Former Houston Texas Physician Gets 70 Month Prison Sentence For Fraud Conviction

November 27, 2011

A Federal court on November 14, 2011 sentenced Armando Chavez, 42, a former physician and owner of the Chavez Medical Group in East Houston to 60 months for the conspiracy charge and to 70 months for each of the three mail fraud charges. In addition to the prison sentences, which will run concurrently, Chavez was also ordered to pay $3,821,082 in restitution.

The prosecution and sentencing of Chavez highlights the heightened risk that physicians and others engaging in aggressive health care billings risk if Federal officials view their actions as crossing the line.  The Chavez case is particularly notable as it primarily stemmed from claims submitted to private health care payers. 

The Chavez sentence resulted from Chavez’ guilty plea to one count of conspiracy and three counts of mail fraud in connection with billings made at the Chavez Medical Group.

The charges brought in April, 2011 stem from improper billing at the Chavez Medical Group between 2005 and 2007.  Federal prosecutors charged that Chavez billed for services he did not perform through a process of “unbundling” medical codes used on claims he filed to increase the amount he was paid by insurance companies.  While most health care providers recognize potential exposures to health care fraud prosecution for making false claims to Medicare, Medicaid or other federal programs, many providers fail to recognize this same exposure also can result from false billings to private health plans and insurers.

Following the initiation of the investigation, Chavez voluntarily surrendered his medical license to the Texas Board of Medicine.  Filing false health care claims is one of many types of personal misconduct that justifies loss of licensure or other discipline under Texas Medical Board rules.

According to the documents filed of record in the case, Chavez was board certified in internal medicine, licensed by the Texas Board of Medicine in 1997. He started his medical practice in family medicine and in 2005, began to perform endovenous laser ablation, a procedure used to repair varicose veins in the legs.

For purposes of billing, the medical insurance industry provides certain billing codes for the laser ablation procedure, which include a group of procedures billed under one code for the entire procedure. Chavez instructed his staff to “unbundle” or separate the codes for this procedure and to bill for individual steps in the procedure, resulting in greater reimbursement and payment for each patient. Additionally, Chavez submitted claims alleging he repaired all six veins for each patient, when in fact – in most cases – he repaired fewer than six veins. By alleging he repaired all six veins, Chavez alleged he performed six procedures over a period of six days, another aspect of the fraudulent billing which he used to justify the unbundling of codes and allowed him to be reimbursed at the highest possible rate.

Federal prosecutors claimed The typical patient whose billing was submitted as “bundled” into one code resulted in payment of approximately $6000, while the patient whose billing codes were “unbundled” typically resulted in payment of approximately $14,000. Based on these figures, Federal prosecutors claim that Chavez billed insurance companies and programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, a total of $14.1 million for which he collected $3.8 million between 2005 and 2007.

The investigation of this case was conducted by the FBI and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Cedric L. Joubert prosecuted the case.  According to the Justice Department, the case is being investigated by the Dallas Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) Strike Force, which includes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, the FBI and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Since their inception in March 2007, Strike Force operations in nine locations have charged more than 1,140 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $2.9 billion.

While health care fraud enforcement remains a lead Federal priority, health care providers in Texas and other HEAT Strike Force targeted regions face heightened exposures to HEAT task force scrutiny and prosecution. In response to these and other investigation and oversight activities, health care providers should strengthen their compliance practices and oversight and take other special care to position themselves and their billings to defend against possible challenge.

For Help With Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs

If you need assistance providing compliance or other training, reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns/ She also regularly designs and presents risk management, compliance and other training for health care providers, professional associations and others.   Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication see here. 

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Euless Healthcare Corporation Owner, Associates Face Conspiracy And Health Care Fraud Charges For Alleged Submission Of $700,000+ In Fraudulent Health Care Claims

November 27, 2011

Three defendants indicted for engaging in various Federal health care fraud offenses related to their involvement in the operation of a North Texas based health care company, Euless Healthcare Corporation, were arrested on November 17, 2011.  The charges highlight the health care fraud risks that health care providers, their owners and leaders face for engaging in activities that Federal officials view as prohibited under health care fraud laws.

