The Medicare Advantage program, which allows private insurance companies to offer and administer Medicare benefits, continues to be an area of sharp scrutiny for False Claims Act (FCA) enforcement despite some significant recent setbacks in pursuing FCA liability against Medicare Advantage Plans (MA Plans or Plans).  In 2018, several district court decisions raised obstacles to the pursuit of FCA liability against MA Plans, and those decisions have continued to affect FCA enforcement efforts in the first half of 2019.  Despite those setbacks, however, the prevalence of government enforcement actions involving Medicare Advantage illustrates that it remains an area of focus for the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The Focus on Medicare Advantage

Unlike traditional fee-for-service Medicare, MA Plans are compensated on a monthly basis through a fixed payment for each member.  The amount of the monthly payment – known as a capitation payment – is determined for each payment year through a process called “risk adjustment” and is based on each individual member’s demographic information and data reflecting the member’s medical condition, as documented during the 12 months preceding the payment year.  A member’s condition and medical diagnoses must be supported by a valid medical record.

Continue Reading Medicare Advantage: Recent Developments in FCA Enforcement

On December 26, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued an opinion in United States ex rel. Grant v. United Airlines affirming dismissal of the relator’s False Claims Act (FCA) allegations on the grounds that the complaint failed to plead presentment of a false claim with sufficient particularity under Rule 9(b). In the same opinion, however, the court revived the relator’s retaliation claim on the grounds that the relator satisfied the lower standard of Rule 8(a) applicable to retaliation claims, which are not claims of fraud.

Presentment Must Follow from Conduct Alleged in Complaint

The court affirmed dismissal of the relator’s substantive FCA claims because it held that the relator failed to adequately plead presentment under Rule 9(b) in either of the two ways that the Fourth Circuit has recognized as acceptable:

  1. By alleging with particularity that specific false claims actually were presented to the government for payment, including by describing the time, place, and contents of the false representation; the person making the false representation; and what was obtained by making this representation
  2. By alleging a pattern of conduct that would “necessarily have led to a false claim being submitted”

The court focused its analysis on whether the complaint was adequately pleaded under the latter of those two options. The relator was a former maintenance technician of United Airlines who was a second-tier subcontractor on a government contract for the repair and maintenance of military aircraft. His complaint alleged that United Airlines was specifically subcontracted to repair, overhaul and inspect certain airplane engines and was required to do its work in compliance with certain regulations. The complaint alleged that United Airlines violated the FCA by failing to comply with the required regulations in completing work on these airplane engines.
Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Weighs in on Standards for Pleading Presentment and Retaliation

In U.S. ex rel. Poehling v. UnitedHealth Group, Inc., the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California partially granted UnitedHealth’s motion to dismiss the government’s FCA claims, which were based on the allegation that UnitedHealth’s attestations as to the truth and accuracy of the risk adjustment data submitted were false because the district court found that the government had failed to plead the attestations were material to the payment decision, as required by the Supreme Court’s decision in  Escobar.  The district court declined to dismiss the remaining claims, including an FCA claim added by the government after its complaint in the similar Swoben case was dismissed (which we discussed here), which alleged a violation of the reverse false claims provisions due to failure to delete invalid diagnosis codes without reference to the attestation.  The district court did grant the government leave to amend, with the second amended complaint to be filed by February 26, 2018.

Continue Reading Government Survives Dismissal of Remaining FCA Claims in Managed Care Case

In a recent opinion, the Seventh Circuit joined its sister circuits in holding that under the FCA, a defendant’s conduct must proximately cause injury to the government in order to incur liability for that injury.  United States v. Luce, No. 16-4093, 2017 WL 4768864 (7th Cir. Oct. 23, 2017).  This decision resolves a circuit split that arose in 1992 when the Seventh Circuit parted company with the Third Circuit—the only other circuit at that time to have addressed the issue.  At that time, the Seventh Circuit held that the FCA required only a “but-for” standard of causation, meaning that a defendant could be held liable under the FCA even if the Government’s loss was not caused directly by the defendant’s conduct so long as the government would not have suffered the loss if not for the defendant’s conduct.  In addition to the Third Circuit, the other circuits that have since addressed this issue—the Fifth, D.C., and Tenth Circuits—have held that the higher standard of “proximate causation” applies to FCA cases.

Continue Reading Seventh Circuit Resolves Circuit Split on Causation in FCA Cases

The DOJ’s recent complaint-in-intervention in US ex rel. Poehling v. United Health Group—one of two qui tam cases against United Health currently pending in the Central District of California—emphasizes the government’s view that, in order to avoid FCA liability based on allegedly inflated risk adjustment scores for Medicare Advantage members, health plans must follow up on any information they know or have reason to know indicating that providers are submitting or have submitted invalid codes to the health plan.

Continue Reading Second DOJ Complaint: Knowledge of Invalid Codes Requires Follow-Through to Avoid Liability

Earlier this month, DOJ filed its complaint-in-intervention alleging FCA claims in the long pending Medicare Advantage case U.S. ex rel. Swoben v. Secure Horizons.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit revived this matter last year when it held that the design of a retrospective review to avoid discovery of unsupported diagnoses submitted for risk adjustment can give rise to FCA liability resulting from false certifications.   DOJ intervened in March 2017 only as to the UnitedHealth Group parties in the case.  DOJ had intervened previously as to the SCAN defendants, who settled their portion of the case for $322 million in August 2012.

Continue Reading DOJ Complaint Alleges One-Way Chart Review Renders Medicare Advantage Risk Adjustment Certifications False

Recently, the DOJ intervened in one of several currently pending qui tam cases involving Medicare Advantage (MA) and the Risk Adjustment process used to determine the amount of payments to Medicare Advantage Organizations (MAO).  The government filed its notice of election to intervene in US ex rel. Poehling v. UnitedHealth Group, a case that has been pending in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, and which is now unsealed.
Continue Reading DOJ Intervenes in Risk Adjustment FCA Case

The Supreme Court held that a relator’s breach of the seal in a qui tam case does not require mandatory dismissal of the complaint, but the Court declined to articulate what factors are appropriate to consider in determining whether dismissal is appropriate.  The Court wrote only that appropriateness of dismissal in a given case should be left to the sound discretion of the district court. The district court in this case had not abused its discretion in declining to dismiss the case, and the appropriate test could be taken up in future cases.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Rejects Mandatory Dismissal for an FCA Seal Breach

On August 24, 2016, DOJ announced a $2.95 million settlement with defendants facing FCA liability for allegedly delaying repayment of more than $800,000 in Medicaid overpayments. The settlement amounted to nearly 3.5 times the amount of the improper billings stipulated in the settlement documents.

This is the first FCA settlement involving the Affordable Care Act’s 60-day repayment provision and flows from allegations that the defendants violated the obligation to report and remit overpayments within 60 days of when such payments have been identified. The stipulation accompanying the parties’ settlement of the FCA claims at issue also included language that the defendants “admit[ted], acknowledge[d], and accept[ed] responsibility for” the conduct underlying the government’s allegations regarding the  violation of this obligation.

Continue Reading Settlement Reached in First Reverse FCA Case Based on 60-Day Repayment Provision