Detroit-Area Doctor Charged for Role in Alleged $40 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme

A Detroit-area doctor was charged and arrested on September 20, 2012 in the Eastern District of Michigan for his alleged leading role in a $40 million Medicare fraud scheme involving physician home visits and home health services.  The Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the HHS-Office of Inspector General (OIG) jointly announced the charges.  In addition to the arrest, law enforcement agents executed search warrants at three locations and seizure warrants for three bank accounts related to the scheme.

According to a criminal complaint unsealed today in U.S. District Court in Detroit, Dr. Hicham Elhorr, 45, masterminded a $40 million scheme involving the submission of fraudulent claims submitted to Medicare for services that were medically unnecessary and/or never provided through House Calls Physicians (HCP), a physician home visiting service he owned and operated.  Elhorr allegedly submitted claims through HCP for physician home visits for patients who were never seen and for visits conducted by doctors who were not licensed.  The complaint alleges Elhorr submitted claims to Medicare for physician home visits purportedly rendered when he was out of the country, when beneficiaries were hospitalized or when the beneficiary was dead.

Elhorr is also alleged to have referred Medicare beneficiaries for medically unnecessary home health services, as well as accepted kickbacks from home health agencies in exchange for writing these referrals.  According to court documents, since January 2008, HCP has billed Medicare for approximately $9.2 million.  In the same time period, HCP has allegedly referred Medicare beneficiaries for home health services that have resulted in approximately $30.8 million of reimbursements from Medicare.

The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Catherine K. Dick of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.  The investigations were conducted jointly by the FBI and HHS-OIG, as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan and the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

Act To Manage Health Care Fraud Exposures

High profile criminal charges like this one tell only part of the story.  While important and growing, the OIG and other civil audit and enforcement are targeting both health care providers that engage in overly aggressive billing and treatment practices while scaring legitimate providers into avoiding legitimate care and its billing in treatment areas subject to high audit and underbilling for fear of the costs and risks associated with drawing government scruitiny.  Amid this quagmire, legitimate health care providers must carefully document their care and the underlying justification and manage their billing practices to mitigate fraud exposures while also ensuring that their care meets the requisite standards of care to meet professional standards of care.  It’s a tough but critical task for which reimbursement is declining.

As health care fraud enforcement remains a lead Federal priority, health care providers face ever-heightening exposures to HEAT task force scrutiny and prosecution. 

Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged more than 1,330 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $4 billion.

Along with these criminal investigation and enforcement activities, health care providers also face civil monetary penalty, federal program disqualification and other civil and administrative remedies from billing, reimbursement and other health care fraud, billing audits and other enforcement and audit activities. 

HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, is stepping up audits, tightening pre-payment review, stepping up program disqualifications, and taking other steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

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 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 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. Contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

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©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved

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