According to the Justice Department, a 10-count indictment unsealed against Ovsanna Agopian, aka “Joanna Ovsanna,” “Joanna Smbatyan,” and “Ovsanna Agopian,” Boghos Babadjanian and Tolulope Labeodan charges each defendant wit one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and nine substantive counts of health care fraud.

According to the indictment, Agopian was the principal operator of Euless Healthcare Corporation (EHC), located at 222 West Bedford Euless Road in Hurst. Babadjanian was the owner of EHC and Labeodan was an employee of EHC. The indictment alleges that the three defendants ran a conspiracy to defraud Medicare by submitting claims for office visits and diagnostic tests that were never performed.  The indictment alleges that Agopian recruited doctors to work for EHC by telling them that they would treat beneficiaries in the beneficiaries’ homes. However, the doctors that Agopian recruited never saw beneficiaries at the EHC clinic or beneficiaries’ homes.  Prosecutors claim Agopian directed Labeodan, who is not a medical professional and does not have a Medicare provider number, to take beneficiary files from the EHC clinic and purportedly see beneficiaries. However, many beneficiaries, in whose names EHC submitted claims for reimbursement, have never heard of EHC or any of the doctors Agopian recruited.

Federal prosecutors claim that EHC used those doctors’ Medicare provider numbers to falsely bill Medicare more than $700,000 for office visits and diagnostic test for which the defendants allegedly collected Medicare reimbursement checks totaling more than $370,000. 

According to the Justice Department, the case is being investigated by the Dallas Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) Strike Force, which includes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, the FBI and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Since their inception in March 2007, Strike Force operations in nine locations have charged more than 1,140 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $2.9 billion.

While health care fraud enforcement remains a lead Federal priority, health care providers in Texas and other HEAT Strike Force targeted regions face heightened exposures to HEAT task force scrutiny and prosecution. In response to these and other investigation and oversight activities, health care providers should strengthen their compliance practices and oversight and take other special care to position themselves and their billings to defend against possible challenge.

For Help With Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs

If you need assistance providing compliance or other training, reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns/ She also regularly designs and presents risk management, compliance and other training for health care providers, professional associations and others.   Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication see here. 

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Former Manager 9th Employee Sentenced For Involvement In Maxim Medicare False Claims Action

November 27, 2011

Employees Do Time For Involvement In False Claims Act Crimes

The sentencing of another former Maxim Healthcare Services, Inc. (“Maxim”)  employee last week highlights the risks that health care management employees and consultants face when they participate in activities leading to false billing of Medicare or other federal programs by their employer health care provider organizations.

In his sentencing, Shipman became the eighth former Maximum employee sentenced for helping Maxim submit false charges to Medicare for health care services for services provided through an unlicensed facility.  Maxim coughed up Shipman and other workers who helped to orchestrate and administer the billing scheme as part of a plea agreement reached with the Justice Department in September.

On November 21, 2011, a Federal judge sentenced former Maxim senior manager Brian Lee Shipman to five months in prison and five months of home confinement with electronic monitoring for his involvement in the unlicensed operation of Maxim office that billed nearly a million dollars to government health care programs.  In addition to the prison term, Judge Thompson sentenced Shipman to two years of supervised release and ordered him to pay a $10,000 fine. 

On Sept. 12, 2011, Maxim – one of the nation’s leading providers of home healthcare services – entered into a settlement agreement to resolve criminal and civil charges relating to a nationwide scheme to defraud Medicaid programs and the Veterans Affairs program of more than $61 million. Maxim was charged in a criminal Complaint with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, and entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (“DPA”) with the Department of Justice. The agreement allows Maxim to avoid a health care fraud conviction on the charges if it complies with the DPA’s requirements. As required by the DPA, Maxim agreed to pay approximately $150 million – a criminal penalty of $20 million and approximately $130 million in civil settlements in the matter, including to settle federal False Claims Act claims.

