longstanding HHS enforcement practices and interpretations of the HIPAA regulations. The opinion also makes clear that regulated entities should check the math when HHS levies a fine. Although limited in its precedential authority, the Fifth Circuit’s opinion, at the very least, gives HIPAA-regulated entities some new food for thought if faced with an HHS enforcement action.
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Are Speaker Programs a Thing of the Past? OIG’s Fraud Alert Indicates It Thinks They Should Be

November 25, 2020 | Blog | By Laurence Freedman, Elizabeth Conti

In the midst of the pandemic emergency, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a stern warning about in-person educational programs for health care professionals (HCPs), known as “speaker programs.” The OIG’s Special Fraud Alert (Alert) highlights what it deems the “inherent fraud and abuse risks” associated with the offer, payment, solicitation, or receipt of remuneration related to speaker programs by pharmaceutical and medical device companies. The OIG expressed that is skeptical of the educational value of such programs, and thus the Alert sends a clear signal that such programs will undergo intense scrutiny under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS). OIG is using the pandemic as an opportunity to caution the pharmaceutical and medical device industry to limit or eliminate in-person speaker programs once such programs are able to resume.
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On October 29, 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the first publicly-available settlement involving alleged violations of CMS’s Open Payments Program, otherwise known as the Sunshine Act. The $9.2 million settlement resolved allegations that Minnesota-based medical device manufacturer Medtronic USA Inc. violated (i) the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and the False Claims Act (FCA) by paying kickbacks to a South Dakota neurosurgeon, Wilson Asfora, M.D., and (ii) the Open Payments reporting requirements by failing to accurately report payments it made to Asfora to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS). While this settlement is the first public enforcement action involving Open Payments violations, more enforcement actions may be expected in the near future.
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced what appears to be the first public warning made by the agency to a company promoting an approved prescription drug product for the unapproved use of treating COVID-19 symptoms. Although the regulatory action was announced in the FDA’s daily pandemic update on October 2, 2020, the warning letter issued by the Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP) is dated September 22, 2020. From our perspective, this public FDA action is notable for two distinct policy reasons.
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As predicted, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and other enforcement agencies have acted quickly to bring substantial criminal enforcement actions for fraud against the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Acting Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Brian Rabbitt announced recently that the DOJ’s Criminal Division reached the important milestone that day of criminally charging more than 50 individuals for alleged fraud committed to obtain PPP funds.
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On September 9, 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a $50 million settlement with Wheeling Hospital, Inc. of West Virginia to resolve False Claims Act allegations that Wheeling Hospital violated the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and Stark Law. The settlement resolved False Claims Act allegations that were triggered by a qui tam lawsuit brought by a former vice president of Wheeling Hospital who oversaw hospital operations and physician engagements. According to the relator's complaint, Wheeling Hospital, under its former management, paid several physicians annual compensation in excess of a million dollars based on the volume or value of their referrals.
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The U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General recently announced the indictment of a pharmacy marketer who allegedly received and paid kickbacks in violation of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS). While the alleged fraudulent scheme isn’t anything new, the actions that the marketer allegedly took to try to cover up the scheme serve as a good lesson.
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Seventh Circuit Adds to Circuit Split Over Standard for DOJ Dismissals in FCA Cases

August 25, 2020 | Blog | By Laurence Freedman, Geoffrey Friedman, Caitie Hill

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided a case that created a new standard to assess requests by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to dismiss declined qui tam (whistleblower) suits under the False Claims Act (FCA). See U.S. ex rel. CIMZNHCA LLC V. UCB Inc. et al., No. 19-2273 (7th Cir. 2020). Prior to this decision, federal Courts of Appeals applied either the Sequoia Orange standard or the Swift standard, discussed below. In this decision, the Seventh Circuit opined that the standard should be informed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (FRCP) 41, and this standard “lies much nearer to Swift.” The Seventh Circuit also decided a key jurisdictional issue: whether the United States can appeal a denial of its motion to dismiss a declined qui tam action. Again, taking a new tack, the panel resolved this issue by construing the motion to dismiss also as a motion to intervene and construing the district court’s decision as a denial of that motion, thus obviating the need to invoke the collateral order doctrine.
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Recent DOJ Comments Shed Light on Expected Civil Enforcement of COVID-19 Cases

August 18, 2020 | Blog | By Nicole Henry, Karen Lovitch

Comments made by Department of Justice attorneys during a recent webinar provided insight into the government’s civil enforcement priorities related to the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, government attorneys expect that civil enforcement related to COVID-19 relief funds will focus on certifications made by applicants seeking loan forgiveness and anticipate increased investigations into telemedicine services.
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United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling recently announced that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Special Inspector General Brian D. Miller of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery to investigate and prosecute fraud in the distribution of the funds authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security.
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COVID-19 Relief Programs: Recent Criminal Enforcement and Anticipated Trends

July 9, 2020 | Blog | By Eoin Beirne, Nicole Henry

Leading up to a webinar on July 15, 2020, we are publishing a blog series covering the risks of enforcement against companies that received COVID-19 relief funds under the CARES Act and strategies for mitigating those risks.  This third, and final, installment of our series discusses emerging and anticipated criminal enforcement involving COVID-19 relief programs.
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Last Friday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced another increase to civil monetary penalties assessed under the False Claims Act (FCA), among other statutes. DOJ made these adjustments to account for inflation, in accordance with the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, and they apply to penalties assessed after June 19, 2020, for violations occurring after November 2, 2015.
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COVID-19 Relief Programs: Mitigating and Responding To Enforcement Risk

June 22, 2020 | Blog | By Brian Dunphy, Jane Haviland, Nicole Henry, Karen Lovitch

Since the early days of the pandemic, Mintz’s COVID-19 Compliance & Enforcement Defense Task Force has closely monitored and advised clients on the evolving COVID-19 relief programs, including those created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The CARES Act provided for over $2 trillion in relief funds, which is the largest emergency assistance package in American history. The numerous CARES Act programs have continued to develop through, among other things, the passage of the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020, and rapidly changing regulatory guidance and FAQs. As one example, the government recently wrestled with whether to make public the list of about 4.6 million entities that received more than $500 billion from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) under the CARES Act. After initially refusing to disclose PPP loan recipients, the Small Business Administration and Treasury Department decided to make public the names of entities that received loans larger than $150,000, as well as the dollar range of each loan.
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A few weeks ago, we posted about a publication by the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (OIG) of responses to certain frequently asked questions (FAQs) received from the health care community regarding regulatory flexibility for providers that needed it to adequately respond to COVID-19 concerns.  This flexibility specifically relates to the OIG’s administrative enforcement authorities, including the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and Civil Monetary Penalties Law prohibiting beneficiary inducement (Beneficiary Inducement CMPL).
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