A common feature of False Claims Act (FCA) litigation is the pursuit of liability under the FCA’s so-called “reverse” false claims provision, 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1)(G). Reverse false claims liability applies when a person or entity knowingly does either of the following:
- Makes, uses, or causes, to be made or used, a false record or statement material to an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the government.
- Conceals or knowingly and improperly avoids or decreases an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the government.
The reverse false claims provision of the FCA is especially significant for healthcare providers, in part because the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) (as well as associated regulations) expressly linked the knowing retention of overpayments from federal healthcare programs to reverse false claims liability under the FCA. Specifically, the relevant statutory provision of the ACA defines the term “obligation,” as used in the FCA, to include any overpayment that is not “reported and returned” within 60 days after it is “identified,” a term courts and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have interpreted somewhat broadly. See 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7k(d). Thus, by “improperly avoid[ing]” this “obligation”—i.e., knowingly or recklessly failing to return the overpayment within the ACA’s 60-day timeframe—a provider violates the FCA.
The upshot for providers is that a failure to diligently investigate and appropriately address a potential overpayment may lead to a host of problems, including whistleblower lawsuits, intrusive government scrutiny, and ultimately, FCA liability for treble damages and civil penalties. What’s more, this may be true even in cases where the receipt of the overpayment was not itself the result of any fraudulent conduct. Indeed, as the cases discussed below demonstrate, that risk is far from just hypothetical.