Shipman is one of nine individuals – eight former Maxim employees, including three senior managers, and the parent of a former Maxim patient – to have pleaded guilty to and been sentenced on felony charges arising out of the submission of fraudulent billings to government health care programs, the creation of fraudulent documentation associated with government program billings, or false statements to government health care program officials regarding Maxim’s activities.

The sentencing of Shipman and the 8 other individual Maxim defendants criminally convicted in connection with the false billing shows that while health care organizations often pay significant fines to resolve health care fraud charges, the highest price tends to be paid by the individual employees and consultants convicted of orchestrating or participating in the activities underlying the fraud charges.  Maxim shows that both health care organizations and their people need a clear understanding what activities expose them to prosecution under federal health care fraud laws and how to respond when and if asked to participate in, or confronted with ongoing practices within their organization, that may violate these laws.  .

The Maxim charges against these defendants were investigated and prosecuted by the Department of Justice with the involvement of the Department of Health & Human Services and other agencies participating in the Medicare Fraud Strike Force.  Since their inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in nine districts have charged thousands of individuals with falsely billing Medicare or more than $2.9 billion.

The rising emphasis of DOJ, HHS and other federal and state officials on health care fraud detection and enforcement requires that health care providers tighten their billing, medical recordkeeping, training and other compliance efforts to guard against false claims and other health care fraud charges.  The Maxim prosecution and sentencing of senior employees who participated in the prohibited billings highlights that both health care organizations and their management employees face risks for participating in prohibited or other aggressive health care billing or other transactions. 

Health care organizations, their management and other employees need to clearly understand the implications of federal rules prohibiting health care fraud and how to respond when confronted with practices or proposed practices that may expose them or their organizations to liability.  With enforcement on the rise, both health care organizations and their people need to understand what actions are likely to violate health care fraud laws.  Both organizations and their employees should participate in training and other activities to inform themselves about activities that create prosecution or other health care fraud exposures.  Learn more here.

Management and other employees should engage in well-documented ongoing compliance efforts and learn what to do when presented with questionable situations. If a situation arises that may present health care fraud concerns, a health care organization or its employee also promptly should seek competent, experienced legal advice to discuss potential exposures and how to manage them within the scope of attorney-client privilege as soon as possible.

For Help With Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs

If you need assistance providing compliance or other training, reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns/ She also regularly designs and presents risk management, compliance and other training for health care providers, professional associations and others.   Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication see here. 

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

 


Medical Identity Theft/Fraud Convictions Highlight Need For Health Care Providers To Safeguard Health Information, Guard Against Fraud Schemes

November 27, 2011

Convictions Highlight Health Care Data Bases Attractive, Vulnerable Target For Medicare Fraud Schemers

A Federal judge sentenced 25 year old Miami resident Yenky Sanchez, 25 to serve more than 5 years in Federal prison for his role in the theft of Medicare numbers and other information of elderly and disabled Florida residents as part of a plan to defraud Medicare, Medicaid and other federal programs.  Coming on the heels of a November 3 conviction in West Virginia of Sargis Tadevosyan in a separate identity theft for Medicare fraud scheme, the convictions highlight the growing commitment and effectiveness of Federal and state investigators in investigating and prosecuting individuals who seek to use identity theft schemes to defraud Medicare or other federal programs.

Sanchez Conviction & Sentencing

The sentence arises from criminal charges brought by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in conjunction with other federal and state agencies, which charged Sanchez considered to commit health care fraud, authentication feature fraud and aggravated identity theft.  According to DOJ documents, Sanchez, participated in a scheme with Raul Diaz-Perera, to steal and sell Medicare numbers and other data about clients of their employer, the Florida Department of Children and Families’ (DCF).  Diaz-Perera previously was employed with DCF. According to the evidence at trial against Sanchez and a factual proffer filed with the court during the plea hearing for co-defendant Diaz-Perera, Sanchez used his position as employees at a DCF call center in downtown Miami to steal Medicare numbers and other personal information for purposes of committing health care fraud and identity theft.  The intent of Sanchez and his co-conspirator was for those numbers to be used to fraudulently bill Medicare for services that were never provided to the DCF beneficiaries. Sanchez was convicted of conspiring to commit health care fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349; conspiring to commit authentication feature fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1028(a)(3) and (f); and aggravated identity theft, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1028A(a)(1).  Based on these convictions, U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga sentenced Sanchez on November 21, 2011 to 65 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Judge Altonaga also imposed a $5,000.00 fine on Sanchez.

Tadevosyan Conviction

Federal officials previously also had scored another Medicare fraud/identity theft prosecution victory just a few short weeks earlier in West Virginia.  On November 3, 2011, a federal jury convicted Armenia citizen Sargis Tadevosyan in connection with a health care fraud scheme that intended to defraud millions of dollars from Medicare. Tadevosyan was found guilty of two felony counts: conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.  Tadevosyan faces up to 20 years in prison for the conspiracy conviction and a mandatory consecutive sentence of two years for aggravated identity theft and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on January 26, 2012.

In contrast to the small scale conspiracy that apparently occurred in the Sanchez case, the Tadovosyn scheme apparently was orchestrated by organized crime. Department of Health and Human Resources Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) uncovered the activities of Tadovosyn as part of its investigation of fraud schemes involving false front providers, whereby a company posed as a Medicare health care provider, and unlawfully billed Medicare as if they were providing legitimate services. Ultimately, investigators discovered that Tadevosyn and others were involved in defrauding Medicare and other health care payers as part of a scheme that used false front provider companies.  In total, more than $4 million in Medicare claims were submitted by the false front providers.  To co-conspirators of Tadevosyn pleaded guilty in September to aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft in connection to the health care fraud plot.  Those two co-defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on December 1, 2011.

In announcing the Tadevosyan conviction, federal officials affirmed their commitment to finding and prosecuting identity theft targeting Medicare and other health insurance programs. “This investigation revealed that organized criminal groups are still brazenly attempting to steal taxpayer money from our national health insurance programs,” said Nicholas DiGiulio, Special Agent in Charge for the Inspector General’s Office of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. “Today’s results demonstrate that we will do whatever it takes to catch these individuals in the act before they receive a penny of taxpayers’ money.”

Federal Laws, Investigations & Prosecutions of Medical Identity Theft Schemes Tightening

Whether from deliberate schemes to misappropriate data or other less sinister compromises of personal health information or other sensitive data, health care providers, health plans and other businesses face rising responsibilities to protect data and increasing exposures for failing to do so.

Federal law imposes stiff sanctions against organizations and individuals that engage in theft of personal or other sensitive information, health or other federal program fraud or both.  In an effort to stem the tide of health care and identity theft fraud, federal and state legislators and regulators have tightened federal and state laws to strengthen laws prohibiting health care fraud and identity theft, to require that health care providers, health plans, federal and state agencies and others that collect, possess or access sensitive personal health information, personal financial information or other sensitive date safeguard and protect sensitive information against improper access or misuse, to increase the penalties for violation of these federal and state laws and to provide law enforcement with expanded tools to investigate and prosecute violations of these laws.  See e.g., Cybercrime and Identity Theft:  Health Information Security Beyond HIPAA.  

As a result of these new and expanded mandates, health care providers, health plans, financial organizations and a broad range of other businesses and governmental agencies face a host of complicated mandates to protect personal health information, personal financial information and other sensitive data under laws such as the Health Information Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Fair & Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), state and federal identity theft and data security and other laws and significant liability for failing to fulfill these responsibilities. 

Health care providers, health insurers and others handling protected health information are particularly at risk when their data is compromised.  Recent amendments to HIPAA require these entities and their business associates to tighten their data privacy and security safeguards and to monitor and timely report data breaches, as well as significantly expand their potential liability exposure for failing to comply with HIPAA’s requirements. See e.g., UCLA Health Systems Payment of $865,500 To Settle HIPAA Charges Shows Rising HIPAA Risk; CVS Settles Privacy Charges; Rite Aid Agrees to Pay $1 Million to Settle HIPAA Privacy Case As Office of Civil Rights Proposes Tighter HIPAA Privacy & Security Regulations; 2 New HIPAA Criminal Actions Highlight Risks From Wrongful Use/Access of Health Information; President Signs Long-Sought Red Flag Rule Exemption Into LawAs part of its ongoing implementation of stepped up enforcement responsibility and powers enacted as part of these recent amendments, the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced on November 8, 2011 its kickoff of a new compliance audit effort. These developments send a forceful message that all businesses generally and health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses and their business associates specifically must get serious about compliance with the privacy, security and data breach requirements of HIPAA and other applicable law by implementing and administering the policies, procedures, training and oversight necessary to comply with these and other federal and state mandates regarding the protection of personal health information and other sensitive data.  Learn more about the recent convictions and related data breach exposures here.

For Help With Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs

If you need assistance providing compliance or other training, reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns/ She also regularly designs and presents risk management, compliance and other training for health care providers, professional associations and others.   Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication see here. 

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Detroit-Area Foot Doctor Pleads Guilty to Medicare Fraud Scheme

November 27, 2011

A Detroit-area foot doctor pleaded guilty to health care fraud on November 22 for his participation in a Medicare fraud scheme.  The guilty plea highlights the expanding reach of the heightened health care fraud detection and enforcment emphasis of Federal officials and the resulting need for heightened care by physicians and other health care providers in their health care billing and other operations to guard against getting caught in this expanding net.

According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), podiatrist Errol Sherman pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Michigan to one count of health care fraud.   At sentencing, Sherman faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine

According to the plea documents, between January 2003 and December 2006, Sherman billed Medicare and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan for a procedure known as an “avulsion of the nail plate” or “nail avulsion” procedure thousands of times with respect to hundreds of beneficiaries. According to court documents, Sherman billed Medicare for nail avulsion procedures never rendered.

Since their start in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in nine districts have charged thousands of individuals with falsely billing Medicare or more than $2.9 billion.

The rising emphasis of DOJ, HHS and other federal and state officials on health care fraud detection and enforcement requires that health care providers tighten their billing, medical record keeping, training and other compliance efforts to guard against false claims and other health care fraud charges.

For Help With Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs

If you need help providing compliance or other training, reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to set up and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns/ She also regularly designs and presents risk management, compliance and other training for health care providers, professional associations and others.   Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here.  If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication see here. 

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Merck To Pay $950 Million To Settle Vioxx® Off-Label Marketing Charges

November 27, 2011

American pharmaceutical company Merck, Sharp & Dohme (Merck) will pay $950 million to resolve criminal charges and civil claims related to its promotion and marketing of the painkiller Vioxx® (rofecoxib).   Merck previously withdrew Vioxx® from the market.

According to a November 23, 2011 joint announcement of the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Health & Human Services (HHS), Merck has agreed to plead guilty to one misdemeanor count of engaging in illegal promotional activity and to a $321,636,000 criminal fine to resolve charges that its marketing of Vioxx® violated the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA)

Concurrent with the criminal plea agreement, Merck also is entering into a civil settlement agreement under which it will pay $628,364,000 to resolve other allegations of off-label marketing of Vioxx® and false statements about the drug’s cardiovascular safety.   Of the total civil settlement, $426,389,000 will go to the United States, and the remaining share of $201,975,000 be paid to the participating Medicaid states.  The settlement and plea conclude a long-running investigation of Merck’s promotion of Vioxx®, which was withdrawn from the marketplace in September 2004.

Under the provisions of the FDCA, a company is required to specify the intended uses of a product in its new drug application to FDA.   Once approved, the drug may not be marketed or promoted for so-called “off-label” uses – any use not specified in an application and approved by FDA – unless the company applies to the FDA for approval of the additional use.   The FDA approved Vioxx® for three indications in May 1999, but did not approve its use against rheumatoid arthritis until April 2002.   In the interim, for nearly three years, Merck promoted Vioxx® for rheumatoid arthritis, conduct for which it was admonished in an FDA warning letter issued in September 2001.

Merck’s criminal plea relates to misbranding of Vioxx® by promoting the drug for treating rheumatoid arthritis, before that use was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  

The parallel civil settlement covers a broader range of allegedly illegal conduct by Merck.   The settlement resolves allegations that Merck representatives   made inaccurate, unsupported, or misleading statements about Vioxx’s cardiovascular safety in order to increase sales of the drug, resulting in payments by the federal government.   It also resolves allegations that Merck made false statements to state Medicaid agencies about the cardiovascular safety of Vioxx, and that those agencies relied on Merck’s false claims in making payment decisions about the drug.   Finally, like the criminal plea, the civil settlement also recovers damages for allegedly false claims caused by Merck’s unlawful promotion of Vioxx for rheumatoid arthritis.

As part of the settlement, Merck has also agreed to enter into an expansive corporate integrity agreement with the Office of Inspector General of HHS that requires it to strengthen the system of reviews and oversight procedures imposed on the company to deter and detect similar conduct in the future with respect to Merck products regulated by the FDA.

The Merck plea agreement and civil resolution agreement show the continuing commitment of DOJ and other federal regulators to investigate and prosecute off-label and other marketing of pharmaceutical products in violation of applicable federal laws.  Pharmaceutical companies and members of their workforce should heed the announcement as another reminder of the need to exercise continuing diligence to comply with these requirements.

For Help With Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs

If you need assistance providing compliance or other training, reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns/ She also regularly designs and presents risk management, compliance and other training for health care providers, professional associations and others.   Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here. 

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Texas Medical Board Suspends Child Psychiatrist For Sexual Misconduct

November 22, 2011

Personal Misconduct By Physicians Or Other Health Care Workers Common Cause of Discipline

On November 22, 2011, a disciplinary panel of the Texas Medical Board temporarily suspended, without notice, the medical license of Charles Henry Fischer, M.D., after determining that Dr. Fischer, a child psychiatrist at the Austin State Hospital in Austin, has demonstrated a pattern of sexually abusing teenage boys in his care for inpatient psychiatric treatment over a period of nearly 20 years. The discipline highlights again that personal misconduct remains a key reason for discipline of medical professionals.

Dr. Fischer, 59, was employed at Austin State Hospital from December 1990 until his termination on November 14, 2011. He also was employed as a psychiatrist at the Waco Center for Youth, the Southwest Neuropsychiatric Institute in San Antonio, Lutheran Social Services Residential Treatment Center for Girls and Central Counties Mental Health and Mental Retardation.  The Board imposed the suspension based on information that as many as nine patients had alleged sexual abuse by Dr. Fischer since the first patient report in 1992.

Unprofessional personal misconduct presenting a right to public health and safety is a common trigger for discipline by the Texas Medical Board and other licensing boards.  See, e.g. Quality, Recordkeeping & Unprofessional Conduct Lead Reasons For Medical Board Discipline of Physicians. Although complaints based on sexual misconduct occur much less frequently than substance abuse or other types of personal misconduct, the Texas Medical Board and other medical licensing bodies view sexual misconduct as among the most serious types of violations.  The prevalence rate of sexual misconduct in physicians is estimated at 6-10 percent but this phenomenon is likely under-reported in physician surveys and by patients. It is believed that the number of false claims made by patients is very low. A 1992 study indicates that only 4-8 percent of patients report a doctor’s sexual misconduct.  Physicians found guilty of engaging in prohibited sexual misconduct typically are male, have a mean age of 53, practice in private practice, and have a history of substance abuse, are in the midst of a divorce, separation or other life crisis and tend to engage in higher than typical nonsexual patient touch with patients.

Because of their special role and responsibility with respect to patients and the community, the law, the profession and the public impose high expectations upon physicians and other health care professionals in relation to their sexual conduct toward patients and others.  State medical practices and other medical licensure bodies, the American Medical Association Code of Conduct, the Joint Commission, peer review and other disciplinary boards and other regulatory and administrative policies and bodies generally prohibit both sexual assault, sexual harassment, and a broad range of other conduct of a sexual nature considered to be inconsistent with the special relationship of trust occupied by the health care professional. 

Sexual misconduct charges that can result in discipline can include clear atrocities such as rape or other sexual assaults, as well as engagement in inappropriate sexual relationships or overtures to current or former patients, as well as sexual harassment and certain other types of sexual relationships or conduct involving staff or others.  See, e.g., Ringer v. Texas State Bd. of Med. Examiners, 1999 Tex. App. LEXIS 8214 (Tex. App. 1999); Texas State Board of Medical Examiners v. Haynes, 388 S.W.2d 258, 261 (Tex. App. 1965); Texas State Board of Medical Examiners v. Koepsel, 159 Tex. 479 (Tex. 1959).  In addition discipline by the Board of Medicine, physicians or other health care providers typically also face other consequences such as medical malpractice, sexual harassment or other similar claims or charges, peer review discipline, data bank reports, employment termination or discipline, practice expulsion, and criminal prosecution.  Even if a physician or other heath care provider dodges formal discipline, accusations of sexual misconduct by a physician or other health care provider tends to permanently damage the practice and reputation of the health care.

Sexual misconduct by a physician or other health care provider or workforce member also can create significant exposures for hospitals, clinics, affiliated physicians and health care professionals associated with a physician or health care provider found to have engaged in sexual misconduct. Among other things, the failure of these third parties to take adequate steps to prevent, investigate, report or redress another health care provider’s sexual misconduct or harassment may result in malpractice or other civil litigation, licensure or other professional investigation or discipline, reputational damages and other consequences.

To guard against these exposures, physicians and other health care providers should exercise care to avoid engaging in actions that might expose them to charges of sexual assault, harassment or other inappropriate sexual conduct and should adopt policies, adopt procedures and practices to prohibit and provide training and other oversight to encourage other health care providers and staff to avoid such conduct. If a physician or other health care provider or organization observes, receives a report or charge or otherwise becomes aware of information indicating that a potential sexual assault or other inappropriate sexual conduct may have occurred, it should act promptly and appropriately to investigate and redress the conduct or suspected conduct in a manner designed to strengthen their defenses against possible disciplinary action or other liabilities and risks.   Because of the legal sensitivity and risk associated with the allegations of sexual misconduct and the investigation of those charges, physicians and other health care providers and organizations involved in these concerns generally should engage competent legal counsel as soon as possible when these concerns come to light for assistance in responding to the concerns, as well as the ability to use attorney-client privilege and work product, peer review, quality, and other legal privileges and other legal rules and safeguards to help promote confidentiality and defensibility of sensitive communications and conduct in connection with the investigation and response to these concerns.

For Help With Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs

If you need assistance providing compliance or other training, reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 23 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns/ She also regularly designs and presents risk management, compliance and other training for health care providers, professional associations and others including highly popular programs on “Sex Drugs & Rock ‘N Role: Managing Personal Misconduct in Health Care,” “Managing Physician Performance” and others..   Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here. 

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 659 other followers

%d bloggers like this: